How Do I Start? A Beginner’s Guide to MMOs

Posted March 11, 2015 by Cameron McFarland in Video Games

Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games. Even their name is big. Back when I first got into video games, the only way to play with another person was to grab that little cord you plug into the Gameboy and drive to your friend’s house and sit in the same room as them to trade Pokemon. Now, from the comfort of our own homes we can meet up with 40 people from around the world and together storm the dragon’s keep; each player with his job to do and a cut of the loot on their mind. Often, MMOs remind me of the joy of a good game of Dungeons and Dragons, but without the need to rely on loyal friends to play with. We have at our disposal entire worlds to explore and conquer, each city occupied by real, living people who have the same goal as you. The appeal of MMO gaming can be pretty clear.

However, one thing I’ve noticed as I hop from game to game is just how often folks don’t even know where to begin. Everyone has their first experience, and to some it can be a very intimidating challenge to get into these huge worlds. That is exactly why I’m beginning this series of advice columns on how to play MMOs. Every week, We The Nerdy will have a new article that focuses on a specific aspect of the genre, as well as some tips for making the most of your time. After all, the whole point of gaming is to have fun, right?

Let’s get started with choosing our first MMO. About five years ago, I recall hearing it said that the genre as a whole was going downhill and by now we wouldn’t even see games like World of Warcraft up and running. As it turns out, that was completely off the mark, and we actually have such a tight competition of MMO games to choose from that choosing the right one is maybe the hardest part of getting started.

First of all, genre is important. You want to play something that’s appealing on a personal level, not just because it’s “the best MMO”. You’ll hear arguments about Warcraft being better than Star Wars, but if you like lightsabers more than battleaxes, you will want to factor that into your choice. Don’t be afraid to have fun.

Your party is important. Some MMOs handle solo play better than others. As a genre, you would typically expect to find multiplayer content, but are you going to be able to play with some pals, or are you just hoping to find strangers to meet up with?

How do you like to play? Some MMOs follow strict roles players need to fill in order to function in a party, while others allow much more personal freedom to pursue the kind of class playstyle you want.

So, how do you figure out this information before biting the bullet and buying a month of game time? Look for community sites. When you think you’ve found the game you’re ready to get into, google some fansites and peruse their guides and forums. Many MMOs have communities that can be a well of knowledge for both advanced play as well as starting out. Often, the websites with higher traffic include guides for starting out and depending on the game, you’ll also find tips on how to level up the fastest so you can catch up with veteran players.

Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 offers an imaginative world full of places to explore.

Here’s a quick summary of the MMOs I recommend, along with some pros and cons of each:

World of Warcraft (WoW) – WoW just hit 10 million worldwide subscribers shortly after celebrating 10 years of running, so clearly they’re doing something right. WoW sets a lot of standards in the genre, including following the trope of “Go here, kill 10 wolves, come back, go there, kill 8 deer, come back” style quests, but it’s also a game that has great user-friendly features and is very unintimidating for new players to get in. If you buy the core game and the most recent expansion, Warlords of Draenor, you can also create a level 90 character to begin playing current content immediately, if you wish. Many would suggest this as a great “first MMO” before moving on to some other harder games in the genre. This game has a monthly subscription fee.

Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) – “It’s Star Wars” is typically the biggest reason of why SWTOR fans play this particular MMO, but I feel it shortchanges the aspects of the game that are relatively unique. Firstly, this game is made by Bioware, and in Mass Effect fashion we see a very story-heavy campaign, complete with branching dialogue trees and moral choices. Additionally, each of the 8 classes (4 on the Republic and 4 on the Empire) have their own unique story which is free to play without the requirement of a subscription fee. Easily, this is a good choice for players looking for a fun solo experience without needing to invest too much into the game. But, that’s not all. In my opinion, SWTOR has some of the best PvP balance I’ve experienced in an MMO and the end-game raiding content gets to be rather intense as well. SWTOR has a subscription or free-to-play option for players, but the quality of life improvements that come from paying almost make it mandatory. I’d suggest only playing for free if you intend to stick only to the campaign story, but I have a feeling that if it hooks you you’ll want to upgrade to full membership.

