A Metalhead's Guide to MMOs
You can tell them because they usually have "online" in their name
Summer may be packed with gaming announcements from the big trade shows like E3 and Gamescom but as far as game releases go it's deader than the original line-up of Lynyrd Skynyrd. So, what is a gamer to do with their time during the long hot summer months? Why enjoy the sunshine when you can hide inside playing games and what better than to dive into an all-encompassing massively-multiplayer online game.
MMOs come in three flavours – subscription-based, buy once play forever and free-to-play. It is a bit of a misnomer as all of them offer some kind of package. Full subscription MMOs are on the wane as players prefer the freedom that the other two models offer although usually some kind of subscription that offers added benefits.
As far as subscription MMOs go the king is still World of Warcraft. It has been going for 12 years on PC and Mac and makers Blizzard still support it with regular expansions and updates. Over the last 12 years the game world has grown to encompass two huge continents filled with quests, jobs and even wars to get involved in. Players can jump and play as almost any race in the world of Azeroth from the brutal Orcs and hulking Tauren of the Horde to the Humans or the elegant Night Elves of Azeroth. You can even play as a Pandarian, a race of kung-fu wielding Pandas.
Players can play alone but most tend to play together and the game has a great many guilds of players who quest together and share resources and even hang out outside the game on occasion.
They game's community has grown to huge proportions peaking out at over 10 million players across the world and spawning one of the biggest fan conventions in the gaming world, Blizzcon. Every November Blizzard, the makers of World of Warcraft throw a big fan festival over a weekend at the Anaheim Convention Centre with hours of panels, reveals, contests and even professional competition across World of Warcraft and Blizzard's other games. It usually rounds off with a big party which has been headlined by big bands like the Foo Fighters in the past.
It even has its own metal band called Elite Tauren Chieftain.
When it launched players had to buy the game and then pay a monthly subscription in order to play it but now it can be downloaded from Blizzard's online network Battle.net and played for free up until level 20 after which a subscription is required.
World of Warcraft is a huge commitment and a subscription-based game may not be for you especially given how huge the game is now but there are plenty of other options out there. The next type of MMO out there is the buy once, play forever type. The name is a bit of a misnomer as most of these games will see paid premium expansions released from time to time but there is no mandatory subscription.
Some of the biggest examples of this type are Destiny, Guild Wars 2 and The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited.
Destiny and Guild Wars 2 are unique in the MMO world as neither have a subscription option available (although Destiny needs either an active PS Plus or Xbox Live subscription to play). Both offer a basic game for purchase plus a load of periodically released expansions.
Guild Wars 2 is more of a classic MMO with a deeply involved high fantasy story line set in a the world of Tyria. What sets it apart is the Living Story, a story that runs in Seasons and changes over time. This is a great feature as it shows a game world that more gradually evolves over time rather than it remaining more or less the same in between the release of big expansions.
As a result its become pretty popular since it release on PC and Mac back in 2012 and it's last big expansion Heart of Thorns was released in 2015.
Destiny is a different beast altogether. It's a sci-fi first-person shooter set in a far-flung future where Earth and the solar system has become besieged by darkness with one last enclave of mankind fighting off hordes of enemies in the form of the ramshackle scavengers called the Fallen, the hulking military empire called the Cabal , the space equivalent of undead known as the Hive and the mystic time and space-bending robotic race called the Vex.
It's a pretty unique game by MMO standards. It's an MMOFPS for one and these are very rare. It's also a console-only MMO as well which again is insanely rare. When it launched it received a mixed response due to the story seeming very much like it was cobbled together at the last minute. However as Bungie, the game's developers, have released the game's three expansions they have managed to build the kind of epic and deeply involving story that was expected at launch.
Destiny is out on PS4, PS3, Xbox One and Xbox 360 although the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions are being slowly phased out with the launch of the new Rise of Iron expansion which is due out in September.
The Elder Scrolls Online is an interesting one. It tries to build an MMO experience around the wonderfully rich world created in games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. In fact, it is the first Elder Scrolls game that allows players to explore the whole of Tamriel, the continent where the series is set. Players can play in the first-person perspective that the series in known for as well and it's probably the first fantasy MMO to offer this.
Tamriel is huge and, as TESO is relatively new they haven't managed to open the whole continent up for exploration but there is still a fairly sizeable chunk of the world available to explore. Players are dropped into a troubled time in Tamriel's history. The continent is at war over who will rule it. It has splintered into three factions and is being threatened by invasion from the Daedric Realm by a demon prince called Molag Bal. The game story involves offering players the chance to try and foil Molag Bal's plans and join a faction to help unite Tamriel under one banner.
It's all fairly familiar for fans of The Elder Scrolls and the world offers a lot of promise. Zenimax Online Studios, the game's developers are always adding new expansions which open up new areas of Tamriel to explore and they can be purchased individually from the in-game store or made available by paying a monthly subscription.
The final option is free-to-play MMOs. The best of these games are great as they allow you dip in and out at your leisure without actually having to pay for anything but offer additional bonuses for anyone who wants to pay an optional subscription or buy additional content.
The original free-to-play MMO is Runescape. British studio Jagex pioneered the free-to-play MMO with Runescape back in 2001. It was novel in that was played in an internet browser rather than as a separate piece of software. It was fairly simple back then but its high fantasy world and general family friendly appeal made it a slow-burning hit and while it has been revamped numerous times over the years its still going strong.
Like World of Warcraft Runescape has a massive and loyal community and it has an annual convention in London called Runefest to celebrate the community. Jagex also recently introduced a method to trade in-game currency for a load of benefits that could also be paid for in cash. These range from paying Runescape premium subscription with in-game gold to buying flights and hotel accommodation for Runefest. All of which are pretty cool.
There are other options in the free-to-play world too. There's DC Universe Online which is available on PC, PS3 and PS4 and offers players to create their very own superhero or supervillain and do battle in the DC Universe alongside iconic characters like Green Lantern and Lex Luthor.
There's plenty of additional content available to buy too in-game and, as a bonus PC, PS3 and PS4 players all play together on the same servers rather than being split up by platform.
The best thing about DCUO is the comic book setting. Daybreak Studios, the makers of DCUO work very closely with DC Entertainment to keep the game as faithful to the comic universe as possible and it shows in the gameplay. It has been around since 2011 and it's probably one of the most successful efforts to translate DC's comic library into a video game.
As you can see there's plenty around there to keep you entertained through the summer.