Long post, sorry & thanks for those who can help.
I grew up playing runescape and currently still play on the old school servers. It's what started my love for the MMORPG genre and what's fueled my intense curiosity for gaming. I've tried a few other MMO's and have enjoyed them but have come to realize the reason runescape has been able to hold me as a customer is because it relies on a long and varied skill-based progression system which is not common in most other MMO's. Many of them are vertical progression, level-based theme parks. I've enjoyed these games in titles like FF14 and Blade & Soul but they just don't give me as much of a sense of accomplishment leading to me losing interest until new updates come out. In runescape, people constantly look up nearby players stats on the highscores. The game areas are densely populated & the items you wear, the pets you own, the stats you have are all points of conversation on a regular basis. In my (short) experiences with FF14, BDO, GW2 I felt that my characters gear, stats, cosmetics, accomplishments were not achievements that had any perceived value to myself or other players. In runescape, you spend countless hours doing something just for a chance to receive an ultra rare cosmetic that other players can see and want. For a game with such outdated graphics, im astonished that I haven't been able to find a more current game that gives me that same "look what I earned" feel. Not to mention virtually every item earned, gathered, or crafted for experience has an in game purpose and value which drives one of the most insane & well balanced in-game economies I've ever seen. Another thing I find incredible is that virtually all BiS gear is tradeable and thus a farmable moneymaking method. Nothing feels better than landing that solo drop worth 1b. Do you keep the item? Sell it for different gear? Reinvest in your stats? Gamble it at the duel arena? I haven't found another MMO that allows you to trade gear so freely with other players & BiS is a pricetag not a specific method.
What are some other games with a vast working economy that I can sink my teeth into, master a multitude of gathering and crafting professions, and acquire ultra-rare gaudy items and achievements that have highly-perceivable value?
From previous suggestions, the only games that have drawn a bit of interest from me is Guild Wars 2 & Black Desert Online. I enjoyed BDO for the combat and potential for grind, but it felt SO antisocial & I still didn't feel like I could earn anything that any other players would notice or care about. It was hard to distinguish NPCs from players at times. I also found the in-game systems to be too complicated for me to self-teach from youtube & couldn't manage to make any friends to teach me how to play but it's still on my list of games to consider as it's the closest resemblance to what I'm looking for currently available.
For guild wars 2, I know there are grindable cosmetics but I didn't find the game visually impactful. It felt like even if I did earn all of that, it would hardly be noticeable. I had trouble getting interested in leveling all by myself and didn't get very far.
I know elder scrolls online is a skill-based progression system but I have very little knowledge of the game.
I have played WoW retail to about level 20 & WoW classic to about level 6. I'm open to the game but the new player experience is rough for someone who doesn't know anything about the game. Also not a fan of the level based progression and profession locks but the game is so expansive I'm open to it because the potential for grinding novelties is there. I'm just not sure where to put my focus.
I guess I'm aware my best options are probably going to WoW classic, BDO, or GW2 but I guess I'm not exactly sold on them because my experience as a solo player on them is so limited, I'm not sure how to get to where I want to be. I'm either looking for new suggestions I haven't thought of, or for more insight on those games & what kind of grinds and goals I can consume myself with based on the above information.
Thanks in advance!
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