Monthly Archives: February 2016

Black Desert Online’s PvP and PvE Cognitive Dissonance

Black Desert Online is set to launch on March 3rd.  Considering how many people are tuned into Twitch just to watch other people play, it’s pretty clear the game has some hype. And on paper a lot of it sounds really good. There’s a sandbox element for players to level up via “life skills” like fishing and more typical crafting skills. The open world has no fast travel elements and is set up in a way so cities will always be crowded by new and veteran players alike. There’s not even a level cap so theoretically one could constantly progress and level up in Black Desert Online forever.

It has come under fire somewhat for the lack of a typical end game. I don’t like that end game has become synonymous with high level raids. In all honesty, I don’t like the term end game at all. MMORPGs (like any game) should be fun regardless of where one is in progression. Perhaps the heralded MMORPG action combat in Black Desert Online will truly make for an exciting leveling experience regardless of the activity. But the end game right now is squarely designed around guild vs. guild warfare, castle sieges, and territory conquest. And there seems to be some cognitive dissonance when it comes to that end game because grinding PvE is the only way to get there.

black desert online pve grinding

Step 1: Grind all the mobs (PvE)

I have not played Black Desert Online yet, but as I’ve read more about it I was struck by this strange design decision. In order to PvP effectively, one most PvE. And when one is “done” with PvE, primarily PvP remains. And the potentially infinite leveling only compounds this level of cognitive dissonance. Black Desert Online employs a soft level cap of 50, which can be reached in about 20 hours if desired. No problems there. 20 hours is a lengthy tutorial, but there are a lot of skills to pickup and master. After that though, each level will take between 25 to 100+ hours. And the way to get that EXP is through grinding mobs in PvE, even though level 50 is when the heralded PvP is supposed to begin. And it’s important to keep up in levels and gear because otherwise players can become nigh unkillable with too much of a gap. So players who want to legitimately compete in PvP have to engage in an activity other than PvP to do so effectively. It doesn’t really make any sense.

People who enjoy PvE and grinding in Black Desert will be treated to a different problem. While many people may find the combat and leveling experience fun, there is very little to test one’s PvE mettle once the 50 level “tutorial” is finished. Here’s a game where players initially get treated to a care bear experience of an MMORPG with a focus on killing mobs as quickly as possible. And the continuation of that isn’t raids or challenging content as expected, but a handful of world bosses to down from time to time and… lots of PvP. This level of cognitive dissonance in an MMORPG is especially strange because of how hyped up gamers are for Black Desert Online. People who want PvP have to PvE and people who want PvE will eventually run out of combat content without turning to PvP.

Because of the heavy grinding nature of leveling up past 50 and the impact that those levels and silver gains have, it seems like there is a limited long term audience for Black Desert Online. Players need to be dedicated enough to repetitively grind monsters and mobs and in doing so, their reward is to wipe the floor with opponents without reprieve. That’s a recipe for disaster for casual players, the lifeblood of any multiplayer game, as they will find they have no real chance to compete individually. There’s safety in numbers though and one’s choice of guild (which seems almost necessary to join to progress) will certainly play a large role in Black Desert Online. Still, an arms race of those who can grind the most likely won’t be appealing to the masses.

Black Desert Online PvP Siege

Step 2: PvP – your second life

And this mentality of forcing players to engage in both PvE and PvP is fairly unique to Black Desert Online. Other MMORPGs with both PvP and PvE content allow players to focus on either PvE or PvP exclusively. For example, in Wildstar players can gain EXP solely through arena and warzone PvP. And there’s end game challenges for PvE fans to engage in after leveling up.

Mandating players to engage in both PvE and PvP activities as Black Desert Online is doing could be a recipe for disaster. But even if it is a problem, the game still has a lot going for it with top notch combat and a wealth of non-combat activities to engage in. I don’t know that this mix is really going to cause a major issue. But it will take some adjustment because there is going to be a sense of confusion over the relationship between PvE grinding and PvP end game in Black Desert. Regardless, it will be fascinating to watch as casual PvE fans reach the level 50 soft cap and discover what awaits them.

Almost as fascinating as the PvPers who thought they were done grinding after dinging 50.




