MMO’s In 2021 Retrospective: Mobile Edition
MMO’s have made a bit of a comeback in the last year. True they never went anywhere, they were just hanging out under the radar. But they spent that time languishing, with fewer and fewer new titles releasing. Perhaps it was people having less and less free time, other genres taking the spotlight, or most likely both. However as the pandemic took over, people turned to MMO’s once again to fill their free time and connect with people digitally when it was near impossible to do so physically. This ended up being exactly the kind of jolt the genre needed and for people like me who never lost the MMO dream, things started to look up. Let’s start with Mobile MMOs.
When we think of mobile gaming we think of three things: awful monetization, terrible grinds, and stupid amounts of profit due to possessing the biggest audience in gaming. However, while all this is true, mobile gaming has also proven to be a new frontier for MMO gaming. What started with Farmville and the like, evolved into a full fledged version of EVE Online. Mobile gaming is honestly responsible for a lot of the progress the genre had made in recent years. This came to a head in 2021, with both great ports of established titles alongside ground-up mobile titles.
To be clear, this is a list of games I play and think are fun. It’s not necessarily a list of the most popular games, or the ones most people consider the best. That’s not to say you won’t see all the big titles featured, but you may find some games you’d expect to see missing, as well as a few surprise additions. I feel that there’s as many different MMO opinions as there are MMO players. It’s one of the joys of the genre. So you never know, you may find a new game to try out or absolutely nothing at all. You’ll just have to wait and see.
Black Desert Mobile
You can’t talk about big names in the MMO world without mentioning Black Desert. It has a global following with Mobile, PC, and Console versions. What sets it apart from other Asian MMOs is that while it is a Pay-2-Win grindfest, it’s one to a much lesser degree. Given the massive increase in popularity for JRPGs and anime, Black Desert perfectly fills a need in the MMO community. It does so quite well, with beautiful graphics, smooth gameplay, and a consistent quality release schedule. The mobile version is no red-headed stepchild either, and receives the same love as the PC and console versions. The only major difference is an isometric camera angle, that honestly feels better in general to me anyway.
This last year has only been continued success for Black Desert Mobile. The game has seen a solid list of new classes released. This is in addition to new Specs (called Awakenings/Successions) for existing classes. There are new areas, a whole new boating and sailing system, plus new bosses and events. Everything you’d expect from a proper MMO delivered with the level of quality you’d expect from a respectable MMO dev. Out of all mobile MMOs, this one is probably the closest to a proper AAA experience. This is no doubt to be continued into 2022, with more classes, locations, and events on the horizon. Dependable, popular, and entertaining, everything you could ask for.
For most people, Black Desert Mobile is the darling of mobile Asian MMOs. For me though, MapleStory M is more my style. It was one of the first mobile games I remember getting legitimately excited for, eagerly following its development. While it had a bit of a rocky launch, once it hit its stride, it never lost it. It’s been a mainstay of whatever phone I’ve had over the years, and always one of the first installs. It’s not exactly a one to one port of the PC game, but is honestly better for it. It channels the same spirit and classic gameplay of the original, which is what really matters.
2021 was a good year for MapleStory M for sure, but not without some issues. Much like Black Desert and other games like this, there was a steady stream of new classes to play. Some pretty great classes too, such as the much anticipated Duel Blade. There’s also been new events, bosses, and game modes to play around in. The problem is though, is that when it comes to meaty new content updates beyond classes, MapleStory M came up short. It’s not an issue yet, but this game could easily end up one of those that releases a lot of new ways to play, but not enough actual new things to play. Hopefully this is addressed and rectified in the upcoming year.
RuneScape is RuneScape. Old-School or New, it’s all the same regardless of what the fanbase says. Old-School is more hardcore and grindy, while New is less so but more varied. Both are perfectly valid examples of RuneScape’s core gameplay loop, and fill different needs for different players. While the game has always been a thing, the absolutely fantastic mobile port was a great jolt to this dinosaur’s system. It’s the main way I play the game now, just so functional and convenient. Personally, I’m more of a New RuneScape player myself, but I do dip into Old-School as well sometimes.
