Every MMO has features they sell themselves on. When you think of Rift, you think of dynamic events and a unique class system. Every developer thinks they do one thing better than everyone else, and they make sure you know it. But what about the unique features of games that don't get so much publicity? Sometimes the most charming thing about an MMO is something hardly anyone knows about - perhaps not even the game's regular players. These hidden talents are sometimes what make a game shine more than anything else.
6: Rift: Marriage
As mentioned above, Rift is probably most well known for its dynamic events, the titular rifts, and ascended soul class system - or perhaps for its audacious marketing as the end to World of Warcraft. When you think of Rift, you think of these things, but you probably don't hear wedding bells in your mind. Unless you're a really, really big fan of the game, anyway.
In game weddings are one of Rift's quirkier features. The system allows two characters to get hitched in a special wedding instance, complete with guests - either players or server provided NPCs - and a nice little ceremony.
The more hardcore raiders and PvPers may scoff at the frivolity of such a feature, but it's little touches like this that make an MMO come alive. Every game needs a few pointless little "just for fun" features, or else it will feel sterile and soulless - no pun intended. And, of course, it's a godsend for roleplayers.
Of course, Rift also now offers in game divorces, which are no doubt also a very popular feature.
5: Aion: Lore
Fans of Aion probably identify it with exciting aerial combat and epic PvPvE. Its detractors probably associate it with hours of grinding and the phrase "WoW clone." What neither group probably associates with the game is good lore. But Aion has some very unique and interesting backstory.
The main plot of the game focuses on a divine war between the evil Balaur and the deity Aion that shattered the sacred Tower of Eternity, splitting the world in two. The inhabitants of the world's two halves, the Asmodians and the Elyos, now battle the Balaur and each other in an unending war.
Its broad strokes are familiar, but there's more than enough to differentiate the story from other high fantasy games. The Balaur may be dragons, but their caste based society makes them unlike any other dragons. At first glance, the Elyos and Asmodians are just standard "good" and "bad" factions, but there's more complexity there. For instance, while Spartan and vicious, the Asmodians are also incredibly tight knit and loyal. Their portrayal is one of the most balanced you'll ever see of an MMO faction, shying away from neither their dark side nor their nobility.
The only problem is how little role this lore plays in the meat of the gameplay. Unless you're reading every bit of quest text and flavor lore, you'll miss it entirely.
4: Star Trek: Online: Character customization
Star Trek: Online isn't a particularly big name MMO. It's probably safe to assume the majority of its players are Trek fans who are more interested in being immersed in the universe they love than in its strengths as a game.
But that doesn't mean it doesn't have some amazing features that would be right at home in a more mainstream game. For instance, did you know that ST:O has some of the best character customization around?
The game offers a range of playable alien species, and virtually every aspect of their appearance can be customized as you please. Even more impressive, you can choose the animation set and body language for your character, giving you even more control over your avatar.
But it doesn't stop there. In addition to pre-defined alien races, you can also choose a generic "alien" option that allows you to create your own species out of a vast array of different appearance options and racial skills. Some have used this to play as Star Trek aliens not available as pre-defined playable species, while others just let their imaginations run wild.
And that's still not the end of it. Once your character's appearance has been set, you can also customize the ships you captain, either tweaking the available starship classes or even creating your own unique look by mixing and matching different components. Between your avatar and your ships, Star Trek: Online has more and better customization options than almost any other game out there.
3: EverQuest 2: SOEmote
EverQuest 2 has long since passed beyond the period where it was a big name, so most any feature added to it recently isn't likely to be well known outside its fans, and that includes the new SOEmote system.
SOEmote is a unique feature that, through the use of a webcam and microphone, allows your in game avatar to mirror your own expressions in real time. If you smile, your toon smiles. If you frown, your toon frowns. It also allows you to modify your voice in voice chat to suit your character. If you play an Ogre, your voice can be adjusted to be deep and rumbling enough to suit your mighty avatar.
SOEmote is reported to be somewhat buggy at times, and the expressions work better with some races than with others, but it's still a pretty original feature. No other game offers such a powerful way to connect with your avatar. Your character becomes much more an expression of you than it ever was before. It's also another thing most roleplayers would kill for.
While it is currently only available in EQ2, Sony Online Entertainment intends to add SOEmote to more of its games soon, so it may not be such a hidden feature for long.
2: Lord of the Rings Online: Music
Music is an important part of setting the tone of any game - more on that in a moment - but generally, people who refer to music in a game are talking about its soundtrack, something pre made and scripted.
Lord of the Rings Online takes it a step further. Its players can acquire in game instruments and learn to make their own musical contributions to the game. Virtual virtuosos can either attempt to play music in real time with their keyboard or design scores and feed those files into the game, allowing their character to play complete songs seamlessly.
It may seem an odd thing to include, but true Lord of the Rings fans will know that music and poetry were a big part of Tolkien's works. It may not have made it into Peter Jackson's movies - trailer for The Hobbit notwithstanding - but Hobbits, Elves, and Dwarves alike were fond of bursting into song. That Turbine thought to include something like this when they made Lord of the Rings Online shows a special commitment to the spirit of Tolkien's stories.
1: World of Warcraft: Soundtrack
Everyone knows World of Warcraft. It's the undisputed king of the MMO genre and has been for years. Even people who've never touched a video game have probably heard of it. Given that, it seems impossible there could be any aspect of the game could be overlooked, but yet there is one aspect of the game that doesn't seem to get the credit it's due: the soundtrack.
Maybe WoW's score is overlooked because many gamers prefer to listen to their own music while playing. Maybe it's because it is eclipsed by the more substantive and quantifiable of the game's features, like raids and PvP. For whatever reason, despite having some very fierce and devoted fans, WoW's soundtrack just doesn't seem to get much attention.
But Warcraft's music very much deserves notoriety. Since the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, WoW's music has taken a quantum leap forward in quality, and it's still getting better. It's probably safe to say that World of Warcraft now possesses one of the greatest fantasy soundtracks in gaming history.
At this point, the soundtrack may be WoW's strongest feature. It's a great game, but it's aging. Pretty much all of its gameplay features have now been done better by someone at some point. But no other MMO can equal the variety, emotion, and quality of its score.
The music of Warcraft has become a crucial part of the game's tone and story. A perfect example is the Battlescar, a region added in the Cataclysm expansion focusing on the war between the Horde and the Alliance - the game's main factions. Instead of something stereotypically pulse pounding and epic, the Battlescar's soundtrack is a mournful tune called "The Land Will Weep." It speaks to the futility of war and the senselessness of the conflict. It's a wonderful piece of storytelling accomplished with nothing more than a clever use of music.