Since I spent more than four years building a MMOG I thought it would be fun to take a step back and put together an overview of what I consider to be the top three fantasy-based MMOGs and rate their features so people who are looking to decide what to play can make a more informed decision.
Many people ask “what MMOG should I be playing?” or “What MMOGs are the best?” I’m going to focus on the Fantasy genre and cover Everquest 2, Lord of the Rings Online, and World of Warcraft since it’s my opinion when it comes to Fantasy MMOGs, these are the ones to choose from. I omit games like Aion (which is not a true persistent MMOG) and the newer FTP games like Allods because they simply don’t have the content, scope, breadth and refinement of the “bigger titles”. Other games such as Warhammer Online, Vanguard, etc. just don’t qualify to be considered at the same “level” as these three games IMO, especially given one of the key components to committing to a MMOG is knowing it will be around years down the line.
MMOGs are like a fine wine. They grow better with age, and these games are all undoubtedly far beyond what they were at launch. EQ2 and WoW are six years old. LoTRO is coming on 4 years old. I played all of these games at launch, putting hundreds of hours into each one, and can say each game has grown leaps and bounds beyond what it was initially. This is a very good thing since MMOGs are never “done” as they are persistent ever-growing and changing online worlds.
Committing to a MMOG, especially with today’s economy and the value of our time, is a big commitment. With the sheer amount of content, it can take months of gameplay for the average gamer to experience just a portion of the content these gigantic games have to offer. However, it’s not much fun to commit 6-12 months of time to a game only to discover you want to “play in a different world”.
As the games become more complex, the worlds larger, and the content more extensive, players are choosing their worlds carefully and based on their personal tastes. However these games are so large and complex it’s nearly impossible for a player to really understand what the games offer without spending a large amount of time to get a feel for the overall game.
NOTE: Since this a large and complex blog post related to data, it will “grow and evolve” after its initial posting as I’m sure I’ll end up changing some ratings as gamers remind me of things or provide feedback that may adjust the values. I’ll keep track of the changes and document them in here so people know when the updates were made.
The ratings contained in this post apply differently based on the type of gamer you are. This is why all three of these games are loved, played, and enjoyed by so many people. Of course WoW is the gorilla in the room, but there are plenty of ex-WoW players in EQ2 and LoTRO. For example, some people only play EQ2 because of the housing system, which doesn’t exist in any other fantasy MMOG. Others will only play LoTRO because of the lore and content. Others love WoW because it’s colorful and fun. On the flip side, some people won’t play WoW anymore because of the “community” and others can’t stand the graphics of EQ2.
Some may look at the overall ratings and think “why is LoTRO even in here when it’s the middle man?” The reason it’s here is exactly for that reason. What if players can’t stand the graphics of EQ2 and hate the community or “cartoony look” of WoW? LoTRO is a great game to play and enjoy.
However the real reason these three are in comparison is because they are simply the best games out there for consideration of a fantasy MMOG to play.
At the end of this post, I include a few different “gamer types” and how their play styles view the data. Be sure to check it out.
Latest Expansion: Sentinels’ Fate (2.16.2010)
Upcoming Expansion: Destiny of Velious (2.8.2011)
Estimated US Subscription Base: 150,000
Custom Features: Mentoring, Collections, Alternate Advancement System, Spell Books, Guild Hall
Best Rated Features: Housing, Custom Mechanics, Character [Races, Classes, Specials], Guild Features, Alternative Progression, End Game
Worst Rated Features: Performance, Bug Free
Notes: Mature Community, Dated Graphics for older areas
Billing Style: Hybrid – Free to Play and Subscription – both on different servers
Latest Expansion: Siege of Mirkwood (12.1.2009)
Upcoming Expansion: Rise of Isengard (Fall 2011)
Estimated US Subscription Base: 250,000
Custom Features: Legendary Weapons, Deeds, Musical Instruments, Skirmishes
Best Rated Features: Indoor Areas (Moria)
Worst Rated Features: Collectibles, Plugins
Notes: Great Lore, Friendly Community
Billing Style: Free to play (was subscription but converted)
Latest Expansion: Cataclysm (12.7.2010)
Upcoming Expansion: (Unknown)
Estimated US Subscription Base: 2,500,000
Custom Features: Archaeology, Inscriptions
Best Rated Features: Auction House, Pets, Plugins, Interface, Graphical Environment, Graphical Style, Lore, Quests, World Look & Feel, Immersion, Game Events, Group PvP, Group PvE, Online Support
Worst Rated Features: Spam, Forums, CSGM Support
Notes: Fun, Best and Worst Community
Billing Style: Subscription
Core Systems Review
Why save the most interesting for last? I figured letting the readers see the snapshot would be enough to gain interest to see where the numbers came from.
It’s important to remember, these numbers reflect my personal opinion. Others may take one quick look at this and decide to go read Reddit instead.
