If there’s one thing that always, always goes with MMOs, it’s combat. I mean, we can’t be a hero without killing something, right? We can’t explore a virtual world of wonder without needing to murder a small chunk of it, no?
And as exciting and replayable and institutional as combat is, sometimes… sometimes I get a little tired of it. Being in games where everything revolves around supporting combat in some way or directly fighting can be mentally exhausting. So the Massively OP team and I sat around one afternoon trying to name MMOs where combat is not just rare but absent entirely.
We thought we could name only a small handful, but we quickly stormed our way past 10, and that’s not even counting sports MMOs, text-based MUSHes, and the iffy status of Puzzle Pirates. So if you’re looking for an online game that isn’t about stabbing, punching, or fireballing goblins to death, here are attempts by the industry to provide alternatives!
An MMO spin-off of the insanely popular Sims franchise wasn’t a bad idea at all; it merely had to be handled right. Unfortunately, the end result was as far apart from what made The Sims fun as you could get. Players were thrust into an aging graphics engine and given little money and few tools with which to build a fully realized world. So instead, people ground skills, played virtual prostitute, and fled to much better sandboxes. It could have been a contender, I always think, but instead we got a game where I watched my character virtually read a book while a skill bar filled in tiny increments.
This upcoming “farming dating sim” is eschewing the MMO establishment in favor of delivering a “chill relaxing game.” Sorry for the quotes, but after reading the somewhat silly, somewhat charming website, I kind of want to quote it all. So if you’re looking to romance and marry NPCs and then spend your relationship working in a turnip garden together, here you go!
I can get behind a lush-looking game that’s all about exploration and secrets. I really can. But to play as a slow-moving tree-thing? Um, that might take some selling on the studio’s part. At least give the tree pants! Or a chainmail bikini!
This long-running MMO has forever been the niche of the niche, but it’s been admired even so for a devotion to progression via crafting and socializing instead of combat. Working together in a six-times rebooted Egypt, players strive to complete tests (challenges) that come in a wide variety of formats. Also, there’s a lot of sand. It gets in everything.
Could a multiplayer Myst work? It can and it has. Myst Online takes players from our world into the realm of puzzles, mysteries, and Age-hopping. Its art design is one of the game’s biggest strengths, as is the option to solve puzzles solo and with friends. There’s also a suprisingly involved story that is revealed as a player makes progress through the caverns underneath New Mexico.
6. Star Stable
7. Club Penguin
It’s not surprising that a lot of obvious entires for this list are going to be non-violent kids games aimed at assuring parents that Bobby and Belinda won’t be learning the secret art of decapitation. But what are they learning from Club Penguin instead? Apparently wholesome values like cheating and how to get addicted to microtransactions!
Not to mention all of that fowl language. Get it? Get it? Good.
There are a lot of reasons that Glitch failed to gain a widespread, self-sustaining audience (yanking the game back into beta certainly didn’t help). I think it was an uphill battle to attempt to break players out of the combat-centric mindset and give them this world of whimsy that was more about connecting with others, exploring giants’ brains, and making cool stuff to use. Those who got it really got it, however, and haven’t stopped pointing to this game as an excellent example of how online space doesn’t need to be a non-stop killzone.
While it only lasted less than a year, Seed was an admirable attempt to get past combat and focus on other interactive systems. Players were sent to colonize a far-off planet, only to wake up to a half-malfunctioning station and a hostile world. Through politics and crafting, players could start to make this new world a better place to live. It got extra admiration points from me for its neat cel-shaded graphics.
10. Ever, Jane
OK, I bust Ever, Jane’s chops for its dumb name and dinner party-focused gameplay, but that’s more just lighthearted ribbing than genuine loathing. Actually, I admire the fact that a developer is taking such a far-out concept (a social MMO based on Jane Austen’s works) and running with it. We need more daring like that these days, not less.