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The List: Top 10 Non-Fantasy MMOs

Column By William Murphy on May 17, 2011

There are an awfully lot of non-fantasy MMOs coming out in the next couple years.  I mean, it’s hardly a death knell for the good ol’ swords and boards, but the coming years are indicative of the ever-changing face of MMO gaming.  People want access more than just the medieval-inspired worlds.  However, for years now, there have been plenty of non-fantasy MMOs on the market, and many are fantastic experiences in their own right.  Mind you this list is based on my own bias towards these games, and not any “set in stone” criteria.  I also suspect that this list will change greatly over the next year or two as some of the next crop of games hit the ground running.  In any case, here are ten titles that are worth checking into if you have a hankering for anything but fantasy fare.

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10.) LEGO Universe

It’s cute, it’s action-y, and it’s a lot of fun.  Sure there’s not a whole lot here to warrant an ongoing subscription from anyone but the diehard-est LEGO builders, but if you like the LEGO Batman/Star Wars/Indiana Jones sort of games but would like to see them in a larger multi-player context, LU is worth a look.  Plus its subscription is much less than the standard $15 a month.

9.) Jumpgate

This is largely the game that started the space-MMO craze… though it’s really never been much of a success.  It has a dedicated following, and if we’re lucky one day Gazillion and NetDevil will release the sequel: Jumpgate – Evolution.  But still, Jumpgate is a deep and compelling space flight simulator.  Boring to some, but absolutely enthralling to those who love it. 

8.) Xsyon Earth 2012: Prelude

One of a few couple independently developed MMOs on this list, Xsyon released earlier this year to little fanfare but plenty of “Wow, this is kind of awesome”.  A complex and dangerous sandbox MMO, Notorious Games’ first foray into the genre is a pretty big diversion from your usual high-fantasy games.  It’s a world where players shape the landscape and events of the community, and it’s all set a year from now in the apocalyptic aftermath of the end of the Mayan calendar.  If you’re a fan of extremely open-ended experiences, this one could be for you.

7.) Champions Online

I’m fairly certain I’ll get knocked for putting this behind DCUO and PotBS, but hey… it’s only an opinion.  I still love Champions Online, despite its somewhat lackluster launch and the struggle it had retaining players.  The reason?  It’s got the best character creator of any super-hero MMO on the market by a long shot.  The game itself has gotten much better in its “Freemium” format as well.  I would highly recommend it now for superhero fans, especially with the zero cost of entry.

6.) Pirates of the Burning Sea

Another in a long line of subscription-to-free games, PotBS is probably the best piratical MMO (like there are so many) on the market.  It’s got its fair share of issues, but you won’t find a better nautical combat game out there, and the crafting and trading components are top of the pops. 

5.) DC Universe Online

I’m not trying to be controversial when I put this over CO, and below CoX.  I honestly think that the combat and setting of DCUO makes it a game any comics fan should at least try, but that it pales in comparison to the oodles of content out there for the much more “mature” City of Heroes/Villains.  If you like a healthy dose of console-esque action in your MMO, and have always wanted to beat the crap out of Superman as a villain… this is a game you should give a try post haste.

4.) Anarchy Online

It’s definitely showing its age these days, but Anarchy online is still one of the deepest and unique MMOs on the block.  As one of the pioneers in the science fiction setting, Funcom’s first MMO is now largely F2P, and has enough content to fill hundreds of hours of your spare-time.  If you can stomach some heinously dated visuals, AO is still one of the best sci-fi offerings on the market.

3.) City of Heroes/Villains

This game was dubbed “The Widowmaker” before WoW was even a blip on the radar.  With an incredibly extensive character creator, a fantastic mission-creation system, and seven years of free additional content under its belt there’s a whole lot to love about City of if you’ve never played it before.  Though its visuals are aging (even with a recent overhaul) and its repetitive nature can be exasperating, CoX is still the reigning king of super MMOs.  One wonders though how long it will be before a sequel is inevitably announced.

2.) Fallen Earth

Not everyone’s going to agree, because a PvE-driven sandbox-ish game set in the post apocalypse is very likely a niche sort of title.  But Fallen Earth from Icarus Studios is one of my all-time favorites.  Sure there’s a lot of room for improvement, but the core of the game just keeps getting better.  Its classless advancement, huge open world environment, and excellent crafting make it easily one of the best independent MMOs around.

1.) EVE Online

Make no bone about it.  You either love or loathe EVE Online, but no matter what you respect the beast that is CCP Games’ labor of love.  Sporting the most ruthless and cutthroat (but also the most dedicated and helpful) community in online gaming, EVE is a game that every MMO player should at least try.  It’s not always the most exciting thing to experience (is there anyone who actually enjoys mining?) but when the intrigue of politics and warfare come into play there’s very little that rivals EVE Online.  A dozen thesis papers could be written about EVE’s community and there would still be topics left to explore.

William Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He''s been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.

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Sometimes less than serious, in this space, we look back at the genre's history and far into the future to bring you a new list each week. Our countdowns are written by assorted members of the MMORPG.com Staff.
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