These metrics were taken from an itemized breakdown related to core game features. Of course it can’t encompass everything, but it does a pretty good job. What are the qualifiers?
Account, Achievements, Character, Collectables, Combat, Crafting, Custom, Economy, End Game, Enemies, Events, Forums, Graphics, Grouping, Guild, Help, Housing, Instances, Interface, Items, Learning Curve, Lore, Marketplace, No Spam, NPCs, Online Support, Operation, Pets, Player Support, Population, Progression, PvE, PvP, Quests, Replayability, Reputation, Social Network, Sound, Travel, Wiki, World
Granted these are the high level categories and each one can have multiple subcategories, but you get the idea. For example, the Character section has six subsections rated under it: Creation, Races, Classes, Spells, Specials, and Customization.
The Core Systems review is exactly that, an overview of the highest level categories, six in total. The values of these categories are build from data that is covered in the following sections.
Below is a chart showing the total number of points that went into the three games. While LoTRO is the “lowest” you can see the point chart ranges from 220-300. The good news is most other fantasy MMOGs would probably be well under 200 points total!
Parent Category Review
Each core system has parent categories that represent a number of subcategories. Below is a chart of what the parent categories and their values look like. Note the below parent categories are broken down in the following charts more clearly defining the values of their child categories and overall value.
You can see the variance in the parent categories by product. Let’s begin to break it down.
Mechanics covers everything under the hood; the gears and widgets behind gameplay. While I was originally going to cover gameplay systems under Mechanics, I decided to break the two apart so I could separate things like combat and achievements.
Parent Categories are Economy, Travel, Crafting, Housing, Marketplace, Achievements, Pets, Collectibles, Reputation, Custom and Companions.
Note: “Custom” relates to any custom or unique mechanics of a game. For example, EQ2 has its “Mentoring” system, which is a custom mechanic to the game.
EQ2 does well here because of the Housing and Custom Mechanics of Mentoring. It is also strong in the Auction House (although the UI is pretty bad), and in Travelling around the world (the Guild Hall and banners play a big part in this). The Marketplace is solid, as are Achievements. The only reason EQ2 doesn’t have a 10 here for Collectibles is because WoW does have “collections” just of a different type. EQ2 is also very solid with Companions with the best in diversity.
LoTRO doesn’t really beat out anything else; it does average for many systems, but tanks with Collectibles and Housing. It’s also week in the “other travel” area.
WoW shines for the Auction House and Pets. It completely fails with Housing and has the weakest Marketplace. It does well with Achievements, Collectibles, and Reputation.
EQ2 for Housing, Custom (Mentoring)
WoW for Auction House, Pets
Housing is something that makes a huge impact on the score. WoW doesn’t have it, and LoTRO’s implementation is so terrible, its embarrassing.
Another reason for the low score on LoTRO’s part is the fact it doesn’t really have Collectibles and it doesn’t really shine anywhere else. Don’t get me wrong, the core mechanics work just fine – the game plays great – but so does EQ2 and WoW. LoTRO just doesn’t have any mechanics that make it stick out over EQ2 or WoW.
The reason Tokens and Currency are the same for all three is because I haven’t figured out a good way to rate them comparatively since all three have token and currency systems which are nearly identical.
This core category encapsulates everything of a technical nature. This is where we cover the technical nature of graphics (but not rate the “look and feel” or “immersion” the graphics provide).
Parent Categories are Operation, Interface, Graphics, Sound, and Account.
EQ2 has the worst performing client of any MMOG I’ve seen, so Performance is “the worst”, plus it has bugs. However it’s streaming tech is great, and the graphics are an odd mixture of the best and worst. Many of the environments are stale and flat, but the newer content is actually pretty nice, and the character models are the best looking and most variant IMO.
LoTRO does well here, better than EQ2. The strong point is in the area of graphics.
WoW takes the cake on Performance, Plugins, Interface, and Graphical Environment and Style.
WoW for Plugins, Interface, Environment, Style
EQ2 for Performance and being Buggy
LoTRO for having no plugin support at all
This is the big one. The overall breadth of what a game has to offer across the board. From Quests to Expansions, Character Creation to Lore Participation.
Parent Categories are Lore, Quests, NPCs, World, Instances, Enemies, Items, Expansions, and Character.
EQ2 shines for the number of Races, Classes and “specials” (i.e. spells, abilities) a character can have. It’s also strong in the Items department and in world size.
LoTRO has hands down the best interior area of any MMOG with the Mines of Moria. This content alone is enough to warrant playing the game IMO. Also has great lore and value with the expansions.
WoW dominates in this area with Lore, Quests, and the World Size, Look & Feel, and Immersion. Also very strong in the Items and Expansions area.
EQ2 for Character Races, Classes, and “Specials” (i.e. spells, abilities)
LoTRO for the best interior area (Moria) of any MMOG
WoW for Lore, Quests, Look & Feel and Immersion
All things community related are covered here.
Parent Categories are Guild, Grouping, Events, Social Network, Population, and No Spam.