PvE Leveling is a Waste of Time

It’s truly amazing the amount of resources that developers devote to PvE only for it to be a generic time waster. Even the big MMORPG releases in Blade & Soul and Black Desert Online aren’t bucking the trend. We create a new character, giddy for a new world to explore. That world turns out to be full of quests. Quests to exterminate local monsters and deliver goods to nearby farmers. These quests get pretty repetitive. After all, such quests and monsters exist solely to bridge the gap between new character status and max level. It’s pretty rare that the content that gets us to max level compares to that of a single player game. Really, we’re just wasting our time on low quality content until we ding max level and move onto the real content. And it’s such an unnecessary shame.

world of warcraft quest giver

Marshal McBride here to deliver another generic quest!

There are tons of ways content could be delivered so as not to be a waste of time. Challenging gameplay, intriguing stories, puzzle elements, escalating intensity, or maybe some actual multiplayer elements given that we’re talking about MMOs. Basically, successful single player games deliver high quality content, just less of it than a MMO. MMOs could deliver that same quality of content, but they don’t. Instead they insist on tons of garbage, practically automated content to waste our time. This isn’t in an indictment on PvE leveling but on how developers approach PvE, especially in regards to the leveling experience. Publishers spend a lot of money on games so let’s stop wasting time for both of us.

Imagine if before The Last of Us really began, there was a 80 hour series kill quests before Joel (the game’s main character) was strong enough to start the game. Some of us might tough it out to get to the good stuff, but that early content would just be fluff. A waste of time. But that’s what we do in a typical MMORPG. I think with its mission based setup, Warframe does a pretty good job of respecting our valuable time to provide meaningful content. Warframe blends story elements and good action pacing that is intrinsically enjoyable. But what about the traditional open world setting of most MMORPGs? Open worlds should rather easily deliver exploration, a type of content that games like Skyrim thrive on.

Last of Us grinding zombies

Joel grinding on some zombies to prepare for The Last of Us

And yet open world MMORPGs since Ultima Online have failed to deliver this world of exploration. Open world games follow World of Warcraft’s lead of opening up the game world one zone at a time. In turn, the primary benefit of an open world is lost. There’s no real exploration because players can only access specific zones based on their level. It’s really a shame because these worlds are created with no short amount of effort spent by the developers. And yet these worlds feel completely artificial, lifeless, and wasted because the game world becomes nothing but a series of glorified, interconnected hubs. Some games such as Wildstar and Guild Wars 2 do their part to encourage exploration, but it’s secondary to the main PvE content. The bland PvE leveling content that just wastes our time.

PvE Leveling Dulls Character Development

I like to jump into MMOs and MMORPGs because I like the feeling of developing a character for the sake of the character. I like to not necessarily have some epic tale that’s going to resolve. Or if it does, I want to continue playing that character. This, and the ability to interact with other such characters played by real people, is what drives my passion for the genre. Unfortunately, I have to engage in activities that really feel don’t mesh with my desires. And it just doesn’t have to be that way. I finished Wasteland 2 and Divinity Original Sin and enjoyed those irrespective of the power my characters were gaining. There’s no reason another MMORPG couldn’t provide the same satisfaction. After all, they are just RPGs with lots of other players. There’s actually more developers could do with that!

Instead, the content is always derivative. The problem arises from the expectation of having enough to do. And it’s a lot easier to create content when it’s of lower quality. Part of the notion of “content need” arises from keeping the player base large enough, but that’s pretty irrelevant if content is all soloable anyway. Why not just create some procedurally generated dungeons for those “high content” seekers and craft a meaningful journey for everyone else. I don’t want PvE leveling to be a waste of time. I want meaningful PvE content created with some thought and care. Single player games have been doing it forever and they live and die by it. MMORPGs need to start taking the journey more seriously, because a mindless grind is a waste of the players’ time and a waste of the developers’ time.


The Division Beta Is Mostly Empty (But Maybe That’s Okay)

This past weekend, Ubisoft’s new quasi-MMO shooter, The Division, threw open the floodgates on an open beta test. Only a fraction of the game’s content was enabled for beta, but it was nonetheless enough to get a feel for what sort of game it is.

A screenshot from the open beta of MMO shooter The Division

Through the days of sniping, looting, and wandering abandoned subway stations, I was repeatedly struck by two things: how incredibly empty the game feels, and how I was enjoying myself despite that emptiness — or perhaps even because of it.

New York fallen:

First, the basics.

