In MMOs, maps are one of the most important tools in your user interface. They help orient you, direct you to your next quest objective, allow you to plan a journey in the safest possible manner, and tantalize you with the potentials of unexplored areas. I started to think about how much we rely on a good in-game map when I was reading the Star Wars: The Old Republic dev diary on how that team is implementing their map system.
I've found that in-game maps can be a mixed bag, depending on the game you visit. Some may look great but be functionally useless. Some may be uglier than dirt but hit the spot nevertheless. But the best are the ones that marry good aesthetics with practicality, and those are the ones I want to spotlight today. So without further ado, my favorite in-game maps from MMOs!
You know what makes Wizard101's maps work for me? Doodles. Oodles of doodles. It's not enough that the maps -- like the game itself -- are brightly colored and fun to look at, but that the artists added a ton of funny and informative doodles in the available space around (and in) them. The kid part of me really appreciates seeing something as forgettable as an in-game map coated with such fun details.
Age of Conan's maps are not only attractive in a gritty sense, but they're laid out as if you have multiple pages of parchment in your hands. It's a small thing, but it really does help with immersion. I may not play the game myself, but I could pour over these maps for hours.
Unlike many of the maps on this list, Guild Wars uses more of a topography approach, giving us an accurate relief of what the landscape looks like. In a game where you can't swim through deep waters or climb over the many invisible walls present, it's extremely helpful in planning a trip from point A to B. And you know what? It still manages to be pretty good looking, reflecting Guild Wars' zone design from a bird's eye view.
I posited the subject of best MMO maps to Twitter, and Aion came back as a surprising response. After looking through many of the game's maps, I have to agree that stylistically, they're quite well done -- if a little too similar to World of Warcraft.
One of the indicators of a great map is if I would be comfortable hanging it on the wall in my office or at home, and you know what? I think I would with some of Aion's designs.
I'll admit that EVE's galaxy map isn't the easiest on the eyes; it actually reminds me of the wire-frame titles of yesteryear. But I'm still fascinated with it, because in one glance it gives you the sense of the game's sheer scope. Plus, you can zoom around it and use a number of filters to your heart's content, proving that the nerdy guy in class still has it where it counts.
It's hard to express just how much I love Fallen Earth's ripped, torn, re-taped, and scribbled-upon maps in one sentence, so I'll use two. SO COOL. They just fit the game's atmosphere perfectly, giving you the impression that someone took old pre-apocalypse AAA maps and had to modify them as the world changed. They may not always be the most helpful in terms of navigation, but I wouldn't trade them for anything.
RIFT's maps are a little bit of everything: a little bit of a relief map, a little bit of colorful style, a little bit of current events, and a little bit of location waypoints. In short, perfect. I've never felt lost in this game, and with RIFT's dynamic invasions, it's vital that the map be this informative about what's going on where.
When I say I've spent a lot of time looking at LotRO's maps, that's an understatement along the lines of saying that I've changed a couple diapers now that I have two toddlers. I have a love-hate relationship with these maps; I'm not utterly crazy about the design and the maps sometimes aren't enough to keep me from getting lost, but I do find they're well-done overall and evocative of Tolkien's world.
Plus ten points for Turbine eventually incorporating an in-game map for The Old Forest, which was a nightmare beforehand.
I'm probably in the vast minority of folks who like WAR's maps, but hey, they work for me. I've always thought they look like old pyrography art or something you might find painted in an old ruin. The little dotted paths make me think of Family Circus, of all things.
Love or hate the game, it's hard to deny that Blizzard's artists did a top-notch job with the game's stylish maps. They're bursting with color and useful details, and I've always enjoyed uncovering the "fog of war" sections to fill it in entirely. Before flying mounts were introduced, the game's maps were often the only thing keeping you from stumbling into more trouble than you could handle.
Justin "Syp" Olivetti enjoys counting up to ten, a feat that he considers the apex of his career. If you'd like to learn how to count as well, check out The Perfect Ten. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.