Since you mentioned that you might be trying out Runes of Magic, I decided to give the game a whirl. It's very World of Warcraft in style, but it's a much more user-friendly starting experience. Definitely recommend it.
I posted a blog yesterday regarding class vs skill-based games, or more specifically, item-based vs skills-based progression. http://bit.ly/upjCz
I think that progression that comes from character abilities in lieu of an outside source like equipment helps immerse the player in the world and prevents having separate "castes" within the online community. UO and SWG used a predominantly skills-based system for a while that worked wonderfully, but WoW's popularity demanded they begin to merge their systems with levels and more strict classes, and the games lost a lot of what made them unique in the MMO world.
Are there any games which rely almost entirely on skills and abilities to progress rather than building an armory that has to constantly be replaced?
P&P RPGs do this very often; the loot doesn't matter as much as the character being played.
Eve Online is skill based,however as apposed to say UO or Darkfall where using a skill raises it, EvE just has skills learned in real-time regardless of weather or not the play is currently logged in. This gives casual players a means to advance at the same rate as more hardcore players. However it also means that players who are new to the game can only advance at a relatively fixed rate. This makes it difficult to "catch up".
If we consider the origin of MMO's which is MUDS, and the Origin of MUDS which is PnP games, we see a similar trend. Dungeons and Dragons, the most popular Pen and Paper game uses a class based system. Now in 3ed and 3.5 those classes became extremely flexible, but now 4th has returned us to a relatively ridged class system, Is it any surprise then to find that most MMO's adhere to this class system?
@neispace I don't think you can get over a game that provided the fundamental groundwork for the entire MMO industry. Furthermore if we're considering different types of MMO's UO is the textbook example for a number of different MMO system, it would be like telling students to get over the Greeks and the Romans.
Xash, I mean they need to get over it as the be-all and end-all of all MMO's. A lot of people think a UO-style MMO is the answer to everything that ails the genre, and on blogs it is spoken of religiously.
I think that's not so much the case, i think its pure nostagia for what has been clouding people's minds. That's what I mean by getting over it.
I think there are a number of elements of UO that have been forgotten from the MMO space by and large, and that we the players are worse off for it.
However I also understand that as much as I and others miss it, The "good old days" of UO open PvP are gone, and won't ever come back.
I miss the idea of making a virtual world, as apposed to a game. Sandbox games are simply more interesting in my eyes, and players facilitated content can keep even the same old stuff day in and day out interesting.
Continuing on about classes. What do you guy prefer to have; classes with well defined traditional roles i.e. tank/healer/dps or ones that are a little looser and allow for the players to decide their roles more fluidly or be able to shift as needed.
@Xash: I really hope I can find a nice sandbox game someday that gives as much freedom as UO did. I am really hoping the narrative focus in SW:TOR will give that.
@KC: The more fluid and less rigid, the better, IMO. WoW is moving more toward that with their philosophy of "bring the player, not the class," but there needs to be more lee-way and hybridization before I feel it truly succeeds.