My god, it’s full of stars…
If you decided right now to get into MMOs you’d be stepping into one of the most exciting genres gaming has to offer. There’s many accomplished games with spectacular storylines and worlds, and you get to play alongside hundreds if not thousands of other people. The problem is, there are loads of MMOs on the market. After World of Warcraft became a perpetual money generator many companies decided to step in and try their hand. Whilst this is in no way a comprehensive list, here are our opinions of the MMOs we’ve been playing over the last few years. Click the titles to be taken to the website for that game, but be aware many of them are available on Steam if you’re into that kind of thing.
WoW is the archetype of the MMO. It may not have been the first, but it’s undoubtedly the most popular, until recently being the most-played game on PCs (it’s now supposedly been overtaken by DOTA2). It’s nine years old now, and there are four expansions released for it. If you were looking at getting into the game now, there’s a free trial version available, but then you’ll be paying something in the region of £10 for the first three expansion packs and a month’s subscription, then £20 or nothing for the third if you can find someone to refer you (not too difficult on forums, or ask me in the comments) and then £20-£30 for the most recent, Mists of Pandaria. This is all on top of a recurring £8.99 monthly subscription that can be lowered a bit if you’re prepared to pay for longer terms at a time. It may sound like a terribly expensive game, but when you look at the hundreds of hours people get out of it, it’s not so bad. All the time I was playing it I bought very few other games as WoW took up my time.
In terms of gameplay, WoW is essentially the standard by which others are set. You pick a race and a class full of interesting takes on fantasy-standards, then you get released into a world where you’ll be killing things for quests, collecting pets like pokemon, challenging others in PvP arenas or larger battles, and joining up to fight through dungeons with friends. There’s also a full economy by means of an auction house and a whole slew of achievements. In short, there’s a lot to do. The graphics can seem dated now but there’s still impressive moments, particularly in the newest expansion, and the music is phenomenal.
Unfortunately there are two big problems with the game as it stands. Firstly, there has been massive feature bloat. While some of this has been culled with the newest patches (removing the talent trees as they were) there’s still so many skills and glyphs and enchantments and gear combinations that it’s intimidating and mostly pointless. Bringing us to the second point, while all these ways to customise your character might seem like it’s giving you choice, as soon as you get up to the point where you’re playing with other people, customisation goes out of the window. People have been working out the most efficient ways to set up characters and play for nearly a decade now, and you’ll be ostracised if you don’t step into those shoes. The later part of the game becomes an exercise in installing mods and reading guides on what you should do to be able to take part, and if you don’t do that you’re useless. Some of this has been mitigated by things like raid-finder allowing you to at least see all of the content even if you’re not interested in following someone else’s guide, but it can feel very limiting.
In short, I’d go into World of Warcraft if you can play with a group of people you know. There’s months of enjoyment to be had just levelling a single character, and since levelling is so fast and much of the old content has been updated to eliminate some of the grinds, it’s a compelling experience. If you can take on dungeons at your own pace with some friends, it’s brilliant. If you can’t, then be prepared to put the time in to learn how to do things ‘right’.
Check out our review here (Mists of Pandaria)
Rift is, on the surface, strikingly similar to World of Warcraft. They both feature you making a character for one of two sides, gaining abilities and completing quests, with large dungeons or PvP being the primary focus. It also charges a similar subscription. You can get the game, plus the expansion pack and a month’s subscription for about £14.99 or perhaps even cheaper lately as everyone who pre-ordered Defiance got a copy for free (as if two MMOs aren’t too much). There’s also a free trial version that lets you get to level 20.
The big draws of Rift for me are the titular rifts. Constantly throughout the game rifts will open up, and people will come together to join them. If you’re getting tired of questing, there’s always something to do, and you’ll get rewarded for it however you contribute. There’s also a much more complicated class system, that can be automated if you’d like, but reduces the ability of other people to tell you exactly what you should be doing. It’s not gone completely, but it’s lessened. If you want to be a healer who uses death magic to raise skeletons, go for it. Want to hold a massive shield but also do a bunch of damage, why not? It’s a lot more open than WoW.
It’s also a lot prettier, being a more recent game it can look quite spectacular if you have the hardware to run it well. There’s some impressive vistas and spell effects look great when there’s tens of people fighting at a rift.
There are downsides to the game, it does get slightly repetitive in much the same way as WoW’s questing can, and the combat is just as complicated as it is in WoW, without being particularly exhilirating. You’ll be tapping buttons that make exciting things happen on screen, but after the first hour or so it does start to sink in that you’re just tapping the same buttons over and over again.
If you’ve burnt out on WoW or you want something a little bit fancier, I’d say Rift is the way to go. The world isn’t quite as well developed and the community is smaller, but it’s a lot of fun and personally I prefer it nowadays, mostly due to the aesthetic and class freedom.
Tera is an odd one. It’s a relatively new MMO from South Korea that takes some ideas from the standard WoW gameplay, but adds a lot of new twists of it’s own. It’s free to play now, with a lot of micro-transactions available to boost your character.
