In a world where a small number of names seem to hold a monopoly in the MMO genre, it goes without saying that some games are going to slip under the radar. While this list is far from exhaustive or even attempting to name the five very best underrated MMOs, what it does do is highlight three MMOs that I have enjoyed that perhaps you should take another look at.
Elder Scrolls Online
The Elder Scrolls Online got a really tough time when it arrived last year. Bethesda really didn’t do themselves any favours in terms of their marketing, asking for both the Guild Wars 2 upfront Triple A payment, as well as the ongoing subscription of World of Warcraft. However, subscription based games switching to free to play rather quickly is something we are becoming familiar with, and now that Elder Scrolls Online is subscription free, I think you should check it out again.
With the bitter taste from the double payment hit gone, and all the improvements and updates that have fixed many of the bugs and glitches player encountered, The Elder Scrolls Online is now free to show you what it has to offer. Bethesda struggled to give Elder Scrolls Online a definite identity, leaving it sitting uncomfortably somewhere between Skyrim and World of Warcraft, which is a pretty huge space to be occupying. While the game technically falls into the category of MMORPG, you are better off going into it as a lover of MMORPGs and a lover of the Elder Scrolls who has an open mind. If you have firm expectations, then you will probably be disappointed all over again.
Fundamentally, The Elder Scrolls Online is a hybrid between MMORPG and single player RPG, which isn’t as crazy as it may sound at first. It combines the questing and progression of an MMORPG with more single player RPG style combat and exploration. This means that if you go in wanting to play Skyrim or wanting to play World of Warcraft you will be disappointed, as indeed many were, myself included. Instead, go into The Elder Scrolls Online on its own terms and be taken in by what it has to offer.
When played like this (for what it is and not what you thought it would be), The Elder Scrolls Online offers us the whole of Tamriel to explore with a plethora of fully voiced quests to complete and a satisfying if simplistic progression system. As with all MMORPGs, it is best played with friends and if you have a band of experienced MMORPGers who loved exploring Tamriel alone, then there is a lot to love here in The Elder Scrolls Online.
Let’s get this out of the way: I love Rift. I think it is absolutely fantastic. I remember the first time I played it a few years ago. I had just bought a brand new gaming PC, my first significant upgrade in a very long time and I wanted to download and play every PC game known to man. Rift like many MMORPGs had a week or so free trial, so I downloaded and installed it and almost instantly became baffled at how this had slipped under my radar. Suddenly I was transported back to my ten day free trial of World of Warcraft as an early teen, when I was playing non-stop. The difference though was that with World of Warcraft, I played less after I was paying but Rift left me wanting more. Of course, Rift has been free to play for some time and so if you haven’t played it yet, or even if you have, now is the perfect time to get into it.
Rift has been said by some to be a World of Warcraft clone of even a poor man’s version. While the similarities are undeniable, Rift is more visually striking, just as deep and intriguing and, for me, it is more fun. After all, that is why we are here isn’t it? To have fun, and Rift offers it in spades. The combat, the factions and the classes are all very familiar and yet not lacking originality. The titular gameplay mechanics, the Rifts add a great dynamic to the game and remind of Guild Wars 2’s Dynamic Events.
The early hook of simple yet fulfilling progression is as good here as I have ever seen it, and when the shackles of the hidden tutorial-like early stages of Rift are cast aside, you will want to continue your adventure and see what lies in store. Any time I got back to World of Warcraft these days, I find myself losing interest in my new character faster than the last one. Rift still holds my full attention. Perhaps it is just because it is fresher and newer, but for the time being it is definitely one of the most underrated MMOs and absolutely worth your time.
I am aware, this one will probably be more polarising. Even the Steam user reviews of this game are amazingly diverse with lovers and haters everywhere, but hear me out. Forget about the bizarre notions regarding gender that Nival apparently had and let’s take a fresh look at Prime World‘s offerings. It is a competent and varied MOBA with plenty of characters and features to enjoy. To be honest, it is not a game that I personally am likely to return to any time soon, yet I still feel it has a place on this list.
