In listening to discussions on MMOs over the past several months, I began to notice that when I hear a certain game being discussed, I tend to always have similar reactions to that title, whether they be positive or negative. Considering this, I figured that I must have a ranking in my head of my favorite and least favorite MMO’s, and it might be interesting to try and list those rankings out and decipher why they fall where they do on the list. Of course, thanks to personal taste, you may or may not agree with my rankings or the reasons for those rankings. It’s a fairly diverse list, and now that I’ve ordered them it has become pretty clear what elements I look for in an MMO.
What’s unfair about the list? First, there are a few glaring omissions, as I’ve never played such titans as World of Warcraft, Eve, or Diablo. Secondly, I’m comparing my beta experience in games like Landmark and Wildstar (I only ever played WS in beta) with well-established and fully fleshed-out titles. I was just going to order them from 1-10, but I suppose I’ll do them Letterman-style. Going from worst-to-first:
12. Landmark (beta)
I admit, it is completely unfair to judge a beta game against the rest of these titles. Landmark actually has a lot of upside, and I think it certainly will capture the imagination of the Minecraft generation. My son has already told me that it is his favorite MMO…and he’s only ever watched over my shoulder as I play. For me, however, wandering aimlessly about with a hatchet trying to figure out what elements to combine in order to craft other…things just isn’t my idea of fun. And if you ever saw any of my shop class creations you’d know that my ability to create in a physical space (or virtual physical space) is pretty limited. As Bill Cosby once said, everything I ever tried to make turned out to be an ash tray. I don’t need a Landmark plot full of virtual ash trays.
11. The Secret World
I had such high hopes for this game. I liked the idea of puttering around in a realistic world with a mysterious vibe. I’m also quite high in puzzle games, having enjoyed both the LEGO series of single-player titles and the Portal games. But the game play of The Secret World was what turned out to be mysterious. Progression was confusing, the ability to repeat every quest was both interesting and maddening, and combat was muddled. Finding appropriate level quests took me a good part of the evening, and attempting anything labeled as “hard” ended up with me in a pool of my own blood. I also experienced more server disconnects on this game than any other I’ve played. I left the game not caring too much about what happened to those folks in Kingsmouth.
10. Star Trek Online
Two things stick with me as positives for STO. First, It’s Star Trek, man! It’s pretty cool being able to dock at earth, visit StarFleet Academy, and take a little jaunt over to Vulcan. The other thing I liked about STO was space travel. Watching those ships warp into and out of the station just felt right within the context of the world. What did I not like about STO? Let me count the ways. Character movement was dodgy, and ground combat felt lame. Space combat seemed to have promise, but I found myself simply clicking the same “fire” button over and over in lieu of trying to figure out how to manually fire specific weapons while attempting to navigate a 3D space. There appeared to be some kind of linear episodic content that I was never able to figure out. Maybe if I did those missions as intended STO would have appealed to me more. As it is, I’ve abandoned my crew in deep space.
9. Marvel Heroes
What’s fun about Marvel Heroes? Being your favorite Marvel super hero and smashing stuff to bits. What is not fun? Just about everything else. Personally, if you like the Diablo-style isometric click-to-move games, this one is probably high on your list. What this game taught me is that I don’t. I started the game with Hawkeye and never did figure out if it was possible to try another character or even delete my first. Clicking to target AND move got to be tedious and caused some problems as I would end up moving toward the mob who was trying to kill me instead of shooting at it. Anyway, Marvel Heroes is good for a shoot ’em up fix, but I didn’t see any long-term potential in it, at least for me.
8. Guild Wars 2
I had a lot of trouble figuring out where to rank GW2. I could have put it as high as five or six, but the fact that I at one time thought this was going to be my “next” MMO and that I gave it multiple chances to catch my eye drops it further down the list than it otherwise would be. On paper, GW2 is the perfect MMO, all the way down to the buy-to-play business model. I tried playing this game with both a ranger and elementalist, and enjoyed a fair bit of it. The visuals are stunning, the world is highly explorable, and the interface is pretty intuitive. Unfortunately, there were equal amounts of things that put me off. The first thing I noticed was the ad-hoc “grouping” which mainly consisted of everybody showing up at the same place at the same time to kill a thing, after which the entire group dispersed and went along their merry way without so much as a /salute. That is not my idea of grouping, and didn’t seem to foster any type of persistent community. I also don’t like the fact that skills/attacks are attached to weapons instead of your character. Achievements don’t do anything for me, so the fact that so much of the progression is tied into achievements was pretty underwhelming. I had great difficulty trying to figure out where I was supposed to be. I was either missing the level appropriate content (I kept ending up in areas that were way over my character level), or I was supposed to spend more time collecting achievements than I was willing to. Lastly, I never did really figure out what my role within a group was supposed to be nor how to communicate that role to the rest of the group. Perhaps that’s the by design, but it left me confused and aimless.
