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Skye Prower

Looking at some MMORPGs

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I’m one of those odd people who plays MMORPG as a single player experience.  Well, it’s not just because I’m odd, because if you want to wander freely around Middle Earth, explore the Final Frontier, carve a path of YOUR choosing as a Jedi, or just create your own superhero, your choices are somewhat limited.  Plus, lately I have been diversifying into playing with friends.


So here are some of my thoughts about the main that I play; Champions Online, Star Trek Online, Lord of the Rings Online and Star Wars: The Old Republic (Online!).  And if you’re wondering why that order, that’s the order I first played them in.


All these games are Free-to-Play, aside from the massive download, with an optional subscription service to access more features, and an in-game store where you can purchase services or items for real-world money.  The different games have various amounts that they restrict the player if they do not subscribe, such as level limits, a limit on how much in game currency you can have, or being unable to access some missions.  But which ones give you the most for free, and which might be worth subscribing to?


For each game I’ll be looking at certain aspects of it.  The Setting, and how well it’s implemented.  Gameplay, split into two parts.  First, Combat, where the meat of the gameplay is.  And then a miscellaneous category, looking at the rest of the gameplay features, including things like crafting and teaming up.  Also, Graphics, and finally, a look at the Free-to-play models that they use.


And one further thing before we begin, just to make sure you all know what I’m talking about when I’m chatting about MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Play Games).  As the acronym explains, they are massive open worlds filled with players all over the world, and most have your typical RPG game base, with levels and customisable characters.  While not the original, World of Warcraft is undoubtedly the most popular, and as such, often the template used by other MMORPGs.  Which is a rather unfortunate scenario, as WoW was originally developed when the internet was much, much more unreliable.  So some of it’s systems are pretty outdated.  Combat for example, often revolves around having numerous powers, several of which are only minutely different from each other, but all of which have cooldown timers.  So you click on your abilities, then have to wait until the recharge and you can use them again.  It also has a class system that splits players into three main rolls.  DPS aka Damage Per Second, the ones who deal the damage, but are often squishy.  Tanks, the ones who take all the damage.  And Support, those who heal the others, or Buff (give bonuses to) allies and debuff (weaken) enimies.


Okay, that’s enough background, lets jump in.


Champions Online


Want to be a superhero?  Champions Online has you covered.  It is easy to spend hours in it’s extensive character creator, and almost all types of powers are available, aside from shapeshifting/morphing/starching powers, probably due to all the graphical issues involved.  There are locations all around the world (and beyond) to explore.  And you can even design your own Nemesis Supervillain to combat.


But, while that might sound great, the variety is the best thing about the Setting.  Given it’s cartoony like appearance, you might go in expecting a tone similar to Justice League Unlimited.  Instead, it’s closer to Superfriends.  This game is silly.  Really, really silly.  Not as in ‘fun comic’ silly either.  When the setting isn’t childish, it’s trying to make jokes, most of which are references to other works.  Which, given this game came out in 2009, and the references were dated even then….


In contrast, the combat is without question the best part of the game.  While other MMORPG’s reply on cooldown timers, CO makes good use of it’s energy bar.  Most attacks use energy of course, but you also get an energy builder attack which, despite doing low damage, refills your energy, and often gives a boost to your other powers.  There are also Charge attacks (hold down the button for a more potent attack) and Maintain attacks (hold it down to keep attacking) and even a block button to shake things up even more from most MMORPG’.  Along with the synergies between different powers, the system works really well.


Yet, outside of combat, there is very little to do.  Crafting does exist, but it’s pretty much a joke and not worth time.  And while you can purchase secret hideouts, there’s nothing to do there unless you have friends to RP with.  The only advantage it has is very quick access to your travel powers, so it’s not long before you are flying/teleporting/running across the world.


Graphically, despite then 2009 release, CO still looks pretty good, due to the aforementioned ‘cartoony’ style.  The art style over realism has kept the graphics from growing stale.  At the same time, there’s nothing really stand out about them.  They still look good, and they give the world a style, but that’s it.


