Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) are the perfect escape from reality. When they’re well-crafted, there’s always somewhere to go, something to do, and hordes of other players to work with. Or fight with. However you like to get down with your avatar-self.
The thing about MMOs is that they don’t end when you log out. Their virtual worlds spin on, waiting for your return. As such, there’s always a new chapter just around the corner. New quests to complete, new threats to neutralize, and vast new adventures to experience. And speaking of adventures, we’ve got a few of those on the horizon — new MMOs, that is.
Let’s take a look at the best upcoming MMORPGs as of summer 2020.
The Best Upcoming MMORPGs
In no particular order, let’s check out the best upcoming MMOs on the market.
1. Elite Dangerous: Odyssey
- Developer: Frontier Developments
- Release Date: 2021
- Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
- Website: www.elitedangerous.com
Imagine, if you will, the galaxy we call home: the Milky Way. Despite what science fiction may lead you to believe, it’s unfathomably big. It measures as much as two-hundred thousand lightyears from edge to edge, an area filled with hundreds of billions of stars. The star we call the Sun at the heart of our solar system is just one among an awesome multitude. And every one of its celestial brethren could form the heart of another solar system in turn — each with its own planets, planetoids, and smaller stars in orbit. The scale is staggering. Simply conceptualizing that much space taxes our limited cognitive abilities to their utmost limits.
Now, imagine a bunch of developers in a board room saying, “Yeah, let’s make all that.”
That’s what Frontier Developments set out to do with Elite Dangerous. It’s the spacefaring MMORPG of your wildest Star Wars and Star Trek dreams. While they leaned heavily on procedural generation to pull it off, nearly every star can be visited, and many sport their own solar systems for you to explore.
When the Milky Galaxy is at your beck and call, where do you start? The simple answer: wherever you want.
Become a trader, shuttling goods and materials between space stations and planetary colonies spinning out there in the black. Take up piracy, raiding shipping lanes populated by NPCs and other players trying to make an honest living. Start your own mining business, tapping into asteroids for precious metals and other intergalactic matter. But for all this freedom, there was one thing Elite Dangerous didn’t allow — and that was for you to set foot on these brave new worlds. Driving rovers and flying over is one thing, but what if you could experience the galaxy up close, first hand?
Enter Elite Dangerous: Odyssey, another monumental act of hubris from the fine folks at Frontier Developments.
This new chapter in the Elite Dangerous saga will get you out of your starship and onto these wild worlds across the galaxy. You’ll be able to land on planets, meet NPCs, fulfill new contracts, and become the gunslingin’ Han Solo archetype you always wanted to be. And you can do all this with other Elite Dangerous players from around the world. If it sounds too good to be true, I simply point you back to the base game. Despite its hitches and flaws, Elite Dangerous accomplishes precisely what it set out to do. And this expansion will include all of the base game content and so much more. It’s safe to say that after Odyssey drops, our galaxy will never be the same.
Gear up, group up, go to war, or simply try to make a living. In Elite Dangerous: Odyssey, your planetside interstellar life awaits in 2021.
2. New World
- Developer: Amazon Game Studios
- Release Date: August 2020
- Platform: PC
- Website: www.newworld.com
Of all companies, the e-commerce giant Amazon decided to expand into game development in 2014. They reorganized their in-house Amazon Game Studios (originally established to create mobile games for their proprietary Appstore) and set their sights on the triple-A side of the gaming industry. In 2016, they announced their first three titles — one of which was the MMORPG New World.
While one of the three has been canceled since then (and the other released to lukewarm reviews), New World soldiers on in relative obscurity toward its August 2020 release date.
A lot is riding on its success. Amazon knows this. The gaming community knows this. And while we don’t know a lot about the game so far, let’s talk a bit about why it should absolutely be on your radar.
