I am getting really fed up with seeing Steam friends and ads for the MMO Rift. I am also sick of seeing rave reviews because this game's success holds back the MMO genre and here is why; it is more of the same. It plays like WoW, it's quest system is like WoW, and as long as we are happy with the same old "kill 10 wolves to save the world" quests the genre will never grow and reach any sort of other potential.
The big budget AAA MMO that is coming along to be a WoW killer is The Old Republic which is due out sometime this year. Being a huge fan of BioWare and even enjoying their rushed out, crappy cash-in sequels I will of course have to play the game. BioWare seems convinced that a personal, emotional story is what is needed to advance the genre but I am more skeptical of story improving MMO's than I am of birdseed being a good medium for statues.
In my not so humble opinion I think there are two area's that make a MMO fantastic; Mythology and Mechanics. We need a great world to explore and a great way to explore it.
What we need is innovation. We desperately need to step away from the WoW/Everquest model. We need fresh ideas that are well funded and well implemented. Here are two amazing idea's of MMO's I would like to see that would be easy to develop and have instant appeal and brand recognition.
First and foremost a Pokemon MMO would be easily like the best game ever. If you could roam around a huge, open world searching for wild Pokemon and leveling, challenging other trainers to Pokemon battles, having hourly tournaments in cities, rare Pokemon, trad-able Pokemon, a robust crafting system for Pokeballs, buffs, potions, training implements, boosters, etc it would be really amazing and have a mass appeal. You already have close to 1,000 Pokemon designs from the last 15 years so GameFreak could probably even get away with no new Pokemon designs. It would still be a hardcore grind it out RPG, but have such a new twist, great PVP and PVE elements, and such an installed base that the game would be a license to build a money vault.
Second I want to see a Mechwarrior MMO. The last we heard from the unecessarily long dormant Mechwarrior franchise was that new developer Smith and Tinker was working on a reboot of the series. They released an amazing looking video a couple years ago and that has been the last we've heard of that. Mechwarrior and the Battletech franchises not only have a strong, core following, but there is so much mythology and fantastic mechanics to build an MMO around. Imagine if you were either house Davion, House Steiner, or one of the clans. Each faction has their own technology, own mechs, and own core worlds. You would have an amazing flow of the game going from world to world, crafting cool weapons and mechs, trading resources and blueprints, going on missions for NPC's and conquering worlds for your faction. Add in great clan support and you will generate all of the paying user-base you need.
Both games would easily get an instant 500,000 plus day 1 subscribers and would have plenty of room to grow and expand the core mechanics and worlds. Hell a Pokemon game is the only franchise I think could realistically topple WoW. Bottom line though is that as long as we are gobbling up games like Rift like they are gold we will never see anything except "Kill 10 Sith troppers to save the galaxy."