You may have noticed I haven’t talked much about classes.  This is because it’s tied into to Free-to-Play system.  Classes in this game are called Archetypes, such as Fire Controller, Ice Controller, Telepath, Super-strong, Marital Artist, Power armour etc etc, each having one of the three fixed MMORPG roles, and fixed powers they gain as they level up..  There are eight basic classes available, and many more available to buy.  Except, subscribers get an extra archetype.  The Freefrom.  A class able to choose ANY power it wants, and any role.  Not only that, but the actually get more powers than the other archetypes.  And the cherry on top, the game seems to be balanced assuming you’re playing a free-from


They have recently added the option to buy a Freeform archetype for F2P players, but it costs the same as 5 months of subscribing, you can only choose powers from other archetypes that you’ve unlocked, and only one in total.  Other than that however, you get a lot for free.  Full access to the world and levels, and only a few mission packs are locked off.  Which, admittedly, have a much more serious tone than the rest of the game.  There is quite a low currency cap, but currency buys so little in this game, you’re not missing out much.  If it wasn’t for the power spike that Freeform gives you, the system would be very generous.


Champions Online is great for creating a superhero of your choice and taking them out to fight their enemies.  Just don’t expect a good story while you do so, unless you’re in a group.


Star Trek Online


You know what Star Trek is, right?  Flying around in spaceships exploring the galaxy while the guys in the red jumpers die horribly!


At first glance STO seems to have the Star Trek setting perfect, the ships are great fun to fly, you can fully create your own bridge crew, and there is plenty of galaxy to explore, and references to the shows.  But soon, the cracks will show.  The trouble is, this is an action based game.  There’s no exploration or diplomacy here for the most part, just the business end of a phaser.  Rather a letdown that it doesn’t even have conversation trees to have NPS’s react differently to you.  Also, the writing may have references, but it can also feel rather fan-fictiony.  More interested with getting you to meet or be involved with the famous faces or events, especially when it makes references to The Original Series era.  If you prefer your Trek to not be combat heavy, you will be disappointed.  Which is a shame, as there are some fun stories here.


As far as combat goes, this is a game of two halves.  Space combat, and ground combat.  Space combat is brilliant.  Ground combat, well, I used to think it was awful, but then I played some other MMORPG combat, so now it’s more middle of the road.  While both do use the DPS/Tank/Support roles, they also offer a crazy amount of flexibly.  At the start of the game you choose between being a Tactical, Engineering or Science officer, and while at first the do seem to follow DPS, Tank and Support respectively, the choice of powers means you can easily make a more DPS Science officer, or a Support based Tactical officer.   Ships follow the DPS/Tank/Support roll more closely, but your choice of ship is NOT determined by your class, and with all the different powers available to the bridge crew, you can change what abilities you have equipped.  Playing a Support Science vessel is actually (to me) one of the most fun ways to play, given how your powers can seriously mess with the enemy.


In space, while you are waiting for powers with cooldowns, most of the combat is manoeuvring your ship around the enemy, weakening their shields and protecting your own, and using the right weapons against shields and hulls.  It feels and plays very Star Trek.  Ground combat is more standard MMORPG, except instead of having 20 or more abilities, you get a choice of five from a larger pool, but combat is also expanded with the addition of Flanking, Aiming and Crouching bonuses, and a nifty Expose/Exploit system.  (Some Attacks can Expose an enemy, which makes Exploit attacks do more damage)  While the Ground Combat is kinda…well… ‘meh’, the fact they have added these differences does elevate it. For both, there is a lot of flexibility in the system, and you can easily change your build, or your ship, and try something else.


Outside of combat, while there is a lot of customisation you can do, (enough to spend hours on) the only other major gameplay function is a mobile game like system for sending some of your crew on missions, and waiting for a timer to finish to see if they pass or fail.  Crafting is tied into this system, and while collecting crafting materials is fun, the crafting system itself is… very clunky.  It could do with being seriously streamlined.  Having said that, the items you make from crafting can be really good, so unlike CO, it is worth pursuing.  You might not get proper dialog trees, but many NPC’s do have extra dialog regarding the background of the universe if you wish it.  A fair chunk of the game is voiced, and it seems they do keep adding to which lines are voice.


On the other hand, this game is niggly.  There are numerous small bugs, from people not sitting in chairs, to one mission where the enemy attacks while you’re still reading his dialog.  Very few are game breaking, but it’s not smooth sailing.


In terms of appearing, in Space, it looks nice.  On the ground, these characters look ugly!  They’ve tried to go for a realistic look, and a combination of MMO limites, a weird shadow engine, seven year old graphics, and rather poor animations, means it looks bad.  But credit where it’s due, the in-game models for exiting characters do look like who they’re supposed to be.  There was a case where I spotted an NPC and thought ‘Hmm, he looks like character X’ and low and behold, he WAS character X!


