What is your ideal MMORPG setting?

The setting can be just as important as any mechanic or feature in a MMORPG.  Have you ever sat and thought about what your favorite setting is, or might be if you were given the chance to make it just how you want it?  Would it be Scifi, High Fantasy, Post-Apocalyptic, Modern, Dreamlike, Low fantasy, or something completely new?  I’ve given some thought to what my favorite MMORPG world would be like and I want to share my ideas and musings with you.  I’m going to unload a lot of ideas that have just been floating around in my head.  I hope you can follow.  [Note:  I’ll probably continue to edit this even after it is published.]

I’m a fantasy guy at heart.  I love the medieval setting, especially when it centers around something close to Arthurian legend.  My ideal setting would be somewhere between standard fantasy and high fantasy, where magic is prominent in the world and the races that inhabit it.  The races would be your stereotypical fantasy types like Humans and Elves, but I would step out from the norm slightly by adding different types of Humans.  In DAOC there were the Saracens, Britons, and Highlanders and I would want something very similar; they would look very different and their starting locations/lands would have a distinct feel.  My Elves would be divided up into Wood Elves and High Elves (no Dark Elves here).  I have not decided yet whether or not I would want Gnomes or Dwarves.

The races would each be in their own “realm”  – not quite the same as DAOC’s use of the word, but more like a Kingdom or land very much autonomous and distinct from the rest of the world.  Within these realms would be sub-realms to accommodate the diversity amongst races.  Between the Kingdoms there would be lands which are unclaimed.  It’s within this area the most of the conflict would take place between the races.  All of this would be seamless.  In fact, the entire would would be seamless (truly seamless, if possible one day).

Classes are important because they emphasize the setting just as much as the landscape.  I’m not sure about names for classes, but I’m leaning towards something a bit more descriptive than “Warrior”.  I’m thinking along the lines of “Bowman” for a class, because you get the idea immediately that this guy uses a bow.  Taking it further, a “Longbowman” would be one that uses longbows.  Classes would be unique to their realm and perhaps even sub realm.  A “Sword master” would perhaps be a dual wielding Saracen, and perhaps only the Elves would have the ability to use Druid-like magics.

Zones within each realm would have their own unique style.  For example, the standard Human lands would be filled with all types of wide open plains, lush forests, and swamps.  Within this would be a more snowy area for the Highlander types and a more desert-feel, yet still high fantasy/medieval Saracen-esque land.  You get the idea where I’m going with this – it would be very simple yet beautiful and fully realized as a “realistic” fantasy setting.  I want the world to feel lived in.  That’s important to me.   The sterile feeling of some MMORPG cities really saddens me.

I mentioned before that magic will be common in my world, but at the same time I would not want to devalue it as so many worlds in today’s mmorpg have done.  At the same time, I don’t want to have people using a “Longsword” or “Mace” and get bored by the lack of flare and diversity in gear.   This is where I would reintroduce the idea of the true “quest” and allow players to obtain magical items, but they would be important.  Items would have meaning and be a sign of fame and status.  If you had a particular magical sword it would be known to everyone what you accomplished to achieve it – and it wouldn’t always be that you killed a particular boss after farming him a dozen times.

There would be safe areas, such as starting areas and ‘mostly safe’ places in the outlying space around the starting locations, but this world would not be entirely friendly to the player.  It would have dark and truly dangerous locations that players would not even think of going without a group.  The world, not the mechanics, would encourage grouping.  What the world has to offer to those who socialize will be far more rewarding than what a solo player could experience.

Monsters in my world would, of course, vary greatly.  Yes, it would have wolves and probably even snakes.  However, it would also have the stranger and more mystical foes that I can not recall fighting in a MMORPG yet.  I would also revive the idea that Dragons are something to fear and something to always think about as epic.  Maybe it’s cliche now, but I remember the days of running around in newbie areas and thinking “I wonder if this game has a Dragon?” and imagining how great it would be to one day take up arms against one.  IT was an exciting thought that lit the spark of adventure every time I heard rumors that one existed in a cave deep within some high level place.

