The best MMO for a new player?

Reader Velmonte asks:

Tipa, what game would you consider for a person who is just breaking into the world of mmo’s? One of my friends, has been wanting to try one, but I need to suggest a game that has basic quests, but is still fun, colorful, and immersive. I was hoping you could help me out! Thanks!

This is a really great question. With new MMOs coming out every day and hundreds to choose from, it can be crazy trying to find the perfect game. Fact is, maybe you can’t find the perfect game first try, or maybe after playing an MMO a bit, you find yourself ready for something new.

The most important question to ask when looking for a MMO is, are my friends playing this game? MMOs are all meant to be played with other people; otherwise, single player RPGs like Bioware’s excellent Dragon Age: Origins will give the adventure, quests and party building without worrying about finding other players.

The second consideration is, will this game work on my machine? If you have a MacBook and don’t want to use Boot Camp to boot into Windows, your choices are very limited (but there are some options). If you have an older machine, you may not have a great experience with some of the later games.

I haven’t played every MMO out there, but I’d like to go through some of the games I have played with an eye toward the things (aside from friends playing) that would be most inviting to a new player. I’d look for interesting game play, games that start off easy and gradually show their depth, great graphics, great character customization, and active new player communities.

World of Warcraft must be mentioned first; it’s the MMO so popular that when most people think of the genre, they think of WoW. WoW’s content is famously easy, with the changes made to the game over the past few years making it one of the easiest MMOs to play, ever. It is colorful and runs on most any computer, even the Macs. Character customization isn’t the best — you will find your character’s face on lots of other people’s characters — and the community at this point is expert at WoW and unforgiving of new players. The newbie areas are also largely empty, though that should change when the next expansion adds two new races and completely redesigned newbie areas. Also, the Looking For Dungeon (LFD) tool makes finding groups automatic, but you will find that most dungeon groups expect every member to be extremely familiar with each dungeon and able to handle each encounter with little or no discussion. WoW does so many things right, that it’s easy to overlook the very few things it does wrong.

Lord of the Rings Online started out playing much like WoW, but in the years since has found its own niche. LotRO is deeply based on the lore of J.R.R. Tolkein’s books, and your character will follow, lead and meet the Fellowship and together you fight the evil legions of Mordor and restore peace to Middle Earth. Your character is far more customizable, and you can equip gear just for show to give you complete control over your character’s appearance. With housing, frequent festivals and celebrations and a variety of non-combat skills like playing actual music on in-game instruments, LotRO has built itself a strong and newbie-friendly community. Its high system requirements are the only blemish on this excellent game.

The sequel to the grandfather of 3D MMORPGs, EverQuest 2 takes customizability to an entirely new level. Its housing and massive guild halls make interior decorating a popular player occupation, supported by many trade skills. Crafting is a respected career path, with no combat at all required if you want to pursue that path (although most crafters mix adventuring in with their knitting). EQ2 boasts several stellar newbie experiences deep with plot and lore, so you are immediately immersed in the world. From the faerie-like Fae to the dark and manipulative dark elves to the wandering frogloks to the conniving ratonga, no other MMO gives you the number of classes, races and individuality of EQ2. This does mean that EQ2 can seem daunting to a new player. Like many older MMOs, the newbie areas will be largely desolate and the groups you do find will assume you know the game well. The game also requires a fairly hefty computer, and few would call EQ2 colorful.

Wizard101 is one of my favorites. The game is colorful, features a unique combat mechanic involving playing cards and building decks that starts out simple but leads to great depth, and has a variety of non-combat activities like home decoration and crafting. Though the game is nominally a subscription game, you can play the first several areas for free to get a taste, and have the option of purchasing access to new areas instead of subscribing. The characters, though colorful, have little individuality — you’ll see many copies of your character in the world. The game is also targeted for children and young teens, though many adults do play. The chat censoring and other kid-friendly features may be off-putting to older players. The game runs well on low system requirements, and I considered W101 to be the best new MMO of 2008.

