Free for All: MMOs for players with a penchant for The Wolf Among Us

The Wolf Among Us screenshot
Ah, graphics. It's hard to describe why we like the graphical styles we do. I like the stylings of many games, but some are just so perfect that the graphics reach beyond a visual style and become a sort of textural memory in my gamer's heart. Each year, scores of games come out, and though I enjoy many of them, most do not affect me the way the look of games like The Chronicles of Spellborn or even Free Realms does.

There are a lot of single-player titles that just blow me away as well. Recently I was absolutely transfixed by Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. I stayed up late one night to finish it, and the graphics just kept getting better the entire time. Then there's The Wolf Among Us, a new title by Telltale Games, the same studio that made The Walking Dead series. It's made me remember just how amazing graphics can be without requiring a massive gaming rig.

Did you like the look of The Wolf Among Us as well? Here are some MMOs that feel similar.

Champions Online screenshot
Champions Online is the first game that came to my head when I started coming up with a list of MMOs that remind me of the graphics of The Wolf Among Us. It's not just the obvious black lines that define people and objects in the game; it's the fact that Champions Online is based on the HERO system, and its gameplay borrows heavily from the BIFF BAM BOOM world of comic design. The Wolf Among Us is based on the Vertigo series Fables, a series that is essentially about history's make-believe creatures living on Earth and the Big Bad Wolf who acts as the sheriff.

I didn't love Champions Online's look when it was first released. In fact, I hated it. No matter what I did, I could not get the game to look good and run well. These days a basic gaming rig will run it just fine, and I have found that cranking every bell and whistle up to 11 has made the game really, really nice to look at. When I last took an official look at the game, I found the graphics to be so much better than I had remembered that I was almost ashamed to admit it.

Heavily stylized art is great because it suggests that at any moment, the game could freeze, and each individual part of the picture, separated by those thick, black lines, could be pulled out of the scene like a child's wooden puzzle. That solidity is so much more effective than more "realistic" graphics.

Stylized graphics can help a game feel fresh for much longer as well, something I noted during the first part of my livestream with Free Realms Producer Steve George. A stylized game relies more on a realistic feeling rather than an exact duplication of reality. There are very few games that look realistic enough to trick us, so stylized graphics can stay how they are, frozen in time.

Marvel Heroes screenshot
Star Trek Online utilizes Champion Online's same look and feel and so gets a nod for great graphics. Character creation in both is legendary as well. Marvel Heroes is obviously pulled from a comic book universe, but the graphics, while sometimes amazing, just don't go far enough. Gazillion Entertainment has made a game that successfully creates a playground for a Marvel fanboy or fangirl but doesn't truly attempt to recreate some of the much more stylized comic book looks.

Firefall is heavily stylized as well, complete with the thick black lines, "cartoony" characters, and exaggerated lighting. I'm still struggling to decide whether the game deserves a permanent place on my hard drive, but sometimes I log in just to be reminded how good a game can look. Though PvP has been temporarily disabled in the game, it was originally designed for competitive play, which makes its cartoony graphics even more valuable. Why? Players take games with a competitive element very seriously, so having that competition within a game that looks as cartoony as Firefall is unusual and fun.

Firefall screenshot
Firefall appears to have been designed to last for a while, at least under the hood. I crank the game up and start to see some performance hits. Turn it down a few steps and it runs beautifully. That tells me that the game, much like EverQuest II, was designed to challenge gaming systems for some time. Remaining stylized does not guarantee a game can run on a toaster, after all. We also have WildStar and EverQuest Next, both clearly adopting a stylized facade.

There are many games that use a stylized look but don't go as far as The Wolf Among Us. Guild Wars 2 is an amazing-looking game. World of Warcraft was one of the first titles to use a heavily stylized look combined with very in-depth gameplay and immersive lore. Many gamers don't seem to mind how "cartoony" a game looks as long as it is fun to play.

WildStar screenshot
Then there are single-player titles that feature multiplayer elements, games like Borderlands 2, that look good but just lack a draw for me. By contrast, not only is The Wolf Among Us amazing-looking, but its gameplay is immersive and interesting. I wish I could point to more examples of MMOs that used The Wolf Among Us graphics style, but the truth is that I might not be happy until an MMO uses the exact look of The Wolf Among Us. It's proof that games can be art.

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to beau@massively.com!
This article was originally published on Massively.