Races, and even sub races, might be in conflict with each other, but the focus would never be on dominating the enemy or their lands.  It would be about coexisting amidst this conflict.  I want the emphasis to be placed back onto the world that the player is apart of, and less about the player himself.

Without getting too much into mechanics, I want to emphasize that my world and the characters within it would be heavily influenced by the lore and legend.  Players would appreciate the importance of where they are and what they are doing regardless if they read the texts or not.  I would want every place within the game to feel like it was designed for a reason.  It would take some doing, but I know that a finely crafted world is capable of immersing the player in this type of experience.

A lot of this probably sounds like generic medieval fantasy, and that’s exactly how it should sound.  In my opinion we’ve stepped so far beyond the roots of fantasy that we’ve neglected a little bit of what made it special – to me at least, which is why this is my ideal setting.

That’s the gist of what my ideal MMORPG setting/world would be like.  I’m interested in hearing about yours.

  • My favorite settings are ones where there’s lots of complexity. Not everyone who’s a human is good or evil, not every high elf is good, not every undermountain dwarf is greedy, etc.. There could be tendencies and then exceptions and complex plots between the parties involved.

  • I would like something medieval – like Mount & Blade, without magic but with real sword swinging and mounted combat. 🙂

  • Great topic and post Keen. I wonder how many MMO teams start out with ideas much like your own, but at some point (or many points in most cases) stray and end up creating nothing like they imagined in the first place. Sometimes for the better, often for the worse.

  • Have I said Forgotten Realms before? Is that too specific? A base world around Waterdeep with a mix of content, then instance modules for just your own group.

  • I don’t think setting matters that much to me any more. I think the graphical style and polish matter more. Lore and setting in almost every MMO is mostly a triviality anyway. Just throw together a bunch of tropes and slap in some quest fluff and people don’t really care either way. As long as the writing isn’t as crappy as the actual story and it doesn’t get in the way of the game itself.

    I’d much prefer if this wasn’t the case. Unfortunately, MMORPGs are not a collaborative storytelling medium like tabletop RPGs. MMOs are chat rooms with a set of game mechanics that people try to exploit or figure out if they want. We need to set the game mechanics up differently if we want a more storytelling-oriented play style. I’ve laid out the basis for a way to do that here.

  • I very much like your setting, Keen, and would gladly play in it if ever such a thing came to be.

    As for me, there are a few settings I think would be really interesting to see.

    The archetypal wild west. I think, if done right, this could be a fantastic and intriguing setting for an mmo. Of course, it might not be the most popular.

    Sorry, but I have to say it. I would love play a really well-developed mmo in the Harry Potter universe. Yes, I’m a total and complete nerd, but it would be awesome.

    Truth be told, I’m a medieval and fantasy guy at heart (which is why I keep coming back to games in that setting). Of the three settings I’m listing, the one I would like to see most is a realistic medieval setting. This would mean no magic. The races I would most like to see would be the British, Irish, Scottish, and Scandinavian. Think Medieval Total War Online. You could have classes similar to the ones you were describing, Keen: Archer, Knight, Priest / Monk (the class would look like a medieval priest or monk, long flowing robes or brown sackcloth, prayers, etc… the real challenge here is not to have too much of a healing magic feel), etc. All of the classes would be reflective of an actual medieval position, obviously. I realize there would be lots of difficulties with such a setting and it would have to be vastly different than what most people are used to, but I would love it.

  • @Dryft: I wish I had the funding and team to create a MMORPG. Maybe I’ll win some enormous lottery one day and start a studio. hah!

    @Wilhelm: Waterdeep would be a neat setting. Having it be the central focus of the world and then expand to the regions around it. That city has tons of character.

