2016 is almost gone, and that means just one thing: time to buy new calendars!
Well, that and time to look forward to 2017.
This year's list of free-to-play games to look forward to took a little longer to compile than in years past. The biggest change comes at the top. That one game that everyone was looking forward to is no longer in the picture, and it's safe to say that no single game has the potential to be as enormous as it was.
We also had games like Blade & Soul, Paragon, Riders of Icarus, The Elder Scrolls Legends, Gigantic, and Tree of Savior launch (or go into open beta) and remove themselves from consideration. Meanwhile, games like H1Z1 and Black Desert Online chose the buy-to-play route.
Despite these launches and contraction in the F2P space, more games than ever are vying for your attention without (initially, at least) digging into your wallet. The games below have been graded on three scales: hype, or how excited people are about the game; potential, or how big a game it could be; and how close the game is to launch. Let's get to it!
Epic Games' other free-to-play title has come along much more slowly than Paragon. 2016 saw update after update to the game's alpha, but its premise of scavenging, building, and defending your base from monster hordes still intrigues us. Not yet being out of alpha is a little discouraging, but here's hoping we get bigger news in the coming year.
16. Project Nova
CCP Games shut down Dust 514 and formally announced the renamed Project Legion at Eve Fanfest back in April. Project Nova looks to be similar to other class-based arena shooters but sets itself apart with a slick, sci-fi look and an array of high-tech gadgets. We probably won't get to play it in 2017, but it's something shiny to look forward to down the road.
15. Cloud Pirates
My.com's Allods-like take on aerial ship-to-ship combat is still in drydock (closed beta), but it should be on target for an early 2017 launch. Don't be fooled by its cartoony graphics; there are over a dozen different types of ships, while customizable equipment and skill options provide nearly endless variety. Think of it as a faster-paced version of our #12 game.
14. Total War: Arena
Apart from a publishing deal with Wargaming, Creative Assembly went silent on Arena's development since closing down the beta back in March. While not on MOBA levels, it's highly strategic and fun to watch, so don't be surprised if CA/WG push it as a contender in the e-sports arena the next time it becomes playable.
Gaijin Entertainment's vehicular combat game spent most of 2016 smoothing out its jagged edges, but it still needs some time in the shop before it's ready for mass production. We liked its mechanics in our First Look, but a greater variety of gameplay was needed to utilize those mechanics, and that's exactly what Gaijin's been adding.
Grey Box and Studio Yager's capital-ship battler has been in various states of beta throughout 2016, and the studio plans to launch into open beta early in 2017. If you played an early build, you might be surprised at all the changes that have developed since then – not the least of which was increasing team size from five to eight. Bigger is better, after all.
11. Lost Ark
A lot of people are excited about Lost Ark. It'll be the go-to Korean MMO if Bless and Revelation Online don't meet expectations. However, it's a long way from release in the West, probably not coming overseas until 2018 at the latest. That docks it quite a few places on our list. Next year, it's almost certain to crack the top 10 – or rise even higher.
A surprise entry onto our list, Dauntless made a big splash at the Video Game Awards. Phoenix Labs promises a world of exploration and co-op monster-hunting, with survival and crafting tossed in for good measure. Being a new company and having no idea of how they'll approach free-to-play makes us a little reluctant to leap aboard the hype train, but it's nice to see something fresh and at least a little different entering the fray.
9. Master X Master
NCSoft's entry into the MOBA arena – is that like an “ATM machine”? – pits characters from its vast catalog of games into pitched battle. Unlike Heroes of the Storm, though, many of its heroes aren't from existing games, and many who are won't be very well known to Western (i.e., non-Lineage) gamers, and it's got incredibly stiff competition in Korea. It's hard to say where it fits in, but NCSoft won't likely give up on it easily.
8. Smite: Tactics
It seems like Hi-Rez Studios can do no wrong these days. Smite and Paladins have been big hits … will card/board game hybrid Smite: Tactics follow suit? Even the gods themselves would have a hard time answering that one. We'll probably have a better idea of how it plays after next week's Hi-Rez Expo.
7. Mu Legend
Hacking, slashing, loot, loot, loot. Mu Legend doesn't pretend to be any more than it is, and that suits some players just fine. After a long and apparently successful closed beta test, Webzen's follow-up to Mu Online is just about ready for a 2017 deployment.
Let's be honest: Amazon Game Studios' e-sports contender is going to be free-to-play, even if it hasn't been officially announced as such. When it is, it'll have loads of cash behind it and familiar-yet-different-enough gameplay to make it stand out from the crowd. All of those factors could combine to make Breakaway a breakout hit.
5. Lineage Eternal
Here's a funny aside: When I was making these lists for the magazine I worked for, I slotted this game in at the bottom of my “Top Upcoming MMOs” list – for 2012. So maybe I jumped the gun a bit there, but NCSoft's next chapter in the Lineage series seems a lot closer now, and we'll probably be able to get our hands on it at some point in 2017. We'll see if it's been worth the wait.
It's still in paid early access, but the spiritual successor to Bloodline Champions has already won a legion of fans. A 92% positive rating on Steam (on nearly 15,000 reviews) speaks for itself. It's in its “final stages of development” and should be ready for a full F2P launch in the early part of 2017.
There was actually a pretty heated discussion in the MMOBomb chat over whether Bless should rate higher on this list. While it hasn't attracted the same ire as our #1 game, we think that's because there hasn't been enough first-hand experience with it in beta testing. Statements like this one won't help, either. In the end, though, Bless being further away and having overall fewer people following its hype train – whether to compliment or insult it – gives it a solid, but not quite dominating, presence.
2. Gwent: The Witcher Card Game
In the current online CCG world, there's Hearthstone and then there's everything else. Gwent's non-traditional game mechanics will probably prevent it from reaching the lofty heights established by Blizzard, but being related to one of the most popular games of 2016 will get it noticed – and played by a lot of people.
1. Revelation Online
As the closest thing we have to an upcoming “big MMO,” Revelation Online tops our list. It fits all our criteria: plenty of hype, potential to be a hit, and it seems imminent. Recent tests have exposed its flaws, common to many Asian MMOs – grind and pay-to-win accusations being not the least of them. But with no big Western MMOs on the horizon, its shiny graphics and My.com's marketing push will help it draw more than its share of fans.
About the Author
Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.More Stories by Jason Winter