For those not in the know, The Division is a third person, cover-based shooter set in downtown Manhattan. A biological weapon killed off a large section of the city’s population, and the quarantine zone is now overrun by looters, gangs, and murderous fanatics. It falls to the elite agents of an organization simply called “the Division” (IE players) to go in and restore order to what remains of New York City.

The Division also incorporates many traditional RPG elements, such as a gear grind, skills, and talents, though there are no classes and it seems like you can eventually learn most if not all skills and talents on a single character. It’s a bit hard to tell because the progression systems, like so many other things (including character creation), were only partially implemented for the beta.

It’s often talked about in the same breath as MMOs, but even knowing that it was not exactly the traditional MMO experience, I was struck by how much closer to a single-player game than an MMO The Division felt.

This was the first way in which the game can feel terribly empty. Outside the Dark Zone (more on that later), the only place you’ll naturally encounter players are in a few specific hub areas, and these form a sufficiently small part of the game that I’m not sure why they even bothered with them. It is entirely possible to play The Division, experience the majority of its content, and basically never encounter or have any meaningful interaction with another player.

Combat in the open beta of MMO shooter The Division

Now, I tend to spend a lot of time soloing, and I like the idea of social elements being optional rather than something you must participate in to progress, but at the same time, part of me missed the sense of an MMO community, the buzz of general chat and looking at how other people have designed their characters.

It is easy to meet-up with other players if you want, though. The game features easy to use matchmaking that will quickly find you groups to help you play missions.

I’m not sure if this is deliberate, but the difficulty of missions seems to be tuned to favor groups, even with enemies scaling up somewhat to accommodate larger groups. Alone, I found story missions very challenging — frustratingly so — but in a full group, they were almost too easy.

As for the missions themselves, I found them nothing special. The fact the beta throws you into the middle of the game with no context can’t have helped, but I didn’t find the story particularly compelling.

In particular the dialogue bothered me. It seemed like the writers were being paid based on how many curse words they could cram into a single sentence. To be clear, I am not at all offended by mature language; it was just so over-used it made the dialogue seem ridiculous and cartoonish.

And the mission design was nothing to write home about. Go here. Shoot bad guys.

The Division’s talents lie elsewhere.

Going dark:

Calling down an extraction in the Dark Zone in MMO shooter The Division

The game’s main multiplayer feature comes in the form of the Dark Zone, a sealed section of the city where the anarchy has reached its peak.

in the Dark Zone, mobs are tougher, loot is better, and you will actually encounter other players. The presence of your fellow agents is a double-edged sword, though.

In the Dark Zone, you will drop any recently collected loot if you die, and other players are free to take it. This encourages the other unique feature of the Zone: players have the option to attack and kill each other.

The only to way to guarantee your ownership of any Dark Zone loot is to call in an extraction from certain specific points, but this advertises your position, sending NPCs and players alike bearing down on you.

I had expected the Dark Zone to be a miserable gankfest, but that didn’t turn out to be the case at all. In fact, I saw more cooperation than competition between players.

The reason for this is that attacking a player unprovoked designates you a rogue agent. Not only does this give other players the right to kill you without consequence, there are even rewards for taking down rogue agents. This makes going rogue a very risky proposition. They are target number one for most players.

A screenshot from the open beta of MMO shooter The Division

Only once was I ganked, and I had quite a merry time chasing down the perpetrator and exacting my vengeance. Otherwise rogue agents felt more like prey than predator, and the mobs actually proved a much greater threat than the players.

I do wonder if this pleasant balance will survive much past launch, though. In the beta, everyone had roughly equal footing. Once people have time to grind out the best skills and gear, I could see the Dark Zone becoming far less fun, especially for newer players.

The Dark Zone had its moments, but it was not my favorite part of the game, and now the issue of emptiness comes up again.

I walk alone:

For me, I found The Division reached its greatest heights not when performing grand rescues of civilians, or even when chasing rogue agents through the streets of Manhattan, but when walking alone down random streets, taking in the sights and hoping to find something useful to salvage.

The Division is not like other open world games I’ve played, MMO or otherwise. Most try to cram items and activities into every inch of real estate. While this can be exciting at first, over time I find it starts to make things feel like an endless checklist of chores.

The Division isn’t like that. It has a lot more empty space.

That’s not to say there’s nothing to find. Hidden loot caches are fairly common, and you’ll sometimes come across events called “encounters.” I initially took these to be similar to the randomized events in games like Guild Wars 2, but they don’t seem to be random or respawn once completed, so I’m taking them to simply be side quests by another name.