    @Dheovan: My setting bounces between what we recognize as “realistic” fantasy, and what we’ve come to envision the Arthurian version of that “realistic” setting to be. I decided that I wanted magic and the mystical things it can bring simply because I like the direction that it can take the imagination, and in turn the player. And a Harry Potter MMO could be neat. 😉

  • Sci-fi High Fantasy. In other words, in the future with guns and lasers, but also magic and telepathy. Sort of like Mass Effect, but a little more magic than that.

  • I’m still waiting for someone to make the MMO where I can be a cowboy AND shoot a fireball. One day…

  • Weird west, like bwast mentions would be a nice setting; like the old deadlands P&P/CCG.

    When it comes to class based systems I’d prefer something like the Earthdawn P&P class system, where everyone is a magic user, it’s just that warriors/rangers etc channel their magic into enhancing physical performance. That way you can make everyone feel like a real super-hero/bad-ass without running into a similar problem that I forse with SW:TORO and it’s Jedi who can’t be too bad-ass because they have to be balanced against some guy who can’t do anything but shoot a gun real well.

    My holy grail feature is real dynamic content; Vanguard, Age of Conan and Darkfall have all promised at least some elements of this and all ended up cutting it before release. Towns that grow or shrink based on regional economies, monstrous bands that terrorise villages but are gone after you defeat them and dynamic quests that are generated to tackle those threats.

  • As much as I love the fantasy setting, I am a bit worn out from it being so overused. Sadly I don’t think any of the upcoming non-fantasy MMOs look very promising either.

    For me I’m going to sit down and do what alot of new developers do nowadays for better or worse. Take ideas from others and design a concept based on what has and hasn’t worked for ME.

    The past year I can’t stop thinking about a Sci-fi MMO that has the flavor of EVE’s vastness, but I want to take it to Planetary exploration, and without a doubt make space combat actually interactive and fast paced.

    Just to shorten this up my ideas are snippets if other games, but with all new races and factions (lore) and whatnot.

    -Space Exploration- EvE

    -Skill based – EvE/UO

    -Planet Exploration and Harvesting – SWG preCU but also being able to use harvesters in space on Astroids. No more staring at a rock in space. Log on and check to see how much materials you mined while sleeping.

    -Mission Terminals for solo and group both for Space and on Planet surfaces. Think AO where you can get some friends together and roll up some missions for Gear, Rare materials, and such and knowing the mission you choose will have the items you or your friends need with added bonus boss loots if you succeed.

    -Crafting/Development – SWG preCU. It boggles my mind just thinking how amazing this would be to have professions for your (humanoid) type character gear/weapons, and also engineers making spacecrafts, droids, harvesters, planetary vehicles and so on.

    -Economy- EVE. Player driven with players fighting for those hot spot regions for materials and trade routes.

    I think the hardest part of developing a game like this is making 2 separate combat systems that are both engaging and fun. One for space, and one for Surface. I think it can be done, and I think if there was Base Skills that worked for both, and then Advanced skills working for one or the other would make it really special and make everyone unique.

  • Hmm… I think my ideal MMO setting would be something along the lines of Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher books, which the single player RPG did a decent job capturing: gritty, brutal and medieval, but with a modern sensibility, lots of political maneuvering, war, distrust and conflict between humans and non-humans, blurred lines between factions, magic use has consequences, and in general, the world is not a pretty place.

  • @Centuri You just gave me a nerdgasm. They said Mechwarrior 5 would have some multiplayer where you would kinda level up your mech if you keep playing the same one.


    For me, it would really be DAOC 2.0

    Same races, same classes, same lore. I want to be a norseman once again.

    Replace the boring static solo instanced dungeons by some new dynamic content and add some sort of public quests.

    Level up and learn to pvp in never ending Battlegrounds that grows in complexity to finally lead you to full RVR keep zones. My best gaming moments are in those BGs. Thidranki ! Molvik !

    Now those were the days. Not those short scenario games grind bullshit from WAR.

    DAOC ! i miss thee.

