I’ve seen a lot of desperate requests in my day in which players are asking for games outside of the normal sphere of popularity and MMO mainstream (such as it is). We all know what the big games are, the ones that get the lion’s share of the publicity, press, and popularity. But all of that attention can easily blind us to those titles that are quite good if not as well-known, and I believe it’s those MMOs that many players are seeking when looking for an alternative to the games they’ve been playing for years.
So today we’re going to explore a list my top 10 recommendations for “obscure” MMOs. These are games that might not be on the tips of everyone’s tongues but have earned a solid reputation in some way and might offer a different experience than the same-old that you’re used to seeing. For this list I’m mostly sticking with released or playable titles that have good word-of-mouth behind them, are still in operation, and have generally run under the radar for most of their lifespan.
If you’re looking for an MMO that decided to throw out the rules for how these games are supposed to be designed and instead went back to the feel and freedom of pen-and-paper campaigns, you might end up in the vicinity of Project Gorgon. While it’s still in testing, it’s been playable by the public for years now and features a crazy amount of creative content including mix-and-match classes, playable animals, and NPCs that develop relationships with you over time. It should come out on Steam this year, and when it does, pick it up. You won’t be sorry.
2. Dragon Nest
No, I don’t blame you if you didn’t give Dragon Nest a second’s attention when it launched or even since. From the name and at a first glance, it looks like just another generic Asian import. Yet Dragon Nest has quietly built for itself a strong reputation as a fun, frantic game that melds action combat with free-to-play and makes for an experience that’s easy for anyone to access. It’s been spreading across the world and even spawned a mobile sequel. Might be worth a look, hm?
Allods Online was a once-promising title that was hampered by an over-extended beta and a poor cash shop structure at launch. However, this “World of Warcraft clone” has come into its own with a steady stream of expansions and updates, creating a fantasy world that has one foot in the industrial era (with a Russian motif). Plus it’s got airships and one race that allows the player to control three little critters at once. Talk about cool!
There still aren’t a lot of good mobile MMOs out there, even in 2016, but those that are mentioned in a positive light invariably include Spacetime Studios’ line-up. Most of those games are good, but I think the studio took all of the lessons learned from its previous efforts to craft Arcane Legends into a generally great game. It’s packed with content, has a neat pet system, and adapts well to smartphones and tablets.
Modern players who bemoan the lack of good sandboxes in the MMO space must not be looking hard enough, I’ve concluded, because so few of them ever mention Mabinogi. Whatever stealth device that Mabinogi is using to keep the mainstream away must work really well because it’s hiding a wealth of features that aren’t often seen in MMOs, including a rebirth system, complete class freedom, dynamic weather, facial expressions, part-time jobs, different combat styles, player music, animal taming, and plenty of other options outside of mindless fighting.
6. Aardwolf MUD
While longtime veterans of the industry might have fond memories of MUDs, I’d wager that there are generations out there that have no idea what a MUD is or that they’re still running today. If you’ve never tried your hand at one of these text-based MMOs, I’d recommend Aardwolf MUD as a popular jumping-off point, although other titles such as Discworld, Realms of Despair, MUME, and others all offer quality MUD experiences.
The hook to Villagers and Heroes is that you play a character with a double life: one as a combat adventurer and one as a homebody who crafts and creates. Villagers and Heroes is a charming title that went through a massive revamp last year and has been slowly winning players over who have wandered into its sphere of influence. I’d say check it out, especially if you like WoW’s graphical style but want more substance to your character’s creation.
This might seem like a weird choice for this list because not too long ago DDO was the talk of the town with its new fancy free-to-play format. But ever since every other MMO has gotten on board with that business model, DDO’s 15 minutes of fame evaporated. That’s a shame because there really aren’t any MMOs quite like this title. DDO does dungeons in a different and challenging way, has an insanely customizable character system, and folds two D&D campaign settings into one large game.
10. Fallen Earth
With Fallout 4 bringing the post-apocalyptic fever back into gaming, I think it’s high time that Fallen Earth get another chance by MMO players. It is certainly nowhere near as action-packed or visually polished as Bethesda’s games, but Fallen Earth boasts a wonderful setting even so that begs players to go exploring, craft everything, and find their place in this new world. Personally, I love the black humor and the goofy mutated animals (prairie chicken mounts FTW!).