GW2 is the first MMO on this list that remains installed on my PC, so there is a glimmer of hope that I might someday return.
7. DC Universe Online
DCUO was the 2nd MMO I ever tried, soon after downloading LOTRO. In fact, it was the first MMO that I talked my wife into trying before we both went back to LOTRO full time. I had about two weeks worth of serious fun in this game, which is available for consoles as well as the PC. The character movement is very smooth – perhaps the best of any game in this list – and the way you quickly move around the worlds (either flying, acrobatics or super speed) makes your toon feel like a true hero. The story is pretty cool, with cut-scenes done in graphic art style, and the combat consists of an innovative combination of keys and mouse clicks/holds (think of doing Morse code with your mouse). I think the biggest problem I had with DCOU was that the combat started to feel really “mashy” with all of those mouse clicks, and it was somewhat difficult to memorize all of the combinations. It’s was also pretty easy to fire off the wrong attack if not all of your clicks “registered” or if you got one out of order. I see DCOU as a good “starter” MMO for pre-teens or teens in order to become familiar with questing, progression, and character development. Every once in awhile, I wonder how my little acrobatic sprite girl is doing, but I’ll probably never log in to find out.
I rolled a trickster rogue halfling in Neverwinter that unintentionally looked a lot like Michael Jackson (I never did unlock the moonwalking attack *rim shot*). What I did learn was a whole slew of very cool stealth/knife moves that had my character disappearing in a poof of smoke and reappearing somewhere else, like Nightcrawler in the X-Men movies. Indeed, the combat was very satisfying but I did find myself relying too heavily on the sparkly trail that leads you to the quest goal. I tried turning it off, but eventually turned it back on because it was just so darn helpful. The story was only mildly engaging, and I found myself mostly just trying to get from point A to quest turn-in B as quickly as possible. The one thing that really got under my skin more than about anything was the over-the-top voice over acting of the NPC’s. It made the game feel….is it snooty and elitist to say childish? After all, it is a game. But the overly dramatic-ness of the quest bestowers kind of took me out of the world and made me feel like I was at a monster truck rally. I could see myself popping back in to Neverwinter when needing a quick combat fix, but there isn’t much long-term potential here.
5. Wildstar (Beta)
Here I go again, comparing a beta product (as it was when I played it) to a group of finished, polished games. To be sure, even in late beta Wildstar was pretty polished. Maybe even a little too polished. The UI’s of the space games all tend to be a too computerized and shiny for my liking. Wildstar certainly has a lot going for it, and I did think the mechanics were simultaneously familiar and evolutionary. Combat is fun and varied, and quests are challenging and entertaining. Wildstar suffers from the same “over the top” NPC acting as Neverwinter but it seems to fit into the “over the top” world of Nexus. Wildstar has three things going against it that move it down in my rankings: 1. The cartoon graphics. It’s no secret that I prefer at least an attempt at realism. 2. The expectations. So much fawning by the game press and bloggers. Just so much. 3. The Subscription model. I’m not going to shell out a monthly sub for a game that barely made it into my top 5.
4. Star Wars The Old Republic
Yes, a little glitzy, and a little hyped (though I was thick into LOTRO when SWTOR released, so I didn’t even think about playing it until after it’s F2P conversion). Despite early struggles, this MMO actually does a lot of things very well. Somewhat surprisingly, Bioware was able to design a wide variety of both light side and dark side classes and combat roles. Voice acting/cut scenes for the main story for your class are well done and engaging. Choices in dialog affect the development of your character and story elements down the road. Also, each class has a “fork” that you choose fairly early in the progression that allows for an even more unique feeling. And, oh yeah, lightsabers. Combat consists of a combination of lightsaber and force attacks that are both well animated and fun to execute. The biggest thing that stopped me from playing SWTOR was a technical one. I was using their “cloud based” client downloader thingie that basically would re-download the entire game every single time I played. It was horrendous. By the time the play button showed up, I had already spent a couple of hours in a different MMO and was ready to call it a night.
RIFT is a great game with several layers of polish, good looking characters, an amazing fantasy environment and a lot of choices about player development thanks to the deep skill/soul tree system. RIFT launched between the WoW/WoW clone phase and the newer action-y console controller friendly breed of MMO’s, and it is pretty apparent. Coming from LOTRO, it was pretty easy to pick up the mechanics of RIFT. Combat is fairly rotation-based, and while there is variety in character development, players will probably find that they are more suited to a certain play style and gravitate towards that role when in a group. RIFT is free-to-play (well, hybrid), and has a reputation as one of the least obtrusive of that genre. In other words, it doesn’t hit you over the head with “opportunities” to purchase advantages in the in-game store. Technically, I was impressed by the “get into the game quickly” launcher that allows players into the starter zones while the remainder of the game downloads and installs in the background. I also liked the mobile app, which gives offline access to guild chat and daily scratch-off games for in-game rewards. RIFT also introduced dynamic world events for random grouping opportunities, though I never found these events to be overly random.
