It’s kind of crazy to think that MMORPGs have pretty good stories now, isn’t it? I mean, they’ve always had stories, but a lot of the charm of their worlds was reserved to those willing to dig deep in the lore to find it. Most of the direct story you encounter in your average MMORPG is divided up into a series of pretty lackluster quests. Who really reads the quest dialogue anyway? (Just kidding, I realize a lot of people do)
But when the genre is renowned for the ability to draw players together in expansive online worlds, it seems a bit weird that anyone would want to play an MMORPG just to experience the story. Yet, here we are, listing a bunch of MMORPGs that you’ll want to play just for the story. It’s a bold move, I know—but you’ll have to forgive me. Now, its worth mentioning that all of these games have plenty of things that make them worthy outside of pretty darn good narratives. But maybe you’re not all that interested in raiding or whatever, or maybe you just want a game that can capture the imagination of that person who you’ve been plotting to indoctrinate to the world of MMORPGs. Whatever your reasoning may be, here are 5 MMORPGs that are worth it just for the story.
Final Fantasy XIV
This one is a bit obvious, no? I mean, Final Fantasy was one of the first console games that really had a story to begin with. When most were perfectly content to leave their plot points comfortably nestled between the pages of their yellowing instruction manuals, Final Fantasy injected those narratives right into the heart of the game and really helped kick off the era of golden age RPGs.
So of course, Square Enix’s second time up to bat in the MMORPG stadium wouldn’t forsake what made the franchise so endearing to begin with. Now, it bears mentioning that Final Fantasy XIV, while a pretty darn good story on its own, really feeds into the fandom behind the whole franchise. If you aren’t a stalwart Final Fantasy diehard you’ll definitely miss on a lot of the subtle nods and homages that XIV pays to the rest of the franchise. That, however, should absolutely not stop you from playing this game.
Final Fantasy’s story might not be as affecting as previous entries in the series, but it is certainly capable of telling a story worth hearing. The Warriors of Light’s bid to save Eorzea from the Garlean Empire and the corrupting influence of the Ascians is, despite its cliches, gripping. Characters are fleshed out incredibly well which makes the inevitable tragedies all the more painful. Furthermore, with the release of Final Fantasy XIV’s new expansion, Heavensward, that story is darker and more engaging than ever.
In reality, the story is a huge aspect of Final Fantasy XIV and while the expertly crafted dungeons keep us coming back in between updates to the story, you’re doing yourself no favors by skipping out on the narrative. There’s a lot to love about Final Fantasy XIV but even if you were to put the game down once you experienced all of the main story missions, you’ll still come away experiencing an excellent addition to a seminal franchise.
Star Wars: The Old Republic
It’s no surprise that The Old Republic oozes quality stories. This was the same studio that brought us such memorable titles like Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, and Jade Empire. Story is at the heart of everything Bioware does, and while The Old Republic suffered heavily from not being the sequel to Knights of the Old Republic that fans were clamoring for, that doesn’t mean that the story on display isn’t worth seeing.
What makes The Old Republic such a standout recommendation is that not only are there eight stories for you to experience, but by paying the subscription fee you can experience those narratives without the tedium involved in leveling your character. Right now, Bioware has an offer that gives subscribers a huge boost to the experience earned from playing story missions, which means you can now level to 55 without ever needed to waste your time on grinding or side quests.
The caveat here is that you need to be willing to spend money on The Old Republic, and if that’s a problem I’d actually advise you just skip this one. While The Old Republic is technically free to play, the way Bioware has implemented it is very unfriendly. It’s obvious that the free to play financial model is just to get you to try the game out first before being pressured into reaching for the wallet to make some of the awful restrictions on what you can and cannot do go away.
But assuming you’re okay with dropping a the money for a month or two of the subscription, you’ll be able to play a huge chunk of The Old Republic as if it was a single player game. These missions really harken back to classic Bioware RPGs by offering you a good deal of freedom and choices that actually impact the flow of the story. Being a Star Wars game, depending on whether you fight for the Galactic Empire or the Republic, you can also choose to be an evil or a good character. If you can live with yourself, the dark side choices are often incredibly entertaining.