When you go into Tera you need to be aware that it is a huge grind. This means that most of your time will be spent killing lots of the same monsters over and over again. This may sound terrible, but thanks to Tera’s excellent combat system and incredible graphics, it can be a lot of fun. Tera really does look a step above any other game on this list. It needs to be seen in motion really, but there’s a feeling of solidity to every character and enemy, and the skyboxes are awe-inspiring.
The combat features the same kind of abilities as other MMOs, but everything is based on hitboxes, meaning it’s possible to miss your shots, and it’s possible (and heavily advised) to roll out of the way of incoming attacks, or block them with a shield. This adds an element of skill to battles, and once you get through the first few hours, you start fighting much larger monsters where the only way to beat them is to avoid their attacks while chipping away at their health bars. In a group it’s thrilling, and very similar to Monster Hunter, although with more responsive controls.
Sadly there are some issues with the game. It is a massive grind and as fun as the combat is, it takes a long time to progress. You’re given all your class’s abilities right at the start, and then they’re taken away in the tutorial, it takes tens if not hundreds of hours to get to that point again, so it’s a significant time investment. It’s also really creepy. I can’t find the words to put this tactfully, but basically the game in Europe was toned down for being too sexually suggestive, with one race of characters looking like children. It wasn’t toned down all that much. I personally found that really uncomfortable, but if you’re happy to look past that as just being a quirk of the art style then you’ll probably be fine. It does attract some unsavoury types though.
Lord of the Rings Online is another standard MMO, that relies heavily on the licence. It’s free to play now with a lot of micro-transactions that are unfortunately pushed on you fairly often, breaking the immersion. Thankfully the store is reasonably priced and in theory you can play everything the game has to offer without spending a penny, because you can earn the store currency in-game. It features all of the things you’d expect from an MMORPG, but with a Tolkien twist, so all of the classes are based on a character from the books, the races are what you’d expect, and you get to travel around Middle Earth. How much that appeals to you is entirely indicative of how much you’ll enjoy the game. If you love all things Tolkien, you’ll adore this game, the graphics are aging but still effective, the combat is satisfying and functional, and you get to explore Moria and Rohan and Fangorn. There’s even fantastic non-combat quests in the Shire where you organise parties and deliver mail and pies. We ran a series on the Hobbit sections here.
If you’re not really into Lord of the Rings, I’d give it a miss. It has aged and there’s less people playing it than there once was. It is updated regularly and the publisher seems committed to keeping it going, but it’s essentially a giant theme park for Lord of the Rings fans. At that, it excels, as an MMO, it’s only ok and there are probably better places to spend your time. As with most MMOs, it takes a long time to get anywhere, and you really need to commit to the game if you’ve got any hopes of even seeing Moria, let alone the more exotic locations. That being said, nearly everyone gets a thrill from seeing Gandalf or Isengard or Rivendell for the first time.
When SWTOR came out I was infactuated with it. It let me be a giant trooper, arching around some of the most famous locations from the Star Wars universe (of which I’ve always been a fan, even if I don’t care for the films) and shoot things. It’s very much WoW in space, and everything from the nature of quests to the abilities and stats can be recognised if you’ve played any of those games in the genre. It’s recently gone free-to-play with micro-transactions so there’s no up-front cost, although there is a paid expansion that has literally just come out.
It looks ok, although not too special, and the combat is flashy, but ultimately standard. You’ll still find yourself pressing the same combinations of hotkeys over and over, with the added bonus of being able to watch your character lay down some blaster fire, throw thermal detonators, or wield a lightsaber. There’s also the fact that one of the healing classes heals people with healing bullets and grenades. You can shoot somebody to life.
The biggest draw to the game is the voice-acting. Every major quest has full voice-acting and fairly interesting cut-scenes dealing with each conversation. Hilariously you can choose what your character gets to say, and if you’re in a group you all choose then one winner is chosen randomly. This leads to some entertaining good cop/bad cop situations when you play with a friend of a different moral persuasion.
But all of the niceties and use of the Star Wars licence can’t hide the fact that this is a very standard MMO, with a lot less content than the other big hitters. Once you get to the maximum level, there’s very little to do, and there’s what appears to be a shrinking community every day. I’d suggest giving it a try, particularly if you like Star Wars, since it’s free, but be aware it probably won’t be for the long term.
Defiance is the newest MMO on this list, and it’s markably different from the others. It’s around £34.99 at the moment and there’s no subscription fee, it’s also the only game on this list to be available on Xbox 360 and PS3 although I’ve heard the experience isn’t great.. Being a tie-in game to a show on the SyFy channel, it’s going to be coming out in installments or ‘episodes’ for a while to come. It’s essentially a third person shooter, with MMO elements such as the persistent world and loot. All of the inventory and RPG parts are identical to Borderlands, and the focus is similarly on guns and shields, with your clothes just being cosmetic. We’ve been having a lot of fun with the same, but after forty hours, we’ve nearly finished everything it has to offer at launch.
