Massively Overthinking: Our favorite RPGs for MMORPG fans

    
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This week’s Overthinking topic was sent along to us from MOP reader Mordyjuice. This is gonna be a fun one!

“I find that I often play MMOs like solo RPGs, so I’m wondering what you would recommend for RPGs for for people like me that have played games like World of Warcraft, WoW clones, Guild Wars 2, Elder Scrolls Online, and Diablo III. I figure this way I can play the content and not worry about the group anxiety for more hardcore content. I’m thinking Skyrim would be a no-brainer. My thing is I’m an explorer so I want a massive world like GW2 or ESO, WoW even. Something with a lot of lore.”

Let’s give this one a go – what RPGs would you recommend to MMORPG players who are looking for a single-player experience with a massive world and lots of lore?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Looking at that list, I feel like I can recommend Dragon Age 1 and 3 (2 isn’t horrible but exploration is, let’s say, limited. II’s got pretty good exploration physically, but the plot has some good grey zones to explore that often rely on you snooping around and reading lore or talking to people. Oh, and it’s got some dating sim in there because BioWare.

Metal Gear Solid: V seemed good and is one of two I didn’t play because I had to choose between multi-player games and my job, and both won over a huge single player game. That being said, despite some creepy fanservice, even a female gamer I recommended it to loved the exploration and creative ways to (non)lethally handle enemies. Oh, and Metal Gear plots to explore. Hope you like spy stories and conspiracy theories!

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild still times me. The demos I played alone were satisfying: creative cooking, climbing, physics, survival, Mount collecting (and temporary bear mount!), unique game world… I won’t lie, if we covered single player games, I would have fought a staffer to review it. No lie, if I ever felt I had time for a large, environmental exploration game, this would be my pick.

Wild card: Detroit Become Human. I love TellTale Games for its story exploration and handling of moral grey, but as we’ve seen, it wasn’t enough for some people. A coworker and a PR person from a rival company both recommended Become Human, though. While the environments are small, the high amount of interactiveness that changes your dialogue options through the story is pretty satisfying, and gives the game high replay value (still working on my first trip through though). Really good if you want something sci-fi but human.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): Yes, Skyrim is the obvious choice, but when you’re done with it – and done with the years of modding content you can plug into it – don’t forget about its chief predecessors, Oblivion and Morrowind! Both are seriously still worth it for fans of that massive-world roleplaying experience, especially once you’ve tricked them out with mods for eyecandy, playability, and scope. And I say Morrowind has the best story of them all; you’ll need multiple characters just to see all the main quest, never mind the rest of the questlines. Personally, when I find that my MMO of choice isn’t offering me enough virtual world, I often wander back to these games to tinker with houses and really generate some immersion. The fact that they are pretty and customizable doesn’t hurt either.

It’d be a betrayal not to mention the KOTOR and Mass Effect series too: Not only do they boast massive, immersive settings but the offer the ability to drag around a party of NPCs who interact with you – but never go AFK, drop group, ninjaloot, or teamkill – it definitely mimics that ideal MMORPG group!

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): There were a lot of standouts that mentally sprang to mind that probably would be expected, like your Witcher 3 and Dragon Age: Origins. Yet one best mirrors an MMO in terms of style and character options for me: Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning.

Visually speaking, it’s like WoW 2.0. Story-wise, it’s a fun fantasy world with the usual tropes. Gameplay-wise, it has great combat and an awesome custom class selection that follows established class tropes or lets you be a little divergent. All things considered, it’s one of the best analogues to MMO gaming that solo titles will get to.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): We’re actually drowning in amazing single-player RPGs with expansive worlds and in-depth storylines that have come out in the past few years. Off the top of my head, I’d say that Pillars of Eternity (and its sequel), Divinity Original Sin 2, and The Witcher 3 are no-brainers considering how much content they have, how critically acclaimed they are, and how many options they offer. Want some more? Wasteland 2, The Bard’s Tale 4, Star Control Origins, Fallout 4, Darkest Dungeon, and Undertale are fairly recent and offer a lot to do. And don’t sell older RPGs short; check out GOG.com sometime to see what they have for sale. Some of the best RPG fun I’ve had this decade came from older titles.

