Attention upcoming MMOs: Your style sets you apart (or not)

Let’s play a game this morning, shall we? Here are seven pictures from various upcoming MMOs. Can you identify which one belongs to Life is Feudal, Shroud of the Avatar, Project Gorgon, Saga of Lucimia, Camelot Unchained, Gloria Victis, and Chronicles of Elyria?

To make it fair, I tried to make them all town shots for comparison. Answers are at the end of this blog post.







No wonder all of these games start blurring together in my mind — there’s this rampant plague of generic medieval European semi-realism that’s become the default for many fantasy indie MMOs. And while they’re all still in development and art changes, at least visually these games are doing little to set themselves apart from each other.

Looks do matter in MMOs. No, they’re not everything, but when you have an upcoming project that you want to get noticed apart from the rest of the pack, you don’t want to slather it with the same art style as everyone else. Some of the above games I’m quite interested in, even though I’m incredibly neutral about their looks. In spite of their looks, I should say.

Then there are the games that are putting in that extra effort to develop a unique art style that makes it visually pop. Games like Crowfall…


Albion Online…


Worlds Adrift…




And even the late Revival had a striking dark Gothic tone to it:


Maybe this only points out that I have a visual preference for more stylized, colorful art in MMOs, which is why I’ve always loved WildStar and World of Warcraft’s look. Chronicles of Spellborn had an awesome style to it. Asheron’s Call 2 felt wild and alien for a fantasy world. Then again, I’ve always thought Lord of the Rings Online had a great look to it, and that definitely skewed to the more realistic while still exuding an identity.

I guess that’s what I’m asking for with these games: visual identity. I should know at a glance what game is what because it’s not trying to be painfully generic but it’s infused its title with a personality that pops in every screenshot.

Am I alone in this? Is anyone else slightly disappointed at how same-y some of these upcoming games look?

Answers: (1) Chronicles of Elyria, (2) Shroud of the Avatar, (3) Camelot Unchained, (4) Project Gorgon, (5) Saga of Lucimia, (6) Life is Feudal, (7) Gloria Victis

12 thoughts on “Attention upcoming MMOs: Your style sets you apart (or not)

  1. Silverangel May 10, 2016 / 9:15 am

    I made this criticism about an upcoming Asian MMO a while back. When the sky is literally the limit, why are they trying so hard to build a bland, unremarkable European countryside #25? My opinion was disliked.

  2. aquarionics May 10, 2016 / 9:19 am

    I half expected all of those screenshots to be one game, just to ram the point a bit.

  3. Thomas Midena (@Thoroughmas) May 10, 2016 / 9:19 am

    Hah yeah I didn’t do great on that little quiz. Though Shroud of the Avatar is identifiable for… not good reasons (wee bit ugly).
    I agree. Though I’d give a lot of them a pass at the moment ’cause they’re in alpha and beta, and more design stuff will probably come later. This certainly does make it apparent how much medieval fantasy is on the way though.
    I think I also generally prefer cartoonish art styles. Anything more photorealistic than SWTOR is often a bit unnecessary. And cartoonish stuff dates really well, like WoW vs SWG.

  4. Aywren May 10, 2016 / 9:22 am

    Yikes. I didn’t realize this until you pointed it out, but it’s true. Then again, I’m not really following the development of most of those games. This might be part of the reason why.They do kinda blur together when you look at it this way.

  5. bhagpuss May 10, 2016 / 9:38 am

    I think you are heavily underestimating the effect of familiarity. I was able to recognize the one game that I have actually played (Project: Gorgon) instantly, whereas I couldn’t say which any of the others were. I am certain, however, that had I played any or all of the others as much as I’ve played P:G I would equally have been able to tell one from another immediately.

    They no more look the same than any half dozen actual European towns or cities that still have medieval centers look the same. Having spent decades visiting such towns and cities and villages I can attest that every one is entirely different from every other and each repays the attention and consideration you care to bring to exploring them. Exactly the same is true of video games that use a similar theme or setting.

    Then there’s the issue of appropriateness. If you’re saying that there’s room for a lot more settings to be chosen in the first place then I’d agree, but once you have decided to set your game in a European Medieval environment your leeway to play fast and loose with the graphics is constrained. As a consumer I’d feel a lot more irritated by a set design that paid lip service to medieavalism and then slathered all kinds of visual quirks and fripperies on top than I would by one that simply stuck to expected genre conventions. If the MMO claims to be set in something similar to MedievalI Europe then it darn well needs to look like it.

    How many of those MMOs actually do make that claim, though? I’m not sure P:G claims to be set in any particular milieu so arguably Eric could be a lot looser with the visuals. I imagine in that case its more of a fiscal constraint than an aesthetic one.

  6. Atheren May 10, 2016 / 10:13 am

    The pictures could easily all be from the same game, that’s a bit disappointing. The comparison of games which you feel don’t fit the mold would have been more striking if the screenshots were also all done in city environments.

  7. Tyler F.M. Edwards May 10, 2016 / 10:55 am

    I very much agree with this post. If you’re making a fantasy game and all you’re doing is aping Medieval Europe, you’re just being lazy. There are no limits in this genre — make something distinct, something memorable, something that will make me catch my breath and stand in awe at the wonder of it all.

    Say what you will about Aion, but there’s a game that built a truly unique world. Everything about it is so beautifully surreal and exotic.

  8. Tesh May 10, 2016 / 12:26 pm

    Allods Online has a distinctive style, too, especially once the “floating island” bit becomes apparent. Stylization helps dodge the Uncanny Valley, too. It can help polycount and tech issues, too, widening your potential user base. That’s not as big of an issue as it was when WoW was fresh, but it’s a consideration.

  9. Gamera977 May 10, 2016 / 12:28 pm

    Does seem to me there’d be more medieval Asian settings, I haven’t looked much into the S. Korean based games but it seems like even many of the Japanese games go for a European look and feel. One of the major reasons I picked up ‘The Secret World’ is just because it’s different.

  10. Jeromai May 11, 2016 / 1:06 am

    I got Project Gorgon, but only because I’ve seen fairly frequent coverage of it on blogs and it looks like a low-budget nostalgic throwback to 15-20 year old games. (Not really knocking it, I’ve played A Tale in the Desert, which looks equally primitive.) That distinctiveness is a “style” of its own, in a sense.

    Gotta say though, the provided screenshots of TUG and Worlds Adrift look equally same-y to me, just more colorful and cartoony. Think some of it is just preference for realism vs stylized cartoony, though I agree that developing visually distinctive zones and art style is a point in differentiating an MMO from the rest of the pack.

  11. Dez Tal May 11, 2016 / 3:47 am

    I also picked Project Gorgon. The rest I did struggle with. After playing ESO for a while now I needed to step back from a fantasy/medieval setting which is why I am enjoying taking my time playing The Division. I’ll probably only look at either Chronicles or Shroud when they are released.

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