To some, “solo MMO player” might sound like an oxymoron, but in reality, soloists make up one of the largest player groups in MMORPGs, and even people who do enjoy group play will usually end up playing solo some of the time.
Soloing MMOs used to be a hard road, but these days most games offer a wealth of solo content. Still, some are more welcoming of solo players than others. To be truly solo-friendly, an MMORPG must not only offer solo content, but also ensure that content is well-crafted and fulfilling, not just generic kill ten rats quests, and there must be meaningful rewards for solo play.
The different types of solo-friendly MMOs can be divided into a few broad tiers, so let’s take a look at what they are.
These are games that offer a wealth of solo content, but may still reserve the very best content and rewards for group play.
World of Warcraft
World of Warcraft is a game that definitely requires group play to get the most out of it — all the best rewards and most important story moments are found in dungeons and raids — but quick and effective group finders make them easily accessible to someone without a guild or a group of in-game friends.
The current Legion expansion has also added a great deal of fun and rewarding solo content in the form of class campaigns and world quests.
Overall, WoW’s a good choice for a “soft” soloist who prefers to play alone but isn’t totally opposed to grouping. Pure soloists may want to look elsewhere.
Lord of the Rings Online
LotRO has no shortage of solo content, and the “epic story” of the game is quite solo-friendly. However, the quality of its side quests — which are necessary to level — tends to be fairly weak, and it does shift focus to a more raid-centric endgame once you’ve progressed far enough.
Trion’s MMO shooter has a strong focus on open world events and story-driven missions, both of which are quite approachable for the MMO soloist.
The strikes against Defiance from a solo player’s perspective would be that some of the best rewards are still locked behind group content, and that it can eventually become exceptionally grindy, which can tax the limited free time many solo players have.
These games have made solo players a priority and offer solid quantity and quality of solitary options.
Guild Wars 2
In the past, I would have considered Guild Wars 2 one of the best solo MMORPGs, but these days it’s not quite as welcoming to the soloist as it once was. Open world content has become more difficult and unforgiving, encouraging (though not requiring) the assistance of fellow players, and the endgame has shifted more toward high end raids and dungeons.
The majority of GW2 is still soloable, and you’ll still have a lot of fun content and satisfying rewards available to you, but it’s just not quite as flawlessly solo-friendly as it used to be.
Recently I’ve been considering giving Warframe a try, and reading up on it, the consensus seems to be that you can do most anything in the game solo, but some things may be difficult, and you may require a specific build to do it. So it seems like a good choice for a solo player, but perhaps not quite an ideal choice.
I’m going to lump Neverwinter, Star Trek Online, and Champions Online together because they all follow more or less the same formula. There’s an emphasis on solo story content, usually heavily instanced, and while the quests aren’t the best in the genre, they definitely are above average.
Endgame in Cryptic MMOs tends to be split between traditional dungeon content or PvP and more solo-friendly daily quest grinds. It’s not the most thrilling solo content in the world, but it’s there.
Of them all, I’d rate STO as the most solo-friendly. It has the most story-driven and overall best quest content of Cryptic’s library.
These are the crème de la crème of solo MMORPGs, where solo content is at least as fun and rewarding as any other option, if not more so.
Secret World Legends
The Secret World was pretty much the pinnacle of the solo MMO experience, with impeccable mission design, purely optional group content, and an egalitarian endgame that allowed most anyone to get the best gear eventually.
I haven’t delved as deeply into Legends, but the general philosophy of the reboot seems to have been to move away from MMO mechanics, so if anything it should be even more welcoming to solo players (if that’s even possible).
Star Wars: The Old Republic
SWTOR does lose some points for having an endgame that still puts raids and dungeons at the top, but most would agree that the real attraction of the game is its story, and all of that is entirely soloable. Even if you only play the class stories, you’re still essentially getting eight high quality single-player RPGs for free… ish.
The endgame doesn’t entirely shut out the solo player, either. Most anything can grant you experience toward Galactic Command ranks, including soloable heroic missions and the like.
