Tag Archives: Skyforge

Skyforge’s Ascension Doesn’t Seem that Different

Skyforge is a game I was fairly excited about prior to launch. I even gave the beta a try to see how it handled, but while I found it to be a fairly solid experience, it wasn’t quite enough to hold my attention, and by the time it launched I had already shifted focus to other games.

A group of NPCs in a cutscene in Skyforge's Ascension patch

Now, Skyforge has launched a massive new patch called Ascension. Aside from adding a new gunslinger class, Ascension rewrites many of the game systems, supposedly with the goal of making them more approachable and less grindy. This seemed like the perfect time for me to give the game a second chance.

Shiny:

I did immediately notice some changes to the game since beta, though I’m not entirely sure what’s part of Ascension and what came before it.

For one thing, the tutorial is a little different. You now go to character creation first, rather than the game making everyone a generic male character until after the first leg of the tutorial. This is definitely an improvement, though the final boss of the tutorial will still call you “him” even if you’re playing as a female character.

Otherwise the tutorial is the same, and still one of the better introductory experiences I’ve seen in an MMO. Plenty of action and some very nice cutscenes.

The layout of content post-tutorial seems a bit different as well. Thankfully I wasn’t asked to go back and repeat the same content several times as I was in the beta, but maybe that comes later.

Something else new is that shortly after the tutorial every character will be issued a small robotic companion to assist them, though the system seems a bit half-baked. Most of the time I forgot my companion was even there; it really doesn’t seem to do much. There’s a system to upgrade your companion to give it new abilities — some combat related, others gear toward convenience — but how exactly you do this is not at all clear.

A paladin fighting low level mobs in Skyforge's Ascension patch

Another new addition is that enemies may now drop powerful, limited use weapons that you can use to wreak havoc. Everything from whips to laser rifles. Those are a lot of fun and add an interesting new element to Skyforge’s already strong combat. However, the drop rates on them seem a bit over-tuned; I got them so often they quickly stopped feeling special.

Finally, I was amused to discover that I had ten days of premium time granted to me… somehow. I certainly didn’t pay for it, and nothing in the game explained it — I only noticed it because the premium bonus was showing up for all my rewards. Perhaps it’s a bonus for new players? I was using my original account, but this was my first time logging in post-launch, so it may have considered me to be a newcomer.

Streamlining:

Most of the effort of Ascension seems to have gone towards streamlining the game’s progression mechanics. Most notably, class customization is basically gone. Every member of a class will now have the same abilities, the same passives, the same build.

I have mixed feelings on this. It is true that build systems in MMORPGs are often min/maxed to within an inch of their life, and you quickly reach the point where there’s really only one “correct” build. Anyone who does anything different — out of preference or ignorance — is ridiculed by the community until they conform. A choice where there’s only one correct option is no choice at all, and Ascension’s changes seem aimed at fixing that.

At the same time, I’m not sure going to opposite extreme and doing away with player choice altogether is the right answer. That seems to defeat the purpose of an RPG altogether. I’m not sure I have a better idea, though.

In theory Ascension has also simplified currencies and lessened the grind of the game, but as someone who hasn’t invested much time in the game, it’s hard to say exactly how much difference has been made. There still seems to be no shortage of currencies and different ways to increase your character’s power.

Some forgotten ruins in Skyforge's Ascension patch

Going in, I had assumed Ascension would make the greatest difference to new players, but now I’m thinking veterans are going to notice it the most.

I’m getting into guesswork here, but I get the feeling Ascension was probably targeted at midcore players — those who had some investment in the game, but were getting left behind in comparison to the most dedicated grinders and min/maxers.

Meet the new game, same as the old game:

Otherwise, Skyforge really isn’t that different than I remember, which has its pros and its cons.

On the plus side, it still has excellent combat. It’s visceral and visually spectacular, but also a fair bit deeper than the average action combat game. A mindless button masher it is not.

It still has stunningly beautiful graphics and a very unique, colorful setting. I admire Skyforge’s unique blend of sci-fi and fantasy, and I wish more games would be willing to break out of the standard fantasy mold like this.

On the other hand, most of my complaints about Skyforge still hold true.

For one thing, that unique setting isn’t explored nearly as much as it ought to be. Environments are tiny and linear, the storyline is shallow, and there’s little to no attempt to flesh out the lore of the world.

A paladin character in Skyforge's Ascension patch

And my biggest issue with the game remains: Your choice of initial class is severely limited. Skyforge has a broad stable of some very interesting classes, but to start you’re limited to three of the most basic — paladin, cryomancer, and lightbinder.

It’s not entirely clear to me how long it would take to unlock additional classes. I don’t get the impression it would be a massive grind, but after a couple of hours, it hadn’t happened, and that’s far too long to spend as a class you’re not interested in.

I don’t have a problem with working to unlock additional classes beyond your first, but I should be able to choose any class I want from the start. I just don’t understand what the point of limiting the choice is, especially in a game with such strong class design. Why do MMO developers so often feel the need to hobble their own successes?

In the end, despite all the hype around how much Ascension is changing the game, it’s still recognizably Skyforge. It’s still got a lot going for it, but not quite enough to grab me. I’ll stand by what I said when I first tried it: If you like action-heavy grinders like Vindictus, you’ll like this game. If you want something with a bit more depth, look elsewhere.


Best MMORPG By Year: Part 2 (2006 – 2015)

Ten years down, ten to go. If you haven’t read it yet, check out our Best MMORPG By Year: Part 1 (1996 – 2005).

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

dungeons and dragons 2006 best mmorpg

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

Runner-up: Elsword

lord of the rings online 2007 best mmorpg

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

age of conan 2008 best mmorpg

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

champions online 2009 best mmorpg

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

Runner-up: Vindictus

final fantasy xiv 2010 best mmorpg image

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

Runner-up: Rift

tera 2011 best mmorpg image

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

the secret world 2012 best mmorpg image

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

warframe 2013 best mmorpg image

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

wildstar 2014 best mmorpg image

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

Runner-up: Trove

skyforge 2015 best mmorpg image

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.

Missed the first ten years? Start over with the Best MMORPG by Year.


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.

Freedom:

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.

Inertia:

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.

Media:

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.


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.

7: TERA

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.