A screenshot from the open beta of MMO shooter The Division

You can even get rewards by handing supplies to starving and otherwise needy civilians — a nice touch if I’ve ever seen one.

Because these things are less common than they would be in other games, they feel a lot more meaningful. It’s genuinely exciting to find a hidden cache of items in a random apartment.

I also appreciate that mobs in The Division are not omnipresent. One of my MMO pet peeves is when games stuff hostile mobs into every inch of the map, making it impossible to go five feet without being jumped by a (usually trivial) enemy. Hostile forces in The Division are common enough that you never feel entirely safe, but you can also explore without having to defend yourself every ten seconds.

It’s not just loot or bad guys that you’ll find while exploring, either. Abandoned cell phone recordings and other lore items help to flesh out the backstory of the outbreak, and while the main story is mediocre at best, the little stories told through these found items are far more compelling: intimate, personal, and believable.

This experience of exploration is further enhanced by the fact that The Division features one of the most detailed, realistic, and immersive urban environments ever to grace the video game genre. I’ve never been to New York, but I do live in a major city, and I found The Division’s environments hauntingly familiar.

The day/night cycle and weather effects are also spectacular. Snowstorms can strongly impact gameplay, cutting down visibility severely — especially at night. It makes the game feel incredibly real.

A screenshot from the open beta of MMO shooter The Division

The lonely, haunting feeling of wandering the ruins of New York somewhat explains the need for the lack of other players in the greater game world, but it also causes some mixed feelings. It is a bit strange that an ostensibly multiplayer game shines the most when you’re playing alone. I could see maybe bringing in one or two friends without greatly impacting the experience, but more than that would begin to cheap the game’s ambiance, I feel.

Final thoughts:

I’m unsure whether to recommend The Division. It’s certainly not a good choice for those seeking a more traditional massively multiplayer experience. It ultimately seems far closer to single-player games than MMOs.

But it does offer very strong immersion and exploration, and the core of the game is quite solid.

I suppose it depends on what you’re looking for.

High Fantasy MMORPGs Still Dominate

MMORPGs are a genre of game that is not, shall we say, known for wild creativity and endless diversity. That is, if you play a lot of MMOs for any length of time, you’ll notice the same themes just keep coming up. This isn’t half as bad as it was a few years ago, when seemingly everyone was trying to clone World of Warcraft down to the finest detail, but you’ll still notice a lot of common threads through most games.

A winged character demonstrates the high fantasy elements of World of Warcraft

One of these is use of fantasy settings. The overwhelming majority of MMORPGs feature some sort of secondary world high fantasy setting, from old classics like EverQuest and World of Warcraft to newer titles like Black Desert. Sci-fi is a minority, and less exotic settings are rare indeed.

Have you paused to wonder why that is? What is it that makes the high fantasy MMORPGs so omnipresent, even when many players say they want variety? We thought that was a topic worth investigating.


One of the greatest advantages of the fantasy genre is that it has no limits. Anything the human mind can imagine has a place in fantasy. There are no limitations.

This gives developers incredible freedom when it comes to designing systems and environments. Want to do a zone that’s nothing but islands floating in an ocean of magic? Sure, why not? How about having players sprout wings and fight each other in a surreal nether realm? Fund it. A race of humanoid cats with demonic horns? Go ahead.

Other genres are far more limiting. You can’t suddenly drop a new race of semi-humans into a game set in the real world. Even fantasy’s close cousin, science fiction, has to put a least some effort towards realism. Fantasy has no such limits.

Of course, once a fantasy setting has been established, there’s a certain need to be consistent within its rules and internal logic, but when laying the groundwork, the sky’s the limit.

Battling a fantastical beast in the science fantasy MMORPG Skyforge

This may be part of why even MMORPGs that do favour sci-fi settings tend to present them with a twist of fantasy flavor. For example, Skyforge, Star Wars: The Old Republic, or WildStar. These games still utilize magic (or magic analogues) and fantastical beasts because technology along doesn’t offer enough  variety. The fantasy elements create a larger, more exciter world for an MMO.

The freedom of high fantasy offers a certain psychological hook for players, as well. Not all developers make good use of the freedom of fantasy, relying on familiar tropes rather than embracing creativity, but even in such games, the knowledge that anything is possible and anything can happen is exciting.