Your turn!

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Tee Parsley

I’d definitely recommend the wonderful Elder Scrolls total conversion replacement mods of Enderal and Nehrim. For Skyrim and Oblivion respectively. Nehrim far surpasses the poorly designed Oblivion.

Been going through a second run of Amalur, and have been enjoying it way more than the first time.

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Sylkesh

I’ll try to complete the column and the comments I read without duplicating too much of previous proposals.
I saw one comment briefly mentioning it and for me, it’s definitely the best choice: Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (a recent remastered which exists on PC and consoles) has been designed as an MMO. The story mimics Star Wars’ in so many ways that if you like the Star Wars universe, you’ll like it.
Fallout New Vegas is an exceptional piece from Obsidian: the size and infiniteness of Skyrim with well written quests in, of course, a huge postapocalyptic world.
Xenoblade Chronicles X is a massive RPG very similar in many features to a solo MMORPG, but you can only play it on a Nintendo WiiU.
Stardew Valley, no one mentioned it if I’m right, but it’s a no brainer in terms of RPGs for MMO addicts. May be not enough lore for you in this one anyway.

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Vexia

My picks are aesthetically different than the ones I’ve seen mentioned so far. Some people are sensitive to these things, so please keep that in mind. :) They also cater to specific niches/fantasies that MMOs let you live out (ideally), each in its own way. I have been in something of a single player gaming renaissance after finishing college though I do keep busy with FFXIV and my free company there. Hopefully that somewhat explains my absence from commenting (but not reading!) here.

1. The crafter fantasy – Atelier Series for Steam, Playstation 3, 4 & Vita, Switch, and a few more

A few MMOs do such amazing crafting, but we all know that it’s often an afterthought feature. If you’re one of those MMO players who feel like crafting could be so much more, I invite you to try an Atelier game. Once you advance to higher levels, keeping track of everything you need to craft the best items will really appeal to the planning and management side of your brain. Some of them are harder than others (like ones with the Alchemist of Arland subtitle), but they generally have laid back “slice of life” plots that focus on unlocking story cutscenes with the townsfolk. A major plus in my book is that the majority of the titles have female protagonists. I’m currently playing Atelier Sophie, and the gameplay is simultaneously relaxing and compelling but the localization quality is somewhat uneven. I think MMO players might like Atelier Firis since it revolves around a journey and might check your exploration box as well.

2. The shopkeeper fantasy – Recettear for Steam

I’ve always wanted to run my own store in a sandbox MMO. It’s easier said than done, however! Camelot Unchained is promising that capability whenever it launches, but in the meantime I will play Recettear to scratch that itch. You get to team up with heroes and comb through 2D dungeons, taking the spoils back to your shop to advance one of the cutest, quirkiest, and wholesome RPG plots I’ve seen. The localization team did an amazing job with this game! Overall, it hits many similar areas to Atelier, but with the added joys of haggling, so if you like one you will probably enjoy the other.

3. The community fantasy, plus housing and visual customization – Animal Crossing for Nintendo platforms

MMO communities are… complicated beasts. Even the best communities have their wayward elements. But the village communities in Animal Crossing games are always pretty dang wholesome, even in the occasional moments of drama and strife. Lots of people, myself included, have found cute little virtual animal villager friends to be greatly comforting during life’s distressing moments. Moreover, the player housing is up there with iconic games’ housing like the Sims series. When you’re not catching butterflies with your animal pals, you can display said bugs in little terrariums in your living room, next to a bowling set, a covered wagon, and a giant stuffed panda bear. Basically, you can pick your aesthetic and go wild with it. There are lots of clothing items to wear, or you can design your own outfits if you please.