Like the other top tier solo MMOs, Elder Scrolls Online has a strong emphasis on story content, which can all be completed solo, and while the mechanics are not quite so unique as in Legends and the story not quite so powerful as in SWTOR, ESO’s questing is nonetheless a cut above what most other MMOs offer, and the sheer volume of it is staggering.
There are dungeons and raids, but they’re not at all essential to understanding the story, nor are they the only path to advancement at endgame. Crafting provides an effective, if somewhat grindy, path for solo players to achieve high-end gear, and any content will give you the XP needed for Champion Points.
If you’re anything like me, you can get lost in MMORPG character creators, spending great lengths of time perfecting every detail of your avatar. MMOs are games that you may end up playing for months or years, so it’s incredibly important your characters look just right.
But of course, not all character creators are, ahem, created equal. Some offer very limited choices, while others go to absurd lengths to give you total control over every aspect of your appearance.
We’ve put together a list of some of the strongest MMO character creators, so you too can create your ideal avatar.
Elder Scrolls Online
ESO’s character creator is weird. It has a great many options, but it still doesn’t feel entirely satisfying to me as a character creation freak. A lot of the options don’t seem to make as much difference as they should.
That said, I’m still going to give it a nod simply because it has a few features that most other character creators lack. The most interesting is an age slider that lets you adjust the apparent age of your character independent of other features, allowing them to be anything from a fresh-faced youth to a wrinkled crone.
Star Trek: Online
Despite being an older title nowadays, Star Trek: Online is still holding its own as a strong contender in the character creation field.
Its strength lies in the sheer wealth of options. It might not have quite as much fine detail as some others, but it does allow you to customize nearly every aspect of your character’s physical appearance in at least some way, as well as their uniform and gear. Even your character’s idle animations and general body language can be customized, which is something I dearly wish more MMOs offered.
In keeping with Star Trek’s style, you can also choose from a rather extensive list of playable alien species (though all humanoid, sadly), and even create your own species by selecting the option for a custom alien and mixing and matching visual details and racial abilities.
Guild Wars 2
One downside to a lot of MMORPGs with strong character creators is that they usually limit you to playing only humans or very human-like races. This is understandable, as adding detailed character creation options for a variety of diverse races is a big technical and artistic challenge. Adding just one race that requires totally different creation options essentially doubles the workload, and it only gets worse from there.
Still, it can be disappointing as a player to be limited to only basic humanoids, and that makes Guild Wars 2 something of a breath of fresh air. It does offer a variety of races, and several are quite exotic, from the feline Charr to the plant-like Sylvari.
The character creation options in GW2 are perhaps not quite as impressive as in some other games on the list, but they’re still pretty robust, and it’s just about the only game that offers both interesting racial choices and major visual customization, so it deserves major props just for that.
Fighting crime is important, but looking good while doing it is more important still. Champions Online understands this, and it has the character creator to match.
The options for your avatar’s physical appearance are solid, but it’s when you factor in the costume options as well that the options become truly staggering. Whether you want some traditional brightly colored spandex or a more gritty, modern hero with realistic armor, there is a plethora of options.
A large number of CO’s costume pieces are unfortunately paywalled, but even if you never pay a cent, there’s still a massive selection.
Black Desert Online
Black Desert is a strange case.
In many ways, it’s unequaled in the field of character customization. The amount of control you’re given over the smallest details of your avatar’s appearance is simply amazing. You can tweak every little aspect of their face. You can add highlights and lowlights to their hair or adjust its length in whole or in part. You can choose the color and shape of their pupils.
Black Desert is the first game I’ve played where the character creator has a learning curve, and I mean that as a compliment. You can truly get lost in this thing. It’s almost a game unto itself.
However, there is one major drawback to Black Desert’s customization that keeps it out of the top spot. Each class is not just gender-locked but locked into a specific physical archetype. Your warrior can never be anything but a mountainous beefcake, for instance. You can play as an older man with the wizard class, but there’s no female equivalent. And so on.
