Star-Fired Beef

Isometric MMOs: Does Perspective Matter?

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When MMOs first made a splash with Ultima Online, the graphical experience was similar to that of the great RPGs of the late 1990’s – Fallout, Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale. Namely, a top-down, isometric viewpoint. Then Everquest and World of Warcraft brought in the over-the-shoulder, third-person view that characterised much of the 3D action games such as Tomb Raider. Ever since the rise of those two MMOs, the genre has settled firmly on their perspective as the standard. Only Runescape has had any real success with the isometric viewpoint.

Recently, however, I’ve noticed that a few MMOs are attempting to break into the market with that isometric design. I’m not including ARPGs like Diablo or Path of Exile here, they are not really MMOs in my books. And I wonder: what can this design bring to the genre to help it stand out?

Shards Online is a good Western-developer example of this. Lost Ark Online is another, Korean-developed one:

I don’t have any answers here, I am merely wondering whether this niggling thought that an isometric MMO could be deeper, bigger, better, has any validity. I guess it stems from the contrast with offline RPGs – for me, listing the great ones has meant almost exclusively listing isometric games. Am I wrong here? I’ve been playing around with Project Zomboid a little (thanks, Eri!), trying to get used to the game, and it struck me just how much more detailed and immersive the experience was, compared to most of the MMOs I’ve played in the last few years.

I can’t quite put my finger on what, exactly, makes me wonder whether there is more potential in the isometric viewpoint. Some wild thoughts have appeared! Revel in their ignorance!

  • It seems to me that art demands are less for an isometric game. Would this allow more development resources to be allocated to mechanics, content and lore?
  • It feels like that the game world could be much, much bigger than in a full 3D game, with less need for load screens or fast travel.
  • I am unsure whether it would mean a more restricted experience. From all accounts, both UO and Runescape have had huge worlds with full freedom of travel. The video of Lost Ark Online, above, seems to indicate a more Diablo-like restricted path structure.
  • Do players identify with tiny, somewhat distant avatars as much as WoW-sized avatars? Would that turn players off?

What do you think?

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One thought on “Isometric MMOs: Does Perspective Matter?

  1. I would definitely like a greater variety of options, at the least. I don’t think I once played EverQuest outside of first person – I’d really love a first person only Fantasy MMO again because of it.

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