It features big ‘arkfall’ events that are similar to the rifts in Rift, so you’ll get a chance to fight alongside other people constantly and this is something the game handles exceptionally well. In any quest, if there’s someone else doing the same thing, they’ll be able to do it and you’ll both get rewards, without having to group up. This makes sense really, if I’m tasked with clearing out some raiders, and when I get there someone has done it for me, why should I do it again? There’s also a lot of other perks like being given a vehicle early on that you can use whenever you want, leading to convoys of quads and Camaros roaming the countryside.
The graphics are fin but never extraordinary, and the art direction is a little samey across the entire (quite small) world at this point. We know there is DLC incoming but we don’t know if that will take us to new areas or not.
The game is fun, but short lived for now, it does avoid lots of the complexities of other MMOs, with only three real powers (shoot, grenade and then one extra) and a fairly basic talent tree that can be respecced at any time.
Guild Wars 2 was supposed to be the salvation of the MMO genre. While so many games were copying WoW, this was going to put right all the things people hated about that style of game. Sadly, it didn’t quite manage it and set itself apart as much as I had hoped. It’s a pay-once game, coming in at £30-45 in shops. Guild Wars 2 follows the same idea of ‘choose your race, now choose your class, now go to do quests until you can do the dungeons at the end, with the choice of PvP. But it does innovate in a couple of ways.
Firstly, there’s less abilities. Well there’s probably a similar number, but you only use six or so at a time. This simplifies things greatly, and while there’s still an element of other people saying what’s best, you get a lot more freedom thanks to the versatility of each class to be effective.
Secondly, levelling is less important. If you want to play with someone who’s a higher level, they can just come to your area and they will be weakened in order to keep it challenging. It doesn’t work all that well, as you can still march through lower areas wreaking havoc and destruction, but it makes it less of a waste of time and can keep groups and guilds together a little bit more.
It’s a pretty game, with a strong art style and competent engine, and while Guild Wars is supposedly focused on the PvP, in my experience that’s one of the weakest areas. People are drawn to the WorldVWorldVWorld gameplay, but in reality it’s just hundreds of players spamming powers with little strategy or communication.
It’s a great alternative to WoW, particularly for those people who don’t want to pay a subscription, and it’s extremely polished in every aspect. Sadly it’s not quite different enough for me to hold my interest anymore.
As a warning, I’ve not really played Eve very much, I simply can’t get into it. It’s a subscription based game, where if you try out a trial I don’t think you ever have to actually buy the game, you can just pay for more time, which you can also earn in-game. If you do buy it, it’s on Steam sales all the time so the entry price is very low.
Eve is essentially Elite in an MMO. For those of you not old enough or geeky enough to understand what that means, you get a spaceship, and you’re in space with everyone else, and you do what you want. You can mine, trade, fight, be a pirate, join armies, or generally just be a pain to people. The big draw of Eve is the player-run corporations. These are endless sources of intrigue and anecdotes as the potential for someone to rip someone off to the tune of everything they’ve worked for for years is huge, and lately it often seems to result in some kind of war of biblical proportions. If the Bible was in space. (Also, the Bible would be better in space).
It’s an incredibly dense game, and much of it is left up to you. You can train skills while you’re away from your PC which is a plus, but it also means there’s very few ways to get up to speed, you simply have to wait it out. Many people have described Eve as relaxing, I’ve simply found it dull. I’m sure if I invested the time and energy into it, it could be amazing, but that’s a lot of time to invest. If you want an MMO experience and the fantasy genre really doesn’t excite you, then Eve might be your best port of call, but be prepared to do a lot of learning, and possibly dying before you start having much fun.
These are games that I don’t have enough experience with to write anything substantial on, so I’ll gloss over them with impressions.
Warhammer Online –Brilliant public quests that have now been copied and done better by others, good sense of humour though if you like Games Workshop.
Age of Conan –Decent combat system and surpriisngly violent and rude, feels empty though and the quality of the questing drops significantly quite early on.
Planetside 2–I’m still not sure if I count this as an MMO but if you enjoy large-scale FPS combat then give it a try. It’s free to play and looks spectacular if you’ve got a rig that can handle it.
The Secret World– A great game to play dress-up with and it looks surprisingly great. Quests get a little bit grindy and the settings are mostly wasted, having you fight hundreds of boring enemy types. Modern-day setting though which is a plus and somewhat of a rarity.
DC Universe Online– Creating your hero is great, the rest of the game is an ok brawler. Having powers like flight early on is definitely a plus but it takes away much of a sense of progression, often updated which is good.
Star Trek Online– If you like Star Trek and MMOs you’ve probably already played this. Iffy combat and lots of bugs put me off at launch, but the space combat is interesting and exciting. Now free to play.
So what have we missed? If you’ve got any other suggestions for great MMOs, leave a comment and we’ll check them out!