Free Realms is an odd little nugget of an MMO. The developers couldn’t decide upon just one theme to the game, so they put in everything they could think of to make a game where the only goal is to make sure you are never more than ten seconds from doing something new. Characters can have one or many jobs, evenly split between combat jobs like brawler and ninja and non combat jobs like miner and postman. Each non-combat job opens mini-games, often themed for the area, based on some of the most famous casual games ever made. Add in player housing, pet training, the occasional live band performance, everywhere a new game to play, and a player population recently reported to be 10 million strong, and you have an unmatched new player experience. You will find clones of your character everywhere, and the highly stylized player characters may not be to everyone’s tastes. The game is free to play, though the cash shop is heavily promoted.

Out of all the Asian imports I’ve played, Dream of Mirror Online was probably for me the most successful. Your character is drawn from the real world into a mirror world full of Mirror Kings and only you (naturally) can save the world. Follow the plot through cut scenes, mysteries, and bizarre and over-the-top boss battles in various parallel universes, or discover and breed rare pets and hang out in town socializing, it’s up to you. The fairly unique class system lets your character take on any role and mix and match the abilities from any two classes to make your character your own. (This system is somewhat similar to FFXI Online’s, and Free Realms has echoes of it as well). Since each new class means going back through the newbie areas, even a couple of years into the game’s Western launch, the newbie areas are still full of players. The real-time harvesting is a way to get some of the drudgery of harvesting done without having to be physically present at the computer. If you don’t mind a strong anime/manga bend to the graphics, this might be the game for you.

Any of these would, I think, be an excellent introduction to the world of MMOs, and perhaps a permanent home for a new player. Other games, like Dungeons and Dragons Online, EVE Online, the original EverQuest, Aion, Warhammer, Age of Conan, Darkfall and Allods Online would appeal more to the experienced gamer. Most of these games have demos or free trials, and I’d urge a new player to give a couple of them a try to find out which appeals to them most. If you aren’t having fun in a game, it’s best to just move on. There’s so many choices available these days that there’s bound to be a fit for everyone.

If someone is looking for a deep game full of story and lore and “worldness”, and their computer can handle it, I’d recommend Lord of the Rings Online. For sheer casual fun, Free Realms. For kids or adults looking for a more strategic but always fun game, Wizard101. For the most freedom and individuality, EQ2. For the best social tools, DoMO. For the easiest game that can run on anything, WoW. Whatever you are looking for, one of these games likely has it.

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16 thoughts on “The best MMO for a new player?”

  1. Your suggestions look very sound to me Tipa. It is disappointing that so few new titles made it into yoru list but it is entirely understandable.

    It comes as somewhat of a shock to me to realise that there are people out there who have never played an mmo. at times it feels like every gamer I know has burned out on several mmorpgs at this stage but of course the vast majority of the worlds gamer s have not played any mmorpg. I wonder if a new player embarking on their first mmorpg today will be as captivated as we were way back when.

  2. While I have played some newer games like Mabinogi and Age of Conan, I haven’t played them enough to recommend. Other games like Star Trek Online really can’t be your only MMO. Champions Online and City of Heroes require, I think, a live of the genre. Dozens of new MMOs seem to come out every day, and it is nearly impossible to play each one enough to determine its worth.

    I need to play Fallen Earth some. I like Dragonica Online, but I think, again, you need to be looking for that kind of game.

  3. Fallen Earth isn’t really a, ‘newcomer friendly’ game. In many ways it’s a lot like EVE Online, in terms of a steep learning curve and complex skills and crafting. I’d agree with your list, although I’d probably say LOTRO is slightly more friendly for completly new players to MMOs.