What makes The Old Republic such an excellent story to experience, however, is the fact that each class has their own path to play through. While the general consensus seems to be that the Imperial Agent is the best story, no one will argue that all of them are interesting in their own way and definitely worth taking the time to play.
With just a few months of subscription time and some dedication, you can absolutely get your money’s worth from The Old Republic. And hey, if you decide you like it a lot, there is a ton of other content to explore once you’re done questing to level 55. I mean, it is an MMORPG after all.
The Secret World
The Secret World deserves a lot more recognition than it gets—at least I think so. While certainly not perfect, it is also one of the more original MMORPGs released in the past decade. Where most MMOs tend to focus on various flavors of fantasy and science fiction, The Secret World is set in the modern era. Don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s boring, though; The Secret World uses that contemporary foundation to tell some truly unique stories. Set in a world where every conspiracy theory is true and mythologies from every corner of the planet aren’t just legends in a book, The Secret World is all about marrying the supernatural with the modern—and it works really well.
The Secret World also boasts one of the more engaging questing systems of recent memory. Instead of just killing X of Y or running off to do a handful of fetch quests, The Secret World leans on a system that often requires using the in-game browser to do research and the general use of your brain. It’s enthralling, and if you’re a sucker for mythology and the occult, there is so much detail crammed into the world that exploring it alone is a joy all in itself.
The Elder Scrolls Online
The Elder Scrolls Online’s woes could mostly be summed up by the fact that fans got what they weren’t expecting. Many jumped into the game hoping to experience a version of Skyrim with their friends, but what they received was a game too close to standard MMORPG sensibilities for comfort. But one area where I would argue The Elder Scrolls Online absolutely lives up to its single player cousins is in the story.
Each of the three factions has their own story that you can experience. Backed by the quality voice acting and engaging exposition wrapped around each quest, The Elder Scrolls Online is genuinely a ton of fun to play. Each map is littered with things to find and quests to complete, and there is so much charm and personality injected into the world of Nirn that, if you let it, will really grab you.
Better yet, now that The Elder Scrolls Online has dropped the subscription fee, all you really need to do is buy the game and you can experience its rich world at your leisure. There’s never any pressure to continue playing if you want to take a break—but you’ll likely be surprised by how enchanting you become with the world.
Guild Wars 2
Like the others on this list, Guild Wars 2 boasts an incredibly well acted story that accompanies your journey to maximum level. While I certainly wouldn’t recommend it above some of the others on this list, that isn’t to say that playing Guild Wars 2 just for the story alone would be a waste of time. Somewhat similar to Star Wars, Guild Wars 2 features several different story lines to experience. But instead of being bound to classes, each story is bound to what race you decide to choose. With five different races and their respective stories to experience, there is no shortage of things to see in the world of Tyria.
The story of Guild Wars 2 is quite good, and each race brings such a unique flavor that really helps the diverse locales of Tyria come to life. Though they might be more linear than The Old Republic and lacking in the nostalgia and fanservice of Final Fantasy XIV, they stand admirably on their own merits. In a lot of ways, Guild Wars 2 manages to explore the nuances between each of its races in a much more dynamic way. Though you might find yourself rolling your eyes at a few of the story segments and dialogue, you’ll feel the weight of your actions when things get heavy.
Stories have never been the focus on MMORPGs, they simply have too many other qualities that manage to steal the thunder. But that hasn’t stopped developers from working tirelessly to pour as much care and attention into the yarns they weave as we would expect to see in singleplayer RPGs. That said, what are you favorite MMORPGs for the story? What do you think of the ones I listed? Let us know in the comments!Related: Column, Final Fantasy XIV, Guild Wars 2, Listed, MMORPG, Star Wars The Old Republic, The Elder Scrolls Online, The Secret World, Top List