4. The MMO-like fantasy – Dragalia Lost for Mobile and Granblue Fantasy for browser

These two games have different playstyles (isometric action for Dragalia and traditional turn-based for Granblue), but they are developed by the same company and share quite a few common features. Be warned that both have gacha mechanics which involve either hoarding free to play currency or spending some real money for a few possibly regretful rolls. But they also have regular holiday events, great story and localizations, grinds to power up your characters, and some light multiplayer features (Granblue even has guilds). They are great for when you kind of want to feel like you’re playing a very story driven MMO without necessarily having to worry about other people all of the time. I recommend giving them a look, even if it’s just a casual one. Dragalia is probably the easiest for a new player to get into since Granblue has a notoriously steep learning curve.

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Thomas

“Not only do [Mass Effect and Dragon Age] boast massive, immersive settings but the[y] offer the ability to drag around a party of NPCs who interact with you – but never go AFK, drop group, ninjaloot, or teamkill – it definitely mimics that ideal MMORPG group!”

Amen to this!

What I wouldn’t give to have an AI team in most of the MMOs I now play, just for a pleasant change of pace when I feel like running instanced content.

WoW and other MMOs would have a lot more lasting appeal (at least to me), if they offered “group content” in some form that allowed you to take an AI team OR other players or a mixture of both. SWTOR, Diablo III, and Neverwinter (with their one AI companion each) offer something close to that kind of “AI team micromanagement fun,” but nobody has ever topped GW1 (in the online multiplayer-verse)–and of course the single-player games Mass Effect and Dragon Age.

I’d be overjoyed if either of the latter two IPs was made into a CORPG. SWTOR seems to be gravitating more in that direction, which is fine with me since good MMORPGs are a dime a dozen, while good CORPGs are, seemingly, as rare as hen’s teeth.

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cursedseishi

Well, it’s hard not to echo the countless times Obsidian has been brought up below, but seriously… check their stuff out!

Larian Studio’s Divinity: Original Sins series is also a strong game to try your hand with, and perfect to dabble in with a friend thanks to its co-op friendly nature… Or more, with 2 offering a “Dungeon Master” mode to play with.

Fable 1 is also a recommend, if only as the only good Fable game in the series for me. It isn’t weighed down with all the faux-emotional-tugs that it tries to do in the last two games, nor does it step on its own toes trying to impress you.

And for anyone who hasn’t yet for some bloody reason…? Nier: Automata. The world isn’t as large as some of the others here, but the story? The Looooore? The game packs it in heavy, and most has to be sussed out and sought for rather than simply told. If you don’t mind the oddity of their style either, Clemps does an amazingly thorough breakdown of Nier (and its pseudo-prequels Drakengard) that is informative and entertaining… even if it might eat up a few hours to go through. Highly recommend playing at least Automata blind though. It is worth it.

And hey, Star Ocean: Till The End of Time got a PS4 remaster, and as one of the last best titles in the series? It’s worth it too.

And I’ll also double up on Kingdoms of Amalur as well as .Hack GU Recode. The former is a fun fantasy RPG with a good twist on character progression that makes multi-classing FEEL impactful, while the latter is from CyberConnect2. A (not actually a) MMORPG that can start off somewhat rough but smooths itself out and feels good to play.

And if you are a fan of GU Recode, definitely check out .Hack/Sign. The music in the show is stellar, and it loosely leads up into it (though it, the original Quadrology of .Hack games, and Hack GU are all separated enough to not need knowledge of the others). Also, rare finds, but the initial Hack games are decent, if rather dated. Much like several of the Drakengard/Yoko-Taro games, its higher on concept than it is on technical fun. But it builds the world up inside and out with a ‘living’ internet that updates, posts and threads are made and disappear, and even dabbles with fan-art in a sense that helps pepper fun where it otherwise might not be.

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Hikari Kenzaki

For any Secret World fans, The Longest Journey Trilogy is something you owe to yourself to play. In order. Now. The games aren’t really ‘open world’ but there are a lot of elements that make them feel that way. Dreamfall Chapters has a few of those Telltale/BecomeHuman elements where if you can completely miss stuff and the world will keep spinning on without you if you’re not careful.

