When it comes to narrative content in MMORPG games, story-telling is almost seen as secondary to raiding, PvP and other in-game activities that players consider more important. There’s not much to dispute there, but story is in many ways just as important for those looking for a well rounded MMORPG experience. Some games get it right when it comes to story. NPC characters, world-building and the reason for caring about the game world you’re in are difficult things to get right, especially for MMO audiences around the globe. And that’s why for example, in Eastern MMOs it isn’t as prevalent or even as good as some from the west. It all comes down to demographics. Having said that if story content is important to you, here are the top 5 MMORPG you can play in 2021 that has awesome story content.
World of Warcraft
From its humble beginnings as an RTS franchise and then into the juggernaut that is World of Warcraft, this game has always been about its narrative. What happens when Humans suddenly come up against an unknown Orc race from a different world, and must now fight for survival? Its origins has since evolved so much that there’s been almost 20 years of story-telling in the world of Azeroth, that still continues to grow to this day.
Not only has the world expanded, but the two factions, Alliance and Horde, has seen their overarching narratives evolve into something bigger. Add in all plot from the various expansions over the years – The Burning Legion, The Lich King, The Old Gods – and you have a recipe for fans of the World of Warcraft to keep coming back for more. It’s shame if you haven’t been there from the very beginning, but it’s not too late to still experience all that story content that WoW has to offer, alongside its raiding scene, which is arguably the best part of the game today.
Final Fantasy 14
This Japanese MMORPG has a lot going for it, especially considering it’s disastrous start to life under it’s previous iteration, now known as the 1.0 version. Essentially, Final Fantasy 14 is a story heavy game. The entire MMO design revolves around players needing to progress the main story. Doing so will offer lucrative amounts of experience points. The main story also is required to unlock a majority of the dungeons and other in-game activities. Not a lot of MMORPGs out there actually do this – lock content behind the main story.
While that may seem draconian and traditional, is the story worth playing through at all? The answer is yes. The main quest chains in A Realm Reborn has all the hallmarks of a Final Fantasy game. It has a powerful narrative, featuring likeable characters and a plot that’s worthy of an offline RPG game. On top of that, a lot of the main story quests features long and elaborate cinematic cutscenes that Final Fantasy players are familiar with. It’s almost non MMO in style, but it’s a pure joy if you enjoy a good story.
The writing is decent and while dialogue can be a hit or miss due to translations, it still offers something for everyone. Outside of the main stories, there are class stories for every profession in game too. These can be picked up every five levels and features a lot of backstory on why the class you’ve chosen matters. Overall, there’s a lot of good story locked away in Final Fantasy behind that monthly subscription, if you can afford it.
Guild Wars 2
When it comes to episodic content in MMORPG titles, Guild Wars 2 is right up there with the best. See, at launch Personal Stories were the game’s main story quest chain, and is character based. They are unlocked every few levels, and will differ based on some of the character creation options that players picked at the beginning. What’s great about the stories are that it takes place in unique dialogue cut scenes, with fully voiced characters and animations. To top it off, the actual story isn’t too shabby for a fantasy MMO. Spoiler alert, you’re discovering things about yourself, and find out that a dragon is becoming a threat to the world, and must spend the later levels uniting the various races of Tyria to fight as one. It may seem cliché, but the story really builds up and it’s hard not to get invested in it, thanks to the world and character building.
But in recent times, Guild Wars 2 has taken it’s story telling content to greater heights. The Heart of Thorns expansion in 2015 raised the bar with it’s narrative, and changed the way how plot is delivered to the player. Cut scenes and dialogue now take place in the actual game world, and is more immersive than ever. The story has also gotten better, and now carries over into the Living World Season stories, which serves as a massive continuation of the game’s main story campaign.
Outside the actual main story, the world itself does a lot of cohesive story telling through world events that ties into the zones that it takes place in. Some of the Personal Stories in the base game will even reflect in changes to the later zones, which is really cool. Overall, if you’re looking for a good MMO with a decent story to play through, look no further than Guild Wars 2.
Star Wars: The Old Republic
SWTOR may have garnered a reputation for being one of the most restrictive free to play mmos, but it does do one thing very right. And boy do they get their story telling right. SWTOR is an immersive narrative driven game, and right from the get go, players will be sucked in to one of the class stories that lasts all the way to level 50, for absolutely free.
The writing is top notch and typical Bioware. Expect to see loads of cutscenes, and that’s not just for the main class stories. In fact, every side quests large or small has it’s own cutscene and is 100% fully voiced by some of the best in the industry.
What’s great about the game’s use of story in the main class quests is that there are decisions that absolutely matter. Evil choices gain you alignment to the Dark side, while Good hearted decisions do the same for the Light side. The game’s companion system is also fantastic, allowing you to develop relationships with the companions that follow you around.
It’s in the post level 50 class stories that SWTOR truly shines in these days. The latest expansions for example, is chock full of cinematic cutscenes that absolutely brings out the best of Bioware’s storytelling. While you’ll need a subscription to play these, the older class quests are free for all and still excellent. So if you need a star was game fix that has great narratives and plot, then jump into to Star Wars the Old Republic.
Secret World Legends
This MMORPG is absolutely unique, and it’s entire existence revolves around the game’s immense story telling. Secret World Legends is set in today’s world. Modern day, contemporary, and what makes it special is that in it, all conspiracy theories, myth and urban legends are true. Players select from one of three secret society factions, the Illuminati, Templars or Dragon.
And right from the beginning, the game pulls no punches in throwing mind bending narratives right at you. The writing is excellent, questioning all that you know regarding the world and what is real and fiction. The dead walk the earth, Cthulhu is alive and well, mummies are cropping up, and somewhere in Europe, Transylvania is a real place. It’s a hot pot of mixed narratives that are combined and delivered in immersive ways. All quest givers engage you in a long cinematic dialogues, and for the most part, say witty things and make references to today’s pop culture.
It’s a unique take on MMOs and it’s a shame that the game is suffering from lack of content and players, even after its relaunch in 2017. However as a free title, it’s still worth checking out if you’re hunting down an MMORPG with a unique take on story telling.