There are hundreds of MMO's out there, but only a few of them are actually worth playing! Lets face it, MMO's like World of Warcraft (WoW), Age of Conan (AoC) EverQuest II (EQ2) and Aion: Tower of Eternity all cost a fair penny, and no one's got that much free time on their hands. In the end you've got to make a decision, which one do you pay to play? In this article we'll look at a few of the more high profile mainstream MMO's on the market and offer our thoughts on the matter.
World of Warcraft
What is it?: World of Warcraft, or WoW as it's come to be called by those who play it regularly is probably the most polished and well defined MMO on the market. Released by Blizzard in 2004, it quickly supplanted the original EverQuest as the MMO game of choice for most, eventually becoming something of a household name. It's played by hardcore and casual alike, by high school kids, forty -somethings, soccer moms and even among families as a sort of bonding exercise.
A new copy will set you back about $20, but you can pick up the World of Warcraft Battle Chest, which contains Classic WoW as well as the first expansion pack, Burning Crusade, for around $30, all in all a pretty good deal for the amount of game you're getting.
Why is it good for you?: What sets WoW apart is the ease with which relative newcomers to the genre can set up a character and get into the game. Even if you've never played a videogame before, let alone an MMO, WoW's earliest stages will take you by the hand and walk you through the finer points of the various mechanics you'll need to be familiar with to progress. As with most MMO's, WoW centers on a questing gameplay mechanic which sees you receiving quests and missions from various Non-Player Characters (NPC's) throughout the games vast world, called Azeroth. Currency in World of Warcraft is called gold or wow gold and you'll often get rewarded for the successful completion of these quests with in-game items of varying degrees of rarity, as well as a decent amount of wow gold.
One reason many players site for coming back to WoW month in, month out, is Blizzard's terrific customer service and dedication to their fans. Since its original launch in 2004, the Irvine based developer has commendably kept gamers happy with a steady stream of gameplay patches and free content that fixes bugs, tweaks gameplay, and introduces new areas.
Over the past four years there have been three major expansions to the original World of Warcraft. The aforementioned Burning Crusade was released in 2007, followed by last years Wrath of the Lich King, and most recently Blizzard officially announced World of Warcraft: Cataclysm at the companies annual Blizzcon event in Anaheim Texas. Each addition has improved upon the original release and adds substantial content, including new races, new continents, enemies, quests, items, and raises the character level cap higher than what came before.
What are the cons?: Very few, if any at all. WoW will run on just about any machine post-2000. The ease of access will make it a cinch for even the most green of gamers to get the hang of, while the subtle depth of the gameplay and unparalleled variety of things to do and places to see will hold the attention of the most rabid hardcore gamer. The bottom line is that if you're new to MMO's, or are simply looking for the one desert island discs style game then look no further, World of Warcraft will keep you busy for years.
What is it? EverQuest II (EQ2) is the direct sequel to what was (prior to World of Warcraft) the most popular and widely known MMO ever, EverQuest, fondly sometimes called EverCrack because of the games wildly addictive nature. That said, EverQuest II, while still a great game, never quite saw the same levels of success it's predecessor enjoyed.
Currency in EQ2 is called Platinum, and much as in World of Warcraft you'll be paid a certain amount of EQ2 platinum and receive goods and items for the quests you complete. The mechanics of gameplay, while similar to WoW, are perhaps layered with a bit more depth and it will likely take you a little longer to get the hang of things.
Since 2004, EQ2 has seen the release of no less than five full expansion packs, Desert of Flames, Kingdom of Sky, Echoes of Faydwer, Rise of Kunark, and The Shadow of Odyssey, as well as three smaller adventure packs, The Bloodline Chronicles, The Splitpaw Saga and The Fallen Dynasty. A sixth expansion pack titled Sentinels Fate, is due to be released in February of 2010.
Why is it good for you: If you're a bit more of an old school RPG nut, EverQuest II is probably the most polished MMO on the market looking to scratch that itch. Additionally, if you've got the machine to handle it EQ2 is still a rather pleasing MMO to look at. Technically, if not aesthetically it runs rings around the aging World of Warcraft.
EverQuest II isn't as user friendly, and it doesn't hold your hand quite as much as WoW does, but that's where a lot of the games charm comes from. If you can muddle through the laborious first few levels, and provided you've got the patience, you'll be richly rewarded.
What are the cons? When EQ2 launched in November of 2004, it went head to head with what was at the time, a much more easily accessible and user friendly MMO in the form of WoW. This, coupled with the fact that EQ2 was essentially designed to push the limits of video card hardware, meant that getting into EverQuest II was a lot harder than it should have been. While a lot of concessions were made to make the game easier to get into than its more popular older brother, EverQuest II was still an experience that required a lot more patience and dedication from the average player. Even though it never has and never will attract the same massive subscriber numbers Blizzard's MMO sees, the player base is no less loyal.
