The Ultimate MMORPG Guide
MMORPGs have been a staple of gaming since at least 1991, cultivating passionate communities and passionate fanbases. But what are they actually, and how do you get into them in 2023? We’ll guide you through the basics, and prepare you to dive into the wide worlds of MMORPGs.
What is an MMORPG?
Let's get the obvious question out of the way: “What does MMORPG even stand for?” MMORPG stands for massively multiplayer online role-playing game, basically combining the big online servers of MMOs and the gameplay qualities of an RPG.
They’re defined by having a large player base online at the same time sharing a server. Everyone can interact with each other, for better or worse. That means you can find new friends for the life you go raid dungeons with every day, but you can also be attacked by a group of players determined to steal the armor you grinded for.
These servers tend to be always online, the world keeps moving even if you’re not there. A short week break can mean you return to a completely different situation.
In MMORPGs, the RPG aspect allows you to become a character in this world, making decisions and being part of a social system. How this is applied changes between games, some use this to lead you down the path of good and evil, others use this only to specialize your character down a more set path.
A quick history of the genre
MMORPGs have had a long path to becoming what they are today, with many influences and stepping stones in development. We’ll skip over the text-based era of the late 70s and early 80s and go straight into Neverwinter Nights.
Neverwinter Nights was the first RPG to allow multiple players in the same world, coming out in 1991. It was a Dungeons and Dragons licensed product, helping attract a player base. NN ran through America Online at the time, being supported by the corporation as a way to attract more users to their service. The idea of playing a big RPG with people online was a hugely exciting concept at the time, with Neverwinter Nights making it to 1997.
A few other minor titles came out in the years after 1991, but after 1995 when restrictions on the internet were lifted, the arms race of MMORPGs truly began. In 1996 Meridian 59 was released, becoming the first 3D game with a truly “massive” scope. The games that came before it weren’t small by any means, but with the advancements made in technology, the boundary could be pushed even further.
In 1999 EverQuest was let loose on the world, becoming a true staple of gamers all across the West and truly popularising the genre. EverQuest can be credited with getting a lot of MMORPG gamers into the genre and inspiring future devs. The same devs that would create icons of the genre later.
NeverWinter Nights cover. Credit: Stormfront Studios and Strategic Simulations, Inc.
Most popular MMORPGs of all time
Without beating around the bush; The most popular MMORPG of all time is World of Warcraft. It’s not even close really, the game is ubiquitous. Most people just instantly think about WoW when you talk about the genre and can you blame them? The cultural impact it’s had is insane, when there’s a South Park episode about it, you know it’s wide-reaching.
It’s so popular, that it’s the most played MMORPG right now. Almost 20 years after WoW originally came out, it’s still the top dog. The daily player base still goes as high as 2.1-2.5 million, a truly staggering number for a game that requires a membership to play.
If you’re looking for the best free MMORPG by popularity, Old School RuneScape is absolutely massive. On good days it even beats WoW by daily players, having an incredibly engaged community all across the internet. If you’ve been in a gaming sphere for some time, odds are someone’s talked about Old School RuneScape.
The game combines the nostalgic vibe of lower-quality graphics with timeless gameplay elements. Grinding small tasks and quests to make a number go up is so simply addictive, you can’t get enough. Add the ever-active player base and constantly developing ways to maximize your character in just the way you want and it’s no shock this game is still so popular.
But both of these games are showing their age, not everyone wants to play a game that’s barely changed since 2004 or a low poly borderline browser game.
What’s up with MMORPGs now?
If you’re looking for 2023’s new MMORPGs there’s a bit of a dilemma.
Blue Protocol is looking like the new up-and-coming game in the genre. It has beautiful graphics making the most of cell shading to create a gorgeous world. Unfortunately, as of right now, it’s still in a testing phase, but if you have some patience it’s looking like it’ll be worth it. You can also try your luck over at their community Reddit, where people regularly share invites.
But the problem is, it’s not just Blue Protocol, most of the MMORPGs coming out right now are either still in development or in a testing phase. Which makes it hard for players to find something new to sink their teeth into. The best you can do in terms of new releases is the infamous Lost Ark which grabbed players back in February of 2022. It’s a bit of a genre-mash game, having elements from PvE as well, but it’s a massively successful game for a reason.
Most of the popular MMORPGs right now are a little older, free to play MMORPG Neverwinter (yes like the one we talked about) is from 2013, but it’s had expansions as recently as 2022. The game is still fresh, even if it’s not new.
The lack of new games shows on mobile; The best mobile MMORPGs are all older. For example one of the best experiences on your phone right now is Old School RuneScape. It’s a good format for a game that’s at its heart quite simple. But, we can imagine that’s not exactly what you had in mind when you thought about mobile MMORPGs.
Old School RuneScape on Mobile, secure.runescape.com
If you’re looking for something less early 2000s in aesthetic, check out Adventure Quest 3D. It’s a successor to a flash game that’s truly expanded out of the confines that it was in. It’s a perfect blend for a mobile game as the game was already used to the idea of restriction. You don’t need to spend hours on it to get joy, and it’s easy to pick up.
The new generation of consoles is feeling this lack of new games especially, if you want to play an MMORPG game on your new PS5, where do you go?
MMORPGs on PS5
If you want a PS5 MMORPG, you’ll have to look back to the past. But that’s not a bad thing, these games are heavily expanded with already active and knowledgeable player bases you can learn from.
A prime example of this is Final Fantasy XIV. it’s been running since the 2010s and still got an expansion as recently as 2022, with people playing through that entire time. It’s regarded as an all-time great of the genre, and it’s not a surprise. Square knows how to make a world, so being able to explore one with a big group of friends is an appealing prospect, and with the PS5 you’ll be able to render all the boys without dropping a frame.
If you’re looking for something a bit different Elder Scrolls Online has made its way to PS5. The game has a very passionate fanbase, but it’s not for everyone. Still, it’s worth giving a shot if you’re an MMORPG player with an urge to venture outside of the usual worlds of WoW.
For MMORPG fans, It’s probably more up your alley than the likes of Destiny 2 which regularly makes the “PS5 MMOs” lists.
PS5 players aren’t spoilt for choice, yet. But with a large amount of games in development at the moment, it’s looking good for the future. Patience is a virtue, so enjoy the games you have right now!