It could also stand to have more hairstyle choices. Those are surprisingly limited.
It’s been years, but I still haven’t seen an MMO with better character customization than Aion.
Aion has a slider for everything you can imagine, and probably at least one or two things you can’t. It’s a game that gives you almost total freedom to make exactly the character you want.
Above, I said that MMOs with good character customization are often very limited in racial choice, and that’s true of Aion, too, but it doesn’t really matter because the character creator is so powerful you can pretty much make your own races. Want to be a three foot tall pixie with pointed ears and purple hair? That’s an option. Or if you’re prefer, you could be a seven foot tall meat mountain with gray skin and grotesquely disproportionate facial features.
In Aion, the greatest limitation is simply your imagination, and that’s why it deserves the top spot on our list.
Have you noticed that things are a bit quieter than usual in your MMO lately? Are the streets of Stormwind a little barren? Is the fleet not quite buzzing as much as it usually does? Is the crowd in Cyrodiil a bit thinner?
If you’re finding that the online population is looking a bit smaller all of a sudden, you can probably place the blame on Mass Effect: Andromeda. Bioware’s juggernaut release has drawn the attention of almost everyone with any interest in RPGs, and one would expect plenty of MMO players to dive into it. I know I have.
While playing Andromeda, I can’t help but compare it to MMORPGs here and there. They’re very different games in some ways, but very similar in others, and I think there are a lot of ideas MMO developers would be well-advised to steal from Andromeda.
Most NPCs in MMORPGs are very forgettable. They send you off to collect seven and a half boar sphincters, you get some XP, and you move on, likely never seeing them again. Even in games where more effort is put into writing interesting NPCs — like The Secret World — you still eventually end up moving on.
Mass Effect: Andromeda also has a lot of disposable NPCs that give you one side quest and are then forgotten, but like most Bioware games, it also features a core cast of companions who stick with the player through the entire game, growing and evolving along with you.
Having a persistent cast to get to know and care about gives a significant emotional hook to a game. It gives you something to fight for, a motivation to keep going, and it adds an element of investment that can’t be achieved by simple game mechanics alone.
I’ve long felt this is the way to go for MMORPGs, and I’m surprised more developers haven’t tried to buck the trend of disposable NPCs. Even Bioware’s MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic, has struggled to maintain a consistent cast throughout its lifespan, though the more recent expansions seem to be making a greater effort in that regard.
Only Defiance, of all games, has managed to maintain a consistent core cast from beginning to end, and I felt it gave the world and story a texture that most MMOs lack.
Freedom of Choice
One thing that I am greatly enjoying about Andromeda is that it has done away with traditional classes. Every ability in the game is available to the player. Spending skill points unlocks “profiles” that steer you toward specific playstyles, but even so there’s a tremendous potential for customization and playing the way you want, especially considering it’s easy to swap between different profiles and skill sets on the fly.
And that’s without getting into the dizzying variety of guns and customizations for those guns that exist within Andromeda. Your options in this game feel almost limitless.
I find this level of freedom incredibly liberating. I’ve never liked being tied to a narrow playstyle on one character. In Mass Effect, I enjoy playing as a biotic, but in the past games I always wished I could augment my character with some tech abilities or better combat skills without giving up my signature adept moves. In MMOs, I like playing a rogue in World of Warcraft, but I’ve always wished my rogue had an option for ranged fighting, since some fights are pretty harsh on melee.
Andromeda has given me the freedom to break the mould that once confined me, and I would like to see MMOs follow suit.
Now, the ability to customize your character without limit isn’t entirely unheard of in MMORPGs, but it is rare. Only a few games — Rift, The Secret World, and to a slightly lesser extent Elder Scrolls Online — offer a level of freedom comparable to Andromeda’s. I would like to see this become a more common idea.
