If you have ever visited the MMORPG subreddit, you probably know that one of the most frequent posts that pop up are ones asking the community for recommendations. These are players who have left a full-time game and are now fishing around for a substitute, or those who have “played them all” and are hoping that some undiscovered gem exists, or are having a difficult time finding a good game match for their preferred playstyle.
I am often leery about tossing out blanket recommendations because it’s far better to get to know a player, his or her game history, and the type of game sought before giving my opinion. But if you were to put a fish cannon to my head and threatened me with rapid-codding, I think I would be generally OK promoting the following 10 MMORPGs to most players, sight unseen.
These are MMOs that have earned my personal recommendation and are the titles that I tend to promote the most. Here we go!
MMOs are complicated. This seems like a fairly non-controversial statement; there are more or less complicated games, but they all tend to be complex as heck. I frequently cite Star Trek Online as an example of complexity run amok, where the game is significantly more complicated than it even appears to the point where the game has reworked its skill system some three separate times and it’s still difficult to understand, but even World of Warcraft has plenty of bits of complexity that aren’t really explained to new players.
Of course, it’s also been significantly simplified from its early days; who remembers Crushing Blows and 102.4% defense? Most tanks, I’d imagine.
But even seemingly straightforward systems like dungeon rewards tend to increasing complexity over time. Heck, I’ve been dealing with Guild Wars 2’s boost system with Path of Fire and found that hosting some complexity and weird exceptions when it comes to hero points and unlocking Elite Specializations. So why do MMOs tend to be so complicated, even when dealing with simple stuff? I think that’s a fun topic that I can explain in, oh, let’s say ten bullet points.
Probably my greatest and most constant gripe about fantasy MMORPGs is that for all of the freedom and imagination that this genre supposedly boasts, game designers keep going to the same boring well of tropes and limit themselves instead of exploring possibilities.
Nowhere do you see this more than in races. Dwarves and Elves? We’ve got bushels and barrels of them, all on sale at discount prices. There are regular humans, of course, and Slightly Bigger Humans, and Half-Sized Humans, and Blue Humans. But what about getting outside of this been-there-played-that cookie cutter design to offer some interesting playable choices?
Like fairies, perhaps?
I could never understand why we don’t see fairies more in MMOs. They are widely recognized in the fantasy genre, they seem to have popularity, and they even share some cross-over with Elves. But the poor fae have been unrepresented, so much so that it took a lot of digging to come up with a mere 10 MMOs that allow you to play as one, whether it be as a race or class. Let’s take a look!
Lore! Huh! What is it good for? Understanding why you’re standing in the middle of a pack of angry people with fangs in MMOs, of course. It’s the thin line dividing your actions from being reckless, indiscriminate mayhem and discriminating, careful mayhem. Lore is how you know what the world is like beyond your front door, and it’s the difference between understanding that you face Ragnaros, lord of flame or just knowing that there’s a dude here made out of fire, so you should probably use water spells on him.
All lore, however, is not created equal. There’s lore that creates a detailed, vibrant world full of people with their own hopes and dreams, and there’s lore that creates a game where you know what you’re supposed to be doing but have no idea what people do for fun afterwards aside from waiting to die. So today, we explore the tiers of lore, arranged in a numbered list because that’s the entire premise of the column. It’s not Perfect Vague Assortment of Concepts. That’s not even a column.
Every MMO tells a story through the run of its life. A lot of those stories are pretty happy, too. Ultima Online may not be the most happening place in the world right now, but its story is about launching a genre and then running for two solid decades. That’s a pretty great story. However much it’s become a tale of mismanaged expectations, World of Warcraft kind of became the most popular thing for a long while and brought in tons of new people to the hobby. Even titles with sad endings often have bright stories; the end bit for City of Heroes sucks, but everything leading up to that was a gas.
And then you have these 10 titles. These are titles where the whole story is a tragedy, start to finish, and in many cases the tragedy isn’t necessarily over, but the story is still just plain sad. There are reasons, of course, maybe even good ones, but the result is that the narrative for these titles is pretty sad all the way through.
We’re not going to argue that MMORPGs are the dominant form of media entertainment these days, but they do have endurance and a devoted following among gamers. And whenever a crowd of players have been paying into a game for a long time, it will attract the attention and interest of marketers who start wondering what else they could do to siphon off a few more bucks.
Enter “transmedia synergy,” a stupidly awesome term that represents links between two or more forms of media that are connected through the same IP. The thinking here is that fans of one of these forms of entertainment will cross over into the related media and vice-versa, growing an audience together.
Today we’re going to look at 10 experiments in transmedia synergy, for better or for worse, that have attempted to cross over from MMORPG to something else entirely. To make things more challenging, we’re not going to include novels, since we’ve already done that.
One of the fun things about this hobby is that certain tropes repeat themselves constantly. And they’re usually weirdly specific tropes, too. Poop quests, for example. So many MMOs have one quest or another that make you dealing with poop. Someone has a fixation that is probably not entirely healthy, and that someone keeps getting hired to design quests.
