The best "theme park" MMOs
In the world of MMOs, "theme parks" are that movie you like to put on in the background—the one you've seen a thousand times but still love. They don't push you into deep waters like most sandbox MMOs do, instead wrapping you up in a comforting and familiar blanket. They are games that, just like their name implies, are all about having fun as you tour from one attraction to the next. Though they might rely on a time-worn formula, they can still conceal a surprise or two. These are often the most popular MMOs, and they've earned their reputations with every dungeon, every level, and every quest.
World of Warcraft
Release Date: November 23, 2004
Payment Model: Subscription with DLC
No other MMO has had a greater impact on the genre and the entirety of videogames as a whole quite like World of Warcraft. For that reason, putting it anywhere but first on this list just doesn't feel right. Though it might be getting on in years, World of Warcraft continues to surprise with expansions. Legion, its latest, liberally borrows ideas from Blizzard's other games like with the new Diablo 3-esque 'Mythic+' dungeons. Goodbye to grinding the same dungeon for the umpteenth time, as Mythic+ adds a weekly dose of chaos by giving monsters deadly new abilities as you race to beat the clock for extra rewards.
Whether you love dungeons, raiding, player-versus-player battles, or just exploring a wonderfully charming world, World of Warcraft has you covered. In Legion, Blizzard really drives this home with weekly activities like PVP Brawls with whacky rulesets like no gravity, Timewalking events that let you revisit old expansion dungeons for cool loot, and World Quests that help you accomplish something meaningful even if you only have 20 minutes to play.
World of Warcraft's problem has always been that people just want more and more of it—and Legion comes pretty close to adding too much to do. The design of its endgame content is superb, featuring bosses and dungeons that always prove why Blizzard is the king of what it does. The path to its throne is littered with the bones of would-be usurpers, but World of Warcraft's unparalleled zeal for bringing the world of Azeroth to life is a force to be reckoned with.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
Release Date: August 27, 2013
Developer: Square Enix
Payment Model: Subscription with DLC
Final Fantasy 14's journey has been a long road full of disappointment. Launching in 2010 to an overwhelmingly negative response, Square Enix refused to give up and rebuilt the whole game with a new team. The second iteration, A Realm Reborn, has done a better job of rekindling the love fans had for Final Fantasy better than any recent game in the series. It's at once unflinchingly dedicated to following in World of Warcraft's footsteps while also introducing a host of refreshing ideas—the best being the innovative class system.
Gone are the days of needing a new character for each class: Final Fantasy 14 let's you swap between them whenever you please and there's even room to borrow abilities between classes, just like in the classic Final Fantasy Job system. But Final Fantasy 14 isn't just about combat, either. Its story starts slow but builds into a grand epic spanning continents in both the Heavensward and Stormblood expansions, easily rivaling any of the classics like Final Fantasy 7 or 10. It's a journey worth taking, if you have the time, but one thing to keep in mind is that 14's endgame, while offering challenging and memorable boss fights, is scarce. Updates come at a steady pace, but you'll run the same dungeons and raids dozens of times.
Release Date: January 25, 2011
Developer: Bluehole Studio
Payment Model: Free-to-play
Where some MMOs cast wide nets to catch as many players as possible, Tera's vicious combat has always been its driving force. The overall structure of progression sticks close to the template that World of Warcraft popularized—that is until you step out into the field and try and take down one of Tera's "Big-ass Monsters." These brutes pack a serious punch, and the desperate dance as you dodge and attack set a new standard for action-based combat in MMOs. Even to this day, despite many that have tried to do it better, Tera is still king of the hill when it comes to killing stuff.
Transitioning to free-to-play wasn't always a smooth journey, but Tera's insistence on delivering great action gives it a singular focus that kept it moving forward when so many of its peers were floundering. It's microtransactions aren't egregious and you can buy most premium items with in-game currency if you have a nose for grinding, which is a welcome change. You might have to put up with playing a weird little girl with bunny ears, but those who can look past it will find one of the best—and most challenging—theme park MMOs.