Freedom of Movement
Like a lot of MMOs — and really any games with large open worlds — Andromeda tends to entail a lot of travel time. Unlike MMOs, however, I’m not finding this feels like a chore in Andromeda.
This is because movement itself is interesting gameplay. Andromeda equips players with powerful jump jets that allow them to leap and dodge with great speed and force, which makes navigating the often hostile terrain of the Heleus Cluster into a fun little mini-game all its own.
This movement system even benefits combat. Players can leap into the air to fire over enemy cover or dodge circles around powerful mobs.
When traveling longer distances, players can hop in the Nomad, an all-terrain vehicle. But whereas MMO mounts are usually just a passive speed boost, the Nomad has boosters for temporary bursts of speed and jump jets to help it clear obstacles, and the player can even toggle between different driving modes for better speed or climbing ability. Again, it makes simply getting around a lot more interesting.
I’m not sure I’d want to see too much gameplay injected into movement in MMOs, as it could become over-complicated pretty fast, but it would be nice to see a bit more effort put into the mechanics of mounts and less into coming up with ever more bizarre visuals for them.
Right now the only MMORPGs that seem to have put any real effort into making movement interesting are superhero titles like DC Universe Online and Champions Online. I don’t play those games much, but I’d take their travel powers over mounts any day.
A Non-linear World
In most MMOs, you travel through the world in a very linear fashion. First this zone, then that zone. You could perhaps blame the genre’s obsession with vertical progression, but even in games with a more horizontal progression — like Guild Wars 2 — you still tend to go through the world in a pretty linear path. You can revisit old zones, but there’s usually not a lot of impetus to.
My experience of Andromeda so far has been fairly different. It’s not just that enemies scale to your level, although they do, but that the game is designed to be approached in a non-linear fashion. I regularly find new missions and activities in old zones, and rather than following a strict path from one planet to another, I am instead finding myself going back and forth between various locations as dictated by the needs of the story.
This feels a lot more natural, a lot more logical, than just going from one zone to another and forgetting about all that came before. It makes the setting of a game feel more like a real place.
This is something MMOs would have to handle carefully, as being constantly sent all over the world could quickly become irritating. In the old days, this kind of design in MMOs was a lot more common, but it was often an exercise in frustration due to long travel times and non-scaling content that made revisiting older zones pointless. With more advanced technology and better design, I do think the concept of more non-linearity in MMO worlds could be made to work, and I would enjoy it if older zones could still have some meaningful content after you’ve moved on from them the first time.
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Have you been playing Andromeda? What lessons do you think MMOs could take from it?
“The perfect MMORPG”. A concept as elusive as the holy grail. We rush from MMORPG release to MMORPG release hoping to be enveloped by the warm embrace of perfection. The truth is that the perfect MMORPG is highly dependent on the user. Perhaps some have already witnessed a virtual nirvana. But most of us can only dream of the possibility. And dreaming is exactly what I intend to do today.
Sadly, the Perfect World doesn’t contribute to my Frankensteined perfect MMORPG.
As a fun exercise, I’ll combine the best features from every MMORPG into one perfect MMORPG. In my opinion, this will capture the best of what every virtual world has to offer.
It all starts with character creation and nothing beats Champions Online. The freeform character development is exceptionally fun. Pretty much every type of superhero one can imagine can be created. The superhero MMORPG also offers pre-defined archetypes, but that’s so…blasé. In addition to a wealth of character powers, there’s also about twenty different options for character appearance. All of this combines into the best character creation out there.
What will we do once in game? It wouldn’t be a modern MMORPG without a quest or two. I can’t really think of a better MMORPG questing system to steal than the The Secret World’s. Whereas quest givers in every other MMORPG are overly obsessed with my rat killing count, TSW challenges my self proclaimed heroic title. Missions in this game utilize puzzles, voice acted cutscenes, lore heavy items, stealth, and an impressive tie-in to The Secret World’s immersive environment at every turn. In a lot of ways, TSW handles missions even better than many single player RPGs. I’m more of a sandbox guy at heart, but I’ll jump on a fitting themepark with quests this good.
