There are hundreds of MMOs out there, and many of us have played dozens or more of them. Along the way, we've picked up a few favorites, maybe even made a mostly permanent home. But there's always that nagging thought... maybe it's time to go back and try that other game again?
That's where I am these days with my MMO habits. I'm dabbling in no fewer than five theme park games, with nary a sandbox to enthrall me (UO's time has passed, and games like Shards and Camelot Unchained are a ways off). But in so do doing, I may have just found the perfect combination of games to keep be pretty happy and enjoying my precious leisure game time.
What games am I actively playing, you ask? Some are clearly similar titles, but each of them have something I enjoy, or some reason I find myself logging in. This is by no means indicative of a "top five" list personally, but rather the very fact that I'm playing all of these games simultaneously struck me as odd. I'm usually a one game or none kind of guy, and this change in my habits has led me to explore why I've varied my choices of late.
I've recently begun leveling an Exile, something I never did at launch, and with the coming of Contracts and other improvements in Drop 6, Nexus was calling. Why am I playing this one? Both its style and humor make me smile every time I play. I know this part of the game is contentious, but I really like the Pixar-esque look to WildStar, and I enjoy the irreverence of the overall game's atmosphere. Additionally, despite some tendency to overdo the telegraphs, I really enjoy WildStar's SMITE-like combat. It's satisfying, especially when you find a class and build you enjoy.
GUILD WARS 2
Yep, still dabbling in Tyria too. Mainly, I'm leveling a Warrior with my long-time friend, who just so happens to be an MMO noob. It's a great game to duo in, the leveling process is always enjoyable thanks to its very large and varied world, and there's just a whole lot of content you can partake in with either hours or minutes at hand.
WORLD OF WARCRAFT
This one is less played right now, and I'm not ashamed to admit that my lowly Gear Score is still in the 630s. It's been a long time since I actively subscribed to WoW for any length of time, but the sheer ease of access to all of Azeroth's endgame content has me keeping my sub, even if I go a week or two between logins. I love it that when I get the itch, I can hop in, do a dungeon or a raid, maybe work on my Garrison, and hop back out. I'm really looking forward to delving into Tanaan and some older dungeons when the next patch drops too. There are plenty I missed when I wasn't actively playing WoW.
ELDER SCROLLS ONLINE
I liken this to the closest I can get to a sandbox without having to play a host of lesser quality games. I know, that's sacrilege. ESO really is just as much a theme park game as any of the above. I'm not saying that this game stands toe to toe with the original Darkfall or anything. But I love what Zenimax has done, I love the minimalist UI, the more muted and realistic looking visuals, and the way I can become much more immersed in Tamriel than in other games. When the Justice system is fully implemented, and some form of meaningful housing eventually is added, I'll probably play this even more than I currently am. ESO may not be for everyone, and it has its share of faults, but for my vote Elder Scrolls Online is one of the best and most rounded singular MMO experiences out there.
Yep, I'm back in the game that really makes me hate lockboxes. I've been leveling a brand new Oathbound Paladin for a week or two now, and I think I've racked up 32 of the things in 23 levels. No, I have not spent a dime, either. But of all these games, this is probably the one I find the simplest to just hop in and get stuff done. That alone earns it a spot on my playlist. In a time of my life where I have a burgeoning young family and plenty of work, there are plenty of reasons to play a game that just lets me get to hacking, slashing, and progressing. And it's not really that hard to ignore the lockboxes... but they're still annoying.
In the end, what do all of these games have in common? They're all, with the possible exception of Elder Scrolls, really easy to log in and get to the fun parts. There are minimal hurdles between sitting down at the desk and taking control of your character. Progress in each is easy to measure, and there are multiple paths of said progress throughout leveling and at the max level. Oftentimes, when just sitting on the couch and relaxing, I'll whip out the phone and play Empires & Allies, Hearthstone, or some other freemium iPhone game that takes all of five minutes or less to "complete" a cycle of play within.
When I sit down at my desk, because I actually have time, I want a deeper experience, but I want one that won't feel like a waste if I only have 15 minutes because something else comes up. I long for those days where I could easily funnel in six hours or more to a game, and on those rare weekends that come up and allow me that sort of time... I'm all in. But life is life, and if I want to keep gaming a part of my spare time and not just work, I need to be prepared to play the games that fit my needs.
It’s for this reason that I’m looking forward to games like Echo of Soul and Cabal 2, even if they wind up just being blips on the radar. I want the next era of MMORPGs to get here as much as the next guy. I hope the recently kickstarted big boys pull through and give us something amazing. But I’m just as happy partaking in the more tried and true run of the mill theme parks. Though their formula may be old hat, they can still wield some fun for those with an open mind.
When Camelot, Crowfall, Shards, and Shroud come out, I may never be more than a casual member of a much larger hardcore populace, and that's OK. I can only hope these promising sandboxes don't leave me feeling high and dry due to real life, but at least I know that if they do, I have plenty of rides to ride that are still fun, if a little shallow.