EQ2 has the best Guild system of any game. It is also strong in the areas of grouping (Mentoring makes a big difference) while it’s a bit weak in Social Network support.
LoTRO is fairly average across the board, but has a very friendly and helpful population.
WoW has the best in-game events between the three, and is very strong in Grouping, and strong social network support. However the online community/population is terrible. The least mature of the games and not very friendly or helpful.
EQ2 for Guild Features
WoW for Events
WoW for gold spam
EQ2 and WoW are just older and wiser than LoTRO when it comes to grouping and raiding, which is why they’re neck and neck. LoTRO’s grouping and “raiding” features work great, but they just aren’t as refined IMO. Plus the Mentoring system of EQ2 gives grouping a whole different dimension.
I would have marked WoW as the worst for Mature players, but there are enough adults on the game to keep this from happening – you just have to work to find them.
A critical core category covering the shared systems of the games. As mentioned, I could have combined this with Mechanics, but I felt it was better represented as its own category if players wanted to weigh the two against each other.
Parent Categories are Combat, PvP, PvE, Progression, Learning Curve, Replayability and End Game.
EQ2 has the best solo PvE gamplay IMO. It’s just rock solid. In addition, it has hands down the best alternative character progression system with the AA (alternate advancement) system. However it also is the most unfriendly and has the worst learning curve. Replayability is solid as is the end game content. EQ2 also has the best end-game content because of the mentoring / chronomage system, allowing for any level player to go back and experience lower level content and get credit for it. No other MMOG I know of allows this. Unfortunately PvP for EQ2 is pretty bad.
LoTRO is stron gacross the board here with average character progression. It has stronger PvP than EQ2 and does have the ability to “play as a monster” but it’s not as much “fun” as it sounds, which is why I didn’t give it more points.
WoW is the strongest in group PvP and group PvE. It also is the easiest to learn and play.
EQ2 for Alternative Progression, End Game
WoW for Group PvP, Group PvE
I’m sure I’ll catch hell from the EQ2 community on giving WoW the best of Group PvP and Group PvE. It’s VERY tough because EQ2 and LoTRO both have GREAT Group content, however the PvP for EQ2 simply sucks, and LoTRO isn’t IMO very “fun”.
Players often complain about the level of support for a game, but rarely seem to “not play” because of it. However it’s good to know before jumping in what sort of support reputation a MMOG has, that way if you run into problems you aren’t surprised at the results.
Parent Categories are Help, CSGM (“Customer Service Game Master”), Online Support, Wiki Player Support, and Forums.
EQ2 has the best player support for any MMOG I’ve seen.
LoTRO has a great support base as well.
WoW has the best online support out there simply because of sites like WoWHead, etc. Its wiki is also very refined. Unfortunately their forums are an utter nightmare and embarrassment. Sadly this is reflective of much of their player bases’ maturity level. In addition their CSGM support is simply the worst IMO.
WoW for Online Support
EQ2 for Player Support
WoW for their Forums and CSGM support
Score Variation by Play Interest
Many players could care less about PvP or Housing or Crafting. What do the scores look like when we define a level of importance to the “core features” a player is interested in? I am going to cover this in a follow-up posting since it will take a fair amount of space and preparation as I have to configure and run weighted data results and then present those results. I think what is contained here is enough to get started!
First off, I want to say that all three of these games are exceptional and worth consideration.
EQ2 is more old school style with outdated graphics in the starter areas, but has some of the best mechanics and features of a MMOG. Do not be mislead by the starter areas of this game; it gets much better as you play it. The community is strong and the guilds rock solid. It also has a fun factor the other MMOGs don’t have where you can engage in huge fights solo. EQ2′s Mentoring system also adds a level of flexibility to the game not shared by any others. You can hit max level (90 at the time of writing this) and literally “mentor down” to, say, level 50, and redo the L50 content as a powerful L50 and gain AA experience as you do so. And this is on top of the raid content. Very cool indeed.
LoTRO is a great and fun MMOG in a world most of us are familiar with. Hobbits, men, Orcs, and the Nazgul. Have at it! It has very smooth gameplay from beginning to “max level” but the end-game play is a bit limited. Moria is simply amazing and the world is very large and presented well. Combat is smooth and it definitely has a “unique” feel to it.
WoW is more “fun” and “casual” for the average gamer. The graphics are vibrant and the world warm and inviting. There is more to do in WoW than any other MMOG, however all of this content doesn’t necessarily cater to all gamers. The end game content is repetitive in the form of either raiding or PvP. The community is a mix of adults and very poorly behaved “kids” who often cause a detrimental gaming experience for many. The plugins and UI sysems are top notch – the best in the industry, and the quests very well done with the Cataclysm expansion scoring a great hit by refining what was already great.
So review what’s presented here, let me know what you think in comments (I’m sure I’ll be updating some of the metrics as I get feedback), and enjoy these great games!