And what do you get if you go free?  EVERYTHING!  Well, not quite, but it’s not much of an exaggeration.  There are no limits on the game world, and the currency caps are so high it’s doubtful they’d matter till you hit endgame.  Plus, even if you subscribe for just one month, you get a bunch of extra inventory/crew member/etc bonuses that are permanent to your account.  It’s such a good deal for free, you get almost nothing worthwhile for subscribing.


You might wonder how STO makes its money then.  Well, I suspect that is due to the ships.  Sure, the free section of ships is pretty good.  But there are a LOT more in the store.  Want that one ship you liked from an eailer level?  Well, you can get a higher level one in the store.  Want this one specific ship, odds are it’s in the store.


Star Trek Online comes so close to being the game all Trekkies would love, making their own ship and crew and going on adventures.  But the focus on combat, especially the lacklustre ground combat, means it stumbles before it reaches the finish line.


Lord of the Rings Online


Want to explore pretty much all of Middle Earth during the War of the Ring?  Here’s your chance.  What makes this game more unique is that it is based on the books, not the films.  Even if it does take some visual cues from said films.


In terms of the setting, everything about LotRO just NAILS it!  It is the perfect Middle Earth game.  Almost every little thing has that Middle Earth feel about it.


The rest of the game however…. Not so great.  LotRO is a by the numbers MMORPG.  The combat is bog-standard, and aside from the flowery dialogue, none of which is voiced, quests are often the standard “Go here and kill/collect 20 X” type.  And while there are exploration achievements, and a decent crafting system, again, it’s all very by the numbers.  I know this is less detailed than the others, but there is only so much you can say when it copies the template so closely.


At least the graphics look nice, given this came out in 2007, ten years ago, that’s pretty amazing.  They didn’t go for pure realism like STO did, and kept a slight visual style, so while it doesn’t look cartoony like CO, there is a very distinct look to it.  Character models, especially NPC’s haven’t aged as well as the world itself, but are still good for a ten year old MMORPG.


But the Free-to-Play model, this is nasty.  Once you’re outside the starting group questing area around Bree, you’ll find areas where you need to pay to access the quests, or even pay to enter.  And they are expensive.  You need to pay for almost everything if you’re F2P, from the super low currency cap, to even the Horse Riding skill.  And to make it worse, even if you subscribe, you STILL don’t have access to the full world.  There are I think FIVE expansion packs you need to pay for.  At.. was it £20 each… maybe more?  Middle Earth may be magical, but it seriously expects you to pay for the privilege.

LotRO has a great atmosphere attached to a mediocre game, one with several very expensive toll booths.  I wish I could recommend this one more.


Star Wars: The Old Republic


An even longer time ago in a galaxy far far away.  Yes, this is the Old Republic timeline, several centuries before the events of the films.  But the Galaxy is still mostly the same, expect the Sith have their own Empire with lots of Sith, this was before the ‘Only two so you don’t beat each other up all the time’ rule came into play. 


It certainly feels the way Star Wars should, from the music, to the planets you visit, and the adventures you go on.  Even the conflict between the Light and Dark side is there…. If simplified.


Yet in a fight, urk, how do you make fighting with a lightsabre boring?  Simple, stick it to your basic MMORPG layout.  This is the newest game here, yet it STILL is enslaved to that convention.  When you are playing a character with a lightsabre and you’re trying to avoid fighting because it’s too dull, you done goofed up.  It is still a tad above LotRO, probably simply due to being newer.


However, outside of combat things perk up.  The main draw of TOR is it’s a Bioware RPG.  Played Mass Effect or Dragon Age?  Yep, this has fully voiced conversations with a proper dialog tree.  And it even works in a group.  Behind the scenes, the game rolls a dice, and the highest score gets to speak.  The roll does seem to be waited to balance out how many times players speak.  There’s other stuff on the side as well, such as a Space Combat section (though this is mostly just an ‘on-rails’ shooter).  There is a crafting system in the game, but I can’t comment on it because I’ve not actually used it.  It’s not very well signposted or explained.


It has an interesting look.  It hasn’t gone for fully realistic graphics like STO or even LotRO, but they’re not as cartoonish as CO.  It looks like they’ve found a happy medium between fully on graphic, and the stylish ones used in the Clone Wars, and the style does really seem to suit the game and the setting.


