Tag Archives: DC Universe Online

The Best MMO Settings (That Aren’t Fantasy)

As we’ve discussed before, fantasy MMOs heavily dominate the genre. Even if you’re a fantasy fan, it can start to feel a bit stale after a while. Maybe you want to try something else for a change.

Though they are a minority, there are some solid non-fantasy MMORPGs out there. These are a few of your better options for an MMO with a different sort of setting.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

The Dyson Sphere Iokath in Star Wars: The Old Republic

I almost didn’t include SWTOR on the grounds that it is still pretty much fantasy. Little if any of the technology in the Star Wars universe has any connection to real science, and the Force is simply magic by another name.

But it is at least a slightly different flavor of fantasy, even if it’s just a different skin on the same tropes. Sometimes that’s all it takes to change people’s feelings; I’ve known sci-fi fans who love Star Wars while decrying the fantasy genre. So while it may not make rational sense, SWTOR may still feel refreshing to those bored of traditional high fantasy.


A space scene in WildStar

WildStar is another game that incorporates a lot of fantasy elements into its sci-fi, alongside a certain Western feel and a strong dose of humor. The end result is an eclectic setting that exists somewhere between World of Warcraft, Firefly, and Bugs Bunny.

If you really want to leave the world of magic and mystery behind, it might not be enough to satisfy you, but it’s definitely not your standard high fantasy, at least, and you can’t deny it has a very unique character. One thing WildStar has never lacked for is personality.

Star Trek Online

A Romulan starship crew in Star Trek Online

Another MMORPG based on a popular science fiction IP, but this one hews much closer to traditional science fiction than does Star Wars. Obviously, if you’re a Star Trek fan, STO is worth a look, but even if you’re not familiar with the source material, it may be worth a try as a welcome departure from the tired fantasy formula used by so many other MMOs.

STO is particularly appealing in this regard because the difference in setting is also reflected in the game mechanics. Whereas SWTOR plays like any other fantasy MMO, Star Trek Online has space combat that feels quite different from anything else in the MMO genre and captures the feel of the shows and movies very well.

Fallen Earth

A promotional screenshot from the post-apocalyptic MMORPG Fallen Earth

But maybe space ships aren’t your thing, either. Perhaps the gritty texture of a post-apocalyptic setting is more your speed. There aren’t as many options on this front as there should be, but one possibility you can consider is the sandbox Fallen Earth.

It’s an older game with a small following, but it can definitely provide a breath of fresh (if radioactive) air for those seeking relief from the endless parade of sword and sorcery.

Destiny/Destiny 2

A promotional image for the MMO shooter Destiny 2

Another strong contender on the sci-fi front are Bungie’s Destiny games, depicting a far future where humanity clings to existence amidst the ruins of Earth’s solar system. It’s got a larger than life feel similar to Star Wars, but hews a bit closer to traditional sci-fi.

They’re also another option for breaking away from traditional MMO gameplay as well as traditional settings. Both versions of Destiny take the form of first person shooters (with some RPG elements) rather than the standard action bar set-up of most MMORPGs.

DC Universe Online

A villain broods over Gotham City in DC Universe Online

It always amazes me that superhero games don’t make up a larger share of the MMO market. Given the power fantasy nature of the genre and the popularity of superheroes in general, it seems like a perfect fit.

Nonetheless, superhero MMORPGs are for some reason a rarity, despite providing arguably the best fit for an MMO of any non-fantasy genre. One of your few good options on this front is DC Universe Online. It captures the comic book feel pretty well, it boasts fantastic combat, and it has maintained a steady level of popularity for many years now, with significant updates still coming on the regular.

Whether you’re a big superhero fan or just want something far away from the realm of Elves and wizards, DCUO is one of the better options.

EVE Online

Exploring deep space in EVE Online

The notoriously convoluted game mechanics and ruthless community of EVE Online are the sort of thing you either love or hate, but one thing it definitely does deserve credit for is being one of the longest running and most successful MMORPGs that isn’t leaning on the crutch of high fantasy.

And unlike many other entries on this list, EVE is also not based on popular IP from elsewhere in the media. Its sci-fi setting of New Eden is entirely original, a wild frontier where aspiring starship pilots can find fame and fortune… or death and ruin.

