It's a bloody market. It's a life-changing choice. It's like picking someone to DATE more than anything...I mean you've got to consider things like longevity, end-game, fees, other players...Picking an MMORPG to play can be a tough choice. The market is saturated more and more daily with plenty of great options, for gamers of all types. There is probably a great flow chart in here somewhere, with lots of specific games you should pick and try and so on...but I'm a man of numbered lists, true to my nature I shall stay.
So let's go.
MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online games) cover a wide variety of games, across many genres. There are MMO racing games (Freejack, Trackmania), music games (O2jam) and even a well recieved (and pretty fun) golf MMO called Pangya. All of these games qualify as an MMO, but not all of them satisfy my definition of an MMORPG so here it is: MMORPG is a game where you create a personal avatar, and take that character through a series of quests and adventures for experience and rewards using passive or active skills and abilities. Broad? A little, but you get the gist of it. Now, to the meat of the matter.
- Subject Matter is Key
- Subscription Models Matter
- Look for the light at the end of the tunnel
One goal of an MMORPG is to actually present a world the player wants to be involved in. Role-Playing games serve narrative up on a silver platter. First and foremost I want to be clear:
MMORPGs are single player games that you play alongside other people.
There is zero to no interaction with your experience of the game from other players, aside from designated pvp. It's all about the experience per player, and to that end MMORPGs tend to advertise themselves as much. Do you see ads describing WoW as having "A wonderful player UI, delightful controls and impressive game play mechanics"? Nay. The ads describe the world of Azeroth in peril, the need for heroes to conquer it. The different powers you can command and control. So let's list out some of the worlds that are advertised:
-Modern day occult world
-Historical swashbuckling world
Stick to what you love, first and foremost. MMORPGs are about rolling around in the kind of situation you'd love to find yourself in. Most of what you experience will be aimed at immersing you in the kinds of problems that world will have. When I decided to stick with Star Trek: Online, it was because I wanted to get at the weekly episodes Cryptic is pushing out. Big trekkie. Yeah I know I've said it.
Some would say this is the reason they don't play MMORPGs at all. The extra money is a commitment that you've got to be ready to justify. Are you willing to pay $30+$15/month for a video game? And are there any other options?
This is the standard way of doing things. Buy the game (usually $30-$50), then sign up for a monthly billing (standard fee is $15/month.) The vast majority of AAA online games follow this model (Aion, Star Trek, World of Warcraft, EvE, DC Universe Online, City of Heroes...the list goes on). It means regular patches and updates, access to all the same content as ever other player (unlike our next model). However, you may or may not get access to major expansions to the game for free. And if you're paying the $15 per month, you want to make sure that the content you're getting is good.
Free to Play
The new hotness. Free to Play has evolved into a strange mess of unique types, but the bottom line is you're going to get the game for free. Rejoice! So if you want to enjoy Champions Online, Dungeons and Dragons Online, Pangya, Freejack, Atlantica or a huge, HUGE bevy of available games...give'em a shot. Won't cost you a dime.
Some free to play titles employ a "cash shop" model that sell character enhancing items, or unique adventures. By enhancing I don't just mean "Do more damage", it also can mean "Level up faster." To that end, if you want to get the fullest experience from a free to play game, you should expect to spend some money. Not to say you can't enjoy free to play games without using the shop, but without tons of time and effort you'll be watching other players zoom by on better mounts, with better gear. Take advantage of their opening fee of nil, and do a grand tour of some free to play titles. Action games like Exteel, Gunz and S4 League are all awesome examples of free to play titles.
There are some games that bend the rules. Guild Wars costs a flat fee, and then you can play it all you like forever. If you pick up Star Trek Online, you can pay $299 for a lifetime subscription to the game (which nets you a plethora of delicious goodies. Don't look Joe...turn away Joe...). And some games even change their model during their run, such as Champions Online and Dungeons and Dragons Online. Keep your ear to the ground, look around for a model that fits your budget and your desires.
I saved discussing the actual game play of MMORPGs for last. There is such a push for new and unique game play in MMORPGs these days. Games like Age Of Conan, Champions Online and more recently DC Universe Online push for a more active combat system, while World of Warcraft, EvE Online and City of Heroes opt for "Models of Efficiency" combat with skill juggling and teamwork being the primary mechanic.
Regardless of the type of game you want to play, realize you're going to be doing the same thing over and over again for hours. That being said...choose wisely. You want something that feels intuitive to you. EvE Online can be a daunting thing to tackle, but if you like the idea of being a spaceship captain there is no better simulator. So why do I play Star Trek Online? I get to fly my ship, and run around on away missions with my bridge crew. Once you get to the highest levels of any MMO you're going to be among players who know not only what abilities are available...but how best to use them.
Raiding (massive, multi-player dungeons designed to challenge even the toughest characters) is probably the best example of what to expect at the "end" of an MMORPG. You're going to be trying for the best gear, or for the top of the leaderboards, so you're going to be riding the top of the wave with other players around you. So if the main mechanic of the game doesn't interest you, challenge you or at least leave you saying "Yeah, I could do this for hours." then you may be barking up the wrong tree.
So take a look at this:
This is what it looks like when EvE Online shines. The end game of an MMORPG can be incredible rewarding for the dedicated few who make it there. EvE's player-driven drama and events are probably the best example of a truly alive MMORPG world. If you can get that far, pat yourself on the back and reap the benefits of being a badass video warrior.
So there you have it. Three thought about three key components of the MMORPG, for the person who's never played on to the Level 80s out there. If you've got an MMO you love to play let other people know. It's always better with friends, yeah?