Wow, it’s that time of the year again already? Time flies and apparently so do many games, which are out there in a minute and cancelled the next. That’s one of the reasons that we decided to create this best free games awards and best upcoming games of 2017, but the actual title should be something like [deep breath] ‘Best Free Online Games and Stupid Blunders and Weird Shit Awards of 2016 & Top Upcoming Games of 2017 that May End Up Cancelled or Delayed into 2018 or Never See an English Release’. It didn’t sound quite as catchy though.
Anyway, let’s begin, but remember this: we’re only including games released during 2016 (paid early access, alpha, beta or official launch) and weird stuff that happened recently or is still going on. Let’s go!
Don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel!
Blade & Soul is far from being developed in 2016, but since this was the year of the western release and we got a few updates that made the game catch up quite a bit, we have to call it a 2016 game. Taking a look at the competition, we have to say it was a very weak year for MMORPGs, with Black Desert Online cheating on us and going the buy-to-play way. And so, considering that a couple of anticipated MMORPGs are only going to officially launch during 2017, that didn’t leave us much choice: Blade & Soul is our free-to-play MMORPG of 2016, and it totally deserves the award.
What about Revelation Online, a few of you scream from the top of your lungs? Well, considering that it’s still going through a few betas and that the first test was actually a crazy jumble of Chinese and English languages, but mostly Chinese, we want to play it a bit more and see it mature so that it can prove itself, and then we’ll talk. The same things goes for MU Legend, apart from the fact that the first global beta was actually polished and gave us a nice first impression of this Diablo-like action RPG. One MMORPG that was actually released – or shall we say, entered open beta – is the very decent gotta-tame-them-all Riders of Icarus, a typical but competent MMORPG that could keep you busy for a while.
For the few of you who are still thinking about the controversy between Paladins and Blizzard’s Overwatch and who cloned who, let us remind you that shooters such as these two exist for a long time, with one obvious inspiration being the timeless classic Team Fortress 2. So let’s skip over that and acknowledge the quality in both games, but focusing on the free one – Paladins from Hi-Rez. Following on the footsteps of the acclaimed SMITE, the studio managed to take player feedback into account and converted the game into something more of an action MOBA, lessening the prominence of the card elements. The result is a faster, furious shooter that didn’t really have much competition released during 2016.
Runners-up: Ghost in the Shell Online
There really wasn’t much to highlight this year, so let’s give a big thumbs up for the unlikely Ghost in the Shell: First Assault Online, a pretty decent, fun and completely unoriginal shooter that you should try if you like the anime or first-person shooters.
BEST MOBA GAME
Instead of just oversaturating and dying, the MOBA genre decided to offer us some of the best examples of the genre in the last few years, starting with the less-is-more approach of Battlerite, the spiritual successor to Bloodline Champions. This cool 2v2 or 3v3 brawler actually rewards skill and reaction, stripping it of all the farming and bullshit for the sake of a great, fast paced and fun game that still manages to have a great community and supporting devs – let’s see how long that will last, considering that the actual free-to-play release is only planned for late 2017. Holy crap, that’s a long way off!
It was a good year for MOBA fans who want to try something different. Paragon is the hi-tech, top graphics choice for fans of realistic looks – so to speak – and went through a revolution with the Monolith update, making the game faster and more action-packed. Gigantic is the cartoonish game of the bunch, but it still impresses with the fast gameplay and the clever Guardians idea. As for Master X Master, don’t let the top-down view fool you, it’s as much of an action RPG as it is a MOBA, as it includes a deep co-op campaign with popular NCsoft characters. All three games are pretty good.
BEST ACTION GAME
It’s not a great year for proper, bad-ass action games; instead, we got a few of the slow-paced and more tactical kind. It wasn’t difficult to find a proper winner in this category, as Crossout is the kind of game that doesn’t have much competition. It’s a vehicle combat game that would make Mad Max proud, with the added bonus of a robust customization system. Crossout looks good, plays well and hopefully will have enough depth to keep it interesting for a long time.
There’s something going on about flying space thingies at war this year, it seems. Cloud Pirates, Fractured Space and Dreadnought all fit in the same genre, albeit with a few differences in their style or pace, but they’re all good games. Then there’s the action RPG HeroWarz, more suited to Diablo fans who like their gameplay fast, furious and with some cool anime characters.
