There are lots of awesome MMOs out there. So many in fact, that in my previous list about the best hardcore MMORPGs, I felt like I wasn’t quite able to list them all. Sure, I stand by the 5 that I picked to grace that first list and they are undoubtedly the best, but what about the other games?
The comment section was a mixture of agreement and suggestions for other games. By taking some of the most popular suggestions and mixing them with our own thoughts, we were able to come up with a list of the other top 5 best hardcore MMORPGs! Call this 6-10, 1-5 part two, or anything else, but there are just too many great hardcore MMOs over the years to be restricted to only one list.
Just because a game isn’t around anymore doesn’t mean it can’t be on a list. Shadowbane, when it launched in 2003, quickly became a hit among MMO fans with its focus on open world PvP and dynamic game content. In many ways, players saw it as an evolution of the type of gameplay style that Dark Age of Camelot popularized several years prior.
To this day, you would still be hard pressed to find a similar MMO with so many options available to players. By the time the game had run its course, there were a total of 12 different races to choose from and tons of content to play through. Similar to other games on this and the other list, is that it was truly regarded as “cult classic” by retaining a small and immensely dedicated fanbase. Shadowbane isn’t around any longer, but it fondly remembered as one of the better hardcore MMOs. Maybe the rumored sequel will see the light of day someday, just maybe.
4) Final Fantasy XI
This was probably one of the most requested games from the comment section of the previous list, for good reason. While it may seem like the only way to be considered a “hardcore” MMO is to offer open world PvP, that isn’t necessarily the case. Final Fantasy XI earns its place on this list due to not just the extreme difficulty for certain portions of the game, but the way that it’s designed as a whole.
Ever since the game launched way back in 2003 for North America on PC, it’s been running strong on its subscription model. That’s right, this game is pushing 12 years old and its been keeping steady right alongside the likes of World of Warcraft with no real signs of slowing down. As the first Final Fantasy MMO, FFXI was a revelation and maintains some of the best end-game PvE content around in the genre.
3) Lineage 2
Not everyone will consider this game a worthy addition to the list, seeing as how it is widely considered little more than a massive grind fest, but it deserves to be here none the less. There are few things that require as much dedication and hardcore time investment than the latter portions of Lineage 2. The level cap has reached astronomical heights and the seemingly only way to see all that the game has to offer is to essentially make playing it your full-time job and that’s just to be considered competent.
That isn’t all though, the game is actually genuinely entertaining if you have people to play with and the content is extremely rewarding to finish. There is no hiding the fact that the game is clearly a massive grind, that’s just how it’s designed to be, but a great game that’s been around for years hides beneath that hard shell. Lineage 2 may not go down in any history books as the greats of the genre, but it’s a solid game with a high learning curve and big payout once you put in the time.
2) Meridian 59
As one of the original forefathers of the genre, Meridian 59 is a testament to how far MMORPGs have come. Nearly 20 years and hundreds of games later, the industry and its consumes have changed dramatically. Ultimately though, Meridian 59 isn’t really a hardcore game by design, but out of necessity. Technology just wasn’t what it is today back in 1995. Interestingly enough, this game came out before people really even knew what an MMO was, seeing as how the phrase “The Internet Quest Begins” was scrawled across the front cover of the game. You couldn’t even jump in this game!
Limitations aside, it was part of the spark that birthed this genre we all play and love. Without Meridian 59, there probably would be no MMORPG.com, at least not in the way that you know it today. What the history books don’t tell you, is that the game was actually a blast to experience. It looked and played a lot like DOOM + RPG, and the PvP was fast and frantic. It should be remembered as not just one of the first MMOs, but also one of the most hardcore.
1) Asheron’s Call
The thing that made Asheron’s Call so unique is that it didn’t rely on the high-fantasy traditions of most games, like elves and dwarves, but instead created its own vibrant living world. On top of this, it was an epic and intense game to play. There were no zones, everything existed in a giant seamless 3D world. If you wanted to go exploring, you did so at your own risk.
Furthermore, character levels were not the end-all be-all of your avatar’s skill in combat, but instead only determined options available to you. The real determining factor was your skill with those characters once the battles started. Combined with the intense gameplay that existed on the PvP servers and Asheron’s Call offers the most diverse amount of hardcore gameplay out of any MMORPG at the time. It’s clear to see why this game still maintains a small, dedicated fanbase 15 years later.
As stated in the original top 5 list of hardcore MMORPGs, the genre has come a long ways since most of the games I talked about here. That isn’t to say you can’t still find hardcore experiences in the current market, but they’re just not what’s popular right now. The industry is undergoing a massive shift towards accessibility and ease of entry, which is having huge effects on niche markets such as MMOs. In the meantime, reflect on the heyday of the hardcore MMORPG and look towards the future of what’s coming next!
David Jagneaux / David is a freelance writer and full-time nerd. He loves to play, write about, talk about and think about all things gaming. It's dangerous to go alone, so follow him on Twitter at @David_Jagneaux