New World is positioned to be an MMORPG sandbox, in the same vein as Wurm Online or Ultima Online. Set in an alternate history version of the Americas called Aternum, the wild frontier is now filled with mythological beasts and magic. In your adventures, you’ll have the opportunity to stake your claim on untamed lands filled with the Corrupted. Beat back the specters and monsters that lurk in the woods and wetlands to protect your Forts. Cooperate with other players to found and manage in-game Companies. Master melee, ranged, and magic combat. Forge legendary weapons and engage in trade to make a pretty coin or two. On paper, it sounds like it has all the elements needed to create a wondrous and deadly realm for players to explore for years to come.
The question remains: Will Amazon Game Studios be able to execute? They certainly have the capital to compete, and MMOs thrive on dynamic, living worlds that grow and adapt over time to the playerbase. Amazon may have a sleeper hit on their hands. If you’re an MMO aficionado looking for a New World to conquer, make sure you keep an eye on this one.
3. Magic: Legends
- Developer: Cryptic Studios
- Release Date: 2021
- Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
- Website: www.playmagiclegends.com
Magic: The Gathering is something of a right of passage for self-professed geeks and nerds. Even if you’ve struggled to keep a Standard or Modern deck up your sleeve, you’ve no doubt tapped lands and swung to face at least once in your gaming career. The lore behind Magic remains somewhat elusive, offering glimpses in card art and snippets of text but never fully revealing itself. We know about realms like Ravnica, Innistrad, and Theros as if through a foggy window — but doubtless, you’ve wondered what it would be like to explore them yourself, as a Planeswalker.
Magic: Legends might be the opportunity you’ve been waiting for.
Developed by Cryptic Studios, the team behind other hit MMOs like Dungeons & Dragons: Neverwinter and Star Trek Online, the company has a proven pedigree for executing with beloved intellectual properties. One of the chief complaints levied at MMOs is the lack of active combat. Tab targeting and spell rotations can only be so exciting. Magic: Legends looks to remedy this by leaning heavily into the action RPG trappings of games like Diablo and Torchlight, perhaps even borrowing a bit from Albion Online. The result will be the MMORPG Magic fans have been waiting for, filled with daring combat between Planeswalkers and the creatures of countless realms, avoiding death by the thinnest margins with a well-built “deck” of spells.
The classes that’ve been revealed thus far hearken to the colors that form the foundation of Magic. The Red Geomancer wields earth and fire. The Blue Mind Mage leverages psychic powers. And the Green Beastcaller involves Nature-based companions in the fight. While Black and White have yet to have their classes revealed as of this writing, it seems like Cryptic is following the formula to a tee.
While the release date is a nebulous 2021 for now, this is absolutely an MMO for fans of Magic and action RPGs to keep an eye on. See you around the Multiverse.
4. World of Warcraft: Shadowlands
- Developer: Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.
- Release Date: 2020
- Platforms: PC, Mac
- Website: www.worldofwarcraft.com
The king continues his reign into the afterlife.
Does World of Warcraft need an introduction? Even the most gaming-apathetic relatives seem to perk up when WoW enters the conversation. They happily ask me how my Night Elf is doing, or how I’m faring in the endless battle against the Horde.
I don’t mention to them that I’m a Horde main now. But that’s beside the point.
World of Warcraft: Shadowlands encourages the champions of Azeroth to shuffle off their mortal coil. In the Shadowlands, the heroes of legends reside in spirit form. But there aren’t harps and clouds to be found here —instead, the afterlife has been powerfully disrupted by the Horde’s resident undead femme fatale, Sylvanas Windrunner. The opening cinematic reveals that she’s shattered the Lich King’s Helm and sundered the shroud separating life and death. Perhaps due to her hubristic actions — or possibly due to other evil yet to be revealed — Azeroth’s place of punishment for the worst souls has started siphoning up all the spirits in the afterlife. It falls to the champions of Azeroth to cross into the evermore and set the afterlife to rights.
