How important are graphics to the MMO genre? Make your game look too amazing and you’ll limit the number of players who own a rig that can run it. Set the bar too low, and your game will look like a throwaway Flash title.
It’s been about six years since World of Warcraft released in 2004 and we’ve been wondering how the aging king of MMOs stacks up against some of its free-to-play competitors. Check out some of grindy games with graphics that look as good (or better) than World of Warcraft – minus the monthly fees. None of these free-to-play games look amazing, but after seeing how they stand up against one of the most profitable and popular MMOs in the world, they certainly look more than acceptable.
Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited
European players still need to pay a monthly fee for the privilege of playing Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited (DDO). But since 2009, DDO has been free-to-play in the United States. Micro transactions and subscription fees are optional on these free US servers run by Turbine, but add extra features and perks to your player account, like being able to cut to the front of the login queue line. DDO received mixed reviews, but at least its archers look better than the Blood Elf Hunter pictured below.
Above: DDO (left). World of Warcraft (right). Not all ranged DPS classes are created equal
We’ll take World of Warcraft over a casual romp through Free Realms any day, but even though it’s challenging to compare Free Realms’ slightly more cartoony art style against WoW’s, you have to admit that Free Realm’s plain pony is looking pretty good when compared to our Paladin’s epic steed. Fishing looks better, too. Check out those softened shadows in the Free Realms image and compare them against the jagged edges on the arms of our WoW avatar.
Above: Free Realms (left). World of Warcraft (right). Look at how muddy the ground textures look in WoW when compared to a similar area in Free Realms
Above: Free Realms (left). World of Warcraft (right)
Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine Online
Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine Online (also known as MegaTen) is a Japanese MMO based on the popular JRPG series; it was launched for North American audiences by Aeria Games in 2008 – and is probably the only MMO where seeing a schoolgirl with a shotgun and a giant pet demon isn’t unusual. MegaTen also looks just as good (if not better than) WoW. Compare these two feline mounts and decide for yourself.
Above: Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine Online (left). World of Warcraft (right)
While we’re on the topic of Aeria Games, we’d just like to take a moment to point out that they have one of the friendliest communities we’ve encountered. Part of it has to do with the company’s GMs. They regularly coordinate special in-game events and interact with players. It’s not uncommon to see GMs cruising through low level zones to help newcomers. But the usual MMO elitism amongst players doesn’t seem as common in MegaTen. From our experience, it was always easy to find friendly (and helpful) players for groups at hubs.
Above: Aeria Games is always doing fun stuff with their players. Sometimes we wish Blizzard would loosen up and let their GMs play with their customers the way Aeria Games does
Guild Wars isn’t free in the traditional sense. Although you don’t have to pay any monthly fees or worry about being pestered with micro transactions, you will need to purchase a copy of Guild Wars or one of its many standalone expansion packs to play it. That being said, in terms of visuals, Guild Wars looks way better than WoW. Compare the Guild Wars NPC below against our freshly minted Death Knight and decide for yourself.
Above: Guild Wars: Eye of the North (left). World of Warcraft (right). Remember, we maxed out the video settings for World of Warcraft before hitting the print screen key
Allods Online is by far the best looking free MMO we’ve come across. Over $12 million was spent on developing this free MMO, and it shows in the screenshots. Check out some of our comparison screenshots below. At the very least, we have to give the developers at Astrum Nival credit for capturing the idea of perspective. We’re tired of seeing chairs, stairwells, and cannons made for giants in Azeroth.
Above: Allods Online (left). World of Warcraft (right)
Above: Allods Online (left). World of Warcraft (right). We hate cannon balls that are bigger than our heads
Above: An official Allods screenshot of a PvP arena. Just look at those particle effects. Allods Online is definitely the most visually impressive free-to-play MMO game available right now
Above: An official trailer for Allods Online that shows off ship combat