Where The Secret World falters is combat. Luckily, our perfect MMORPG can ignore that completely. Blade & Soul offers an amazing combat system that does away with hotbar button bloat. Instead, the player builds and releases powerful abilities based on combo attacks reminiscent of Street Fighter. Reaction time is relevant but so is strategically reading one’s opponents. Additionally, the game does away with traditional class based roles that widens grouping possibilities.
Despite a great combat system, Blade and Soul does feel a bit restrictive. Part of that is the game’s economy. Instead of putting the power in the the collective players’ hands, advancement is pretty much self sufficient. In my perfect MMORPG, I want to see a truly interactive player economy. For that, none is better than Eve Online. Every module, ship, weapon, and implant can be freely sold and traded between players in Eve Online. Regional markets replace global auction houses from most MMORPGs. This gives traders a chance to take advantage of changing market conditions. Where some see price gouging arbitrage, Eve Online players see opportunity. It mimics the real world so accurately that even economists study it’s ecosystem.
While everyone wants to get their piece of the pie, some prefer more direct confrontation. It’s been around for a long time, but Dark Age of Camelot’s PvP has yet to be surpassed. Strangely, most developers still insist on World of Warcraft’s inherently unbalanced two faction system. DAoC realized early on that three factions would self regulate. The game makes proper use of PvP and allows players to level up purely through it. Castle sieges and relic conquests keep content from growing stale. Some might say a free for all system would be better, but instant camaraderie via factional warfare is a better choice for a universal, perfect MMORPG.
PvP isn’t all there is to the endgame though. Great dungeons and raids can bring both casual and hardcore guilds together in unique ways. WildStar clearly excels in this like none other. In fact, the challenges that WildStar’s dungeons present have been toned down since launch. They were just too hard. The method to success in a WildStar dungeon is rarely ever obvious. What’s really great about the instanced dungeons in WildStar is that the fun begins early on. Even the first instances in the game limit trash mobs in favor of inspired boss mechanics. The dungeons in WildStar respect me as a player. They may ask too much of my PUGs at times, but it comes with the territory.
All in all, I couldn’t ask for a more perfect MMORPG than what I created above. There are a few traditional pain points I avoided. Visuals and bells and whistles aren’t as big of a deal because a many games handle this well. If the art design is coherent and well put together, I’ll be happy. The World of Warcraft style is just as appealing as the Elder Scrolls Online. And I suppose if I cared more about story, I’d double dip into The Secret World. To me, the best stories come from the players though. Events like killing the sleeper in EverQuest, World of Warcraft’s Corrupted Blood plague, and Eve Online’s trillion ISK scam can’t be beat.
While such a real world amalgamation seems unlikely as games grow more niche, I can always dream. How would you Frankenstein your Perfect MMO?
MMORPGs have grown more numerous in their yearly releases at this point. But have they actually gotten better? Some would argue no as many simply tried to tweak World of Warcraft. Whatever you may think, at least these winners have proven themselves the best MMORPG by year for their respective time periods.
Best MMORPG of 2006 – Dungeons & Dragons Online
Runner-up: Wurm Online
I probably played more of 2005’s Silkroad Online in 2006, but Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO) was the better overall game even back then. It follows the heavily instanced nature of 2005’s Guild Wars with instanced quests that players can form small groups to overcome. It uses a modified D&D 3.5 ruleset as the backbone for combat and advancement. Unlike tabletop D&D though, players fight in real-time. In fact, DDO employs a bit of twitch based combat where players must manually aim attacks. This was a first for a mainstream fantasy MMORPG and lent itself to creating a unique experience at launch.
Overall, Turbine did a great job of bringing Dungeons and Dragons to an MMO environment. Dungeon masters narrate quests, each with their own story for those who find themselves interested. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough content to level up purely on unique quests. Players will need to repeat quests, some several times, in order to sufficiently advance to take on new quests. To make matters worse, some quests can be quite difficult without an adequate party composition that can take some time to fill. For these reasons, DDO can really grow tiresome but there is no denying its 2006 crown.
