Age Of Conan
Launched just over two years ago, Funcom's Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures brought to life the fictional, barbaric world created by author Robert E. Howard. The game's overall story stays true to Howard's timeline, taking place a year after the events depicted in his novel, The Hour of the Dragon.
Although Age of Conan suffered a rough start, it has received favorable reviews over the years as Funcom has diligently applied performance improvements, new adventuring zones, revamps of existing dungeons, a player-vs.-player (PvP) system, and more. Players create their virtual avatar by choosing from four races: Aquilonian, Cimmerian, Stygian, and Khitan. The first-three characters offer archetypes including Rogue, Priest, and Soldier and various sub-classes, such as Ranger and Guardian.
While the game does offer a free-to-play, "unlimited trial" model, there are certain limitations: gamers only play the content available on Tortage Island, they cannot trade with others, they cannot use in-game email, nor can they post on the forums. Naturally, the limitations are lifted once players upgrade their account to the full version of the game for $29.99 plus a $14.99 per month fee.
City Of Heroes/Villains
This massively multi-player online role-playing game (MMORPG) has been around for a while, originally launched back in 2004 by NCSoft. City of Heroes has everything a super-hero wannabe could ever dream of: cool powers that enable players to fly, bust through walls, blast deadly waves of energy, and more (okay, the outfits are cool, too).
Characters are broken down into five origins: natural, magic, science, mutation, and technology. The five hero archetypes include blasters, controllers, defenders, scrappers, and tankers. For players with an evil streak, there are also five basic villain archetypes: brutes, corruptors, dominators, masterminds, and stalkers.
The overall setting takes place within the fictional Paragon City, which represents Rhode Island in the real world. The city is broken up into various zones--or in this case, neighborhoods--that have overall themes and varying villains.
Gamers ready to step into spiffy leotards and save the city can check out City of Heroes for a 14-day free trial, no credit card required. The game retails for $19.99 and costs the standard $14.99 per month (although other payment options are available).
Dark Age Of Camelot
Believe it or not, the pseudo-historical, Arthurian-themed MMORPG Dark Age of Camelot (DAoC) launched back in 2001, but it was originally conceived as a graphical multi-user dungeon (MUD) before becoming a full-blown 3D title.
At the time, its main competitors were Microsoft's Asheron's Call and Sony Online Entertainment's EverQuest. While the game still has fantasy elements, DAoC never seemed quite as cliche, borrowing from the obvious lore and locations in Great Britain.
While the game was never as popular as EverQuest, DAoC comfortably seated itself into second place and has remained popular ever since. DAoC is also the first MMORPG to implement realm-versus-realm gameplay, allowing players and their allies--whether a faction or an actual realm--to fight against a common enemy. This means that players in the Albion realm can battle against players in Midgard or Hibernia, depending on the situation.
DAoC offers a 14-free trial for new player, while the monthly subscription rate is the typical $14.99.
Although not the first of its kind to hit the market, Sony Online Entertainment's EverQuest was the MMORPG that seemingly started it all. Eventually known as "EverCrack," the game pulls players into new territory: a persistent virtual fantasy world called Norrath. Since its launch back in 1999, SOE has launched 16 expansion packs, adding new equipment, continents, quests, zones, classes, races, and a whole lot more.
Unlike old-school text-based games, EverQuest introduced subscribers at the time of its launch to a thriving, virtual world where they could explore, endure quests that spanned multiple zones, or team up with a party to take on a huge towering beast. The game still is an enchanting title, although its lack of a free-to-play system and World of Warcraft's overwhelming popularity has knocked it out of the spotlight.
In 2004, SOE released EverQuest II, another MMORPG that takes place 500 years after the Planes of Power storyline in the original EverQuest game. Although it sports better graphics than its predecessor, it still falls under the shadow of Blizzard's World of Warcraft.
The original EverQuest currently offers players a limitless, 10-level trial. The game costs $39.99 (which includes all expansions) and a $14.99 per month subscription fee. EverQuest II can be purchased online (which includes all expansions) and also costs $14.99 per month. Interested gamers can give the MMORPG a try for 14 days free.
Fallen Earth is unlike anything else we cover in this article, as its post-apocalyptic setting merges role-playing with first-person shooter elements.
Launched in September 2009, the game takes place in the Grand Canyon area in the year 2156. The Shiva virus has spread across the human populace, pitting country against country as they blame each other for engineering the virus. Eventually, the worldwide conflict--in addition to the devastation caused by the virus--turns the Earth into a nuclear wasteland.
Now mankind resides within two known outposts: the Grand Canyon Province and the Hoover Dam Garrison. As expected with any post-apocalyptic setting, players come across ruined landscapes, mutated humans, and factions trying to control various resources.
Although the game doesn't provide the typical fixed-class system, Fallen Earth allows players to select general archetypes including Medic, Melee, Rifleman, and more.
The game itself costs $49.99 and an additional $14.99 per month (although other subscription plans are available). Fallen Earth also offers a 10-day free trial.
The fantasy-based MMORPG Lineage II was launched in Korea in back 2003, and was followed by a North American release from NCSoft in 2004.
Using Epic's Unreal Engine 2.5, the MMORPG actually serves as a prequel to the original Lineage, taking place 150 years prior. The developers chose to create a prequel in order to prevent conflict with the direction that Lineage updates would take.
As with Lineage, this prequel consists of two continents and three kingdoms. The kingdom of Elmore (dwarves, orcs, and Kamaels) and the kingdom of Aden (humans, elves, and dark elves) share one continent, the latter residing in the south. The kingdom of Garcia resides on its own continent and is located to the left of Elmore/Aden.
