Gah, I haven't exactly been consistent this week. Part of that, I admit, comes from discovery of Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst.
From everything Fawkes tells me, PSO was originally a multi-platform game pitting "Hunters" (a variety of characters, from the FOnewearl to the HUmarl, and beyond--different ways of labeling robots, mercenaries and Force-wielding elves, for the lack of better terminology) against the suddenly aggressive--and occasionally mutated--beasts on the planet below, all framed within a storyline that was simple and direct--just what did happen on Ragol?
One only finds out by being assigned "missions" that contain clues to the colony (Pioneer I, and the ship sent out to meet up with Pioneer I, appropriately named Pioneer II, contains the players and all the NPCs), then interacting with NPCs to discover more of the plot as it unfolds.
One always, in these games, starts off slow and works up to bigger, showier monsters, but even at the low levels, there's visual interest. This image, f'rinstance, contains a combatant called a "Rappy". They're essentially walking chirping Peeps, with antennae. One fires once--or twice, depending on armament type--and the Rappy "plays dead". Less observant folks will then wander off killing wolves in plate armor and wandering mutated "Boomas"; more observant ones will wait for the possum to stop playing--in other words, for the Rappy to "wake up" and take off running. (Because if one shoots a Rappy on the run, it surprises it into dropping special items, that can then be equipped to raise whatever that item will raise.)
It's your fairly standard MMO, innit? Space-based "dungeons" (in the form of sealed areas above the surface, and sealed cave systems beneath it) to wander through and slay monsters, people to interact with above who drop hints as to the nature of the next mission...well, no, not exactly. That's where PSO differs a great deal.
In PSO, when one arrives in one of many differently detailed and colored ship lobbies, one can interact--if one speaks the same language--with anyone there. But from there things can get odd. For instance, you can choose to run missions entirely solo. Or with a group. Or with two or three total strangers. It doesn't matter how one gets to the main colony floor, but once one does, it's just you. Or you and your friends. Everyone else is an NPC.
Imagine a world where you were the only 'real' person on a spaceship; everyone else was run by the central computer. It's both satisfying and deeply disturbing to know that you're the only one able to run around, shoot things, and make money; that everyone else is a figment, there only to give you someone to interact with.
Even coming in with a group of friends doesn't change that basic fact--you, and your friends, are the only living people on the ship, ever--and, just to make this point clear, always.
So the level of roleplay in PSO? Can be rich and varied, or completely nonexistant. You can log in, download the client, and just go down to the planet and lay waste--or you can come in, accept missions, and work with the NPCs to try to solve the puzzle of Ragol. Either way...it's entirely up to you.
Whether you're playing as a Force Loli, or not.
(Note: There are a couple of quirks with playing this game, being as it is an obsolete platform. First, for some virus scanners, the official client download for Windows registers--most notably with AVG--as a Trojan. It is not. But that does mean you'll have to go into your user interface, pull open Tools > Advanced Settings > Resident Shield > Exceptions, and add in the program line you use to track down PSO:BB. You'll need to do the same thing to the actual shortcut on the desktop, more or less. And don't forget to drop up to PUP Exceptions while you're in AVG, and put in the four .exe programs that make PSO run!
By the way, if all this sounds horrendously complex? Well, there's always WoW. Or downloading Runes of Magic, with its five-hour wait for the file. Or going back into Second Life...)