Tomb Raider, specifically TR 2013 and beyond. There is a reason I have a dedicated weekly stream for TR. I love these games and could play them over and over. There are so many side tombs, challenge tombs, side quests and collections to dive into (sometimes literally).

Every old Bioware franchise has elements that eventually made transitioning to making MMOs a natural leap (yes, yes, boo, hiss). I had initially only played KotOR, but Natalyia and I have recently played Jade Empire (the best and least known), Dragon Age Trilogy and Mass Effect Trilogy. Mechanically, they are all very different games (even the 3 DA games are each different), but they all have an underlying MMO feel.

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Robert Mann

I… tend to find most of this a list of very combat-centric titles that are doubling down on one of the worst things in the genre, the lack of OTHER things given much attention.

I think the list is spot on for people who are invested in the fighting aspects of MMOs. However, one of the most common refrains I hear is that people are tired of being nothing more than murder-hobos.

I guess, for those looking to avoid the combat… maybe Yonder? There’s really a dearth of decent games with less combat focus out there. :(

Cyclone Jack
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Cyclone Jack

Skyrim can fit this bill, so long as you’re just willing to play the game as you want and not follow the (very bland) story. I’ve put countless hours into two characters that aren’t your typically Killmongers.

One was a hunter that only killed beasts, and there are some amazing Hunter-themed mods out there to really expand this (like Hunterborn, Scrimshaw, Hunting in Skyrim, Fishing, Camping, etc). This was probably my favorite character that I played; it was mostly relaxing while still being quite satisfying to play (you still had to be on guard for those roaming patrols, bandit gangs, vampires, and other annoying humanoids).

The other was a pacifist thief that never killed anything (not even a bee or butterfly, but also meant that he couldn’t complete the Thieves’ Guild, ironically), but stole everything he could get his hands on. His big thing was using a bow to create distractions (shoot a wall to lure people away from your target/exit). Of course, when you steal from the wrong people they send bounty hunters after you (even if you were never seen in the act, the game likes to cheat like that), and these guys will literally walk straight to you (not even a river or lake will slow them down); luckily, that means they’ll blindly walk right into a bandit camp, and the two groups will…generate additional loot for me. ;)

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Kayweg

Divinity Original Sin 1+2 (Larian), Pillars of Eternity 1+2 and Tyranny (Obsidian), Tower of Time (Event Horizon), Pathfinder: Kingmaker (Owlcat Games).
And upcoming (Nov. 6th) Underworld Ascendant (OtherSide Entertainment), folks from the original Ultima Underworld games involved here, former Looking Glass and Origin, Warren Specter, Paul Neurath.
Looked a dead genre for a time, but good days for CRPG players now.
Especially Divinity Original Sin 2 is a game i almost consider a “must play”, if for nothing else than to remind yourself how beautiful and fascinating computer games can be.

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Utakata

Is there anything out where one can roll something small, pink and pigtail’d? It can’t be a one of those sausage only factory deals either. >.<

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kieranbunny

thin you got troubles!!??!? try findin a game where you can roll-up a wabbit wif big ears!!!*sigh*…is hard to do <(:*(..it's blatent "speciism" me tell ya!!!!

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Utakata

You could try Blade & Soul or TERA. But those are MMO’s though. o.O

K38FishTacos
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K38FishTacos

ELEX

I know I’ll get scorned and laughed out of the room for this. Yes, I’m know it got a lot of bad reviews, but I loved this game (the combat and difficulty were fine for me–Morrowind combat is fine for me). So watch some reviews and make your own mind up, but I loved it.

This is definitely an explorer’s game.

If I had it to do all over again, I would do all the faction main quests before finishing the game’s main quest.

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Robert Mann

Elex mostly got scorn for things that were due to budget constraints, tbh. It was a solid game, with some things that definitely can use improvement… but the potential for PB to come back with really solid games again showed.