The term MMOFPS has come to mean many things over the years. Many consider games like Soldier Front or Alliance of Valiant Arms to be MMOFPS's, while insisting that games like Call of Duty aren’t, despite their near parity in terms of features. For the sake of this article, I will be defining an MMOFPS as a shooter that contains open world zones in which players can run into and interact with other players they are not grouped with.
World War II Online
Initially released on June 6, 2001, Cornered Rat Software’s World War II-themed MMOFPS made waves for being the first truly open world FPS games. While 10six before it had technically been an MMOFPS/MMORTS hybrid, 10six made use of heavy instancing in relatively small zones, whereas World War II Online players were free to traverse the world as they saw fit.
Gameplay consisted of fighting over capture points to gain dominance of Europe. Several classes of soldier were made available, and many required unlocking as the player climbed through the ranks. Players had to invest time into their country's army and the included soldier-classes (soldier, infantry, pilot, and tanker) to progress, leveling each unit individually. Players could change the country they were a part of but there were penalties for doing so.
World War II Online seeks to accurately portray all of Western Europe at a staggering ½ scale. In all, the game world is a colossal 350,000km², although it is claimed that the majority of the game’s fighting takes place in an area of only 52,000km².
Despite all of its accomplishments the game didn’t take off quite the way that later competitors would. The learning curve could seem insurmountable at times, as tanks, aircraft, and other vehicles of war were modeled realistically. The damage models for everything down to infantry were similarly realistic, and single shots from enemy rifle could prove to be fatal. One of the first lessons I remember learning when playing the game for the first time (over a decade ago) was that when choosing a sniping spot you needed to rotate yourself to make sure that you weren’t visible from a different angle, because the foliage always faced the camera—as was the case with many games of that era. You could be obscured from one angle but wide open from another.
These details combined with the high level of realism led to a learning curve that comparatively few dared to overcome. It has received multiple revamps over the years, but seems to consistently be falling behind. World War II Online feels clunky compared to modern shooters and the graphics grows more outdated with each passing year. Regardless, no other game has managed to capture realism on the scale it has.
Planetside was the first real competition to World War II Online. Released on May 20, 2003 by Sony Online Entertainment—who had previously seen success with EverQuest—the sci-fi MMOFPS saw more widespread popularity than its World War II-themed competitor. It featured a similar set of territory-capturing objectives to that of its competition.
There are differences. Planetside, taking place in a fictional universe, was much more accessible, providing an experience more comparable with other sci-fi shooters of the time. Three factions were made available, rather than two, making for more interesting conflicts. Rather than being a particular type of soldier players earned “certifications” and could customize their soldier’s loadout based on the certifications they earned. Various support abilities, such as cloaking and hacking, were made possible by the sci-fi setting.
On November 20, 2012, a free-to-play sequel was released that changed quite a bit. Gameplay more closely resembled the shooters of its time. The game world consisted of multiple continents that could be warred over, eventually being locked down when one faction took control of the entire map. A class-based system was implemented and players could switch between classes at various stations. While sunderers would allow players to place forward spawn points.
Planetside 2 ultimately saw even more success than its predecessor. As of January 2015 it holds the record for the largest first-person shooter battle ever with 1158 players. Planetside inevitably followed suit and went free-to-play on April 29, 2014.
Released on July 29, 2014 by developer Red 5 Studios, Firefall was initially supposed to push the boundaries of e-sports while maintaining a traditional MMORPG experience. The first version of the game consisted of PvE zones with randomly generated missions and events that were complemented by instanced PvP arenas. During the beta in 2013 the development team held a PvP tournament with over $1 million in rewards announced in order to draw interest to the game as an e-sport. When the event failed they silently rescinded the rewards and removed instanced PvP altogether, replacing it with an open world PvP option and duels.
Firefall plays quite a bit like other shooters, only with jetpacks and wings that allow players to glide. Players were required to choose one of several classes, which would ultimately determine what kind of “Battleframe” they used. Most of the game is played in open world zones with randomly generated events while the game’s overarching story takes place in instances.
Bungie may not want players to consider Destiny an MMOFPS, but it is one all the same. Released on September 9, 2014, Destiny is rumored to have had over $500 million spent on it in total. A console exclusive, it also boasts some of the highest production values of any game on this list, with top-notch visuals and an all-star voiceacting cast.
The reasons for including Destiny on this list are simple. Even exempting the social zones, each planet has an open world zone in which players can encounter, and even fight alongside, other players that are not a part of their Fireteam. Random events, such as open world bosses and invasions, will also occur from time to time requiring all players in the area to team up to take them down. The game may make use of heavy instancing but it has even more in common with the generally recognized idea of an MMO than Dungeon Fighter Online or Elsword. The lack of trading may be a bit of an inconvenience, but it does not invalidate its title as an MMOFPS.
Unfortunately, its content releases model themselves more after traditional console releases. Destiny is heavily influenced by Bungie’s time working on Halo and it can be felt even in the amount of content that is put out with each release. No more than 20 hours or so of unique story content is present in each major release, with significantly less contained in the House of Wolves DLC.
The MMOFPS genre, much like the MMORTS genre, is incredibly small as of right now. Several major attempts have been made in the past but most of the commonly recognized MMOFPS titles seems to be headed a direction closer to that of Soldier Front. The titles listed here have only given us a taste of what could be if the genre really took off. The FPS genre as a whole provides a familiar framework that is easily accessible to many gamers. On the surface, it seems like the perfect way to get those less familiar with the MMO genre into MMOs. Destiny's success proves that the right balance of the two genres can be highly successful. If The Division comes to fruition and sees success we may very well see the MMOFPS genre take off for the first time.