5 most immersive MMOs I’ve played to date


Game immersion is perhaps one of the most subjective and indefinable qualities when it comes to MMOs. We know in our gut when we feel more drawn into one virtual world over another, yet it might be difficult if not impossible to explain why.

So instead of fiddling around with definitions, today I want to share five MMOs out of my entire resume that were the most immersive that I’ve played — and why.

Fallen Earth

There’s no doubt that Fallen Earth is a messy title that’s perhaps a little too rough around the edges. It never broke into the big time, that’s for sure. But even so, I was so in love with this game and its breathtaking ambition to create a living, breathing post-apocalyptic world. From the black humor to the mounts that stayed put where you left them to the weird factions and the vivid sunsets over the desert, I always felt drawn into this title like no other. Plus, crafting everything you end up using made those items feel more precious.

Lord of the Rings Online

One of the reasons that I stuck with LOTRO for so long was that, unlike so many other MMOs, it felt like a cohesive world that played by a predefined set of rules instead of ones that the devs made up on the fly. I’d argue that having to fit under the umbrella of a rich IP actually helped to create a world that felt “real,” so to speak. So many times I would lose myself in traversing the lands where it wasn’t just endless packs of mobs, but civilization clashing with the wild and with evil. And I can’t discount that incredible music for drawing me in as well!

The Secret World

TSW’s brilliance is not just in its storytelling (which is magnificent) but in its meticulously crafted world that bleeds over into ours. In fact, the myriad of ways that the developers blurred the line between game and reality broke down that fictional barrier in part and allowed me to believe (or at least pretend very hard) that I was actually part of what was going on on the other side of the screen.

World of Warcraft

Maybe we’re all like this with MMOs that we’ve spent so much time in, but my previous passion for World of Warcraft and the countless hours that I poured into it took my understanding of Azeroth beyond a mere game and into a much more personal space. The little details — the sounds, the animations, the locations, the music — swirled together to form a world that was vividly immersive for years. I miss feeling that way about it, I won’t lie.

Anarchy Online

I’ll probably chalk Anarchy Online’s immersive abilities up to it being one of the first MMOs that I played, even though I felt pretty lost in it at the time. It’s “alien” nature set it apart from fantasy CRPGs and made it feel other, different, and alluring. At no point was I looking beyond the immediate details of the world to number crunch or break down mechanics, which is a sign that I was pretty content just being instead of mastering.

So those are my five. What are yours?

15 thoughts on “5 most immersive MMOs I’ve played to date

  1. The most immersive MMO I’ve played is easily TSW. Hands down. A close second would be City of Heroes. Then possibly SWTOR. Really does give that Star Wars feeling at times.

  2. Immersion is very situational for me. I have been extremely immersed in EVE Online or EverQuest or EverQuest II or LOTRO or even WoW at various junctures. Heck, I get a flutter in my stomach from heights in Minecraft at times, and if that isn’t my body telling me I am to some degree immersed, then we are not operating under the same definition of the word.

    But at times those titles have also just been games on a screen, buttons to press to do X, Y, or Z, goals to accomplish to change a few numbers.

    They key factor for me most of the time is that I am doing something alone… both alone in the game and alone at home… so there are no distractions, no wondering what else is going on, nobody mentioning the outside world on coms, no intrusions into what is happening. If I can get that situation, almost any even modestly realistic simulation can grab me.

  3. I don’t understand the concept of “immersion.” I am always 100% aware that I am sitting at my desk looking at a computer monitor. I enjoy the games I’m playing, sometimes the stories even pique my interest, but I am never “immersed in the world.”

  4. Everquest. Despite the early technology, I felt like part of the world, and had to actually learn to survive in it. Know my travel routes (teleported or not). I had to know the denizens of each region. If you spent enough time in a zone you learned its flavor. Who were the big players, who were their lackies, and who were their adversaries, which weren’t always the players.

    FFXI felt very seamless in a graphical sense. It also had a seamlessness in its lore, but you required to travel the world to fit the pieces. But when you did, you were in awe.

    World of Warcraft was Warcraft III in first person. The degree I felt a part of this world was awesome. Previously I was the chessmaster moving the pawns (or peons in this case) now I was part of it. Although, like most MMOs, you didn’t actually change the world or the story, you were a part of it. And things you had accomplished in WCIII still existed in WoW.

  5. I played more of the older games, so those end up with the fondest memories of immersiveness

    Asheron’s Call – completely original ecosystem, monthly environment changes, quarterly seasonal changes (flowers in spring, snow in winter), special events that permanently impacted the server. Running everywhere.

