I am very tired of the themepark-style MMO games as well. But there is hope!In the last years, there have been more and more sandbox-style MMOs in the making, mostly worked on by small independent developers. Some of them have tried and failed, but most of them are slowly evolving and working out the kinks. I think this is the future of MMOs when the technology is sufficient and people have started to tire of the same, rather meaningless grind. These games actually have a greater purpose to your actions:
Take Mortal Online
for example. It’s very much based on what the devs (StarVault) liked about Anarchy Online. Go where you want, claim what land you want, fight whoever you want – and all on a single-shard server and with a very advanced combat system (momentum, relative speed, hitboxes). And no silly “go to X kill Y pick up Z” -quests (but soon there will be player-created ones, much like the ‘Contacts’ of Eve Online). It just needs a bit more sand in the box, so to speak – and hopefully StarVault will be able to recover from the cost of licensing the UE3 engine etc.
There’s also Wurm Online
. Yes, it’s somewhat broken as a game, with lots of strange and some downright bad gameplay decisions. And due to this, it also suffers from low player numbers. However, it’s slowly rising from what I can hear. But it has full player control of the world and some really interesting social features. You can terraform, cut down trees, build houses from the wood, dig kilometre-long tunnels or canals, forts and almost anything else in the way of world-shaping you can think of. And you can do it anywhere
. It has that pure, settler-feeling that just makes you want to get out into the deep forests and build something magnificent (RPS has covered Wurm a few times: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/tag/wurm-online/
). Sounds familiar? Notch of Minecraft worked on Wurm Online a few years back, together with his friend Rolf who is the main developer of Wurm. You could see this as the ‘hardcore MMO’ version of Minecraft. The game is very reliant on free community contributions due to the small devteam. But back to gameplay! The three warring kingdoms on the Wild server are all run by player-elected kings, leading to some with actual diplomacy political activity. Deserters, turncoats and other intrigues happen quite often.
There are more sandbox MMOs out there that I haven’t personally played, so I cant say a whole lot about them.
But now we just need a large games company to get over the risk-thinking and actually invest in something like this. Look at the successes and mistakes of these pioneering indies, and learn from it. Hopefully without destroying the feeling of freedom and greater purpose that these games do so well, in the name of ‘accessibility’ and all that.