Best MMORPG of 2007 – Lord of the Rings Online
Turbine found itself on a roll from 2006-2007. After handling one major fantasy IP more than competently, they were given the reigns to the vaunted world of Middle Earth. Lord of the Rings Online sought to create an immersive MMORPG steeped in the rich lore of Tolkein’s masterpiece. For the most part, they succeeded. The entire game feels like a community struggle against evil. Even the PvP system disallows players fighting each others’ characters, but instead allows one side of players to temporarily control the monsters.
The greatest strength of Lord of the Rings Online is its adherence to the lore. Even little things like calling achievements deeds and parties fellowships add to the ambience. Fellowships are required for challenging instances, rewarding coordinated players with group attacks called Fellowship Manoeuvres. The classes are fairly unique too. Wizards such as Gandalf are rare so magically inclined players instead take on the role of rune-keepers and lore-masters. Physical combat classes are similarly unique to LOTRO. Players can even play a variety of musical instruments, forming impromptu bands in town squares. The game simply comes to life and to this day continues to build on its iconic world.
Lord of the Rings Online combines a well told MMO story, compelling quests, and a rich world steeped in lore. It’s an MMORPG with a strong draw for those who appreciate a little role-playing in their role-playing game.
Best MMORPG of 2008 – Age of Conan
Runner-up: Warhammer Online
Warhammer Online and Atlantica Online came close to winning this. After all, in 2008 Age of Conan was a mess. The game lacked in content, the combat felt clunky, endgame felt repetitive, and bugs ran rampant. The game entertained in Tortage, Age of Conan’s solo tutorial area for the first twenty levels, and then promptly fell off a cliff. Funcom is just a terrible company when it comes to MMORPG launches, but they sure do know how to turn things around.
Age of Conan is now brimming with content, the unique combat system feels responsive, and the multitude of unique classes are a welcome change from typical fantasy MMORPGs. Players will find themselves with plenty to do as they progress their character to the maximum level of eighty. Typical endgame raids await to continue powering up, but honestly other games do those better. And for a mature setting, the PvP is sadly lacking with class balance issues and mediocre systems. Still, the combat system combined with a rich environment has provided a lasting legacy that tops 2008’s other offerings.
Best MMORPG of 2009 – Champions Online
Runner-up: Runes of Magic
2008 didn’t set any lasting trends in the MMORPG industry, but at least it didn’t disappoint like 2009. Several titles flopped, building on 2008 to give further rise to the notion that MMORPG developers really suck at living up to their promises. Champions Online would be the second superhero themed MMORPG released by Cryptic Studios, having sold their first (City of Heroes) to NCSoft. It’s also the obvious choice for 2009 as this year’s only title to bring something unique to the genre. The current state of the game feels money grubbing, but there is a lot Champions Online offers to would be superheroes.
Champions Online’s character customization might still be better than every competing MMORPG. Not only from the perspective of combining desired superpowers for a character, but appearance customization is worlds ahead of other games too. Speaking of appearances, the visual style lends itself to a fulfilling 3D comic book world that immerses players in the role of their characters. Combat, PvP, and crafting leave a lot to be desired in it’s current state though and the free to play system is extremely stifling. 2009: the year of we do what we can with what we have.
Best MMORPG of 2010 – Final Fantasy XIV
Guess who’s back? Back again. Final Fantasy’s back. Tell a friend.
Good grief, 2010’s MMORPGs in 2010 vs. 2010’s MMORPGs in 2016 are a massive difference. Star Trek Online and Perpetuum are both in much better places than they were six years ago. Vindictus and Dragon Nest, still two of the best free targeting MMORPGs, have only added content to what were strong Korean releases. But nothing has changed as much as Final Fantasy XIV.
