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Three New MMOs Challenge World of Warcraft
Three new massively multiplayer online games are throwing down the gauntlet in 2008. These titles, more than any other game since World of Warcraft's 2004 release, stand an excellent chance of dethroning Blizzard Entertainment's mighty MMO as the king of an extremely lucrative market.
All three of the new games -- Age of Conan, Pirates of the Burning Sea and Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning -- have their strengths. But each brings something fresh to the rapidly growing MMO genre, which has attracted millions of gamers, according to unofficial estimates, and now includes everything from Tabula Rasa's sci-fi escapism to the Webkinz virtual world for children.
Here's a sneak peek at what the new games offer:
Screenshot: Courtesy of FuncomAge of Conan: Hyborian Adventures
Release date: March 25
Set in the world of Robert E. Howard's Cimmerian novels (the universe of 1982's Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, Conan the Barbarian), Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures brings with it almost 80 years of fiction for developer Funcom to draw upon for its backstory.
In order to appease the built-in fan base that this wealth of lore has developed, Funcom is focusing heavily on the title's combat system. While previous MMOs allowed players to click a few buttons and watch actions unfold, Age of Conan employs a "real combat" system that allows players to not only control the direction of their attacks, but also focus on various body parts in real time.
As a result, the game will not only stick close to its source material's penchant for almost cartoonish ultraviolence, it also bucks the something-for-everyone trend started by World of Warcraft.
By foregoing the family-friendly angle, Funcom is risking the loss of a large section of the player base, but the general feeling among longtime online gamers -- particularly the player-versus-player demographic -- is that Age of Conan is poised to be the Halo of the massively multiplayer genre. In a period when these games are just gaining mass market appeal, this title brings something for the adults to enjoy in an adult setting.
Screenshot: Courtesy of Flying Lab SoftwarePirates of the Burning Sea
Release date: Jan. 22
If the success of Johnny Depp's turn for the scurrilous in the Pirates of the Caribbean film trilogy has proven anything, it's that people are enamored with adventure on the high seas.
Not content to simply give gamers a ship and a parrot, Flying Lab Software has created a fully realized world in which players can live the adventure as they see fit. If you'd prefer the quiet life of a shipbuilder to raiding galleys, that option is available. And of course, there is always the draw of helming a gigantic ship of the line.
Despite its numerous character options, each player in World of Warcraft lives essentially the same life. Pirates of the Burning Sea's greatest strength is that it allows for radically different play styles, each contributing in some way to a faction's success in the game's vaguely fictionalized 1720s-era Caribbean setting.
Screenshot: Mythic EntertainmentWarhammer Online: Age of Reckoning
Release date: Quarter 2
Like Age of Conan, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, or WAR, brings with it a wealth of fiction. From a hugely successful tabletop game, to traditional role-playing titles, comic books and a handful of other videogames, the Warhammer universe is gigantic.
Where Age of Conan seeks to draw players with the promise of intimate, bloody combat, WAR trades intimacy for the chaos of large-scale melees.
As it did with Dark Age of Camelot, game developer Mythic Entertainment tries to differentiate WAR by giving players the chance to engage in gigantic battles throughout the game world. Unlike World of Warcraft's player-versus-player combat, which takes place in pocket dimensions away from the daily life of Azeroth, battles in WAR will be raging constantly, and each fight will have strategic and economic impacts on each faction's day-to-day existence.
There's the chance this may push away new players not used to being run down by hordes of their malicious peers, but if executed correctly, this title could pull in players who have grown tired of World of Warcraft's comparatively tame player-versus-player combat