With Wildstar and Elder Scrolls Online getting ready to compete for players’ attention, and a new expansion for World Of Warcraft on the horizon, 2014 is shaping up to be yet another busy year for the MMO genre. Both Wildstar and ESO are looking like they could be worth a look – Wildstar especially; but that’s not to say that you should neglect what’s already on the market.
Here’s our list of 5 MMOs that are worth your time.
Rift has a lot going for it. It has a massive world, interesting lore and deep customization options. Sure, on the surface it may look like just another fantasy MMO; but despite belonging to a well-trodden setting, it has more than enough originality to make it a tantalizing prospect. All of the standard features are present and correct – dungeons, raids, and plenty of respawning monsters – but Trion Worlds took a lo0k at the competition and added in several innovative features.
For a start, while players start out choosing between four “callings” – Warrior, Mage, Cleric or Rogue – each of these roles is further subdivided into 8 different sub-classes, of which you can choose to have up to 3 active at any one time. This ability to mix and match specializations means that there’s a baffling amount of depth, and some deft balancing ensures that each tree interacts with its fellows in perfect harmony.
Have you reached the level cap? No problem – Rift allows you to continue leveling up past the cap, a mechanic dubbed Planar Attunement. Gaining a Planar Attunement level allows you to invest points in further talents, divided into separate trees based on the different elemental Planes. In addition, players can “level down” temporarily, providing incentive to return to old zones while still being able to gain a decent amount of XP. Add in some truly exciting world boss encounters – the multi-phase battle against Volan is a highlight – and there’s enough content in Rift to keep you going for months. Did we mention it’s free to play?
4. The Secret World
Publisher Funcom may be experiencing some troubles of late, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore The Secret World. In a genre dominated by traditional fantasy settings, TSW stands out by being set in the present day – albeit a version of the modern world steeped in the supernatural. Take The X-Files and add in a shit-ton of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, and that’s effectively what you can expect from The Secret World. Like the previous entry on this list, TSW also does something a little different with its player leveling system; all players essentially start off class-less, but can invest skill points in any of the game’s various talent trees.
This flexibility means that you’re provided a huge amount of freedom in how you can develop your character – want to be a sword-wielding ninja with the ability to fire off a few grenades in the heat of battle? You can do that. Want to wade in with your fists, before hurling a few spells around when things get heated? You can do that too.
Aside from its unique character development, The Secret World also stands out with some truly excellent quests. While there are the standard “kill X number of Y” quests that are standard to the genre, there are also numerous quests that will see you solving puzzles, performing research in real life using a number of fake websites set up around the internet, or testing your knowledge of the in-game lore. Three different factions to choose from – each with their own unique storyline and perspective on events – means that if you get bored of one character, you can create a new one and experience an entirely different storyline.
All in all, The Secret World is a game that’s well worth your time. If you think MMOs are all about Elves and Dragons, think again.
3. Star Wars: The Old Republic
Don’t laugh – while many might argue that Bioware’s infamously expensive MMO isn’t worth your time, they’d be wrong. True, it isn’t what many were hoping for from a new Star Wars game set in the Old Republic era; true, it takes Revan – a revered character – and tramps all over his legacy. But The Old Republic is still worth a look. For starters, it feels like Star Wars: all of the classic music and iconic sound effects are present and correct, and it even has a morality system in place similar to Bioware’s previous work with the series. Plus, while most games based on the franchise see players forced into the role of a goody-two-shoes Jedi, SW:TOR allows you to play as a Sith, allowing you to finally fulfill your dream of hurling lightning from your fingertips and basically being a total bastard to all and sundry.
The Old Republic has certainly suffered its fair share of troubles over its lifetime – a sharp and rapid drop in subscribers led to it being relaunched with a free to play business model, and the way in which publisher Electronic Arts handled its introduction of LGBT characters left much to be desired; but if you love Star Wars, there’s still plenty here to keep you entertained.
All together now: “I can feel your anger!”
2. EVE Online
From the outside looking in, EVE Online is almost impenetrable. Frequently cited as a game that is more fun to read about than it is to play, developer CCP took Elite, cross-bred it with the X series, and then decided “fuck it, let’s make this an MMO”. There’s no choice of servers here – all players co-exist in a single, persistent universe. While it is incredibly difficult to learn for new players – something which CCP continually attempts to address – it’s also immensely satisfying. With a massive array of skills to learn, players are free to specialize in any area they choose – and make no mistake, you need to specialize; the amount of skills on offer is so large that it is literally impossible to learn them all within your lifetime. Meanwhile, EVE caters to the bastard in everyone. There’s no PVE-only option here; jump into lo-sec, and you’re fair game to all and sundry. While this sounds like hell, it’s also the source of some of the most memorable moments in the game’s history. It’s common to see massive fleets of ships facing off against each other, often for days on end. Corporate espionage sees players infiltrating an enemy and taking them for all they’re worth, and players can even play the in-game stock market. EVE’s simulation is so detailed that CCP even has its own Economist on staff, to ensure accuracy.
EVE Online may be complex and intimidating, but it’s a game that rewards perseverance. It’s certainly not for everyone; but if you want an MMO with huge amounts of depth, then EVE has you covered.
1. Lord of the Rings Online
The entire fantasy genre owes a lot to Tolkien’s universe, so it was inevitable that sooner or later someone would take the world of Middle-Earth and make an MMO out of it. Many doubted that it could be done, but Turbine created a world that is both faithful to the original novels, yet with enough of its own embellishments to make it feel fresh. The game’s events parallel Frodo’s journey to destroy the One Ring and bring Sauron’s return to an end; while the player’s journey occasionally intersects with events familiar to fans of the series, you’re effectively in the background. This isn’t to say that you feel unimportant, however; frequently, the quests you undertake are of vital importance to the progress of the Fellowship. The world feels more fleshed-out as a result, and while many of the quests are little more than the standard formula of killing certain amount of monsters, or collecting a certain amount of items littering the environment, Turbine has crafted a game that is never less than faithful to the source material. This is Middle-Earth. Everything, from the Mines of Moria to the kingdom of Rohan, is present and correct, and with each new expansion, we get to see more of the world that Tolkien crafted in his attempt to deal with the horrors of the first World War.
Middle-Earth may have been created as one man’s attempt to deal with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but The Lord of the Rings Online presents a game which sees it presented as an inviting place to inhabit. Sombre in tone but never anything less than compelling, LOTRO is undoubtedly worth the time of anyone looking for something to pass the time. Even if you’re not a fan of the franchise, there’s plenty to recommend. And you can play as a Hobbit, complete with hairy toes. What’s not to love about that?