There are plenty of reasons people play MMORPGs, whether it’s to experience a story (yes, those exist), run in some PvP wars, or grind out some endgame progression. Of course, that final gameplay goal can very frequently get stale or unsatisfying enough that you take a hiatus from an MMO.
But what if you still want to feed that grindset mindset without having to rely on an MMORPG’s time-limited progression? What if you like to grind up character or personal progression outside of our genre? There are obviously a lot of options in the RPG space, but I wanted to focus on the titles that I feel scratch that same kind of itch without falling into the usual suspects. These are, in my opinion, the sorts of unique titles that best feed that need.
I’ve opined before how the internet spaceship sandboxes available right now aren’t really cutting the mustard for me, so Void Crew immediately filled that hole in my gaming heart. But outside of that, I’m finding that this game also feeds the urge to grind up progression with the usual sort of roguelike progress.
In Void Crew, as many as four players come together to man various stations across a spaceship, whether it’s engineering, the helm, or the turrets – think Guns of Icarus in space and you’re pretty much there in terms of gameplay feel. What makes this one feed my grind-loving soul is the earning and use of gene points, which can be spent to unlock nodes in a (admittedly small) talent tree. It’s not much of a replacement, but it’s a nice additive to an already addictive space game that I’ve always wanted.
Part roguelike, part wave survival shooter, and mostly like that old timey classic Asteroids, Nova Drift has a very arcade-like gameplay loop that basically sees you playing until you fail, with success coming down to managing a slippery ship and contending with randomly rolled ship types, shield types, weapons, and mods for all three.
While this one is another roguelike experience in terms of its base content, the grinding sensation comes by way of the overall rank-up system that unlocks additional challenge modes, mods, ship types, and weapons. Getting those ranks ends up being a long-tail sort of affair, which progress varying wildly depending on how long you survive, but it still ends up feeling rewarding. Or at least dangles the carrot on the stick just far enough for me.
Talk about addictive and simple, I’d be remiss if I didn’t add this game to the list. Vampire Survivors is the single best dopamine drip-feed title that feels like it’s engineered to pet your brain while also letting you turn it off a little bit.
That swift-hitting, arcade gameplay does make Vampire Survivors a bit too small in terms of long-form grinding – it’s the only game in my Steam collection that I’ve always gotten 100% achievements on – but despite its shorter length for most MMO gamers’ proclivities, the gameplay reward loop is highly satisfying from a grinders’ point of view. It’s a short game to mainline, but damn does it feel good.
MotorTown: Behind the Wheel
I like truckin’. In games, anyway. If I were allowed to, I would likely be a caravan driver for guilds and towns in a sandbox MMORPG. But since I can’t really do that without becoming succulent meat for FFA PvPers, MotorTown: Behind the Wheel will have to feed that niche as well as the level grind urge.
This one is really simple both in presentation and execution – I recall seeing someone describe it as a wholesome GTA Online – but it also feels like the best balanced for long-term goals. As you drive vehicles in this game, you earn both a character-specific driving level as well as a job-specific level, whether that’s delivering goods, running bus routes, or patrolling the streets as a cop, all of which allow you to unlock the option to drive or buy different vehicles. In short, there are multiple progression routes to grind up to, and it’s all happening in a serene multiplayer driving game.
Doom RPG is a bit like the “typical” RPG gaming experience that I was pointing out as one that wouldn’t meet my criteria, but then again this is also a mod for the classic FPS Doom II, which has managed to shoehorn a dungeon crawler roguelike system into a game that normally wouldn’t handle that sort of thing. And it works!
Now I will admit that enjoyment of this is mostly down to the levels that you do plumb (some of these things were poorly designed by fans and it absolutely shows), but it also has enough RPG grinding hooks in terms of levels, class progress, and gear purchasing to fit the bill. Plus, it’s Doom II, the finest FPS to this very day. Of course, this does mean you have to own the original shooter to work, but every PC gamer does. Right?
It would be absolutely silly for me to not include Erenshor in this list, especially since it’s the closest to feel, style, and presentation to a real MMORPG as you can get. So while it hits very familiar beats, it also looks to do so with some real aplomb.
As readers likely know by now, this isn’t a real MMORPG since it can be played entirely solo, as it merely emulates the classic genre experience – and it does it pretty well in the brief time I’ve had in-game. This addition is probably the most obvious, but I feel it’s a worthy one.
I’ve gushed before about this game over the course of an entire month’s worth of writing, so I’ll not repeat myself too much here, but even for someone who feels like he’s hit the top rung of its early access ladder right now, Craftopia strikes the perfect marriage of survival sandbox grind while not getting completely in the way.
I’ll admit that the jankiness of this title might not be to everyone’s taste, and it absolutely isn’t complete by any stretch, but after it added a fully open world, it’s been a great getaway for me to grind up some skills in survivalbox fashion.
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries
I love me some ‘mechs, and it doesn’t get closer to home for me than the MechWarrior series, and while MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries does have a single story, it’s the career mode portion that makes this one hit the grinding notes for me.
For those who are unfamiliar, the game’s story mode basically tasks you with earning mercenary company reputation levels by doing randomly generated missions, breaking them up with story missions when you hit milestones. Career mode cuts the story mode stuff away, letting you focus entirely on earning merc rep, increasing pilot skills, and piloting giant stomping death machines while doing it. Add in the massive number of mods available to customize the experience how you want, and this one is both a mech jockey’s dream and an endless grinder’s dream.