  • I’m all about steampunk – always have been, always will be. Check out the Iron Kingdoms setting by Privateer Press. I’m a big fan of their Warmachine miniatures game, and if someone could make me an MMO in that universe, I’d be set for life 🙂

  • Forgotten realms or warhammer 40k(fps)

    I want real trade in a mmo like caravan’s to raid, player built towns, you want armor kill human mobs you want stuff to make armor kill mobs, mine for it.

    Im tired of instance bull crap. Stop with the linear worlds.
    tier1 leads to tier2….

    OO 40k is such a epic waiting to happen you have a ffa fps with factions of the emperor-space marines,imperial army each with multiple factions. Chaos- chaos marines,orks Multiple factions.

    All this is in a universe with no limit new content create a new world to raid, new alien race.

  • A few settings that I’d like to play in and that haven’t been explored in MMOs:

    -high medieval fantasy in the T.H. White, Arthurian mold (ie no elves, lots of densely populated forests, wizards, knights, horrifyingly cramped cities with poor sanitation, etc)

    -“Arabian Nights” (Aladdin the MMO)

    -“Wild West”

    -A Tale in the Desert (Egypt) with better presentation

  • I want a good, solid Sci-Fi MMO. I want to shoot lasers, visit dystopian undercities and beautiful sprawling villas in the clouds.

    I don’t want it tied to an existing license though. Star Trek/Star Wars both have waaaay too much baggage and preconceived notions to be able to implement without breaking their lore. Just make something new.

    Extra bonus of sci-fi settings: most names, no matter how ridiculous, don’t neccesarily pull you out of the game. If we were all super-powered laser-blasting herogods with our own callsigns, I can completely believe some people would choose to be xXnightSTALKERXx. And I would like some in-game way of killing these people. 😀

  • Very easy question to answer:
    The perfect setting for a MMO in my taste was WARHAMMER FANTASY!
    Too bad Mythic fucked that one up!!!! *angryface*

  • humwha is right a 40k mmo would be so awesome but it would run into the same problems as the whole star wars jedi thing balance a space marine to a imperial guard soldier not a chance.

  • I’d like to see more low fantasy, although I don’t think that excludes magic, just that it needs a more down-to-earth basis.

    To me at least, the big separation with high fantasy is that the magic is just magic. It’s never explained other than it comes from the gods, or some equally simplistic magical source (one-tree / world-tree seems to be all too common). I’d like the magic to have stronger foundations than the usual cut-and-paste-from-Tolkien variety (unless it is actually Tolkien, but we already have LOTRO).

    I prefer original or non-mainstream universes. I’m tired of the same regurgitating of Star Wars, Elves and Steampunk.

    I’d love to see an MMORPG based upon Steven Erikson’s Malazan Empire series. Hell if I was rich, I’d fund it.

  • Me, I’m just happy when I can kill other people and take their stuff (like equipment, castles, kingdoms, planetary systems, …)

  • Simply put it would be DAoC using the Aion engine. Add a few (not too many!) Public Quests, a few instances and raids and I would be happy.

    Make the combat responsive like WoW, with a similar UI. Character creation and customization similar to Aion, without the Asian influence.

    Make grouping wanted and needed again, with enough solo content to allow leveling solo if needed. But, make grouping the better way to go.

    Gah, I miss DAoC so much, I just can not bring myself to resub with such a low population.

  • Thieves’ world, Waterdeep, or similar totally urban environment. No endless trekking through vast wilderness, not even a quick jaunt outside the city gates. Detail every building, every dark ally, every market bazaar.

    Don’t make it static though .. have craftsmen working tearing down buildings, putting up others; have buildings fall down from neglect, destroyed by fire, expanded by wealthy merchants, sub-divided by greedy landlords. Some alleys will become blocked by abandoned carts, garbage will accumulate, beggers come, beggers go. The city lives.