    Dark Age of Camelot – As a fan of history and mythology, I can say that there was a LOT of research into the lore and mythology of those three cultures, and that made for a rich world. You could find things in the middle of nowhere that had no impact on the game, but were based on some myth or tale. Asymmetrical classes that tried to be true to the flavor of their realm instead of homogenized. Also, the capital cities and towns were pretty cool, with their own little environment that you could roleplay to. Note that I think the later expansions did a lot to dilute the game. Shrouded Isles expanded on each realm’s flavor, but the later ones really made the game seem less immersive.

    Star Wars Galaxies – thriving cities, where combat characters and non-combat characters met up and interacted. There was a culture that built up around dancers, image designers, and musicians in the cantinas. Not many other games had or have somewhere that people go to just be social. Being able to become a tradesman, and have to travel to collect resources and stock your shops on different planets. They worked hard to make each planet different, and the races, style, and classes fit well into the Star Wars universe.

  6. I havent played that many games so I can only mention 2. But iv been deeply immersed in both of them. 1st one is ArcheAge and even tho I have been tired of the game now and then, it is extremely immersive to me. Especially the housing as its not instanced, the sea battles, sailing, swimming omg EVERYTHING….

    Second one is Elder Scrolls Online which is the first game where im totally engaged in the questing and the Lifes and lives of the npcs in the stories.

    Which games has left me Cold? Its GW2, Entropia, FFXIV and Rift. Even if I love Rift and have loads of fun in game, it doesnt immerse me like the others. The other 2 are not my cup of tea, especiallly GW2, i dont undertstand that game?

  7. @pkudude Immersion, I believe, is how gamers refer to a state of mind psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called “Flow.” You can become immersed in a good book, or a movie—or any activity really. According to Csikszentmihalyi flow is “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re unaware of your real world surroundings, just that they become less important to your current activity.

  8. Not as I understand the concept of Flow. I’ve never become “immersed” in the sense that I completely forget I’m at a desk (or on the couch). But the loss of time and other characteristics fit perfectly. And I do feel MMOs can be immersive in that sense.

    Looking at it another way. If you’ve ever had to tell yourself “It’s just a game,” I’d say you’ve gotten immersed in it to some degree.

  9. I don’t think the gaming (and increasingly general media) term “immersion” is the same as “flow”. They’re different concepts and different emotional/psychological states. I experience both while playing MMOs and can clearly differentiate between them.

    Immersion when you achieve emotional congruity with the character you are playing (in a game) or reading about (in a book or comic) or watching (in a movie or tv show). When you experience sadness or joy or fear or any other emotion as though the situations the character was experiencing were happening to you directly.

    EverQuest, inevitably, tops my personal immersion list although Vanguard runs it extremely close. I am a good subject for immersive media though. It’s relatively easy for me to become immersed and playing MMORPGs often puts me in that state so many of the ones I have played have been at least to some degree immersive.

    I agree with Wilhelm that it requires a degree of isolation to achieve – certainly i find it impossible to be immersed in any MMO while using VOIP, which is my biggest reason for rarely using voice coms.

  10. The Secret World. Period.

    Though I do agree with Fallen Earth, Lotro and WoW as well. But even so, none of them come closer to TSW for me. 🙂

  11. Firstly, Syp, thank you for actually using “immersion” correctly, instead of just turning it into a buzzword for anything you like as seems to be the trend these days.

    Still haven’t gotten over hearing someone say WildStar was immersive…

    Anyway, for me, the crown absolutely must go to TSW. The impeccable writing and voice acting, gorgeous graphics, and fantastic sound design make it an incredibly immersive experience. I swear I can smell the sea breeze whenever I hear the seagulls in Kingsmouth.

    Second place would go to WoW. Its silliness and frequent pop culture references certainly cut down on immersion, but its massive open world, excellent soundtrack, and beautiful environment art make it one of the few MMOs I’ve played that truly feels like a complete alternate world.

    Oddly enough, I’d also give a nod to Champions Online. It’s a very cartoony/goofy type of world, but they put a lot of detail into it, and it’s about as close to living in a comic book as you’re gonna get.

    ESO seems like it should feel very immersive with its minimalist UI and ultra detailed game world, but for whatever reason, I still don’t feel particularly immersed in it. Maybe I just need to spend more time with it.

  12. I’ve only played TSW and WoW from the list, but I would have to wholeheartedly agree on both counts. 🙂 I’m not sure what my five would be. I’ve not played many MMOs that I’ve stuck with because I found them immersive. Hm.

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