I’ve fielded questions from friends and readers over the last year or so that seem to always be interested in the concept of massively multiplayer games, but never quite know how to get into the genre, what games are best for them or, really, what they’re getting themselves into. So, I thought I’d throw together this piece running down some MMOs that I’ve played in recent months, and hopefully you can take and run with the one that appeals most to you.
There are many different MMOs out there, for various different play styles, from the slow and methodical like EVE Online, to the fast-paced, beat-em-up style of DC Universe Online. However, your “typical MMO archetype” is where the majority of titles in this genre reside, and I’ve played more of these than I can shake a stick at.
Let’s get this out of the way first – the “king of the mountain” is obviously World of Warcraft. It is a very standard MMO, with production values that are probably the best in the industry. It is easy to get into, supports both “casual” and “hardcore” play styles and is likely what your friend, classmate, co-worker or cousin is playing. There is nothing wrong with World of Warcraft, regardless how many people (including current players) like hating on it. In fact, right now is probably the best time since the game launched to jump into the world of Azeroth.
With the latest expansion, Cataclysm, the entire leveling experience (sans levels 60-80) has been changed and upgraded to some stunningly awesome cinematic questing experiences. It’s ripe for new players to jump in, and doing so is easier than ever. This is probably the baseline against which all other MMOs will sit as far as UI and game mechanics go. But, don’t just assume that because WoW is the “king of the mountain” that there aren’t other awesome MMOs out there that follow the same basic style.
If you’re a Tolkein fan, you may want to try your hand at The Lord of the Rings Online, which places you in Middle Earth questing alongside the Fellowship of the Ring as they make their way to Mordor. This is a WoW-clone, but it does many things right and focuses more on the journey than the destination. During my time in LOTRO, I found that many more players were laid back and helpful than in WoW (although this is likely due to the fact that WoW just has many more players in general, so naturally more will be complete idiots).
The atmosphere is more “role play” than grind, grind, grind and people actually want to get to know you and help you along. This title has recently also gone to the free-to-play model, where you can get a ton of great game content for the cost of absolutely nothing. Of course, if you like it and want to subscribe, there are benefits to that route, as well.
Both World of Warcraft and The Lord of the Rings Online are Western-developed titles that tend to lean more in the way of grind-less game play. That is, you can solo your way to the top of the food chain by questing alone and don’t have to worry so much about spending endless hours killing enemies just to level up and progress your character, although there surely is some of that in certain situations in both these titles.
The next two titles I’m going to mention are Eastern-developed titles that have been brought over to North America and Europe with some pretty great success. Aion is a Korean-developed MMO that has a great visual feel. It is still a WoW-clone as far as the interface and philosophy goes, but it has a greater focus on player versus player combat (PVP). That isn’t to say that is all this game offers. The same quest-to-level-up mechanic exists, but it is more grind-heavy than the other two I already mentioned. This comes with the territory.
Typically, Eastern-developed MMOs focus more on grinding away for hours on end to level up, or including sections in them that require this – whether intentionally or not. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is just the philosophy of the game developers. I really enjoyed the visual appeal of Aion, and there is some truly unique customization available in the game.
If you’re looking for a free-to-play Eastern-style MMO, I’d look toward Allods Online. The game does support some paying options, such as an item shop, but is free-to-play in general. Typically I’m wary of F2P titles, because they don’t usually boast the feature set that I’ve come to expect from titles that require a monthly fee, like World of Warcraft, but I have to say Allods Online was the exception from day one.
It’s fantasy world does remind me a lot of WoW, but there are some nifty differences, including the unique races and classes. Also, there are many items that are purchasable in the shop, that you can acquire without paying by spending some time in-game completing certain quests and other requirements (which are typically grind-heavy).
If you’re interested in the Eastern MMO aesthetic and game play style, I would also suggest you take a look at Aika Online and Perfect World, as well. They both are rather robust titles that have a great niche following and are quite popular in the world of Eastern MMOs.
All of the above games I would consider “beginner”, simply because they have great tutorials and fairly straight-forward game mechanics. They also all subscribe to the design that is typically associated with MMOs, which was derived from the likes of Ultima Online and Everquest. However, in recent years many developers have been attempting to break away from that norm, with varying degrees of success.
EVE Online is a popular niche MMO which focuses a lot on the economics within the game universe. It is fairly slow paced and methodical, thriving on large corporations (guilds) of players working together for various monitary reasons. The combat is present, no doubt, but even that revolves around the acquisition of funds to pursue various enterprises, whether it be mining, ship building or piracy. Think of every sci-fi show you’ve ever seen, combined into an MMO where players are given free reign and where consequences are about as real as you can get in a virtual setting like this. You’ll end up with EVE Online. Definitely not for the faint of heart or the attention challenged.
If you need more action in your MMOs, you might want to check out DC Universe Online when it launches next week. You create your own super-hero, much like other MMOs out there, except this time you’re actually playing within the DC universe (if that wasn’t already obvious). This means you’re flying, speeding or bounding around Gotham City and Metropolis working along-side the heroes or villains that we all know and love.
The combat here plays more like an action game than anything else – it is quick, exciting and well polished, from what I’ve seen in the beta so far. On top of that, of course, you have all your RPG and MMO mechanics thrown in, as well. This is one of the very few options you have if you want to play an MMO on a console (in this case, the PS3), but it is also available on the PC which, from the looks of things, will be the route to go if you want an easier time joining up and just plain communicating with other players.
Finally I will mention an MMO that sort of sits off to the side, taking bits and pieces of everything I’ve mentioned previously and is actually kind of an enigma at this point – Final Fantasy XIV. I consider its predecessor, Final Fantasy XI, the most successful console MMO in the industry, mostly because it is perhaps the only one that has been going fairly strong on the PC, PS2 and Xbox 360 for the better part of a decade. Final Fantasy XIV is available on the PC now and is an absolutely gorgeous game. However, it takes an unconventional approach to the user interface which doesn’t sit well with most PC gamers out there because of the fact that it is designed for being used with a controller instead of a mouse and keyboard.
If that doesn’t turn you off, there is actually quite the rewarding experience here, but again, the journey stands out far greater than the destination. If you want to jump into this game, you’ll have to be patient and just go with the flow, but the combat mechanics, incredible crafting systems and hardcore, helpful fanbase more than make up for the clunky UI (some of which has been fixed already with recent content patches).
So, those are some of my favorite MMOs, which I feel appeal to a wide variety of gamers. There are also many more coming up that you may want to look into if you’re looking for something new and fresh, such as Tera, Rift and Star Wars: The Old Republic. Many of the titles I mentioned – from big to small – have free trials or are just straight up free to play, so give anything you’re interested in a shot and see what works best for you.
Hit us up in the comments below if you have any suggestions for anyone new to MMOs wanting to get their feet wet, or have any other questions regarding this deep, involving and time wasting genre.