Age of Conan
What is it? At just over a year old, Age of Conan (AoC) is a relatively young buck on the scene. Early in its development cycle AoC was burdened with the title WoW-killer. Early promise, great graphics and a unique combat engine seemed to indicate that AoC would be a serious contender for WoW's uncontested throne. In the end this never came to pass, WoW remains king of the castle and after a troubled birthing process Age of Conan seems to have finally found its niche, there aren't too many mature MMO's out there based on the works Robert E. Howard after all.
As with World of Warcraft and EverQuest II, earning items and currency in Age of Conan (called simply AoC gold) will see you completing quests and missions for the various shady NPC's that lurk in the games ominous the world, it's dark, dangerous, and uniquely compelling stuff that separates it from the competition.
Why it's good for you: Conan is probably the most different of the mainstream MMO's currently available. Not only is it rated M for Mature, it's also set in Robert E. Howard's low-fantasy universe of Hyborea. Age of Conan is not for the squeamish, there's blood, guts, severed limbs, decapitations, and the odd chance of encountering random instances of nudity in the game. All this however, serves only to underline just how much a change of pace the game is from the majority of MMO's out there, you won't find any orcs, goblins or elves in this game.
Another feature that makes Age of Conan stand out is its unique combat system. AoC implements a combo based combat queue, which sees the player lining up combos, and executing them manually by clicking on the corresponding directional strike buttons on a radial menu in the games user interface. It may not be Devil May Cry or God of War, but it's the closest MMO's have come, and if you're tired of the relatively passive combat engines found in games like WoW and EverQuest, this should serve you well.
In addition, Funcom, the game's Nordic developer has recently announced Rise of the Godslayer, the first Age of Conan expansion. This expansion will open up new gameplay areas and introduce a new playable race: the Kithan.
This next item could have been included in the cons column, but you really shouldn't rebuke a game for looking great. AoC is definitely not as scalable as World of Warcraft, but it makes up for it by being far and away the most technically impressive MMO you can buy. If you've got the rig for it, prepare to be bowled over by the plethora of Direct X 10 features you'll be treated to, from ambient occlusion to caustic ray rendering and high resolution parallax mapping, there's no denying this game is drop dead gorgeous. If you've got the rig for it.
What are the cons? For the first twenty odd levels or so, Age of Conan will strike you as possibly the most focused and ambitious MMO ever made. NPC's are rich with dialogue, quests are plentiful, unique and engaging, and the world is intricately detailed and beautifully fleshed out. After level 21, however, that all changes.
One of AoC's biggest post-launch problems was simply holding on to the subscriber base it managed to leech off competitors like World of Warcraft. Beyond level 20, the content became less focused and worse, there was less of it. This meant that players had to grind longer to level up, a problem that only got worse the higher you leveled. By the time you hit level 80 (the game's level cap) there was precious little to do except stand around and look impressive. To be fair, Funcom eventually remedied a lot of these issues with massive patches, these patches gave gamers vast new play areas for free, new quests and storylines to fulfill and follow, and various in-game systems such as crafting and character classes were entirely revamped. . . but it was too little too late, many of the early subscribers had long since jumped ship.
Hop aboard AoC today and you will find a world not quite what it should have been, a world that seems awash with the echoes of past glory, however fleeting. Servers have been merged to make the world more populous, and most of the folk still playing are grizzled veterans just as liable to gank you as soon as look at you. And yet, therein lies the appeal of this rough, unpolished gem of a game. Considering the source material it's perhaps not entirely unexpected, and in fact may be quite fitting.
Ones to watch:
Aion: Tower of Eternity: Aion is the follow up to NCSoft's cult hit, Guild Wars. Developed in Korea internally by NCSoft itself, Aion's been met with positive initial impressions from the gaming press at large. It looks to combine WoW's casual pick up and play approach with the unique feature of flight based combat. Currency in the game is called Kinah and as with WoW, AoC, and EQ2, is procured by completing quests and missions. Anticipation for Aion's impending September launch continues to mount following a warm critical reception at the recently concluded Gamescom convention in Cologne, Germany.
Star Wars: The Old Republic: The latest game in the highly regarded Old Republic series is actually the second MMO to be based on the Star Wars license, the first being SOE's Star Wars: Galaxies. Star Wars: The Old Republic, or TOR, is being developed by veteran RPG house Bioware, who are looking to bridge the gap between offline, single player RPG's and online MMO's. Bioware claims TOR will be the first ever fully voiced MMO, which makes it the most ambitious voice over project in entertainment history. Fans of Star Wars lore will no doubt look forward to playing the games Bounty Hunter and Sith Lord classes, currency in TOR is called Republic Credits, and you earn these and other in-game items by fulfilling quests and missions.
For information on MMORPGs, game guides, WoW Gold, Aion Kinah and other in-game assets, please visit EpicToon.com .