  • @Sean: I like the idea of the Arabian/Aladdin setting. Spice it up with some form of magic or mysticism and it could be very neat.

    @Rog: I’ve always thought of Low-fantasy and high-fantasy in similar ways with the addition of races like “elves” and “gnomes” sealing the deal. This is where I’m torn most in my ideal setting. I want low-fantasy, but I want that spark of magic to really be there. I also want more than Humans as playable races. The Arthurian type low-fantasy is like exactly what I want, except with Elves. 😉

  • @Naamah – you caught me off guard. I was about to say that I didn’t really care any more either like #8, but you are exactly right. If a game were made to exactly your description with a decent population, I would sub in no time. I’d probably even resub to DAOC if the population on the classic servers were back to the days of old.

  • My ideal setting is Medieval Dark fantasy where your character will have to choose between Arcane & Technology.

  • Wow, I can’t believe I forgot about MechWarrior! I’d sell organs for a new MechWarrior MMO, or even a new MechWarrior game period.

  • @Keen: Read “Gardens of the Moon” by Steven Erikson and tell me that isn’t the perfect setting for an MMORPG. It helps that he wrote it first with a pen & paper RPG in mind.

    It’s not Arthurian, but it’s a balance between low & high fantasy, with multiple races and thousands of years of backstory. A down-to-earth pantheon (gods can be defeated and may even die, while mortals can also ascend to near-godhood, which certainly lends an ultimate goal).

    I especially love the detailed magic system that makes magic very tangible by linking it not just to elements, but to “wardens” which are physical places / holds / planes that can actually be visited, or tapped to retrieve specific types of magic. Each warden has a seat of power, which is where the ascension comes in if anyone claims that seat.

    My descriptions don’t do the books justice.

  • Fantasy is probably my classic MMORPG setting and one I will always love and go back to. Still, I’m quite infatuated with sci-fi settings right now and I’d love to see a truly great sci-fi MMORPG. I think they have so much more room to explore and to bring depth to the game, probably one the reasons why they are so hard to do and usually poorly implemented.

  • I am waiting for the Warhammer 40k MMO. Unfortunately it appears to be a few years off. My hope is Blizzard doesn’t release a Starcraft MMO to deflate it. Starcraft as an RTS is awesome but sadly, their whole concept is a ripoff of 40k.

    Give me the option of playing a Space Marine … start off as a scout, then expand into a marine with different disciplines: tactical, devastator, assault. Then lead into specializations: Librarian, Chaplain, Apothecary, Veteran, Terminator. Everyone’s dream of being a super-soldier who wears kickass armour and carries a huge gun.

    Add in the Eldar with a similar feel. Begin as a Guardian to work up to a key decision of which Aspect path you’ll follow: Dire Avenger, Striking Scorpion, Warp Spider, Grim Reaper, Shining Spear, Howling Banshee, Fire Dragon, Swooping Hawk, or Autarch. Become an Exarch or branch into a Warlock. A more refined choice with nuance.

    Throw in Greenskins … start as a grunt and as you excel your ork grows in stature and gets a darker green. Become a Nob, Mad Dok, Mekboy, Stormboy, Kommando, or Weirdboy. Add in some comedy and unpredictability and this would be a fun race. Tell me you wouldn’t want to run around with a Shokk Attack Gun showering your enemies with warp-blasted snotlings?

    Chaos … didn’t forget them. Choose to be a Traitor Marine, Rogue Psyker, or Daemonspawn? Has a lot of possibilities but would be tricky to pull off.

    Throw in the Imperial Guard, Tau, or Dark Eldar perhaps. Add in Tyranids and Necrons as NPC factions and you have the potential for a heck of a lot of fun. Make the game overall about planet conquests … a map of the galaxy with a push and pull mechanic of conquering planets. With planets you get resources, etc.

    Hope to hear some info about this sometime soon.