The game was such a train wreck on release that Square Enix stopped charging subscription fees for over a year while they revamped the game, ultimately culminating into “A Realm Reborn”. Now, Final Fantasy XIV stands as a benchmark for traditional MMORPG play. Much like Final Fantasy XI, strong group coordination is required to overcome the game’s most difficult challenges. However, solo play for the majority of progression is much more viable. The job system provides an incentive to revisit old areas and adds diversity to class builds. Perhaps the latest Final Fantasy MMO’s most noteworthy feature though is its strong narrative. The game features characters you won’t immediately forget with cut scenes reminiscent of its single player brethren. It’s no surprise then that questing is a strength of this MMORPG.
As it stands, Final Fantasy XIV is a perfect title for those seeking a modern adaption of MMORPGs from the early 2000s. Subscription fee included.
Best MMORPG of 2011 – TERA
Far and away, 2011 gave me the longest pause to consider which title to choose. TERA, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Rift are the MMOs that most readily come to mind, but DC Universe and the now defunct Rusty Hearts are both underrated. Ultimately, I went with TERA primarily because its combat system offers the most unique gameplay.
TERA’s combat really embraces the “new” style that eschews classic tab targeting for freeform player targeted skills. Players in TERA need to actually aim their abilities at the target to hit them. Additionally, the combat pacing is much faster than MMO competitors. These two design decisions lead to a combat system that rewards players not purely for equipment (although that’s important too) but for their individual skill as well.
The downside is that TERA’s enemies in the open world are beyond bland. Interesting dungeons aren’t available for at least twenty levels and PvP doesn’t really begin until max level. So although leveling is relatively fast, the combat is still a chore for a good while until adequate challenges present themselves. When those challenges do come around though, the game really shines. TERA also features a great free to play system that is, in our opinion, not pay to win.
Best MMORPG of 2012 – The Secret World
Runner-up: Guild Wars 2
This was a fun year. Blade & Soul, which came out in America in 2016, notably released in Korea this year. It offered some great combat, but in the end I really only considered two Western MMORPGs: The Secret World and Guild Wars 2. They both offered a compelling and unique sales pitch but couldn’t be further apart at launch. As with every single Funcom MMORPG, The Secret World released in a half baked state. On the other hand, Guild Wars 2 felt rather complete. Naming The Secret World the winner would’ve certainly surprised my 2012 self. However, Guild Wars 2 has felt pretty stagnant despite their latest expansion while The Secret World has only grown stronger as a dark, atmospheric, story driven MMORPG.
The Secret World has built a rich environment for its player base to explore and currently offers the best MMO quests. There are no filler missions in The Secret World, with each tying into the main story arch. Many unique concepts abound during these integral quests. Players will need real world research to decipher clues, Metal Gear Solid skills to sneak through occult locations, deduction to solve coded puzzles, and fortitude to defeat rich Lovecraftian creatures. The Secret World advances MMO questing to the next generation and sits there squarely by itself.
Despite an excellent freeform character skill system, the combat does leave something to be desired. This certainly puts a damper on enjoying endgame dungeons, but shouldn’t dissuade interest from The Secret World. It’s not a game for tacticians or action junkies but for those seeking to be immersed in a deep, Lovecraftian-esque world. With a story that still sees regular updates and a buy to play option to get started, The Secret World is going strong.
Best MMORPG of 2013 – Warframe
Runner-up: Aura Kingdom
Might as well dub this the year of pay to win. All the larger populations MMOs like ArcheAge, Neverwinter, and Echo of Soul sooner or later fell into pay to win ways of varying degrees. I wanted to choose Wizardry Online here, but it never realized its potential prior shutting down. Aura Kingdom almost won due to a cute anime MMO styling that employs Aeria’s most reasonable freemium system to date. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to overcome Warframe.
Like Guild Wars, one could argue Warframe isn’t an MMORPG. There isn’t anything massive about the game other than its player base, chat, and the marketplace. I’m generally inclusive when defining an MMO though, and Warframe is the best of the games I considered.