BEST DIGITAL CARD GAME
It’s Hearthstone, you say! No, it’s not, that game wasn’t even released this year, you dummy! Our award goes to Duelyst, the tactical battles meet card game with pixel art characters meet hand-painted backdrops. It’s a lot of mix and match but it works perfectly and it’s not the “very positive” ranking on Steam that will contradict us. Duelyst is like the perfect marriage of Final Fantasy Tactics with Hearthstone, if you will, and the fact that it’s charming and fun and really fair so far makes it an offer you can’t refuse. Play it, support it, otherwise the only digital card games you’re going to get in the future are Chinese Hearthstone clones.
Runners-up: Shadowverse, Gwent, The Elder Scrolls Legends
Speaking of Hearthstone clones, if you’re going to do it, then do it right. That’s exactly what happened with Shadowverse, the cool card game that started on mobile and that for some weird, unconceivable reason, actually looks good and plays great on PC. Go figure! Then there’s Gwent: The Witcher Card Game, which is… well, it’s Gwent as you probably know by now, but it’s evolving! It has 10-hours single player campaigns, high production values and three lanes for each player, which should make things interesting. Finally, let’s highlight The Elder Scrolls Legends, just because it’s Elder Scrolls, it’s Bethesda and it’s looking good.
Just look at that sweet Unreal Engine 4 piece of ass! Paragon is Epic Games showing the world what its engine can do, and proving that free-to-play games don’t have to look like they come from 2005. Sure, it’s easier to make your game look this good when it’s not an MMORPG, but never underestimate the work that each of the characters in Paragon requires. Watching those slow-motion replays can be a thing of beauty.
Runners-up: Blade & Soul
The way that the graphics in this fantasy epic manage to stand the test of time are proof of the talented artists that brought the amazing creations of illustrator Hyung-Tae Kim to life. Blade & Soul has a few competitors trying to look like it, but not a single one of them was yet capable of surpassing its inspiration.
One of the best things, if not the best about Tree of Savior is its original artwork, which is used for promotional materials but also as in-game portraits and even as the guideline for the cute retro characters. Art director Maggi has a style of her own, doing sexy without being smutty, with intricate detail and a colour palette – or lack thereof – that helps shape its unique identity. Truly some astonishing talent on display and even if you don’t like the game, you can’t deny the charm of the artwork.
Gigantic has this undeniable The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker feel to its visuals, and completely succeeds at what it intended: crisp, clear characters expertly painted and with a unique identity. Heroes or Guardians, most if not all of them will bring a smile to your face. On the other hand, there’s League of Angels 2 if you prefer the kind of smutty and revealing artwork that is brilliantly created but seems to follow the same template through all of its angels: bikini-clad girls with a fantasy touch such as a staff or a magic thingy. Definitely good if uneven design, but don’t get us started on the game.
BEST ‘IT’S GOING TO BECOME FREE-TO-PLAY IN 2017’
We curled into a corner and cried for weeks when we got this damned press release stating that Black Desert Online “will launch in early 2016 as a premium service.” We felt nausea, headaches, tremors, all that stuff – how could this be actually happening? Well, less than a year later and many “it’s pay-to-win!” outraged cries, some promotions brought the price down to the tasty $4.99 number. It’s difficult to resist if you like what this beautiful MMORPG has to offer, but it also gives us the feeling that sometime during 2017, Kakao Games is going to switch the business model to free-to-play. The initial hype is dead, sales are probably low and a new flood of players would surely result in an exceptional increase in cash shop revenue. It could happen during the summer, but that is just our guess.
Runners-up: Battleborn, Elder Scrolls Online
We’re not quite sure what Gearbox is up to with Battleborn, a shooter/MOBA that got its ass kicked by Blizzard’s Overwatch and Hi-Rez Studios’ Paladins. It’s not a bad game, but it’s not particularly great either, and seeing the playerbase declining (a peak of 420 players last time we checked in late December) and the game dying a slow death is certainly worse than trying its luck with free-to-play. As for Elder Scrolls Online, it’s actually performing nicely since it dropped the mandatory subscription, so it’s not like it will become free in the near future, it’s just that we wouldn’t mind seeing it happen. Just don’t hold your breath.