Secret World Legends

The tutorial sequence from the horror MMO Secret World Legends

Surely one of the most inventive settings ever seen in the world of MMORPGs is that of the bizarre and terrifying Secret World, a torch now carried by its rebooted successor, Secret World Legends.

Combining elements of countless real world mythologies and conspiracy theories, Legends is best described as a horror game, but it also draws elements from many other genres, including sci-fi and, yes, fantasy. But even the fantasy elements have a completely different feel from the traditional Tolkien-clone MMO settings.

Unfortunately, Legends carries a lot of baggage related to its messy transition from its predecessor, The Secret World. There was a lot of dishonesty on the part of the developers and a lot of hurt feelings among fans, and so it’s difficult for me to give an unequivocal recommendation to the game as I might have in the past.

Nevertheless, if we’re judging the caliber of settings, neither incarnation of the Secret World can be beat. If it’s not something you’ve experienced before, you have no idea what you’re missing. The originality, the ambiance, and the depth are without equal.

What MMOs Can Learn from Mass Effect: Andromeda

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?

The planet Havarl in Mass Effect: Andromeda

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.

Persistent NPCs

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.

The crew of the Tempest in Mass Effect: Andromeda

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.

Fighting the local wildlife in Mass Effect: Andromeda

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

Scanning some plants on planet Eos in Mass Effect: Andromeda

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.

* * *

Have you been playing Andromeda? What lessons do you think MMOs could take from it?

The Most Stable MMORPGs

The unfortunate truth is that MMORPGs are not games that are going to be around forever. They’re reliant on developers to continually maintain and support their servers, and eventually there comes a day when that is no longer economically viable and the game is shut down forever.

Short of that, aging and unpopular games can slide into “maintenance mode,” where the servers are still running but new content and updates are no longer produced. Such a game will be abandoned by all but a small core of devoted fans, and even they may not last forever.

This knowledge can be a source of anxiety for MMO players. When wondering whether to invest time into a game, one may wonder how much longer it’s likely to operate and receive active support from its developers.

If you’re one of those people, let us help set your mind at ease. The following is a list of some of the most stable MMOs on the market. They have healthy fanbases and significant developer support and are likely to survive and thrive for many years to come.

Star Trek: Online

A Romulan character in Star Trek: Online

MMOs based on famous franchises can be an iffy proposition. The developer rents the license for the IP from its owner, and if the game isn’t pulling its weight, that owner can pull the plug at will.

However, right now, all indications are that Star Trek: Online is doing just fine.

Developer Cryptic has recently announced ST:O’s third expansion, Agents of Yesterday, which will shake up the game by taking players back in time to the era of the original series. Cryptic is also planning to bring ST:O to consoles soon, expanding its potential playerbase significantly.

Neither of these are things the game would be doing if it weren’t bringing in good revenue and maintaining a healthy population, and both should bring in new players and more activity, at least for a while.

The upcoming releases of Star Trek: Beyond and an as yet untitled new TV series will also shine a renewed spotlight on the Star Trek franchise, and that, too, should benefit ST:O.

DC Universe Online

The supervillian Bane in DC Universe Online

Like ST:O, DC Universe Online is a licensed game and therefore has something of a Sword of Damocles dangling above its head, but right now, all indications are that the game is doing well.

Regular updates are still being published, and Daybreak has even announced a plan to port the game to Xbox One, DCUO having already been on PlayStation 3 and 4 for some time. It also recently added cross-platform play for PC and PlayStation users, though Xbox One players will have their own separate servers.

These are clear signs that the game is still successful enough to be worth investing significant development resources into. Launching on Xbox One will expand the game’s reach even further.

The continued success of DC Universe Online is likely because it’s managed to carve itself out a strong niche in the industry. It’s one of the few quality super hero MMORPGs currently on the market, and while MMOs on consoles are slowly becoming more common, for a long time DCUO was one of the few good options on that front. Even as more competition arrives, DCUO’s established fanbase should keep it steady for some time.

EverQuest and EverQuest II

A raid group in EverQuest

EverQuest’s glory days at the top of the MMO world are long, long gone, but it and its successor are still plugging along with small but intensely loyal fanbases.

Even as technology marches along and these older titles fade from the public eye, they’re continuing to receive regular updates, often in the form of full expansion packs, and there’s no sign of that stopping anytime soon.