  4. At the risk of being “that girl,” if Guild Wars could be considered an MMO I would suggest the reader and his friend consider giving it a try as well. With no subscription to commit to, and each game chapter running approx. $20 there isn’t much to lose up-front. I have found the game population in the newbie areas, particularly of the first chapter, Prophecies, to be respectable after 5 or 6 years, and it definitely fits the bill for being quest-based and colorful. The Prophecies and Nightfall chapters each ease the player into its content over time, making GW easy to learn, but difficult to master.

    With daily quests requiring players to return to familiar areas, it ought not be difficult to find people willing to group with to knock out quest objectives. PUG quality varies, but I have rarely run into groups with the “gogogo” mentality or who expected everyone to know the encounter – in fact, I frequently join PUGs where everyone admits to not being familiar with the objective and we amicably blunder through together.

  5. Age of Conan is a nice option for a new player since you can download Tortage and play it for free forever. You can get quite a lot of mileage out of playing several classes to 20, especially if you’re learning and new. It has a great community and seems to be pretty busy (busier on EU servers I think than US).

    The only problem is it’s very boyish. Other players playing topless women, a dialogue that assumes you are a hetero male with many instances of flirting from the exaggeratedly curved female NPCs and very graphic violence.

    Personally I loved that, bring on the decapitations!

  6. I have played AoC, and I really wouldn’t recommend it for a player new to MMOs. The complexity of the combat system and the PvP really makes this for experienced players, unless they are fans of Funcom’s take on the Conan mythos.

    Clearly if someone really likes Conan, Star Wars, Hello Kitty, Star Trek, Champions, Warhammer and so forth, they should just dive in to the IP-driven MMOs ASAP!

  7. Good choices Tipa. There are a lot of choices out there and it comes down to taste I suppose.

    Personally I wouldn’t recommend WoW really though. Sure it’s easy and fun on the way to the top. I just think the community is horrible for a first MMO experience. The burnout factor is extremely high also.

    Yes, Guild Wars is really good and laid back, plus the no subscription fee is sweet. There are no servers to select from (only channels), so you can always play with friends wherever. Free Realms is good too but there is no end game. It’s just sort of boring at times because of this so that is something to consider. If they are very casual it can be pretty fun. The community is nice too, compared to many others.

    My current choice would be Everquest 2. I wish I had stuck with it years ago but at least now I am making up for lost time. It’s really been the most fun I’ve had in a long time, with an MMO. Most computers now can handle EQ, unlike when it first came out, which is starting to make this an option for more players.

  8. Thanks so much Tipa! This list was incredibly heplful and an awesome read! I’ll link my friend this list, and I’ll tell you wha she decides. Thanks again!

  9. I think for someone completely new to MMOs the more complicated games actually aren’t as much of a hurdle simply because they don’t have any idea how hard they are, and they don’t have any preconceptions. I use my own experience, I never played MMOs until I played EVE Online. Therefore the learning cliff, the rather harsh competition and rules, all this from teh first was my standard. Sometimes starting “easy” isn’t actually the best thing to do.

  10. Fair enough. I do think that EVE is a fantastic MMO, but it’s also in its own little world. There really is nothing like it.

  11. Guild Wars!

    Randomessa already mentioned it. I wonder how much longer it will take till you start to love GW, too.

    It makes me SAD that only derivates of the aged EQ-style MMO mechanics made it in the MMOs for starters list besides the browser based stuff. Given the contemporary trend theme park and single player, instanced dungeons & square dancing as endgame, I want to point out that in Guild Wars at least NPCs will accompany you! :)

  12. DOMO, Wizard101 and Free Realms are all very different from the EQ mold. Free Realms is launched from the browser but downloads a separate client. Deck building in GW isn’t easy to do right without getting help from wikis or friends (but that may be an attraction). For all its uniqueness, GW quests are not that different from those in other games.

  13. I think GW is very user friendly as you can only have 8 skills at max! ;) I think the major issue is that most MMOs are just like WoW and employ the same mechanics and schemes. They are probably not really that simple, but unless we breed a Kaspar Hauser of online gaming, it would be hard to prove that GW might be easier for starters. But I still claim it is easy to learn.

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