MMORPGs on iPhone – A World in Your Pocket
By Neil Kewn (Murxidon) – OnRPG journalist
MMORPG – Those six letters personify PC gaming. Logging into your level 67 battle mage and spending countless hours mashing mouse buttons and hitting hotkeys. It’s the way these games were meant to be played, right? Since its release in 2007, the iPhone has been nothing short of a phenomenal success, and with the App Store revolutionising gaming on the move, is the way we approach online multiplayer gaming about to change?
Imagine having a full-featured persistent world sitting in your pocket, ready to pick up and play whenever you’re in range of a WiFi or 3G signal. No longer will players be tied to their keyboard and mouse in order to level and adventure with their characters. Developers are looking to capitalise on the lucrative MMORPG market by offering something new, an entirely different roleplaying experience for handhelds. The MMO on the go is a reality.
Pocket Legends – Looking for something familiar?
Price: Free Download from iTunes App Store
The first fully 3D MMORPG for the iPhone
Pocket Legends is a fully 3D MMORPG from Spacetime Studios, available for your iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad. There are three races to choose from, each with their own class, The Firbolg-like Ursan warrior, the Elven enchantress and the Avian Archer. Instead of a world that all players go about their daily business in, players can host their own “games”. These are instanced dungeons that provide a slew of monsters to fight. There are usually five to ten players in each game, but you don’t necessarily have to team up to earn levels.
The user interface is intuitive and the learning curve is extremely short. Multitouch gestures have been incorporated to cut down on the number of buttons on screen, and the app will be very familiar to anyone who has used an iPhone for more than ten minutes. Pinching the screen zooms in, whilst two finger swipes rotates the viewing area.
For a platform like iPhone, this full featured MMO is extremely impressive. With PvP Arenas now a reality with the latest update, Pocket Legends is definitely worth checking out.
iMobster – Simple, but addictive
Price: Free Download from iTunes App Store
Don’t try this at home
iMobster is one of the many text and image based MMORPGs on the App Store. You start as a lowly mobster, performing missions to level up your character and gain notoriety in the criminal underworld. Tasks range from shoplifting, to stealing cars, to organising heists, all with the intention of obtaining better items, vehicles and weapons.
From level four, you can attack other players to gain money and experience. The equipment you have determines how effective you are, so attacking a player with an AK-47 and a mob size of four with a lowly revolver isn’t advised. You won’t find flashy 3D graphics here, but the images and animations used are stylish and do a whole lot to enhance the game.
The app incorporates an item store that sells “Favor Points”. This in game currency can be used to purchase stolen goods, in game money and new members to your mob. But don’t worry, all of these upgrades are optional and can be achieved just by playing. Developers Storm8 offer a range of text-based MMOs for the iPhone platform, so if gangsters aren’t of much interest to you, try out World War or Vampires Live.
Merchant – A new concept, a new experience
Price: Free (paid version available) Download from iTunes App Store (Netherlands only)
Location based MMOs – A hugely interesting concept
It’s time to brush up your business skills. Merchant is a unique MMORPG, in that it’s based around your real-world location. Taking advantage of the iPhone’s GPS abilities, your phone becomes your caravan. Your handheld home can be taken anywhere in the world, developing your settlement along the way. Players interact with you through trade and thievery, with the objective being buying low and selling high. Commodities available include ore, food, wood and stone.
Unfortunately the game is only available in Netherlands, so players are required to have an iTunes account and associated payment from that country to download.
Anrufen Online – A classic RPG for on the move
Price: Free (but limited) – $12.99 Premium Download from iTunes App Store
Nostalgia in your hand!
Anrufen Online is an isometric MMORPG very reminiscent of Diablo and Ashen Empires. A touch joystick is used to control your character, with action bars displayed along the bottom of the screen. This type of MMO is made for the iPhone. After a while, I actually forgot I was playing the game on a portable device. The fundamentals of classic dungeon running are all here, and it is a perfect time waster for fans of the genre.
Unfortunately, Anrufen has been heavily criticised on the customer satisfaction front. Gold selling and scamming is rife, with developers WiStone Wireless Entertainment doing little to actively combat the problem. It’s disappointing, as the game itself is an extremely solid multiplayer role playing experience.
A viable alternative to desktop-based MMORPGs
The biggest issue with mobile MMOs is exactly that. They’re mobile. The playing area is much smaller, the hardware less powerful and the player is naturally less inclined to commit eight or so hours a day to their characters. But, that is not what these app developers are going for. The games are designed to be played casually, giving people on the go the ability to drop in and play for a few minutes at a time. They succeed in providing a slice of the unique massively multiplayer experience whenever you’re in range of a WiFi or 3G network.
Until there is increased awareness of these pinnacles of portable pleasure, player numbers are going to be low (even more so, when most only play for a couple of minutes at a time). To combat this, users have much more interaction with players that are offline. In iMobster, you can attempt to assassinate players who aren’t even logged in. But in a game like Pocket Legends, you never really get the feeling that the world you’re playing in is brimming with budding MMO adventurers. What has been proven though, is that these games are a realistic (and at times, fantastic) display of the iPhone’s potential in terms of mobile gaming possibilities.
Can the Apple iPad become a successful gaming handheld?
Can they possibly compete with the more established MMORPGs? Probably not, but I don’t believe that’s what these games are aiming for. The iPhone user base is almost seven million, the iPad is selling like hotcakes and the App Store has over three billion downloads. The audience is there, but only time will tell if developers, and the hardware, can make a successful, lucrative and popular mobile MMORPG.