Part three of my continuing ramble about MMORPG features and which games got them right.
This is a tricky one as everyone has a different definition and expectation, but for me immersion refers to a game's ability to suck you into it's setting and make you feel like you're interacting with a world rather than a game. A game where you don't mind wandering around doing nothing because just taking in the sights is enjoyable is doing immersion right. A truly immersive game will cause you to forget you're playing a game at all, just like a really good movie will cause you to forget you're sitting in a theater. MMO's rarely acheive that degree of immersion for me, but some certainly do it better than others.
Thinking back over the last 12 years, I think I have to give top honors to Lord of the Rings Online. LotRO has plenty of flaws, but the execution and represention of Middle Earth is not one of them. Turbine really made an effort to make the game feel like a world, and when you find yourself strolling through The Shire you can't help but admire the lush visuals, the rolling hills, the sensible villages and farmland that all seem like representations of a real place rather than something a level developer cobbled together for people to play in. It feels like you could lie down in the grass and relax in the sun while birds chirp and clouds drift by. Rather than building a world around the game, it really feels like they built the world first. They did a great job of weaving story, setting, sounds, and graphics together to give you a real sense of place and purpose.
I'm sure I could go on for a while like this, but I think you get the idea. If the fundamental gameplay of LotRO had just been more enjoyable I think it would have been one of my favorite MMORPGs of all time. As it is, I loved the setting, enjoyed the sense of immersion, but didn't especially like the gameplay. Alas.
In contrast, I think Star Wars Galaxies did the worst job (with honorable mention to WoW for it's horrible zone borders and constant pop culture intrustions) due simply to most of the planets being bland flat plains covered in nests that you'd go out and blow up. It didn't feel like Star Wars at all, and the game always seemed determined to interfere with it's own immersion. I've heard it's changed a lot in the years since I played it, so maybe that's improved, but at release SWG had little going for it in the area of immersion or enjoyable representation of a familiar setting.
Tomorrow I think I'll discuss PvE, or more specifically quest-based PvE, as comparing an open system to a quest system seems like apples and oranges.