What’s Scratching your MMORPG Itch on Mobile These Days?

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As an old-school PC gamer, it was huge online experiences that truly ruined me as a person. MUDs like Legend of the Red Dragon gave me my first taste, and early MMORPG’s like Ultima Online set the hook. I dumped cumulative months of playtime into patrolling the Britain Crossroads with friends I made who I still keep in contact with today. There was something incredibly captivating about early MMO’s, in that they weren’t just single player games with levels that you eventually beat then traded back in to Funco Land, instead, they were worlds you lived in. Hell, I’d go as far as to say the first year of Ultima Online was the best year of gaming in my entire life, and something I’ve since spent decades chasing. Oh, and as an aside, just to give you an idea of the new ground UO was breaking, the game started with a cut scene that basically set the scene to make the concept of servers make sense with the game’s lore:

Fast forward nearly 20 years and we’re all walking around with devices in our pockets that thanks to the magic of Moore’s Law, are far more powerful than the 266 Mhz Pentium II in my Ultima Online-era PC. Nearly every genre imaginable is represented on the App Store, but finding a great mobile MMORPG to get invested in has forever eluded me. Sure, there’s a bunch of MMO-like games, as I suppose you could argue any of the random social RPG’s on the App Store technically qualify as an “MMORPG" by a vague definition of the term… But none of them provide the same feel.

There’s Order & Chaos Online (Free), but that always kind of rubbed me the wrong way as too much of a World of Warcraft clone. The recently released Forsaken World Mobile (Free) also didn’t do much for me as it seems so Asia-centric, complete with massive anime angel wings on your character from level 1. There’s been others in between, but they all seem to fail to capture what interests me in an MMORPG, which is basically any kind of sense of wonder.

What made these games so sticky for me is it felt like the game worlds were ripe for discovery. Coming across the hidden dungeon under Buccaneer’s Den, or the hidden valley near the Trinsic Moongate in Ultima Online felt special. Similarly, uncovering the story of Silverpine Forest in World of Warcraft which lead you through every nook of the zone before the ultimate showdown in Shadowfang Keep just felt… Epic. Maybe mobile MMORPG’s have similar experiences and I just haven’t found them yet, but it really doesn’t help that so many of them now feel so free to play that the entire first segment of the game focuses on how you earn, buy, and spend whatever premium currency there is instead of teasing the player into a captivating game world to get invested in.

The truly wild thing about all this is that, as I mentioned earlier, mobile devices are faster than the PC I played all these amazingly classic MMORPG experiences on. I’d do filthy things for an iPad port of the Dark Age of Camelot client, even if the game was just locked to its early pre-expansion days. The hardware is there, the connectivity is there, the games just… Aren’t. Or maybe they are and I just haven’t discovered them yet.

How are you guys scratching your MMORPG itch on mobile? Are there some sleeper titles that have truly just gone under our radar? Are they all ruined by free to play elements? Or are there some free to play MMORPG’s out there that get better after you get through the typically fairly gross tutorial? I’d love to have an answer for both myself, and for people who ask me what MMO’s to check out on mobile beyond, “I don’t know, the latest Albion Online trailer looks pretty cool."

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