Although players can only choose between the six races, a total of 36 classes are available consisting of a main class and subclasses. There are also the typical limitations set in place that prevent some races from choosing a certain class.
What makes this MMORPG different from other fantasy-based titles is its overall presentation. Otherwise, expect the traditional $14.99 per month subscription fee. There's also a 14-day free trial with no credit card required for the curious.
Star Trek Online
Out of all the MMORPGs you'll see listed here in this article, Star Trek Online is one of the newest.
Launched back in February 2010, the sci-fi MMORPG almost didn't see the light of day. Initially developed by Perpetual Entertainment from 2004 to 2008, the company went belly-up in January 2008, and it was believed that we'd never see the Trekkie virtual world ever again. Almost six months later, Cryptic Studios announced that it had picked up the rights to complete the game and now here we are.
For those who follow the Star Trek canon, the game takes place in The Next Generation "prime" time line, almost 30 years after the events in Star Trek Nemesis and 22 years after the destruction of Romulus as depicted in Star Trek: Countdown and Star Trek XI. For those who still yearn for The Next Generation era, Star Trek Online is a decent fix.
Unfortunately, there's no free trial, except for a two-part demo that offers the tutorial and first mission for free. Gamers ready to engage in commanding their own vessel will need to shell out $29.99 for the game and $14.99 per month for a subscription.
Want to play for life? Cough up an extra $299.99!
Star Wars Galaxies
It's hard to believe that Star Wars Galaxies (SWG) has been around since 2003.
Developed by the same team behind the hugely popular MMORPG EverQuest, the Star Wars-themed virtual world is surprisingly not as successful as the studio's fantasy-based game. SWG certainly racked in its share of positive reviews, but players criticized SOE when the title was launched for making them unlock the Jedi slot by fulfilling an unknown list of criteria and the unruly amount of time to achieve the goal.
Taking note of the criticisms, SOE began to make changes to the game play mechanics for combat, armor, and weapon systems. Subscription cancellations began to rise.
The company really took a huge hit below the belt when it released the "new-game enhancements," essentially reducing and simplifying professions. Mechanics were also simplified, and the Jedi profession is no longer something to acquire.
So why should gamers check out Star Wars Galaxies? Well, if you're a Star Wars junkie, the answer should be obvious. SOE offers a 14-day free trial. The game retails for $19.99 and costs the standard $14.99 per month.
Mythic Entertainment, the developers behind Dark Age of Camelot, teamed up with Electronic Arts to publish Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning in 2008.
As the name implies, the MMORPG is based on Games Workshop's Warhammer Fantasy setting, centering on the franchise's continual worldwide conflict using Mythic's realm-versus-realm combat system.
The game consists of two factions: Order (dwarves, empire, and high elves) and Destruction (orcs and goblins, chaos, and dark elves). Instead of classes, players take on careers, depending on the race. As an example, high elves can become a Swordmaster (tank), White Lion (melee), Shadow Warrior (ranged), and Archmage (healer/support).
Although Warhammer Online offers the standard subscription-based service ($14.99 per month), gamers can "try" the game by signing up for the Endless Trial. These accounts are limited to designated servers and restricted to tier one of the Empire versus Chaos pairing. This includes tier-one scenarios, but does not include access to the Capital Cities or the other racial pairings within the game.
Endless Trial users are also unable to send mail to other players or use the Auction House and Bank. However, they can receive mail as well as trade with any player face-to-face.
World Of Warcraft
Blizzard launched the fantasy-themed MMORPG World of Warcraft back in 2004 and took no prisoners, quickly rising to the top, where it remains at this very moment.
The game's overall setting takes place in the familiar world of Azeroth approximately four years after the events in Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. It also follows the standard MMORPG model by allowing players to create characters, level grind, join parties to complete quests, and so on.
On a visual front, the game looks great even after all these years (although some PC gamers may disagree, saying it shows its age). However, the title's immense popularity has been attributed to a handful of factors: its overall stability, the ability to perform well on most computers, its addictive social element, the rewards system, the amount of in-game content, its overall presentation, and more.
Players can check-out Blizzard's popular MMORPG by signing up for a free 10-day trial. The actual base game costs $19.99, while the first expansion pack, The Burning Crusade, costs $29.99 extra and the third expansion pack, Wrath of the Lich King, is another $39.99. Although the subscription costs $14.99 per month, Blizzard also offers other payment plans.
Funcom's sci-fi MMORPG Anarchy Online launched in 2001 and promised an experience unlike anything else during that time. Currently, Anarchy Online offers the typical character classes and level-grind process with a sci-fi twist, including adventurer, nano-technician, soldier, trader, metaphysicist, and more.
The game's ongoing story borrows from the Dune novels, centering around a desert planet called Rubi-Ka. This planet possesses a valuable mineral known as "notum," the source of military and political battles between the Omni-Tek corporation, the separatists Clans, and many other groups eager to gain control.
The game took a severe beating in the PR department during its first month, as connection and performance issues made it virtually unplayable. Servers would routinely go down and large chunks of the world were inaccessible.
Many players who initially were excited and signed up quickly dumped their account and moved on. Funcom immediately rectified the situation and announced that gamers wouldn't be charged until Anarchy Online was fixed, but the MMORPG was seemingly tarnished for life.
Three expansions and two booster packs later, Rubi-Ka remains quite stable, admittedly addictive, and one of the longest-running MMORPGs to date. Funcom offers a free year for new accounts (or until January 15, 2011, whichever comes first, though it's worth noting that Funcom has extended this offer in the past) and the monthly subscription costs $14.99.