In my opinion, RIFT’s weak point is it’s story. The whole ascended/descended thing (I know, that’s not right) seems kind of silly. I found myself paying very little attention to the story and focused more on completing the task goals, which left me kind of lost on the overall purpose of my character. In all, with a good guild I could see RIFT being my “next MMO”.
2. Elder Scrolls Online
In my opinion, the award for best graphics in a fantasy MMO setting goes to the developers for ESO. I absolutely love the fantastic realism that permeates the world within this game. I can practically smell the magma fumes wafting from the ground. I can feel the bite of the snowflakes as they brush against my cheek. Not only that, I can make nearly any choice imaginable in the development of my character. Neither armor nor weapons are constrained to specific classes or races. Players can choose to craft nothing, or everything. Combat reminds me of Neverwinter and the story mechanics remind me of SWTOR. A lot of things that I enjoy intersect very nicely in ESO. The biggest problem for me? (cue dramatic music) The sub model made me quit ESO. I know that I’m forever cementing my name into the “casual” column by admitting that, but that’s how it goes. If, at some point, ESO decides to give people more choice in how their game can be purchased and played, I almost certainly will jump at it. As it is, I’ll simply watch from afar, knowing that Braxwolf is stuck somewhere in Tamriel awaiting my return.
1. Lord of the Rings Online
It probably comes as no surprise to followers of this blog that LOTRO remains my go-to MMO of choice. For one, it was the first MMO that I tried, so it has nostalgia in it’s side. Secondly, it takes place in the mother of all fantasy worlds. Third, I’ve been playing it longer than the others so there is an aspect of familiarity that allows me to just “jump in and play”. Fourth, I’m still a member of a small, active guild, the importance of which cannot be overstated. Fifth, I’m involved in the community, which is actually still fairly welcoming and understanding despite the free-to-play model.
You might have noticed that I haven’t even mentioned the game play or mechanics yet. The game is incredibly deep in systems due to the fact that it’s nearly seven years old. In fact, the game as a whole is very solid. Many of the complaints leveled against it usually fall into the “it isn’t what it used to be” category, which is completely true. Many things have changed over the last seven years, and whether those changes are good or bad depend greatly on the preferences of the individual. There are things I prefer about “legacy” LOTRO, but as a whole I still very much enjoy the game. It is unapologetically a WoW clone, so if you enjoy that quest-driven, linear story, repeatable (yes, I even consider raids “repeatable” content) end-game, then you’ll probably enjoy LOTRO. If you’re looking for the next evolution of MMO gaming, this one certainly won’t fit the bill. As for me, I’m hoping to be able to see the story through to the end, and that it’s still fun for me at that point.
Looking back over this list, it would seem that I must prefer epic fantasy MMO’s with a realistic style. It also seems that I prefer the old rotation-based style of combat to the newer, action style, but can be swayed in that direction if other game elements are strong. I want to be told a good story, and while sandbox elements are nice, I don’t necessarily look for them. I like a deep game that will guide me through the process of learning that depth. Social/community is important, but I do realize that at some point I will most likely have to “start over” from a social standpoint in order to get a satisfactory level of enjoyment out of a new game. It also looks like games with a weighty and established lore help with my immersion. I feel like I’m a part of a larger story, which helps with the perception of realism. Three of my top four occur within a realm of well established lore.
This has been a pretty fun and surprisingly educational experience. What are your favorite MMO’s and why?
#MMO #LOTRO #ESO
Featured image by betmari on Flickr Creative Commons
The Secret World image by Kvakke on Flickr Creative Commons
Star Trek Online image by Annabeth Robinson on Flickr Creative Commons
Iron Man image by Cihan Unalan on Flickr Creative Commons
Guild Wars 2 image by Antonio Ruiz García of Flickr Creative Commons
DCOU image by dcuniverseonline52 on Flickr Creative Commons
Neverwinter image by GBPublic_PR on Flickr Creative Commons
Wildstar image by Kyle Mercury on Flickr Creative Commons
SWTOR image by Marcel Hofstra on Flickr Creative Commons
RIFT image by Ewen Roberts on Flickr Creative Commons
ESO image by verifex on Flickr Creative Commons
LOTRO image by Matt Malone on Flickr Creative Commons