In the MMO Metaverse, there is one juggernaut that rules supreme when it comes to subscriptions. Blizzard’s World of Warcraft first hit store shelves in 2004 and has since surpassed 10 million active subscribers. With a community that covers the majority of MMO gamers, it’s sometimes easy to forget that there is a huge catalogue of MMOs out there that don’t get as much attention. In the interest of fair and balanced journalism, we’d like to spend some time with a small sampling of our favorite MMOs that sometimes go unsung.
Lord of the Rings Online
With something of a sticky start, this MMO has quickly come into it’s own. By listening to their audience and taking their recommendations and advice to heart, Turbine has released multiple updates since launch which have tweaked everything from the user interface to housing to character customization. The gameplay, user interface, and setting are all comparable to World of Warcraft, but with the wealth of characters, story and lore coming from Tolkien’s Middle Earth, the tone is a bit more serious.
Fellowships are essentially the Lord of the Rings Online version of guilds, where players join larger groups in order to take on larger tasks within the game. However, LotRO has a unique feature called Fellowship Maneuvers. During a battle, any member of a fellowship can activate the maneuver, which prompts a skill wheel to pop up on each player’s screen. Each player then contributes a different element to the maneuver, choosing between Ent’s Strength, Spider’s Guile, Eagle’s Cry, and Stallion’s Spirit. Depending on the level and combination of these elements, fellowships can pull of a multitude of maneuvers, aiding them in health, strength, stamina, magic, or other skills.
Another major difference between LotRO and WoW is the way they approach the warring factions within the canon. All players in Lord of the Rings Online play as one of the free races of Middle Earth, fighting against the forces of evil. Since that doesn’t leave much room for Player versus Player combat, Tubrine introduced something called Monster play. Basically, it’s a separate PvP game that allows players to take on the life of a Minion of Mordor so that they can face off against players who stay loyal to their Fellowship. Players are free to switch between the regular game and Monster Play at will, with each realm allowing for it’s own tree of skill and character development.
Coming from the legendary game creator Richard Garriot, Tabula Rasa attempts to break the formula of classic click and wait MMOs. Taking place on a foreign planet where an alliance of free races fight against evil aliens known as the Bane, the setting and atmosphere differ greatly from the typical sword and armor based MMOs we’re used to seeing.
Combat is where Tabula Rasa offers a unique approach. Players use advanced ballistic weaponry and futuristic alien technology to take on the Bane, which adds a new level of strategy. Weapons like grenade launchers, machine guns, and rifles all come with their own range and stats, which are of course upgradeable and customizable over time. The environment itself lends a new flavor to the combat as well. Garriot created a dynamic battlefield where small skirmishes and large-scale battles take place along with and sometimes independent of players. This means that you may log in to the game and spend some time pushing back the front lines in a full on push against the Bane, only to find that when you log in tomorrow that same area is overrun with enemies, forcing you to spawn in a different location, and giving you the choice of either attempting to take it back or moving on to the next waypoint. This also folds into the ethical parables Garriot added to the game, giving players ethical decisions to make during quests that will affect the people and environment around them.
With some new approaches to the genre, Tabula Rasa does break new ground without overhauling the concept. While these alternatives do offer a breath of fresh air in a genre that can sometimes seem stagnant, the basic core of item collecting, fetch quests, and grinding are still intact and offer a sense of familiarity.
Eve Online may not have the large subscription numbers that other games do, but with a totally different setting and playstyle, a complicated and intricate character progression, and an incredibly devout fan-base, it could be argued that their contribution to the MMO Metaverse is just as valid.
Eve Online is a space based role-playing game. Each player begins as a meager spaceship captain working his or her way up through the intergalactic trading business. By running odd jobs like mining asteroids, transporting goods, salvaging abandoned ships, or recycling space debris. If the player so chooses, they could spend their whole time simply completing jobs across the galaxy, building up their trade armada; but that’s not much fun. With the money gained, players can upgrade their ships with weapons, armor, and other accessories built for piracy, smuggling, or bounty hunting.
Eve Online gives the players more options for gameplay, allowing each person to develop their own existence in the persistent world that has been built for them. Some people say that Eve is boring, and focuses too much on menial tasks, but it’s this level of immersion that is a draw to certain types of players. True space conquest role-playing combined with unlimited progression paths can sometimes leave a gamer feeling overwhelmed and lost, but you can’t ignore the devout follow that Eve Online has built for itself.
Guild Wars is one of those sleeper hits that seem to come out of nowhere. Having just sold 5 million copies of the game and its subsequent expansions, their fan base is devout and loyal. While Guild Wars may not break any ground in terms of design or gameplay, but where they truly shine is in their sense of humor. Right from the start, ArenaNet wanted a tongue-in-cheek feel for their game, and did so by turning the MMO community and fantasy genre on its ear. However, while you can get a chuckle from achieving your Incorrigible Ale-Hound skill, the game on a whole is far from a joke, and offers countless hours of right-clicky MMO fun.
Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures
Age of Conan is set to release in May, so we can’t pass judgment just yet, but what we’ve seen of this game so far is impressive. In an attempt to make the combat more visceral and violent, developers have included a combo system into the game. No longer will you click on an opponent and watch the seconds tick by while both of you go through canned animations until someone falls over. By clicking directional melee attack buttons you can not only target a specific spot on an enemy’s body, but you can also chain together these attacks for devastating combos. Throw in rhino and mammoth mounts, very mature levels of sex and violence, PvP that includes siege combat, and the ability for guilds to build, defend, and lose their own city, Age of Conan is definitely an MMO we’re hoping lives up to the hype.
When it comes down to it, no game in the MMO market can even attempt to reach for World of Warcraft’s 10 million active subscribers. Yet. With developers pushing the envelope and challenging what we think can be done with massively multiplayer online games, there’s no telling what will happen in the next few years. While that level of success rarely happens twice within a small, often shunned demographic, the number of people who play MMOs is growing every day. And hopefully someday, if we’re lucky, we will be able to discuss topics such as this in public without fear of becoming social pariahs. A boy can dream, can’t he?