If there’s an arbitrary category award, then this is the one. In fact, we added it mostly because we just love the work of the Spiral Cats, a cosplay team from South Korea. It’s pretty much Tasha and Doremi and their work covers a lot of free-to-play games, from CABAL Online to Echo of Soul, League of Legends, MapleStory 2, Lost Saga, Civilization Online, Dungeon Fighter Online, and the list goes on and on. In one word, they would be described as lovely. In other word, they’re sexy. But it all works because they’re awfully talented cosplayers.
Runners-up: Jessica Nigri
Jessica Nigri is probably the most popular cosplayer in the world, and there are a couple of big, huge reasons for that: her talent and her looks. What did you think we were going to say, hum? Nigri has millions of followers and has portrayed several champions from League of Legends, along with other games such as World of Warcraft or Overwatch, but her sexiness is something that is very evident and brought forward in all of her work, original or not – and no one is complaining.
Tree of Savior had one of the messiest launches of any MMORPG ever. The so-called Ragnarok Online spiritual successor could have used a few more months, or years in development, as it launched with so many bugs, so much bot spam, so many issues that when you thought it would all get better in a few weeks, IMC Games decided to temporarily stop accepting new players to fix issues regarding server stability, client-side lag and other stuff. This lasted for a month and when you think it would improve the game, it still has a lot of issues and a mixed rating on Steam. We would call Tree of Savior a diamond in the rough, but we’re not sure anymore if the team is capable of tapping into its full potential.
It’s not the first time that Trion Worlds had some trouble with an ArcheAge update, but Revelation was quite the mess. The studio failed the promised update day and then there was some drama concerning the number of fresh start servers, among other things. So here, have some compensation packages and it will all be forgotten soon. Then there’s Atlas Reactor, incidentally another Trion Worlds game, which was announced as free-to-play, but then it was buy-to-play, and a few months later it turned into a game that is free again, but with some limitations. Someone couldn’t make up their mind, it seems!
Touted as the next revolution in MMORPGs, EverQuest Next sounded too good to be true, honestly. There was just too much going on, with destructible environments, emergent AI, a world that changed accordingly to in-game events, resulting in permanent change… It seemed a bit too much. But what made it more baffling was the decision of splitting the next EverQuest chapter in two games, with Landmark supposedly being more of the building tool and Next being the main dish. You probably know the rest of the story by now: Sony Online Entertainment was sold and turned into Daybreak Games, EverQuest Next was canceled and Landmark is reaching new heights in negative reviews. Oh, and both games were free-to-play, but then they weren’t anymore. Jeez, what a mess.
Runners-up: Evolve, World of Speed, Halo Online, Fable Legends
Anyone who was expecting something awesome from Fable Legends, raise your hand. No one? Well, cut this asymmetrical PvP game some slack, as it was looking decent and with time could improve and become a good one. Sadly, Microsoft didn’t give it the time it needed and decided to cancel development, and to make matters worse, close Lionhead Studios. All we’re getting from Fable is a digital card game called Fable Fortune, which doesn’t cut it considering the potential of the series for a proper MMORPG. Speaking of asymmetrical, Evolve was another mess and while this year’s switch to free-to-play gave it another lease on life, it didn’t last long – the harm was done and it shut down in a few months. What about World of Speed, which was announced early 2014 and is going into an indefinite hiatus, which is a nice way to say ‘canceled’? Finally, one last word for Halo Online, and we mean that, as this game didn’t even pass its Russia-exclusive testing phase and was shut down in a hurry. There were so many other fails this year, but we’ll stop here.
BEST ‘IS THIS LEGIT?’
Are you one of those anime fans that would play any piece of crap as long as you recognize the characters and backgrounds from the series? Well, then get the fuck out of here because it’s your fault we’re getting all these copy-paste, auto-play, asset spin, copyright infringement browser-based shit at a rate that is making us dizzy. It’s Naruto, Dragon Ball Z, Sword Art Online, One Piece, Bleach… you name it and it probably exists. What makes us even sadder is that the few official games such as Naruto Online, for some reason, are based on the same side-scrolling or isometric perspective auto-pathing and auto-combat gameplay, and we fear that the upcoming official game Fairy Tail: Hero’s Journey is going down the same road. We’re warning you: if you play them, they will come.
You probably know the ones we’re talking about and the award could go to any of those: Dragon Ball Z Online, One Piece 3: Ultimate War… Ah, just forget it and move on.
BEST WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?’
