New to MMOs: Where to Begin

by Tyler Edwards, Sep 7, 2012

If you're new to MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games), they can seem overwhelming. MMOs are, well, massive; there are so many things to do in each game, and so many games to choose from. WhatMMORPG can help you pick a game, but what if you don't even know what to look for?

At a fundamental level, MMOs are all about making your character more powerful by attaining higher levels and better equipment, but there are many ways to go about that. This article will help explain the basic styles of content in an MMO, and what the appeal of each is. Once you know what you want to do in game, you will be better able to choose the right game for you. If you already have a game in mind, this article will help you decide what aspect of it to focus on.

wow questing

Flying solo:

Though MMOs allow and even encourage you to work together with other players, they also contain a great deal of content that can be played alone. Most solo content comes in the form of quests, simple story driven tasks provided by NPCs (Non Player Characters). These usually take place in the greater game world, and you'll encounter other players as you go. Helping or being helped by other players can be a good way to meet new friends.

Quests serve a few purposes. They help introduce you to the storyline of the game, as well as its basic mechanics. They're an opportunity for you to learn the ropes without too much challenge or too much at stake. They're also a great way to level up your character and increase their power.

Unless you've been invited by a friend, you'll probably go into your new game alone, and solo content gives you something to do while you build up an online social circle. Even for those who do have friends in game, solo content can be a nice way to unwind after tackling the challenge of group content, or a way to try unique challenges and new strategies without frustrating anyone else.

Quests and similar solo content are good for beginners, those who perhaps aren't as social as others, and those who like to soak up as much storyline as possible.

raid boss


PvE stands for Player versus Environment. Strictly speaking, it refers to any content where your enemies are controlled by the game's artificial intelligence as opposed to other players, but generally, it's used to refer specifically to high end group content, such as dungeons and raids.

Essentially two sides of the same coin, dungeons and raids are challenging PvE scenarios that have been separated from the greater game world - a process known as instancing - and designed for groups of players. The main difference between the two is scale. Dungeons are for small groups - usually around five players - whereas raids are for larger groups. Raids also tend to be somewhat more difficult; while dungeons are a part of the leveling process in most games, raids are generally reserved for the most powerful high level characters. Dungeons and raids are a good source of gear upgrades.

Organization is important in high end PvE. Teams must work together carefully to defeat the most powerful monsters, and the composition of each group is important. Most games obey a 'holy trinity' of group roles: tank players soak damage and distract enemies from more fragile characters, healers… heal, and damage dealers (called DPS) are tasked with killing enemies before the tanks and healers can be overwhelmed. Some games add a fourth role, which usually involves supporting other characters with beneficial effects to increase the power of the group.

PvE is most suited for people who would rather work with other players rather than against them. Story fans will also appreciate PvE, as dungeons and raids are usually where the most important storylines play out.

pvp contest


PvP stands for Player versus Player, which should be fairly self explanatory.

PvP can take a number of forms. Some games used instanced battlegrounds. These are similar to PvE dungeons, but instead of one group of players working against NPC monsters, they focus on two - or more - teams of players vying to complete specific objectives. Other games encourage open world PvP without strong rules, while still others hybridize the two by creating specific areas in the open world for PvP. Many games use a combination of all of the above.

Unlike PvE, PvP is very unpredictable. You never know exactly what strategy your enemies are going to use. Some days, you'll be utterly crushed by a vastly superior force. Some days, you'll be the superior force. PvP is frenetic and high intensity, and while some might find it stressful, it's never boring.

PvP isn't necessarily harder than PvE - though some might say it is - but it does require a very different skill set. The two styles of play are so different that many games apply different rules to skills and gear depending on whether they're being used in PvE or PvP.

PvP would most appeal to players who want a challenge, who are competitive, or who get bored easily.


Crafting and money making:

Most MMOs have systems of crafting, where players can create their own gear or useful in game items. For many players, this is little more than a mini game to make things a little easier, but other people enjoy crafting as their main focus in the game.

Usually, crafting involves gathering resources from the greater game world and combining them in predetermined recipes to create progressively more powerful items. Repetition unlocks better recipes. Some games use systems that are based more on trial and error or cleverness. Either way, the items you produce can allow you to be a bit more self-sufficient or be sold to other players for in game currency.

On a similar note, some players like nothing better than to amass as much virtual wealth as possible. Leave the dangerous dragon slaying to the poor; these digital Donald Trumps rule their virtual worlds from atop piles of gold and jewels.

Crafting is one of the main ways to become wealthy in an MMO, but if you want to become a true mogul, you'll need to learn the fine art of in game trade. Most MMOs have an auction house or other marketplace to allow trade between players, and dominating the auction house is an entire game unto itself. Some call it the most balanced form of PvP. Gear and class are irrelevant; all you need is your wits.

Crafting and virtual wealth will most appeal to those who wish to be independent and dislike relying on other players, or those with an interest in economics.


Making friends and role playing:

MMOs are, at their core, social games. That's what the middle M is about. Chatting with friends is a great way to make questing or dungeon runs go faster, and any content is more fun when you're experiencing it with people you like. Playing with friends can provide a significant advantage, as well; groups who are used to playing together tend to be better organized and thus more successful.

You'd be surprised how many people are in MMOs purely for the social component, treating their game almost like an elaborate chat client. Rather than chatting to pass the time while playing, they play to pass the time between conversations.

One unique kind of socializing in MMOs is role playing. Part collaborative writing project and part performance art, role playing involves players taking on the personalities of their characters and acting out player-made storylines together. The nice thing about role playing is that it's a never ending source of entertainment. While other players impatiently wait for the next official content release, role players are happy creating their own content.

Anyone can enjoy the social side of MMOs. You just need to find some friendly players - or bring your real life friends into the game with you. Role playing would most appeal to those who are interested in creative writing, drama, or the game's storyline.

ironman challenge

Anything else:

One of the most interesting things about the MMO genre is how big and open ended the games are. Whereas a single player game will usually be pretty narrow in what you can and can't do, the sky is the limit in MMOs. You don't need to stick to any traditional progression path. You can set whatever goals you like.

Some people like to gather different outfits and customization options for their characters, becoming virtual fashionistas. Some just like to explore every nook and cranny of the game world. Some like to seek out every available piece of lore and storyline.

Some people give themselves unique challenges to test their skill as a gamer. One popular example of this would be World of Warcraft's Ironman Challenge, but you can set any goal for yourself that you like.

You don't necessarily need to choose one option over another, either. Some people are solo crafters. Others are role players who love running dungeons. There are raiders who are also expert PvPers.

Ultimately, it's up to you. The only goal that matters is having fun.