Massively Overthinking: The MMOs that are worth their dreadful early gameplay


I think many of us are primed to roll our eyes at anyone who says “oh man, just keep playing, it gets better later after the early parts” – and yet we also know it’s true of so many MMOs, which means even if we hate it, we’ll stick it out just to see if maybe the MMO becomes something we love later. Of course, many times it doesn’t, and we just got suckered into dropping dozens of hours of our lives out of hope.

For this week’s Massively Overthinking, I want to know which games were worth the pain. Writers and readers, tell me about the noob experiences you hate in MMOs you like – beginner tutorials and gameplay that is just dreadful but totally worth sucking up and getting done in order to get to the promised land of a good MMO on the other side.

Andy McAdams: I’m actually struggling with this one because if it didn’t catch me in the first few minutes, I generally didn’t play. I remember the ramp up on Anarchy Online being rough because they didn’t really explain anything and there was a lot to learn on Newbie Island. But once you did learn all of those systems and realized how much customization there was in your character creation, it was wonderful. Maybe EVE would be another good example, if I ever actually got to the “good” part of that game. The last time I made a serious effort at playing, I learned the playstyle that I wanted would take six months of passively learning skills to get to the start of how I wanted to play. So I was like, “Well, eff this. This isn’t worth my time to play a mediocre gaming experience for six months to get to the good experience.” And I haven’t played since.

I would probably put Star Citizen in the same bucket: The beginning experience there is so horrendously, atrociously, abysmally terrible. Even though the rest of the game sounds amazing, I can’t imagine actually struggling to play through the crime-against-humanity that is that starting experience again.

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): I don’t know that I’ve ever stuck with a game that didn’t appeal to me early-on! For me, it’s usually the opposite. The start of the game is great and the endgame is either completely different or too full of hardcore players for me to properly enjoy.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): My answer’s probably pretty obvious: Star Wars Galaxies. Its beginning gameplay has always been bad, and then the NGE made it even worse, and very few of the rogue servers even try to address it. The NGE tutorial in particular is really nothing like most of the game for many players – it’s pure interior PvE with a tiny splash of confusing flight. If you were drawn to try the game because of the promise of being a crafter or entertainer or ranger, you’ll be like WTF? But on the other side of that plus a few weeks of grinding and prep is still one of the best sandboxes ever built in the MMO space, and it’s a shame because I think most folks will wash out before they ever get there. And I’m not sure they’re wrong. MMOs really can’t afford to backload their good stuff, especially as the bulk of the players age up and aren’t as willing to risk wasting their time. Sorry but nope.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): Final Fantasy XIV immediately springs to my mind of a game that’s worth its admittedly slow-moving start, though I will also contend that even after its refinement, it’s still a very long road. Still, it’s a road that is very much worth taking. And I say that as someone who has leveled up from the very early days onward.

I would also argue that much of Elite: Dangerous was worth the agony of having to learn it all. Most of the game has been “solved” by players, so there is no shortage of outside resources and guides, but that sense of discovery was still an enriching experience even with that aid. Whether it’s enough to keep one around, though, is another question entirely – and mostly that answer feels like “no.” But I digress.

Lastly, I would put forth that City of Heroes is worth the slow ride. A lot of the power combinations are extremely late-blooming, but sticking it out and watching that blooming occur is pretty rewarding. Plus, making alts is the endgame in that MMORPG anyway.

Also I want to give special nods to Star Wars Galaxies (it’s worth a visit even as nothing more than a walk through a gaming museum), No Man’s Sky (love yourself and play in sandbox mode), and prety much all of WildStar (I don’t care that it fumbled the endgame ball; that trip through the story and doing those dungeons with friends was worth it).

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I think I’ve played so many MMO and adjacent games without sticking around too long that I can’t really see the trees even. So instead I’ll toss the first one that comes to mind that might not be a fair call but you can’t stop me: Foxhole.

Now, Foxhole was a very cool game. I spent a few nights in it and could see how players could become engrossed. But it was an odd duck of a game. A lot of the gameplay involves crafting a bunch of gear or gathering and collecting mats that someone is willing to use. After discovering some of the loops, you’ll find your way to the front lines where the action is actually taking place. Then, if you try to engage in the combat, you’ll likely just die after a few moments after having spent something like half an hour or more just getting there.

The whole angle is that you’re just a cog in the war machine. But if you start to work with others, discovering the supplies they need on the front line and contributing to the effort, you just might walk away from the experience feeling totally rewarded. If not, you probably feel like you accomplished nothing and your time was wasted.

I don’t know anyone personally that plays Foxhole now, but I can imagine a player encouraging me to just stick with it because it’ll begin to click.

Tyler Edwards (blog): None of them is worth it. If a game can’t be bothered to leave a good first impression, I have no confidence in the developers’ ability to deliver a good experience later on. Life is too short to waste it on bad gameplay in the hope things might get better later.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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