First, combat in Warframe resembles Devil May Cry with a combination of fast paced melee and ranged abilities. Cooperative missions are the the primary form of content and advancement and places players in a central position in an ever growing galactic conflict. To overcome these missions, players can purchase a multitude of unique Warframes to pilot. These are similar to League of Legends champions in terms of offering significantly different gameplay without necessarily being stronger than one another. The game is extremely grind heavy, but there are a lot of interesting warframes, weapons, modules to collect. Though progression is slow, it’s extremely rewarding. A lot of the grind can be bypassed with cash, but ultimately everything can be acquired through in game play.
Warframe is a solid choice for the experiencing the life of a cyberninja, as long as repeating co-op missions (albeit of high quality) to acquire new equipment sounds fine.
Best MMORPG of 2014 – WildStar
Runner-up: Elder Scrolls Online
To give you an example of how difficult it was to choose between WildStar and Elder Scrolls Online, I think I swapped these five times before finally settling on Wildstar. I’m fairly confident Elder Scrolls Online will stand the test of time due to Tamriel’s rich lore and the series’ dedicated fan base. On the other hand, WildStar seems to constantly be on life support after a bad launch. For now, the population is revitalized thanks to the Steam launch, and there is just so much to love about WildStar.
The quirky universe, colorful palette, and HGTV quality house decorating give WildStar a lot of character. Yet it is the fast paced, action oriented combat system that truly gives WildStar a place in the crowded MMO market. The vast majority of moves telegraph their hit area, giving opponents a short time to dodge or counter. Despite this, the telegraphing doesn’t tend to the clutter the screen and provides players clear information with which to react. PvP battlegrounds reward competent play, but PvE is where WildStar really shines.
Many consider WildStar’s raids to be the best raids that any MMORPG has to offer (including those from you know who). Instanced dungeons and expeditions (group quests) offer challenging content that doesn’t just give you a win because you’re new. It’s truly a rewarding experience. Theorycrafting is fun thanks to easy respecs and a slew of combo-laden options. While the game is reasonably solo friendly, WildStar really shines with group content. If Steam doesn’t provide an adequate population boost this could be detrimental for what is a fantastically underrated free to play MMORPG.
Best MMORPG of 2015 – Skyforge
I’m not trying to knock Skyforge (OK, maybe I am a little bit) but proclaiming this the best MMORPG of 2015 caps off a weakened state of recent MMOs. Let’s give Skyforge it’s due though. It is the best MMORPG of 2015.
Skyforge’s progression system is one of the more unique aspects about the game. Players will navigate something similar to a sphere grid in Final Fantasy X (or Path of Exile) to progress. All characters can eventually access all classes and change freely between them outside of missions. As you might notice, free targeted action combat has grown popular and Skyforge implements its own version. Enemies aren’t as interesting as say, the aforementioned Wildstar, and are a bit too damage spongey. Still, the moves themselves look great and give motivation to level up. The active content revolves around missions but players can solo them when populations are low. The missions are fun the first time around, but even the random bonus objectives don’t entice replay as much as say, Warframe.
Although it takes a while to get there, what truly sets Skyforge apart are the AFK activities. These are polarizing, but it’s the main reason why you’d stick with Skyforge. As a god (eventually with a bad ass divine form), you’ll slowly grow your followers to provide character boosts. This is represented through a Facebook-esque game called the order system. You’ll recruit adepts, assign them to missions, build sanctuaries, they’ll level up, you’ll get bonuses and then repeat. The constant growth in Skyforge can be addicting. The appeal here is greatest for achievement/progression junkies or someone who just wants to play a god in an MMORPG.
Twenty Years of MMORPGs
That does it. Twenty years, twenty MMORPGs. Well, forty if you count runner-ups but second place is the first loser, right? We don’t speak of them (much). And while we could look back on this in another decade with a very different 2012 – 2015. I don’t see much changing with MMOs older than that.
I’d be flabbergasted to see people in 100% agreement with these so if there’s anything to add, all human comments are welcome.