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The mere mention role-playing games (RPGs) conjures up imagines of nerds sitting around a table having a Dungeons & Dragons game.  The basic idea of an RPG is that players take on fictional characters with stats, histories, and personalities.  As they gain ’experience’ through achieving ’quests’ and killing things.  Traditionally, the RPG was best experienced as a video game on a console system.  Players could battle gigantic magical monsters and launch ridiculous spells against them, all set amidst a long storyline that could take a hundred play-hours to complete.

The Classic RPG

Today, the modern RPG has improved in visual appearance and role-playing immersion.  They’re all still rooted in some form of D&D experience system, but now feature a wide array of weapons, skills, and spells.

The reason why RPGs are so addicting is because of the size of the worlds you get to explore.  Many RPGs feature a massive fantasy world where you can visit towns while forcing you to walk across the countryside at the same time.  In a typical RPG there is more total game hours to play before you complete the game.  On average, there are about 50 to 100 hours of play, compared to about 10 to 30 hours in an FPS shooter.

As your character in the game progresses through the story, you’ll also develop an attachment to him or her.  The experience model also encourages players to continue playing in order to unlock new abilities and improve statistics.  All RPGs also include the element of choice.  Throughout the story you will have many opportunities to decide between good and evil actions.  Depending on the decisions you make early in the game, there could be some surprising consequences that you never even imagined.  For this reason, the replay value of RPGs is high, as you can start new characters and lead them down different paths.

There are some extremely popular RPG franchises in the industry made by a handful of skilled developers.  Perhaps the well known of these is the Final Fantasy series.  Squaresoft is currently developing the 11th Final Fantasy game after a successful run RPGs across every platform.  The franchise even received a major theatrical release as a state-of-the-art computer graphics animation.

Another big RPG maker is Bioware.  Based in Canada, Bioware created the massively popular Baldur’s Gate series.  Originally for PC, Baldur’s Gate had two sequels and two console adaptations for PS2 and XBOX.  They’re also the creators of the awesome Star Wars RPG, Knights of the Old Republic.  KOTR was a surprise smash-hit, and is slated for a sequel very soon.

The Next Generation: MMO-RPGs

A new era of RPGs has helped to realize several key goals of RPG developers around the world.  With the advent of Massively Multiplayer Online RPGs (or MMORPGS for short… though it’s not that short), the goal of making a persistent world that players can actively affect has now been made real.

The first thing you have to realize about MMORPGs is that they are all on a subscription basis.  Usually this means a monthly fee of anywhere from $10 to $20.  With the subscription you’ll receive a user account that you’ll use to log onto one of the many servers run by the developer.  In most cases, the MMORPG runs on regional servers, meaning you won’t necessarily be playing against people around the world.  Each server runs an independent world as well, so there isn’t much intermingling between all players.  Regardless, the size of these MMORPG worlds is truly amazing. 

The interesting thing about MMORPGs is how the players truly make the game.  By interacting with others (forming teams and guilds) players can work cooperatively against other human-controlled factions or even against a dangerous enemy controlled by the developers.  A lot of these games use a micro-economy where people can buy and sell items that have been looted from monsters and dungeons.

To mix things up, many MMORPGs are not strictly set in a fantasy world.  Some are set in the future, others are set in fictional comic book environments.

The original MMORPGs were Ultima Online and Everquest.  They were both based on classic RPGs with spells, swords, and monsters.

Newer MMORPGs are breaking new ground by busting out of these classic modes.  Star Wars Galaxies offers players a chance to inhabit the many worlds of the Star Wars universe while partaking in pirating, smuggling, or even Jedi training.  The latest expansion, Star Wars Galaxies: Jump to Lightspeed will even allow players to fly through space in their own custom vehicles!

City of Heroes is a recent MMORPG that is unlike any other.  The world is set in a fictional city where super-heroes of comic-book lore are commonplace.  Players get to create their own superhero and customize his or her abilities as they gain experience.

The Matrix Online brings The Matrix movie franchise to the MMORPG world by allowing players to join forces against the evil forces residing within the Matrix.

There are so many MMORPGs out there that I couldn’t possibly cover them all.  If you have a lot of time and money (cause you’ll need it), it’s quite possibly one of the best video game experiences available today.