You have a lot of time on your hands, and the urge arises to venture into the fantastic online world of RPGs, meet new people, make new long-lasting friends, and why not kill another player here and there. The question is, which MMORPG should you try?
It's no secret that although there are many MMORPGs on the market today, not all of them will boast success and will at least ensure that all your dedicated time and effort does not go down the drain after they close down operations. Therefore, I will talk about three juggernauts that have survived the passage of time, the industry progression, and even the evolution of the graphics engine.
Which is the most Story-driven MMORPG
If you want to combine gameplay with lore that rivals the best fantasy novels, let me explain how it works in each game.
In Old School Runescape, there is lore integrated into the game, but it is untold for much of it. You don't strictly participate or learn the story of the game as you progress through it. In fact, if you don't search both in-game and out-of-game, you might play a lot of Old School Runescape without knowing what its plot is about.
But although it's a bit obscure, the plot is there. The story tells of five ages. The first three are filled with gods, myths, and legends, but not much is known about them. The player starts in the Fifth Age, the age of humans. We are to be the heroes that will stop the dark forces from overpowering humanity now that the runes of protection are weakened because of a mistake and betrayal of a backstabbing human wizard. But that's pretty much it.
On the other hand, World of Warcraft has extensive lore that starts in the RTS Warcraft series and expands into the 17 years that the MMO has been active. This means that if you start playing today, you have a lot of catching up to do. However, this does not diminish the quality of the plot of World of Warcraft, which, although at times has caused some players frustration - looking at you, overpowered Slyvanas - is a masterpiece, even more so in an MMO.
Suppose you start playing World of Warcraft today. After the tutorial in the Exile's Reach zone, you will be able to select one of the expansions to level up before entering the current expansion, Shadowlands. This is great if you want to play with different classes, try new zones, and enjoy one expansion plot. On the other hand, it's a lot to keep up with if you're going to stay up-to-date lorewise. And despite participating in the significant lore events, the player does not get to be as relevant as the central characters in WoW.
In Final Fantasy XIV, the story is a crucial part and probably the biggest differentiator of the MMO. Although A Realm Reborn is a continuation of the late first version of Final Fantasy XIV, the plot starts fresh, and you can enjoy it without feelings of FOMO. We are the Warrior of Light, the world's leading champion and badass who solves most problems in the game. It's easy to perceive the game's plot, which is advanced by completing the Main Story Quests, and your role in it. The story's focus point changes with each expansion, but the bigger picture is always behind the scenes.
And I must say, trying to sound impartial, that it's not only one of the best plots in an MMO but in the RPG genre in general. Not to mention the countless references to the Final Fantasy franchise scattered all over the planet Hydaelyn and now, also on the moon.
How's the gameplay and character progression
The gameplay of the games is similar. Combat is based on command input, whose timer is dictated by a global cooldown and the same rule applies to enemies. Some bosses and stronger enemies' skills are marked on the ground in FFXIV and WoW, indicating that you can - and probably should - dodge them. But all in all, combat varies mainly in its pacing.
Regarding character progression, Old School Runescape differs a bit from the other two. While in World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV, the combative power of the player grows per level, in Old School RS, it's the skills that evolve.
For instance, there are Attack, Strength, and Defence skills in Runescape. Simply put, Attack increases the chance of a strike hitting, and you can equip more potent weapons; Strength increases the damage done physically, and Defence reduces the possibility of being hit and which armor you can equip. To improve Attack, you must be in an accurate stance and hit the enemy, while to increase Strength, you must use the aggressive stance. Depending on your gameplay focus, you can create different builds because the sum of your combat skills becomes your Combat level, which directly influences PvP and the difficulty of other monsters.
In Final Fantasy XIV and World of Warcraft, you level up by gaining experience by defeating monsters and completing quests. World of Warcraft has a Talents feature, which allows the same class to take on a different role. The Paladin class can be a DPS, Tank, or Healer. Final Fantasy XIV is more straightforward. Although you have to complete some Class/Job Quests to unlock actions earlier in the game, they removed this requirement in the current expansions. You simply get them by leveling up. At max level, naked, each Job in FFXIV possesses the same moveset.