Game of Thrones: Seven Kingdoms
Do you know that there’s a Game of Thrones MMORPG in the works at Bigpoint and that it was announced in 2012? That the studio teased an update “very soon” in July 2016 and we’re still waiting? Are they aware that the hit show will only have two more seasons? Are we making too many questions? Anyway, Bigpoint had better hurry or they will lose the hype of the series and while we understand this is a daunting task, they already knew it when they acquired the license. So either talk about the development or just cancel the game once and for all.
Kingdom Under Fire 2 is allegedly still coming west after the Chinese version launch, but we wouldn’t hold our breath. As for Phantasy Star Online 2, well… don’t make us laugh.
BEST UPCOMING FREE GAMES 2017 (in no particular order)
Out of nowhere comes this game that is shaping up to be the closest we’ll get to Monster Hunter Online. From a new studio founded by talent from BioWare, Riot Games, Capcom and Blizzard, this is a free-to-play online co-op action RPG for PC where you’ll get to slay some incredible-looking behemoths. It’s also one of our most wanted games of 2017, one where the pixel perfect combat promise will hopefully ring true and make each battle an awesome moment.
Aeria Games is planning on bringing Bless Online to the west in 2017 but there’s already a bit of drama due to the lack of communication and the teaser site being down for nearly a month already. The studio finally confirmed that all is well and combat is being revamped, but this is leading to a delay that may hurt the game. While Korean and Russian players are already enjoying it, we’ll still have to sit and wait for this gorgeous masterpiece of a game – the gameplay is very familiar, but that doesn’t make it a bad game.
German publisher Gameforge acquired the rights for SoulWorker Online in North America and Europe, and while they’re not saying much about it, we can’t wait to play this one in English. It’s a stunning online action game with really cool characters and girls wearing tiny skirts – we call that a major plus, in case you were wondering. Oddly enough, there isn’t much like this one around, especially with this kind of quality. And it’s not just senseless action, you can decorate your room with a Jacuzzi and stuff.
Peria Chronicles is back from limbo and apparently on the right track. It’s not just the sandbox aspect and player-driven economy that sounds appealing – albeit risky –, it’s the quality of the anime graphics and how it still has time to get us into some card-fuelled battles. It’s probably still a year or two before there’s a decent, feature-complete version out there, so let’s not rush the devs – we don’t want another Tree of Savior blunder; you know, the ones where you go “it sucks, but it has soooo much potential” instead of “what a great, polished and complete game!”
What else can we say about Lost Ark that you don’t know already? It’s shaping up to be the action MMORPG that we wanted for years, and while no official English release was announced yet, there are hints that it is bound to happen, such as an English folder found on the Korean beta. First impressions are very favourable, but let’s wait for further tests and more content before we say that this is the game to look out for in the next couple of years.
If you’re a hack and slash fan but not exactly in love with Lost Ark, then that’s probably because you’re expecting Lineage Eternal. While using a somewhat similar template, this is a very different offer because of the Eternals team system, where you can select a team of four and switch between them accordingly to the challenge and the rules of the game, with the remaining heroes controlled by the AI. This one is going to be big, both for Lineage fans and newcomers.
Hi-Rez Studios is taking a shot at Duelyst and a few more with the turn-based strategy and card collecting game SMITE Tactics. It’s not just the studio’s expertise that will make this one a solid offering, it’s also the strength of the SMITE franchise and the rich background and characters that the acclaimed MOBA will lend to this one. If they manage to get the balance right and throw in a few engaging competitive modes, then this could be a massive time sink.
We’ve heard rumours that 2017 is the year when the neat beat’em up Closers Online would finally get an English release, but there’s nothing official on it yet. This side-scrolling anime brawler would be a perfect companion to Soul Worker – two great anime action games with visually remarkable characters and a style that is pretty much unmatched in free-to-play. Gameplay is also addictive, which shouldn’t surprise anyone considering that some of the devs worked on Elsword Online.
MapleStory 2 isn’t making big waves on Korea, but that doesn’t mean it won’t grow with time. Fairly different from the original classic, this sequel goes for an isometric viewpoint and tile-based game world, but still offers plenty of activities and mini-games, as well as a housing system. The great news is that Nexon is probably working on a 2017 English release judging by a job offer, so the odds of this actually coming to North America and Europe are really high.
And that’s how we wrap up 2016. As always, opinions are like assholes: everybody has one and most of them stink, so keep that in mind and feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments below. What games are you most excited for in 2017 and do you think free-to-play is the way forward or that it sucks? Have a great, awesome 2017 everyone!