A good deal of the continued popularity of high fantasy settings in MMORPGs may be down to simple inertia. It’s what’s proven popular before, so the industry isn’t well incentivized to shake things up. MMOs are very expensive to produce, and that makes developers and publishers understandably risk-adverse. They’re not keen to take chances when they can bet on a sure thing.

And while it would be too cynical to blame all of fantasy’s popularity on laziness, it’s probably fair to say that creative bankruptcy does play a role in some cases. Some developers don’t want to put that much effort into their worlds, so they just throw together a generic world of Elves, dragons, and bearded wizards.

But inertia isn’t entirely a negative or a sign of laziness. Familiarity lowers the barrier to entry in a game. A fantasy setting carries with it a built-in set of tropes and archetypes that makes it easier to standardize mechanics somewhat.

For example, if you played a mage in Game A, there’s a pretty good chance playing a mage in Game B will provide much the same experience, shortening your learning curve. This makes it a lot easier for people to make decisions on what to play, to understand their roles in a group setting, and to know what to expect from a game in general. This might be part of the reason people keep coming back to high fantasy MMORPGs, even when they claim they want something fresh.

A Foundry quest in Neverwinter demonstrates the potential of high fantasy

There’s history to consider, as well. The earliest roots of MMORPGs can be traced back to tabletop role-playing, and while that eventually grew to include many genres, tabletop RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons were originally high fantasy through and through. Fantasy as a genre is hard-coded into the most fundamental DNA of the RPG genre, including MMORPGs.

Fantasy has been such a big part of the MMO landscape for so long that it’s hard to even separate the genre’s core mechanics from such a setting. The traditional melee tank role, for instance, is hard to translate to a modern or futuristic setting, because why would you run into close quarters when guns are an option? It’s not an unsolvable problem, but it illustrates how core the fantasy setting has become to MMORPGs.


Another factor may be that fantasy has been on the rise in popular culture even outside of the gaming world.

Long held to be the domain of greasy nerds in their parents’ basements, perhaps even more so than sci-fi, fantasy is starting to become cool.

The Harry Potter films and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films were massive box office hits and went a long towards bringing fantasy into the mainstream. HBO’s Game of Thrones has established itself as one of the most popular and critically acclaimed shows on television, further legitimizing the genre

Suddenly fantasy has clout, and more and more people are looking to jump on the bandwagon. MTV has adapted Terry Brooks’ Shannara books into a TV series. Netflix is doing the same with the Legend of Zelda games.

A landscape in the high fantasy MMORPG Guild Wars 2

So it seems MMOs have simply been ahead of the curve. Fantasy is becoming the in-thing, and here are MMOs with a vast stable of ready-made fantasy games. With the genre continuing to gain increased mainstream popularity, a high fantasy MMORPG has more reasons than ever to stick to their swords and sorcery.

The 10 Best MMO Music Tracks

At some point you will get fed up with repeating the same track of your favorite video game from time to time. It’s why a lot of us switch to outside music sources when playing games. Everyone has a unique taste and preferences when playing MMOs and games after all. But the best MMO music tracks offer a wide range of appeal. And they offer memories of positive experiences from playing said MMO.

Long after cancelling your account and even wiping the game from your computer, several memories of the old MMORPG will remain. One way to relive these memories is through the games’ soundtracks. Compositions and scores cooperate with the visuals in the games to craft the overall atmosphere of the game. Within the scores, individual tunes and tracks which will bring back waves of nostalgia. The following are our top 10 most most memorable MMO music tracks.

10. Runes of Magic – Main Theme

Runes of Magic was released in the year 2009 and since then it has been a strong free alternative to the World of Warcraft. For some people the game was impressive and listening was also not a problem. It is a great game with a stronger score largely due to its theme tune.

9. Cabal Online – Abomination

This is the song which plays in the Forgotten Temple in the Cabal Online and it’s recognized for two main reasons. This is the only best MMO music that plays in a higher level area. If your desire is to listen to Abomination while playing a game you will have to be past level 100. However, you can hear this song after loading up Cabal Online’s Website. The soundtrack is also notable simply because it is a MMORPG song with words. You can play the song easily in your car and no one will suspect that it is a song from a game you dedicated most of your time playing.

