When you accept the MMORPG lifestyle, in part you are accepting several limitations that set these games apart from single-player or co-op titles. The massively multiplayer structure of the servers means that your game isn’t going to look nearly as good as high-end eye candy that you could find in mainstream titles. And the older the MMO is, the more dated it’s going to appear.
This is hard for some people to embrace. Let’s be real about that. We judge a whole lot of things in our life based on visual attractiveness, and those things that fall short in that category have to work harder for our affections. And since video games offer two primary functions of sense — sight and sound — a great amount of emphasis is placed on making a game look as good as possible so that we accept it instantly.
Again, that’s not MMORPGs. There are a lot of very pretty titles in this genre that I feel do a good job of rivaling many mainstream titles — Black Desert comes to mind — but a large majority of the field doesn’t fully stack up. They’re old. They have too many noticeable polygons. Clothing doesn’t have enough layers. Characters or buildings might look flat. Pop-in, distance draw, texture seams… there’s almost no end to the nitpicking of visual shortcomings.
But if you’re to love MMOs, you have to let go, to some respect, of being a graphics snob. You know that what you’re missing in the visual department is made up for in other areas, such as the online population, world persistence, expansion, and so on.
Smart MMOs know that they’re not going to be Crysis competitors on Day One and certainly not on Day Two Thousand, so these games skew more toward stylized art. DDO, for example, is a game with characters and architecture that looks chunky, but it’s stylized just enough that I find it more charming than distracting. And as I looked at with WoW Classic over the past two years, the cartoony art style has served that game incredibly well even though it was initially quite low-poly.
I love beautiful pictures, scenery, and good-looking characters, and I’m not advocating that our games be ugly. Just saying that when you join the MMO lifestyle, you’re leaving behind the right to turn up your nose at graphics that you feel are beneath you.