For long-time fans of WoW, Shadowlands is bringing some powerful changes with it. For one, the level cap will be reduced from 120 to 60, with all current characters being “squished” appropriately. New characters won’t be forced to trudge through each expansion pack in turn. Instead, you’ll be able to choose a specific expansion to experience after the introductory adventure. The Death Knight class is being made available to Pandaren and Allied Races as well. And fresh race customization options will make even the oldest content seem new again.
The Shadowlands offer six new zones to explore, from the hub-city of Oribos to The Maw. Four of the six realms will be administered by Covenants — administrative organizations that make sure the Shadowlands spin on for the spirits that reside there. You can pledge your eternal service to one of the Covenants when you reach max level, gaining a wealth of rewards, abilities, and more.
After a rocky few years, Shadowlands looks like just the kick WoW needs to keep veteran players questing and bring fresh faces to the Alliance and Horde. The afterlife of Azeroth begins later in 2020.
5. Lord of the Rings MMO
- Developer: Amazon Game Studios
- Release Date: TBA
- Platforms: TBA
- Website: TBA
I was there the day the strength of Men failed. When the Ring was given to a Hobbit, and set on a path across Middle-earth toward Mordor. Of course, I’m talking about Lord of the Rings Online — the preeminent MMO for Tolkien aficionados and fans of the foundational fantasy tale. I started playing in beta, then transitioned into the full game with all the wide-eyed wonder of someone who grew up on stories about Hobbits, Elves, and Rings. So it is with no small measure of excitement that I received the news of Amazon Game Studio’s second major MMO title to come.
It might seem like two Lord of the Rings MMOs is one too many — but Amazon’s wisely choosing to set their MMO in prequel territory. No doubt a move meant to capitalize on the opportunities presented by their LotR TV series that’s still in production, also set in the Second Age of Middle-earth.
Perhaps in keeping with the setting as ancient history of Middle-earth, shrouded in myth and legend, there’s little we now know about what shape this adventure will take. Hopefully, Amazon is going to use the feedback and response to New World to help shape their Lord of the Rings MMO into the sort of game the franchise deserves. Lord of the Rings Online has done well, but a chance to galivant across the Appendices of Middle-earth is too much to pass up.
There’s no release date, no platform details, and no info besides faint whispers on the wind. But like the Rangers of the North, I’ll be watching and waiting, biding my time until I can quest across Middle-earth once again.
6. Dual Universe
- Developer: Novaquark
- Release Date: TBA
- Platform: PC
- Website: www.dualthegame.com
Ready to build a universe?
Dual Universe is the MMORPG sandbox to end all sandbox games.
Imagine a massive galaxy, populated by legions of other players, where everything you interact with is player-built. We’re talking handcrafted spacecraft, organic settlements, and scripts that the players write themselves. If it sounds too good to be true, you can find out for yourself — the game is live in Alpha for those who choose to back the vision now.
As with most space-based MMOs, there’s a place for explorers, traders, pirates, and everyone in-between. Participate in the player-driven economy with your handmade goods, or form a company with other players to maximize your profits. Everything is the game is tradable — even structures and space stations. Arm yourself against the lawless rogues out there in the black, or turn to the dark side to scavenge some ill-gotten gains. You can even try your hand at being an intergalactic politician, as the Dual Universe allows you to form organizations and cast your vote.
The entire universe is yours to shape as you see fit. Build vehicles to traverse terra firma, construct a city with your friends, assemble your space stations — the possibilities are endless.
The in-game scripting system also allows you to create your own games within the game, as well as automata and useful inventions to make your life easier. And all of this in a single, persistent world. If the specifications on the tech under the hood are to be believed, players won’t be separated across multiple servers. They’ll all be part of a massive living, breathing galaxy.
While the full game’s release date has yet to be announced, forging an experience on this scale takes time. Just ask the dev team behind Star Citizen. Putting the tools of creation in the hands of players seems to be a wise move for getting a game like this off the ground and sailing the stars in our lifetime.