2021 saw the release of a bunch of new content and events for New RuneScape, while Old-School continued working as intended. Which is ultimately the greatest strength of this game – all it needs to do is exist. People will always be playing RuneScape, new content and things to do is just a bonus. If Black Desert is a safe modern MMO, then RuneScape is the rock that the genre springs from. It’s just always there, with just more and more places to play it on. I’m sure 2022 will be another year of growth for the game (as well as yet another year of intentional stagnation for Old-School) and everything will continue to be just fine.
The game came from absolutely nowhere. I read a few articles about it earlier this year when the mobile version was in beta. It looked cool enough, and I was intrigued by the premise, so I downloaded it. I’m not the biggest PvPer, but I’m always up for a new mobile MMO experience. Especially on mobile where the investment and time spent are both low for trying new games. Now months later, past the official launch of the game and some absolutely fantastic and meaty content updates, I’m still playing. I wouldn’t say it does anything bold or new exactly. But what it does do, it does excellently, and features full crossplay. In my opinion, crossplay is a critical feature for MMOs.
Albion Online is a pseudo survival PvP MMO, especially at the start. However, this year’s updates especially have done a fantastic job fleshing out the PvE experience. New modes, new content, all done in the name of diversifying the game experience. And sure, PvP MMOS absolutely have their place, but PvE players make up a huge chunk of the overall audience. So if a game can throw a bone to PvE players while not sacrificing it’s main PvP playerbase, why not? Albion Online proved it means business this year, and I’m extremely intrigued by what 2022 holds for it. This may just be the mobile game that takes RuneScape’s place for me. Similar in scope and play, but so much cleaner and playable.
Sword Art Online: Integral Factor
Now we’re talking unexpected games you definitely didn’t expect to see. I know I wouldn’t have when I was recommended it by a friend, and downloaded it expecting the worst. Based on an anime I hadn’t seen (at least at that point), and a glance through the Play Store had me expecting microtransaction hell. Yet again, months later I’m still playing and enjoying myself. It’s just so traditional, and done very well. And the microtransactions are absolutely minor to the point of seeming nonexistent. I’ve literally never spent a cent, and am kind of confused where I would if I did. The Gacha mechanics revolve around unlocking moves for your chosen weapon, but the game hands them out faster then I could buy them. So why would I?
2021 was another year of consistent updates for the game. It’s had a constant barrage of new updates and events on top of the insane amount of content already available. And again, there’s no paygate or anything. You simply start playing on Floor 1 and keep going, it’s structured and plays far more like a premium MMO than anything else on this list. There’s even a full AI companion system, with either a custom companion or a character from the anime/light novel. Speaking of, it’s based on the Progressive storyline so if you know, then you know it’s a good thing. 2021 ended with a massive tease for the game’s future that has me very excited. It’s probably my most anticipated title on this list honestly. I’m all for bold new titles, but sometimes I just want a plain classic fun game to play you know?
And now for a game that’s not exactly an MMO, but impossible to ignore?
I know, it’s not a MMO. But it’s impossible to talk about MMOs, let along mobile MMOs, and not mention this behemoth. A Gacha action adventure game with some co-op elements, it seems exactly the kind of game to not belong here. But its content release schedule, development engagement, and community involvement is everything a MMO is built on. It’s been over a year now and the game shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. So while not a MMO at all, anyone looking for a respectable mobile game with a MMO community and release cadence, this is the game. I know a large number of MMO players who also play Genshin on the side, especially PC players. There’s just so much about this game that should make proper MMO developers shake their head in shame. Imagine getting shown up by a Chinese BotW clone.
And that’s that folks…
My thoughts on the five biggest mobile MMOs I play, and an other for good measure. I know there are some big ones missing, but usually for good reason. EVE: Echoes started out incredibly strong and then destroyed itself. I hate games that rely on auto-play, so Lineage and the like are a no go for me. Sure BDM and MapleStory M have it too, but to a much less degree. That new Marvel MMO, Future Revolution, looks nice sure, but it’s just another in a long line of Marvel microtransaction hells, nothing new there. I’m sure there’s others beyond it, the mobile MMO space is absolutely huge. But I only have so much time and playing five billion MMOs eats up a lot of it. Speaking of, stay tuned for upcoming articles on Console and PC MMO gaming in 2021 and beyond.