The Free-to-Play model seems fairly balanced.  You get a lot of content, such as all eight class stories and all the planet stories they visit, a decent level and currency cap, and all class options.  The big lock off are the post-game expaions, which are automatically included with a subscription.  There are also serval smallers ones, such as a small inventory, some costume slots being locked, lack of companion customisation, all of which can be unlocked in the in-game store.  While not as free as STO is, it is definitely better than LotRO.


While the combat can be disappointing, the fun is taking a group of characters on a Star Wars adventure together.  And that, TOR does right.


Wrapping Up


Okay, let’s rank all these different categories, assign points based on their rank (1st = 4 points, 2nd = 3 Points, 3rd = 2 points and 4th = 1 point) and see what we com up with.



1st LotRO


3rd STO

4th: CO

(LotRO pips over TOR as while there are many Star Wars games you can plan, LotR games based on the book are a rare animal!)


Gaming: Combat

1st: CO

2nd: STO

3rd: SWTOR

4th: LotRO

(I was going to split this into five given how different Space and Ground combat are for STO, but then I realised I was ranking them next to each other anyway)


Gaming: Other

1st: SWTOR

2nd: STO

3rd: LotRO

4th: CO



1st: SWTOR

2nd: LotRO

3rd: CO

4th: STO



1st: STO

2nd: SWTOR

3rd: CO

4th: LotRO

(It was close between TOR and CO.  In the end, it was quality vs quantity.  CO gave you more, but TOR gave you better.)


So in total:


1st: Star Wars: The Old Republic – 16 points

2nd: Star Trek Online – 13 Points

3rd: Lord of the Rings Online – 11 Points

4th: Champions Online – 10 Points.


I was a little surprised to see LotRO overtake CO at the end, but there you have it.  Of coruse, you might not care that much about graphics.  In which case, let’s see how the scores change…


1st: Star Wars: The Old Republic / Star Trek Online – 12 Points

3rd: Lord of the Rings Online / Champions Online – 8 Points.


Looks like graphics was the tie breaker!  As this way the old Star Trek vs Star Wars debate is ignited again.  Only… this time Star Trek is all about the action, and Star Wars is the more cerebral and talky one….

Have I stumbled into the Mirror Universe or something?


Anyway, to summarise.  All of these games have something to offer, it depends on what you are after.  An epic adventure with friends, SWTOR.  Action and combat, CO or STO.  Exploring a magical world, LotRO.  And with them all being free, you can easily have a taste of them.


And of course, you might find me in some of those worlds as well!

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I agree with all your opinions, probably because I’ve played most of the games listed! Might I also suggest a great MMORPG that my brothers, my dad, and myself have played for about two years?

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Sure!  Fire away!  It's not like I've demanded exclusive rights to this topic or something!

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Alrighty then, my MMORPG is Guild Wars 2. 

Since last year, they’ve added the F2P option along with the paid version which, unlike other MMORPGs, is just a one time purchase! No need for a subscription! Now the great part about the F2P is that all base content of the game is available at the get-go, which includes leveling your characters to the max of 80. There’s LOTS of voice acting mostly found in story dialogue but there is speech from NPC’s and your character just by walking around or in combat. The purchase of any of its expansions give you the extra icings on your cake. Oh and the expansions of course with more content, and I mean lots of content. Heart of Thorns let’s you use a glider in the open world, whilst Path of Fire gives you mounts- oh right, there was no mounts in the game until the Path of Fire expansion.

The main mode of transportation was the use of warping or walking. Which is all easily done without mounts anyways, but mounts make thing MUCH faster. Combat and skills are determined by what weapon(s) is/are equipped, no more hot bars or trying to figure out which skill out of hundreds is best for you. There is the character builds however that grants passives and some abilities.

The main reason we love this game is the fact that it’s simple but complex at the same time, you don’t need to be a spender to be better at the game (although the only purchases you only really need to make is the expansions ;) ), and that it you can either do things in a group or solo.

The world of Tyria is massive and chock full of major world bosses and mobs, all wanting to kill you, so why not thin the herd and make Tyria great again! XD

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I did wonder if that was what your were going to be referring too! ;) 

I've heard good things about it, but haven't had the chance to play it yet.

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Graphics are beautiful and run surprisingly well on low end machines too. But the bad part will be the initial download of the game...

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Oh please, that's nothing compared to STO's DL times... And frequency of updates and patches. 

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