There is also a plethora of skills involving gathering and crafting in all three games, which despite using a different system, have the same goal: provide you with the best items and equipment or make you rich by trading them. If you want to venture into this trade, expect a lot of grinding.
Player vs. Player: breaking the competition
Old School Runescape and World of Warcraft PvP rules start when picking up a server. In Old School RS, some servers only allow PK in Wilderness, a place dedicated to the art of murdering others, but server 392 is the PvP World, and let me tell you, it is mayhem down there. Apart from a few places, you can be attacked - or attack - everywhere. The only restriction is that the combat level of the antagonists must be no more than 15 levels apart.
Although killing players in Old School Runescape can be rewarding - a dead player leaves much of their loot on the ground - you are skulled after attacking a player. If you die, you can lose your entire bag of items. In a High-Risk World, you will lose. PvP in Old School Runescape can be fun but meanly punishing.
There are also some areas in Runescape like Castle Wars and TzHaar Fight Pit that allow safe PvP activity. You don't lose your items upon death.
World of Warcraft has two realm types, PvE and PvP, which change the format of World PvP. The difference is when you are in a Contested Territory (most territories after the start of the game). In PvP realms, you are automatically flagged for PvP against the opposing faction, while on PvE realms, you need to manually flag it. If you don't flag it, you can't be attacked.
In officially queued PvP, WoW and FFXIV have Battlegrounds/Frontlines and arenas, which operate similarly, although the goals are different. The Warsong Gulch battleground in WoW pit 10 Alliance players against 10 Horde players in a game of capture the flag. The first faction to capture the flag three times takes home the victory.
While in FFXIV, it's the Grand Companies that engage in "friendly fights." Each Grand Company holds 24 players and must amass points to be victorious. In The Borderland Ruins (Secure), players gain points by occupying key locations and defeating warriors of the other Grand Company.
The most significant difference between WoW and FFXIV is the equipment. While your character's gear in WoW essentially defines your strength, which can frustrate players with poor equipment, the PvP system in FFXIV maintains a fixed value of power for the classes, regardless if you are wearing a dragon scale armor or wedding gown. It's worth mentioning that FFXIV does not have World PvP like the other two.
Endgame content for those who endure
So you have dedicated your time to an MMORPG, enjoyed the gameplay, savored the lore, caused stress to the player on the other side by humiliating him in PvP, and then... what else can you do in the end?
One word in common to all three: raids. Raids are the endgame content of most MMOs because they gather several players, at high levels, with great equipment, trying to face massive bosses and failing miserably. Old School Runescape only has two raids (a new one is coming in 2022). WoW and FFXIV have countless. But there's a catch. While FFXIV created a roulette system that makes it easier for players to explore old expansion content as it was their first time, WoW did not. Although you can solo most old raids, some require mechanics that involve multiple players. If you want to be a completionist, you will need to track players manually - or be aided by some helpful addons.
Arena PvP also counts as endgame content for WoW and FFXIV since there are ranking, rewards, and glory for playing it masterfully. Old School RS endgame PvP is where most veterans say lies the real MMO's content, so if it's your jam, have a blast. There are also world bosses in RS and WoW that can be done solo, but in FFXIV you need a group to hunt the Elite Marks.
Other endgame content can be collecting pets, minions, mounts (in WoW and FFXIV), or even leveling up your different skills/classes that you did not focus on at first. The thing is, endgame content is necessary to keep the flame alive, but more important than that is the game itself. Because if you don't like it on first impressions, you won't even get to the midgame content.
Regardless of your state of mind and which MMORPG you choose to play, know that any of the three alternatives are great options, and at the end of the day, it's your personal taste that will make the final decision. I just hope this review helps you a little in your choice of having fun in the fantastic online world of massive role-playing games!