  • I’m intrigued by a space mmo, planets with unique races, inter-galactic space travel, exploration, politics ect…more along the lines of Firefly though and less like Star Wars. I guess what i mean by that is more adult oriented. I want nudity, violence, gambling, all the vices. 2 games..one in a spaceship and all the fun that could entail, and the standard control of a character. I’m sure it would take years to develop and launch, but I imagine some company with the ambition, talent and cash will take it up eventually.

  • I would love to see a Western themed MMO, say for instance the Pen and Paper RPG Deadlands…or maybe a Deadwood themed MMO. This genre is ripe for pvp, pve, player housing and towns, and as far as I know it hasn’t been done. Telling you now, its ripe for the pickin.

  • Krosuss i love you… but tau or dark eldar over imp guards as i see them as to weak as just soldiers they could be a nice npc faction through

  • From the pure scenario, Age of Conan has Hyboria, Robert E. Howards genre defining “low fantasy” setting. There is magic in this world, it is usually just sick, twisted, demonic, evil.

    Some people are not comfortable with the distinction of high and low fantasy reducing low fantasy usually to low level brutality. I am one of them.

    For example, David Gemmell wrote tons of stories in a low fantasy setting, but with the complexity and scope that is often attributed to high fantasy, while usually remaining focused on the main character.

  • The Thief games captured an environment I’d very much like to see in an MMO, fantasy/medieval, but with smatterings of technology in the form of the Hammerers. Steam/Magic driven stuff, with old magic thrown in for good measure.

    That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the freedom and associated environs of SWG when it first released although that probably has more to do with the intellectual property and its influence on my childhood 🙂

  • I really couldn’t care less about setting. Good storytelling and gameplay are independent of genre. I don’t mean to beg the question, it’s just that no genre is going to draw me in if the gameplay is horrible.

  • @ Malik — good point on the Imperial Guard. Hmmm, should I be a genetically-enhanced super-soldier or some guy who runs around with a gun? They would make a good support NPC group for the Imperium.

    However now that I think about it … Impie Guard could be cool … basic guardsman first then perhaps a progression into Stormtrooper, Adeptus Mechanicus, Assassin, Inquisition?

  • Low Fantasy would be what I shoot for. Age of conan, witcher, shadowbane. Dark Dirty and gritty realism.

    I would prefer humans mostly. Or probably whole new creations then your generic elf orc ect. Tolkien inspired those races many years back and people have been creating crappier versions ever since.

    Magic would be minimal. Prob similar to the way MO is doing it. There would be very powerful magic that would be balanced like carriers and titans in eve but it would take a long time to get.

  • Phantasy Star Online to me had a perfect setting. Science fiction, but with strong fantasy archetypes, so you could blend machine pistols with daggers and big-ass swords. It took the best parts out of both and mixed it with some excellent design-most MMO weapons suck compared to wielding a twin brand, which was essentially darth maul’s dual lightsaber, or choosing between pistols, rifles, mechguns, or shotguns as a ranger class. Not to mention being an android.

    The plain fantasy archetypes are ok, but they get boring after awhile.

  • Can’t believe nobody’s mentioned Planescape yet. I always loved the setting with its emphasis on philosophy and morality (or lack of), and the language gave it all an autheticity that I’ve not experienced in a fictional world since. Even today the single player CRPG stands head and shoulders above any other.

  • After thinking it over, I would allow Dwarves. They would be far, far off from the rest and live underground. Leaving their underground would be a big step for them.

  • Part of the problem lies in the mentality of the modern day MMORPG player and is partly to blame.

    People just race through the content trying to reach max level as fast as possible.It’s become all about Min/maxing and the most efficient way that tasks should be done with the path of least resistance.

    They totally ignore the lower zones that were designed with blood and sweat and once they reach max level, they complain about how games don’t immerse them and how worlds are not seamless.

    No one stops to smell the roses anymore.

  • Adding to what I was trying to say, a lot of games have exactly what you describe, but due too the modern day MMORPG player these factors are mostly overlooked.