But sometimes you try to come up with a trope that’s so specific that it has to be unique. Or at least rare. “MMOs that feature a zone full of floating islands requiring flight to travel around.” At least one zone, and it is traveled around via flight. That cannot be common, that has to be…
Wait. How did I not only get a full list but actually have to decline some entries? How the heck did this happen? There are this many MMOs using this astonishingly specific trope? How did this happen and why?
Short of taking a blow to the head, there’s very little I can suggest in the way of experiencing a familiar MMORPG for the first time again. That new car smell eventually fades away, that initial head-over-heels enthusiasm settles into routine, and a vast world full of mysteries gradually gives way to familiar knowledge over time. It’s not a terrible thing, mind you; relationships change and develop with games as they do in real life.
But I find that every so often I come to a point when I don’t want to give up a game that I’ve greatly enjoyed, yet I’m also a bit burned out and feeling like I am hemmed in by a daily routine and the same-old, same-old. That’s when I start to employ a series of tactics and approaches to inject fresh experiences and perspectives.
So if you’ve been playing an MMO for too long and need to change things up to keep from getting stale and restless, what can you do? Here are 10 suggestions that I found quite helpful in my own gaming career.
And so it was as I traveled across the many spheres and realms of MMOs, I came to realize one simple truth: War is hell. But it is a hell of many sorts, and as MMOs almost always include some form of combat, it can be said that little forms of this hell approach as you descend through levels. Combat becomes difficult to follow, unclear, perhaps even oblique. The game stops caring what you’re doing.
So it became clear to me that these different circles of combat hell should be documented. For while there are games where fighting things may be taken as a joy (and this will vary for each person, yes), there are also many games where combat is a tedious chore you have to get through, not because the combat is difficult or not to your taste because it actually doesn’t work. And so you may use this guide to determine which circle you are trapped within rather than just saying combat is “bad.”
Everyone has those sacred video game cows that are dearly special to them, carry personal meaning, and trigger fear and anxiety when messed with. In the realm of MMORPGs, one of my own cows (moo!) is definitely The Secret World
, which has been one of my favorite online games since its launch a half-decade ago.
I won’t lie: The reboot of the game into Secret World Legends made me intensely nervous. I got the feeling that the game itself was on the verge of disappearing forever and that if the team didn’t get it right, this was it for Kingsmouth, Anima, Orochi, and the rest of the gang. I was — and still am — pretty critical of how Funcom’s been handling the relaunch and the need for it in the first place.
That hasn’t stopped me from playing, however. In fact, I’m logging more daily hours into Secret World Legends than I was in the past few years with The Secret World, partially due to the excitement and partially thanks to the changes that the team wrought. Now that we’re a month into all of this, I thought it was time to offer up some personal observations on how the relaunch is going, what’s working well, what needs improvement, and how I feel about the future.
A reader recently sent in a letter asking Justin to explain why he (Justin) had never really connected with Final Fantasy XIV despite giving the game the ol’ college try. I can’t answer that question, obviously; I’m not Justin and don’t presume to know how his mind works, and given his pathological hatred of elves, I’m not sure I’d want to. But I can point out some of the little things that make me fall in love with the game all over again on a regular basis, something that’s hitting me hard as Stormblood ups the bar significantly from the level established in the game so far.
I make no secret of the fact that I’m a fan of the game, and I have been for years. But there are a lot of reasons for that, and some of them are just reasons like these. Every time I duck back into the game (on a daily basis, yes), I notice something I missed before, and half of the time it makes me smile. So let’s look at the little things that make me adore this game.
When Daybreak announced last year that it was cancelling the highly anticipated EverQuest Next project, the series’ forward momentum lurched to a halt. This wasn’t helped by other EverQuest entities that have been retired over the past few years, leaving only the two aging flagship MMOs to carry on the legacy of the franchise.
For franchise it is. It might be fuzzy in people’s memories (or simply absent from them), but there was an era where EverQuest was the MMORPG at the top of everything, and Sony Online Entertainment wasted no time in capitalizing on its popularity. Spin-offs, sequels, and alternative versions spawned into being, creating a library of EverQuest games.
In fact, there are more than enough to fill up a full list of 10 titles — and then some! So today let’s look at some of the lesser-known entries in EverQuest’s ever-expanding franchise and muse about what might come to this series in the future.
The one thing that I thought we could all count on forever was that the MMO life cycle was pretty easy to understand. A game is launched, then it runs for a certain amount of time, then it shuts down. That last part kind of sucks, but the point is that you know when it’s time to move on. The life cycle is clearly one of creation, then life, then death, like a potted ficus or a cheap desk chair you get at Target.
But then sometimes you have a cheap desk chair that breaks in a crucial way, but you manage to screw the right sort of braces together so you can keep using it for another year after it should have been thrown out. And sometimes an MMO is born, and then it lives, and then it… doesn’t live, but it’s not actually shut down or in maintenance. Or it isn’t clear what’s going on with it, due to what seems to be total abandonment. Or it updates more than games which are supposedly live.
That’s what this column is all about. MMOs in a weird sort of limbo, where some facts are clear, but the results or the overall trajectory make no sense. Sometimes it’s not even clear if the game has actually launched or not. It’s weird.