The most important unique selling point that the game offers is the introduction of RTS style gameplay in terms of base and resource management. Players construct, maintain and utilise castles when not in the arena. This isn’t just a mini game on the side, but rather an informed part of the overall experience that is enjoyable by itself and can make important impact on your gameplay as a whole. Taking two different styles of gameplay and putting them together is always going to put some people off (this is something Prime World perhaps has in common with The Elder Scrolls Online). However, genuine attempts at innovation are always welcome in a place where imitation is so often king. Even the crazy gender based mechanics, while not welcome were new ideas.
Prime World tried to do something new and that in of itself is commendable even if not worthy on congratulations. What is worthy of congratulations is how Prime World successful merged its new ideas with established MOBA gameplay. It is very hard to be a serious MOBA player without feeling at some point locked into a world of repetition. Prime World offers such players some new ideas. Sure, they don’t all work as well as you might like, and it is definitely not going to replace you regular gameplay sessions of League of Legends or DOTA 2. What it does offer is something familiar yet different and a change is as good as a rest.
MechWarrior is definitely a classic example of an underrated game. It never seems to be in the limelight, not even when it was a new release. It was deemed to be at times repetitive and to have a pay wall to success that required a lot of diligent gaming to get around. As someone who loved playing MechWarrior as a kid and even MechAssault to some extent as a teenager, an online MechWarrior was almost like a dream come true. Although they are incredibly different games, MechWarrior and Hawken were released in open beta very close together and comparisons were inevitable. Hawken was frankly far easier to pick and play and it was much quicker to start getting some kills and winning some matches. The learning curve involved in MechWarrior was steeper and therefore I feel it lost out to Hawken. I myself, despite being an old MechWarrior player was more aware of the existence of Hawken.
So where did MechWarrior slip away from notice. The not quite “pay to win,” but “pay to start winning much faster and having more fun much sooner” was certainly off putting for some. The game was also limited number of modes and variety in the matches. MechWarrior veterans perhaps felt alienated by the changes that were made in the game’s journey to online (such as the inclusion of a third person camera). Similarly, Hawken lovers that enter today may be put off by the barrier to entry and time sink required to really get into it.
All this said though, the requirement for commitment and time simply proves how deep the combat can be in this game and how diverse matches can be. There is the space here for real teamwork and planned careful tactics in order to secure victory. Team based games so often barely require true teamwork. Furthermore, despite the pay walls, the game is not simply a pay to win cash grab. There is great customisation available for the Mechs and with enough time invested, almost everything is there for the taking without spending a penny. If you enjoy careful considered combat and also you love giant killer robots (let’s face it, you do), then MechWarrior Online is definitely worth checking out. You will need a cool head and appropriate reactions, as well as clever planning. To me that spells a potentially very rewarding experience. Just be sure to give it the time it needs.
Of all the titles on this list, this is the one that probably is the most underrated insofar as there just aren’t all that many people who seem to know about it. It is available on Steam even has good reviews there, but most gamers seem to have given this one a miss, and it is a real shame. The game is not like most MMORPGs that you may know and love. It is more akin to a JRPG and this may have been where some people were put off from the start. The game does not at first glance look like a fascinating MMORPG. Strangely enough, it also comes from the same IP as a television series, which is not exactly the source material that most of us associate with quality MMOs. So the game is certainly unusual and far from conformist. Unfortunately, that is exactly the sort of thing that allows a game to slip under the radar, and it is a real pity.
Wakfu is graphically very simple yet charming. That however, is where simplicity ends. The class system is varied and different from your typical MMORPGs. The combat is surprisingly deep and difficult to master. Wakfu may be an acquired taste but it has undeniable charm and appeal that keeps you engaged even when you you are challenged and in need of adapting and learning over time. It has some interesting gameplay mechanics such as political and environmental management coming from the player community. The game as a whole is much deeper than it may at first appear.
Best of all, as I have already hinted at, Wakfu is different. Not just different as in trying new crazy ideas that may or may not work, but different in the sense that it presents the tried and tested in new and exciting ways and includes its own innovations to give a truly original experience. To put it simply, Wakfu is a breath of fresh air and while it is most likely not going to appeal to everyone, if you dismissed it off the cuff or for any the arguably understandable potential reasons that I mentioned, go and give this game a chance. An underrated gem that you will not regret playing.