Guild Wars 2 (GW2) – Guild Wars 2 may be my favorite MMO in the art design category. The world feels truly unique, the user interface has this stylish ink and paint flow to it that carries on into cutscenes, and the characters are all interesting. The playable races in this game are well thought-out, as well, each having clear customs and history. Nothing about this game feels terribly cliché. Even the questing system gets away from the typical fetch quests and instead encourages you to explore the world and see what’s going on. For example, you may come across a small town out in the woods, and while you are in the middle of buying some potions a herd of centaurs attack the town. If you manage to fight them off you get some rewards in experience points and gold, but if you fail then the centaurs now own the city and you cannot do business there until they’ve been driven out of town. The world feels alive, and the gameplay focuses more on action than standing still and casting spells. GW2 requires that you purchase the game once, but has no subscription fees.

Wildstar – If Star Wars isn’t your thing, but you do enjoy some good scifi, Wildstar is worth a look. This game does so much right. It has a unique world to explore and a highly stylish design philosophy that doesn’t feel too familiar. Wildstar’s initial promise to fans was an offering of what WoW used to be “back when it was hard and you had to work for it”. In some ways, it really is a more “hardcore” experience than other MMOs on the market, and because of that I may not recommend it to those new to the genre, however it does a great job of explaining your class and the world around you. Wildstar currently has a monthly subscription, although rumor holds that we may see a change in that this year.

Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) – If you loved Skyrim to death and wished only that it was a multiplayer game, then ESO isn’t exactly what you’re looking for. However, it’s a step in the right direction. Class progression and world exploration in ESO feel much more like an Elder Scrolls game than other MMOs out there, so this may be a good game to start out with if you had a chance to play Skyrim. Those well-versed in MMOs, on the other hand, will point out the game’s current shortcomings. Additionally, ESO is slated for release on the Xbox One and PS4, so if you’ve never been big on PC gaming, this may be a good choice to look into. ESO is not for everyone, but it does have a rather unique style of gameplay as well as a familiar, fan-favorite world to explore. Currently ESO has a monthy subscription, but just in time for the console release this year we will be seeing this game move to the buy-it-once model similar to GW2.

Final Fantasy XIV (FFXIV) – FFXIV actually frustrated me, at first. Its initial launch was such a mess that Square Enix had to take the game down, put a new director in charge, and re-release it as A Realm Reborn: Final Fantasy XIV. This reboot, against all odds, is actually my favorite Final Fantasy game in years. The art direction is a lot closer to older character designs. The loading screens remind me of opening the instruction booklets from the SNES days, full of beautiful watercolor artwork. Nothing in the game reminds me of Final Fantasy VII or XIII. It’s everything I wanted. The downside, however, is the game tends to be rather grindy and old fashioned by MMO standards in some respects, and much of the content favors having a party to play with. FFXIV has been released on PC, PS3, and PS4, and I’ve found playing with the PS4 controller is a fun experience. It’s easy to partner up with my good pal and start exploring deserts full of cactuars just like I always wanted to do. I’m still baffled that I spent years waiting for a good Final Fantasy game, only to find it behind an MMO paywall. FFXIV currently has a monthy subscription to play, including on consoles.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Star Wars also lets you explore space on a space chicken. I forgot to mention the space chicken. This is why I play Star Wars.

These are really only the MMOs I recommend, and by no means your only options. TERA, Rift, Star Trek Online, DC Universe, EVE, and many more are still running with their own strengths and weaknesses, and their own loyal fanbases. Additionally, we can look forward to releases just around the corner, like Black Desert, Dragon’s Dogma Online, and Everquest Next. If you are new to MMOs and you’re curious about their unique appeal, stay tuned. I have a lot more advice columns in the pipeline and every week I’ll be here as your guide into this exciting and gigantic genre of gaming.

Next week, I’ll be offering tips on avoiding “MMO burnout”, and if you have any specific questions you’d like answers on, you can always send me a tweet at @TaurenItUp. Until next time, make sure you log out at an inn so you get rested XP.


About the Author

Cameron McFarland

Cameron loves cartoons and bad movies almost as much as bad cartoon movies. He is also the world's best spaghetti-eater, so don't bring it up around him or he won't shut up about it. Author and Artist for world-reviled World of Warcraft fancomic,