On Monday evening I had a pretty momentous moment in Lord of the Rings Online. I’ve been playing through the Gondor content and had reached, finally, Dol Amroth. Looking at the map to identify where my quests zones were, it suddenly hit me – my character had reached the open sea (or at least the Bay of Belfalas that leads to the same) for the first time in-game.
It was a pretty magical and immersive moment to stand and look around at the ships in the bay, the coast and the sea off in the horizon. This kind of moment is a reason why I love LOTRO specifically – the world is very expansive and contiguous. Ignoring dungeons and the gates leading in and out of Moria, the explorable world is one space. People do crazy-cool stuff like swimming the navigable length of the Anduin river in game or running half-way across the world transformed into a chicken.
Such freedom to wander or ride reminds me of certain other MMORPGs as well, my first proper online game was World of Warcraft and that game certainly has a very large virtual world to roam (albeit split into four separate continents). It’s one aspect that I appreciate about some games over others: Eorzea (Final Fantasy 14) is heavily segmented into walled-off zones and although SWTOR has some pretty large planetary zones, Alderaan or Belsavis spring to mind, these planets have a lot of barriers and instanced areas.
Wildstar fits into a middle ground with a mostly open world to explore but one that is more modest in scale. The parts of Nexus that we have available as players are however unusually accessible because of double jump and the Explorer path which, by design, offers the means to reach high-up or otherwise blocked areas.
Exploration can be a lot of fun; I believe that a wide and connected virtual world adds to my sense of immersion when playing. It is not necessarily the only or most important factor to influence which MMORPGs I choose to play, but I consider it a positive design choice when my character can roam free.