The truth is that MMOs are often very intimidating to the newcomer, and a bad first impression can push a player away for life. You have to contend with a typically busy user interface, you have to master keys and mouse buttons all over the place, you have to learn the lingo, you have to pick up skills on how to survive, and you have to do all of this almost all at once or risk feeling completely lost. This is why many MMO studios place such a priority on an excellent, welcoming tutorial experience.
I can relate to the newbie because my first MMO was Anarchy Online. I've never felt so out of my depth than when I played that back in 2002, and I don't think I ever quite understood it all before I left. My second MMO, City of Heroes, was far more friendly to my newbish soul, and it was smooth sailing from there on out.
For today's Perfect Ten, I want to highlight MMOs that I feel would be the best for a completely new player to experience. These are titles that combine a welcoming beginner journey, intuitive controls, a helpful community, and enough similarities with other video games to help the transition.
In talking with some friends and colleagues, I found that the general consensus is that you can't really get more beginner-friendly than World of Warcraft. It's colorful, it has a variety of simple tutorial experiences, it will let you try it for free up to level 20, it is playable on just about any computer, and it doesn't bog you down with a huge number of skills, talent tree points, or other major decisions until you've gotten used to the game. Blizzard founded the WoW empire on the notion that its title should be just as accessible to casual newcomers as to the hardcore, and that dual focus shows.
It's common sense that many of the most newbie-friendly MMOs are going to be in the kiddie department, so to speak. While it might be targeted at kids, Wizard101's proven hugely successful among adults as well.
Wizard101 has a terrific starting experience that holds your hand through the first hour as it unlocks your UI bit by bit. It's also perfect for gamers who are afraid of fast-paced twitch combat; Wizard101 gives you time to think about your next combat move and focuses more on strategy instead of reflexes.
Free Realms is the "there's something for everyone in here" MMO, and that makes it near perfect for a first-time romp. It not only has multi-generational appeal (read: both adults and kids like it) but offers low-stress gameplay with a variety of activities, which allows people to gravitate to whatever they most prefer. Plus, Free Realms is easy on the budget and can be accessed within minutes of signing up.
For whatever reason, superhero MMOs seem to be quite accessible for the first-time player. This might be due in part to the fun of costume/character creation or the relative simplicity of the controls. City of Heroes has a nice feel to it with its cross-blend of platform and MMO gameplay, and it doesn't overload level 1 players with too much to absorb that they go insane. Another plus in its favor is the lack of gear and reduced importance of drops, as this allows players to simply enjoy the game instead of feeling forced to grind.
Similar to City of Heroes, Cryptic's second superhero title is nothing if not Mr. Rogers to the fledgling caped crusaders in the audience. The tutorial zone is expansive enough to give newbies a taste of the fun without rushing them through the valuable training steps. While it feels marginally more complicated than City of Heroes, Champions Online has a lot of fun decisions to be made at the start, and the game can be played by just pounding on the number keys if you desire.
Guild Wars may have a hardcore center, but its reduced dependence on gear and levels invites players in to just have fun, experiment with skill builds, and explore the world as they learn the ropes. It feels much more like a conventional single-player RPG (as it has one foot in that world anyway) and thus would be great as a transition title from those types of games into MMOs. The fact that you don't have to pay for anything beyond the box price is a major plus as well.
Having spent the better part of the year in RIFT, I can attest to the fact that this title is, pardon the phrase, slicker 'n snot in the polish department. While the subscription fee could be a barrier to the first-timer, Trion offers a number of trial weekends to let you get a feel for it without having to spend a cent.
For a beginner, RIFT offers as much experimentation as you desire without gimping your character -- a common fear for those new to any RPG. The tutorial zones are adequate, the presentation is well-done, and many aspects of the game feel very intuitive to the experienced and greenhorn alike.
RuneScape is nothing if not easy to jump into; it offers free, browser-based gameplay that all but rolls out the welcoming mat to newbies. There's a reason why RuneScape's established itself as the first MMO for many players, and while it has historically skewed to a younger demographic, there's nothing stopping players of any age from jumping into the pool and swimming to their hearts' content.
In mulling over what MMOs would be best for a beginner, I realized that it would be shameful to overlook the ubiquitous smartphone and iPod platform as a potential starting ground. Spacetime Studios' Pocket Legends and Space Legends are dominating the mobile MMO landscape, and while they aren't as full-featured as standard MMOs, they could certainly give a newbie a taste for the genre.
A recent and perhaps somewhat unorthodox choice, Dragon Nest may be ideal for a newcomer who doesn't want to mess with skill keys but instead just wants to go click-click-click with her mouse and feel as though she's doing well. After taking a recent look at this title, I've come to the conclusion that Dragon Nest may just be a great "training wheels" MMO for those who don't want to become intimidated right off the bat.
Justin "Syp" Olivetti enjoys counting up to ten, a feat that he considers the apex of his career. If you'd like to learn how to count as well, check out The Perfect Ten. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.