8. MapleStory – Lith Harbor

MapleStory was a unique MMORPG immediately after its launch. It offered the players a wonderful game with stunning graphics, action oriented combats, 2D platforming capabilities and lower system specs. The game managed to claim over 90 million players in two years. The first town, Lith Harbor, in the Maplestory has an inviting and a very friendly tune which earns its memorable honors.

7. DAoC (Dark Age of Camelot) – Combat Music 1

The combat music qualifies to be one of the best MMO music. DAoC established nation war combat, pitting three historic and mythical realms against each other in the struggle for relics. The game is about thrilling PvP combat and holds a large space in many hearts of MMO gamers particularly as most feel PvP in DAoC is yet to be topped.

6. Lineage 2- Dion Theme

If you played Lineage 2, possibly you made it to Dion before you got sick of the awful grind. If this is so, the Dion theme will definitely bring back some of the best memories. It completely and perfectly sets a fantasy world’s stage.

5. Anarchy Online – Main Theme

The Anarchy online is one of my favorite games. I like everything that the game offers but during its release it was not the best – but today it is much improved. Its promotional video highly helped in its popularity growth particularly due to the epic primary theme behind it.

4. Eve Online – Below The Asteroids

This is another MMO soundtrack which is among the most popular and there are people who also use it in other games. Just like Dion’s theme captures the fantasy world feel, Below the Asteroids also captures the free roaming space feel. Moreover, Eve Online offers freedom for gamers to play exactly how they want and the songs allows them to achieve exactly that.

3. Ragnarok Online – Prontera Theme

This is another town’s theme song which forms part of this list. Similar to the MapleStory’s Lith Harbor, you will have to visit Prontera for some time. Ragnarok online has established a big player base that allows job advancement, reminiscent of earlier sprite based RPGs, colorful 2D gameplay and killer music which include the happy go lucky music track.

2. World of Warcraft – Vanilla Login

This game reached over 10 million downloads and such a large number of players cannot be wrong. For the hardcore and the casual gamers, the World of Warcraft was a differentiated game that even made MMORPG one of the household terms. Belief it or not, most games fail to craft a masterpiece by forgetting the fundamental components like the musical tune which everyone has to hear even before logging in. World of Warcraft had a special tune that people will remember for a very long time.

1. Ultima Online – Stones

One of the features that made Ultima Online a popular game is the login music whose name was Stones. The game involved many features from nine previous games. The game was an impressive score that it actually allowed the creator of the game Mr. Richard Garriott – character to be killed. When this game was launched almost everything was possible regardless of whether the producer intended to achieve it or not. Stones helped in setting up the stage for this freedom.

Bottom Line

Video games may be described as audiovisual performances. This means that the sound and the visuals come together to make a cohesive, interactive experience. But when the producer ignores one over the other, the experience will be rather jarring. And unlike graphics which are dated within the MMORPG’s release year, the best of music tracks from MMOs can live on eternally. The tunes are an important component in the grand memories of the MMO you’ve been playing. Nostalgia can play a big factor in the enjoyment of any music, video gaming related or otherwise.

In a game, music is necessary in establishing the mood and the tone. When playing the game, the soundtrack plays into your senses and creeps into your mind. Wonderful music in a game will not become boring or irritating after repeated listens. Instead, positive emotions will be associated with these music tracks, which in turn motivate players to play more frequently or after a long hiatus. Even decades later, I’ll be glad to have been a part of these games. In for nothing elese, just because I got to experience the most memorable MMO music tracks the industry has offered thus far.

8 Most Visually Appealing MMOs

Gameplay is more important than graphics. Any gamer worth their salt will tell you that. But let’s be honest: You like the graphics, too. You want to step into a game and say, “Whoa.” You want virtual vistas that take your breath away, rich imaginary worlds that pull you away from the dreariness of reality.

Today, we’ll take a look at some of the most visually appealing MMOs. Not just those with the most technically competent graphics, but also those with the most unique and beautiful artistic styles. All those games that are feasts for the eyes.

8: World of Warcraft

A Night Elf monk basks in the moonlight of Shadowmoon Valley in World of Warcraft

It is interesting to consider the difference between graphics and art. A game can have impeccable, technically advanced graphics, but without good art design, it will still end up looking bland.

World of Warcraft is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Its graphics weren’t even state of the art when it launched over ten years ago, yet its art design is among the very best, with vibrant colors and extravagant sights around every bend. WoW could never be mistaken for any other game; its bombastic style is utterly distinctive.

