I played World of Warcraft (WoW) from the moment it was released. I played it until about a year ago and then I quit. It just got old. But, I played it for a long time. I think it was released in late 2004. Blizzard is probably my favorite gaming software company.
Age of Conan (AoC) I started playing in June. It's quite a bit different from WoW. It is more mature. I think it was released in May of 2008.
Warhammer Online (WhO) is being released September 2008. I got to participate briefly in an open beta over the weekend.
World of Warcraft
WoW is the oldest. My youngest daughter still plays it. She says that she's never seen another game with better graphics. I think this is viewed from the eyes of a child and I have to give kudos to Blizzard. The game is easy to play, but some of the puzzles are tough enough to entertain adults. It's got a very wide range of playability so no matter what your play style it's bound to have something for you. It's just old. I am surprised it has maintained the level of popularity it's maintained for this amount of time.
You can see from the above picture that the graphics are also old compared to today's standards. Of course, it will therefore play on more machines (the hardware requirements aren't as high). You can see that the shadows are just circles underneath the rams. Of course, some of this can be tuned up or down via a wide range of settings in the game. All of these games have lots of video options.
Here is a battle picture from WoW. WoW is rated Teen, but I don't really see why a 6 year old couldn't play it.
The npc (non-player character) AI (artificial intelligence) is very good in this game.
Age of Conan
AoC is my favorite game right now. There are lots of people that complain about it having crash problems and memory leaks and various other technical inadequacies. But, it's different. It's rated M for mature audiences. It's based on novels by Robert E. Howard that I wouldn't want my kids to read.
It's immersing. From the moment you start playing you zoom in on people when they talk to you and they really talk to you. All of the dialog is scripted for about 30% of the game (you still have to read a bit). Maybe more. They've done away with the cartoons and made it as realistic as possible (for a fantasy game). It makes you wish all the MMO's would come out with a maturity setting that you can turn on or off.
When you kill an opponent, they don't just fall over in a horizontal position to let you know they are dead. Sometimes heads will come off. Sometimes necks will break. Sometimes they turn a grisly blue color and do some wild electrical boogie. Sometimes a fire breaks out from below their neck and they are engulfed in flames that makes them writhe. It's all loads of fun! The NPC AI is close to if not as good as WoW's. It's different.
One story involves rescuing topless harem girls from a bunch of big fat eunuchs. I swear it is more fun than you can shake a stick at (or a two-handed meat cleaver)! Nudity abounds in AoC. Even online players can take their clothes off. The demons that are summoned to fight for the demonologists also come with clothing optional. Actually, it's not really optional. You can switch to a male demon who wears more clothing, but he's kind of vulgar. He does some pelvic thrusting during his successful attacks.
Warhammer OnlineWhO is the latest. It's RvR based (realm versus realm). All of the above games have some aspect of PvP (player versus player). Some more than others. If you like playing with or against other people then WhO is probably the game you've been waiting for.
I participated in an open beta last weekend and although the maturity level made me gag a little bit, the social interaction was highly addictive.
They have a concept of Public Quests where you get in on an ongoing story and participate to completion. Then, depending on the amount of your participation, you are awarded appropriately.
There are also "scenarios" where you have to compete against the other realm in different missions (like a capture the flag type thing).
This game is also rated T for everyone and everyone's momma. Going from AoC to WhO was kind of like going from The Bunny Ranch to Chucky Cheese. Depending on your age and/or maturity level, one might be more fun than the other.
The NPC AI was seemingly non-existent. If you stick with the PvP and RvR, you don't miss it too much. And, to be fair, it was a beta.
If you like story immersion and some amount of maturity in your gaming, I would have to recommend AoC. AoC ranks first in immersion and first in Combat and first in Maturity. I also hear they are releasing a version for the XBox360 which would be way cool. Not necessarily for me, but for my buddies who have given up on PC gaming for XBox's. I could finally play with them again (maybe).
If you want a game that is established and has a nice looking expansion pack coming out. It's fun and easy to play with loads of people already playing then you'll want to stick with or go to WoW. Blizzard continues to impress me. I just got burnt out on the game. WoW ranks first in stability, longevity and playability.
If PvP or player interaction is your style then you probably can't go wrong with WhO. It ranks first in innovative game ideas and RvR combat.
I found myself wishing that I could combine aspects of all 3 games. I suppose I could toss in my 20+ years of Software Engineering and Gaming expertise into the MMO market. But, I don't know if they are ready for me.