If you’re a gamer who primarily plays single player games, you might be suffering from a constant sense of foreboding as new games get announced. It is the fear that this time it might be your beloved series or studio that is the victim. What exactly is this imminent doom coming to ruin everything you love? I’m talking about online multiplayer games. In particular, the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG).
Lately a number of studios have been jumping on the bandwagon, adding online games to their repertoire. This has been met with quite a bit of backlash. To some fans, it seems like an indication that developers are abandoning single player games, and the dedicated fans who play them, to pander to the competitive online gaming community. That is only a matter of opinion, but it doesn’t change the fact that online multiplayer has worked its way into the territory typically reserved for single player experience.
As a passionate single player gamer myself, these thoughts aren’t foreign to me. I certainly felt upset when it happened to me, and I did my share of complaining. You might be similarly angry, vowing not to play it, and that is just fine! No one will make you play something you won’t enjoy. However, you might also find yourself wanting to give it a try, whether it’s to support the developers, experience more of a world you love, or to simply try something new. If this is the case (which I hope it is because you’re reading an article about it), here are a few tips as you begin your foray into MMORPG games, divided up under questions you might have as a single player gamer.
What exactly are MMORPGs?
As I mentioned previously, MMORPG stands for massively multiplayer online role playing games. That’s a mouthful. What the heck does it even mean? I’ll break it down for you. First, the RPG bit. Role playing games are a diverse genre, where some of the staple features are immersion, character customization, progression, and decision making. They most commonly feature a fantasy setting, taking cues from the tabletop games that inspired them.
Now for the MMO part. Massively multiplayer online games are relatively self explanatory – a massive number of players at any given time, all able to interact in the same persistent world. The persistent world is a setting that is generated by a server system, so that players can connect and play within the setting, but development in the world doesn’t stop when the player logs off. Not only can the games hold a massive amount of players, most of them do, because they are immensely popular. So popular, in fact, that they have spawned their own subculture. At their heart, they are a social experience, so it makes sense that the community formed from it has carved out its own cultural space.
An important staple for MMORPGs is the guild, a central part of the cultural community experience. Collections of like minded players band together in these organized clans, from which they can chat, trade, and group together for quests. These quests are usually made up of raids (a quest instance that is designed for a large group), or dungeons (a raid type quest that copies for each group, so when you enter the quest area only the people you are playing with are present). Outside of guilds, players can interact with others they encounter in their channel, a chat typically set up based on where you are in the game. Other players are all around as you embark on your quests, but you can choose whether to interact with players you see, or simply ignore them. Your game narrative isn’t affected by other players you see. This takes me to my next question, which is…
Do I really need to interact with a bunch of strangers?
The simple answer – no. Most parts of the games can be completed as a single player relatively easily, in my experience. Some areas may require more leveling beforehand in order to complete objectives, but levelling up and getting better gear is the general purpose of the game anyways. My advice to anyone worried about the multiplayer aspect is this – don’t feel obligated to play with other people. You’re probably wondering what I’m talking about, because you obviously don’t want to play with other people. Why would you feel obligated?
Trust me when I say that you will. You might be in an area, completing quests alongside another player who invites you to group. Don’t feel guilty turning the invite down! It’s your game experience, and if grouping with a stranger makes you uncomfortable, you by no means have to accept those invites. I turned down several invites in a row from another player in Neverwinter. Did I feel awkward about it? Sure, but not as awkward as I would have felt if I had accepted. Secondly, if you don’t want to chat, you can turn it off. You never have to turn it on at all. I play several MMORPGs and unless I play with my actual friends I have not once used a mic.
Now, this is a warning. There will be instances in some games where you HAVE to be in a group to finish a quest. If you aren’t already playing with friends, the game will put you in a group. Don’t feel obligated to turn the chat on in the group, either! It might make the objective easier, but it isn’t necessary and no one will make you. I never have, and thus haven’t been subject to my group cursing at me when I do something stupid (or don’t run fast enough for them). Of course, maybe you’ll decide that you do want to try chat, and that is super. When you end up playing with me, feel free to say rude things that I won’t be able to hear. One positive aspect of always having other players around is that they are around when you actually need them. I mentioned that most areas can be completed alone, but sometimes you do get stuck. If that happens, just wait around for a bit and someone else will undoubtedly come along and lend a hand. When you still manage to die, they might even revive you so you don’t have to respawn. For games requiring little player interaction try: Star Wars The Old Republic (Windows, Mac), Final Fantasy XIV (PS4, Mac, Windows), or Neverwinter (PS4, Xbox One, Windows, Mac).
Is anything I love about RPGs still there?
Of course it is! Here is a quick rundown of things you love that you’ll find in abundance.
The first is story. It might seem a bit chaotic, but there is still a story underneath the madness. You’ll find lore, cutscenes, interesting NPCs, and captivating storylines. They might not be as detailed, or presented in quite the same way as a single player game, but that is nice in its own way. It’s like the fast food version of an RPG narrative. You enjoy it on the go, but you’ll still be full. The presentation just isn’t quite the same caliber.
Next is character creation. That’s still there, and in my opinion is often better than what you find in a single player game. Making your character unique to you is important when there are so many other people playing the game together. You want to be recognizable and differentiable from the crowd. The Elder Scrolls Online has probably my favourite character creation of any game I’ve played, in terms of options and mechanics. There are also typically lots of options available for class selection and customization, since groups might need different types of players.
If exploring is what you love about RPGs, the massive size of MMORPG worlds will appeal to you. The games are huge, and are constantly being added to, because they want you to keep playing it for a long time. On a similar note, there are so many quests. Quests are everywhere. Some of them are small or menial, and others have many parts, but you will never run out of things to do. The main takeaway from all of these elements is that online games still allow you to impact the gameplay and the story as they relate to your character. You’re sharing that world, but you aren’t sharing the story you create unless you want to. If you’re looking for games similar to something you already love, try these: Elder Scrolls Online (Xbox One, PS4, Windows, Mac), World of Warcraft (Windows, Mac), TERA (Windows, PS4, Xbox One).
There are also some differences that I think you’ll actually like about MMORPGs. I mentioned above that the world gets added to. These games are living entities that change and grow. There are expansions, in-game events, and other new content of all kinds being added constantly. Some you have to pay for, but in some games it’s totally free.
Cost is another good selling point (haha) for MMORPGs. If you aren’t sure you want to drop a lot of cash on one, or in some cases pay a subscription, there are are several perfectly wonderful games you can play for free. Star Wars the Old Republic, Neverwinter, and Tera are three that I have really enjoyed. Some of them are completely free and rely on microtransactions to make money (in game currency, loot crates etc), while others have a premium service that includes more content on top of the free game.
A simple little thing that I enjoy about online games is not having to save. When you exit the game and come back to it, you’ll either be in a safe area nearby, or exactly where you left off. Combine that with shorter, easily accomplished quests, and you get games that can be picked up and put down easily, alongside the typical marathon play sessions.
Finally, the last thing you might actually enjoy about MMORPGs is playing with other people. Playing with strangers may never be your thing, like it still isn’t mine, but role playing games certainly aren’t ruined by playing with friends. Even if it’s just to chat while you go about your own I’m game business, it’s nice to know the other faces you see are friendly ones. So before you get down because you aren’t sure about Fallout 76, Anthem, or whatever may be coming along next, give online multiplayer a shot, have some fun, and keep it Savvy.