And while it may be a bit long in the tooth these days, Blizzard does take the time to improve their graphics with every expansion. Warlords of Draenor introduced new character models with incredibly expressive facial animations, and some of the new zones are truly gorgeous.


TERA is beautiful and bright graphics

TERA’s artistic choices may be a bit hit and miss — at times haphazardly combining cartoony elements with more realistic styles and featuring some of the genre’s most ridiculous armor models — but the quality of the graphics is top notch, and when they get it right, they get it right.

When TERA’s developers produce a horrible monster, it’s truly the stuff of nightmares. When they build a beautiful landscape, it’s truly awe-inspiring. Add to that some spectacular ability animations, and you have a game full of visual treats, despite its flaws.

6: Aion

A player character soars through the beautiful world of Aion

Aion is showing its age these days, but it when it was first released, it was among the MMO genre’s most visually striking titles, and even now, it can still impress.

Aion offers one of the genre’s most powerful character creation tools, with a dizzying variety of options, and some lovely armor and wing models, but its greatest virtue is how strange and alien its world is.

In a genre awash with generic, Tolkien-inspired fantasy settings, Aion’s world of Atreia is something truly different. Bizarre alien creatures wander in the distance and soar through the sky, and the world’s cosmos and landscape have a dreamy surrealism that is unlike anything else.

5: Skyforge

A majestic cityscape highlights Skyforge's strong visuals

The new free to play action MMORPG Skyforge boasts some impressive graphics, from detailed and colorful environments to some of the most intense and spectacular combat animations in the MMO world.

But like Aion, what truly sets it apart isn’t its technical prowess, impressive though that is, but its art design and its unusual setting.

Set in a world of mighty gods and advanced technology, Skyforge blends elements of science fiction and fantasy to create locations and landscapes that are unlike anything else. From pastoral wildernesses, to teeming technological metropoli, to enigmatic ruins set adrift in the sky, Skyforge is another game that is instantly recognizable through its unique style.

4: Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

A misty night showcases Final Fantasy XIV's spectacular weather visuals

The art style in Final Fantasy XIV is a bit odd — hyper-realistic one moment, utterly cartoony the next — but when it comes to sheer graphical fidelity, it’s one of the best MMOs on the market, and it can produce some truly awesome sights.

One of FFXIV’s greatest visual strengths is its incredibly detailed and realistic systems for weather and time of day, which can transform the game world before your eyes. A forest that seems bright and serene during the day becomes a haunting place of mystery as the sun sets and a fog sets in, shrouding all in gloom.

Sunrises flood the land with amber light, and when a rain storm blows in, your character will grimace and start brushing water off their clothes. It’s a game with a brilliant eye for detail.

3: Destiny

A spectacular vista in Destiny

With no PC port in sight, MMO players without consoles can only stare longingly at the beautiful screenshots and videos coming out of Bungie’s multiplayer shooter.

Luckily — or unluckily, depending on your perspective — Destiny provides no shortage of videos and images to tantalize. Its incredible graphics depict a future vision of our solar system with color, beauty, and detail, realistic and fanciful in equal measure.

2: The Secret World

Sunset over London showcases the beauty of The Secret World

The Secret World is one of the MMORPG genres only true horror titles, and its stellar visuals play a crucial role in building its uniquely disturbing ambiance.

The graphics of TSW are for the most part realistic and detailed — horrifyingly so, in the case of many of its monster models — yet it adds a touch of style when it needs to, a slightly dreamy air to some landscapes that creates an aura of mystery and dread.

Even more impressively, TSW’s graphics can shift massively to help tell the story. Landscapes bend and distort impossibly in dream sequences. Rooms melt away into new landscapes seamlessly. Few other games can immerse the player through visual storytelling as The Secret World.

1: Guild Wars 2

A uman warrior stands over one of the many gorgeous vistas of Guild Wars 2

So far on the list, we’ve covered games with technically strong graphics but lacking art styles, and games with fantastic art design but less than stellar graphical fidelity. But there is one game that manages to hit both out of the park at every opportunity, and that game is Guild Wars 2.

Out of the whole MMORPG genre, no game balances style and realism better than Guild Wars 2. Its visuals are stylized, but not cartoony or ludicrous. Its landscapes are colorful, its character models flawless, and its animations among the smoothest and most detailed you’ll ever see. At no point is it anything but awe-inspiring.