The odds of EQ and EQ2 having any significant growth at this point are negligible, but anyone who’s stuck with them this long is clearly in it for the long haul, and the EverQuest franchise’s importance to the MMO genre as a whole gives them a great deal of security.

Guild Wars 2

The rebuilt city of Lion's Arch in Guild Wars 2

There was a time when Guild Wars 2 was the poster-child for rock steady developer support in the MMO world, with updates every two weeks and boundless enthusiasm for the game in the community.

In the years since launch, that has changed a bit. Updates are now more sporadic, and while GW2 has launched a major expansion pack, Heart of Thorns, it was met with somewhat mixed reviews.

That said, while it is no longer the industry’s golden child, GW2 is still a fairly healthy game. Updates might not come every two weeks anymore, but they’re still reasonably regular, and the game maintains a respectable fanbase. Work is believed to have already started on another expansion, showing that the developers still have strong faith in their game.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

A cinematic in Star Wars: The Old Republic

Star Wars: The Old Republic had some rough patches after launch, but a controversial yet financially successful free to play conversion and several expansions have done a lot to right its course over the past few years.

By all reports, the game’s latest expansion, Knights of the Fallen Empire, has been its most successful to date, and it will theoretically set the tone for future updates to the game.

The recent up-swell in popularity for Star Wars as a whole due to the new movies should also benefit SW:TOR greatly, and the widespread appeal of Star Wars and the devotion of its fans ensures a strong fanbase for the game for a long time to come.

There will likely come a day when SW:TOR is shut down to make way for a more modern Star Wars MMO, but given how much money it’s making currently, that shouldn’t be a concern for a long time.


A screenshot of the free to play MMORPG RuneScape

RuneScape is one of those interesting cases of a game that almost everyone seems to ignore, yet it remains incredibly popular and successful. You will rarely see MMO sites give it much coverage, and it gets even less discussion in the greater community, yet it’s quietly become of the genre’s bigger success stories.

RuneScape has been operating continuously since 2001, has welcomed hundreds of thousands of players, and was even named the most played free MMORPG by the Guiness Book of World Records. It updates regularly, and over the last few years it has been experimenting with opening specialty servers such as Old School RuneScape, which preserves an earlier version of the game.

The Elder Scrolls Online

The Harborage subzone in Elder Scrolls Online

Like several entries on this list, Elder Scrolls Online is based on a famous franchise with legions of fans, but unlike the others, this is a franchise solely owned by its developer. That gives it all the benefits of name recognition and passionate fans without the risk of the license being revoked if its owners feel the game isn’t turning a big enough profit.

ESO could probably enjoy a fair bit of success just by coasting on the popularity of its franchise, but it’s proven itself a strong game in its own right, with lots of quality content and strong systems.

ESO has been putting out large DLC packs with a fair degree of regularity for a while now, and it shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. It’s old enough to have worked out many of its early kinks, but young enough to still have a big population and lots of excitement around it in the community.

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

A cutscene in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

Like ESO, Final Fantasy XIV is a game with a popular IP that is solely owned by its developer, reaping the benefits of an existing fanbase with none of the downsides.

Since it relaunched as A Realm Reborn, FFXIV has somewhat embarrassed most other MMOs by putting out meaty content updates with a regularity that would put clockwork to shame. The game’s first expansion, Heavensward, did well, and the next expansion is reported to already be in production.

World of Warcraft

An interesting method of escape in World of Warcraft

In the MMO community, claims of WoW’s impending death are an everyday occurrence, but for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, World of Warcraft continues to thrive. It is true that it’s fallen significantly from its early days of glory, but it remains by far the most successful MMO on the market.

On top of that, Blizzard Entertainment has far greater commitment to its games than most other developers. It still actively supports games it released more than a decade ago. The venerable Diablo II was patched not that long ago. Even if we do reach a day where WoW is no longer a major moneymaker, it would be supremely unlikely for Blizzard to shut it down.

WoW is likely to continue declining over the next few years, but it’s still so big and so good at finding new revenue streams that it’s likely to continue being a financial success — and thus continue to get new content and updates — for years to come.

The only thing you need to be worried about is that WoW’s decline may lead to fewer and smaller updates over time. But a true maintenance mode or a shutdown is probably years, if not even decades, away.