I had a strange thought the other day, at least as regards the MMO genre. I’m kinda having fun here. I know, it surprised me too because it’s been an eternity since I found MMOs fun. Don’t get me wrong because free-to-play still sucks, people still love lockboxes, and you can’t click on a news article these days without reading about monetization or raving lunatics.
But funk all that! I’m in a good MMO mood. Join me past the cut and I’ll show you the games responsible.
OK, so this isn’t really an MMO. But it’s a really fun multiplayer game, and it’s put to rest the notion that all early access devs are out to kill your dog, sleep with your mother, and otherwise make your life miserable. It also boasts crafting and building mechanics that shame most modern MMORPGs, which is not nothing.
As an ARK private server admin, I sometimes get irritated with the frequency of Studio Wildcard’s patches. But then I have to step back and remind myself that this is how you’re supposed to do it. You’re supposed to listen to your playerbase, execute your vision in a timely and competent fashion, and update your game as often as new ideas and new bug fixes require it.
Apart from all that, ARK is just a fantastic freaking game. The crafting, the building, and the lush, Unreal-powered world that goes on seemingly forever simply never gets old. And oh yeah, those dinos are beyond spectacular, too. Seriously, I dare you to stand there while a bronto stomps by, shaking the earth — and your surround speakers — and making you feel rather insignificant in the game’s grand scheme.
Er, OK. Here’s another one that’s not really an MMO, and maybe this little trend should cause me to reevaluate my earlier statement about having fun in MMOs again! But nah, I don’t think I will because GTAO, like ARK, takes the best parts of MMORPGs — namely, non-linear fun in a huge, immersive world — and strips out many of the worst.
GTA’s hyper-realistic recreation of Los Angeles and the surrounding desert can only be called a virtual playground. There is so much stuff to do, whether it’s stealing cars, racing boats, skydiving, or dozens of other activities, that I could play here exclusively and still not see everything.
Rockstar still has some kinks to work out when it comes to multiplayer bugs and exploits, but heists with a pre-made group of friends are an absolute blast and a refreshing departure from the usual MMO grind.
I went back to LotRO a few weeks ago, as I do three or four times annually without fail. It comes with the territory when you’re a Tolkien die-hard, and despite numerous missteps over the years, frankly there’s nothing Turbine could do at this point to drive me away from Middle-earth online for good.
The game’s environment visuals have aged exceedingly well, and there’s nothing in gaming quite like riding my warhorse over the fields of Rohan, fishing in the Brandywine, or inching my way ever closer to Mordor via the new Gondor questlines that aren’t exactly new but are still new to me on account of my frequent sabbaticals.
I typically loathe themepark questing, but LotRO’s has always been a different animal. On the surface, it’s the same silly level grind as any other MMORPG, but I do read all of the quest text and it is written well enough — and respectfully enough, vis-a-vis the source material — to elevate the experience above typical grindpark pop culture references and somewhere near the realm of immersive escapism.
And at this point, some eight years after its debut, LotRO is one of the more massive MMOs in existence in terms of total land area. Every so often I’ll disable my autorun and just wander along the road between Breeland and Weathertop. It takes forever, and it’s exactly what the doctor ordered to cure a case of genre burnout and remind me why I started playing these games in the first place.
SWTOR and I have a curious relationship. In some respects, the game offends almost all of my MMO sensibilities, and I continue to shake my head at how BioWare has gotten away with producing a single-player story RPG, slapping a gear grind and a cash shop onto it, and milking the ungodly contraption for incredible amounts of recurring revenue.
The IP continually draws me back, though, and BioWare’s world designers did well enough with it that I feel a satisfaction similar to the one I feel in LotRO. SWTOR excels at the sights and sounds of Star Wars, which makes up for the fact that it completely drops the ball on the combat (and the non-combat) of Star Wars.
The game’s ostensible raison d’etre, its MMO stories, are pretty underwhelming. They’re not horrible, in the same way that the recently de-canonized Expanded Universe wasn’t horrible. But they’re not why I’m enjoying myself here lately. No, I guess I’m just easy to please because there’s something oddly enjoyable about 30-minute Star Wars-based achievement hunting sessions a couple of times per week. I’m not really achieving anything, of course, because my Imperial Agent didn’t really save the galaxy or change the game world any more than yours did.
But I do love playing with virtual Star Wars action figures while listening to endless variations on John Williams’ signature themes!
This last one is a little bit premature because I haven’t dived head-first back into Norrath as of yet. On Tuesday, though, I am so there, and yes it’s all because of EverQuest II’s progression servers. I realize that they’re not actually classic servers per se. They’re missing the original racial starting hamlets, which is kind of a big deal since I played through them so many times in 2004 and 2005 that I could give you a complete guided tour from memory.
And for some unfathomable reason, Daybreak has decided to forego the actual unlocking mechanic that typically goes along with progression shards. For example, the Beastlord class will be playable from the get-go, despite the fact that it didn’t show up until the live game’s eighth expansion.
But whatever. It’s a chance to start fresh with what will likely be a big population of veterans and curiosity seekers on a virgin shard, and since EQ2 is far and away the most feature-rich themepark in existence already, a do-over simply sweetens the pot.