The Daily Grind: What’s the best old-school MMORPG feature that has never made a comeback?

A couple of weeks ago, Justin and I fielded an epic podcast question from a listener (heya Josh!) about guild systems, specifically about the Asheron’s Call monarchy system. As far as we know, that specific system — a pyramid-like system of patrons and vassals whose social interactions created experience and benefits for everyone without the formal hierarchical structure of a stock guild — has never been fully duplicated. It’s a damn shame because it was amazing. Turbine solved the guild problem in 1999: Instead of dumping people into military-style guilds to be just another worker bee for the queen, it incentivized individual, personal relationships, upward and downward.

That got me wondering what else hasn’t ever been duplicated. It seems like it could be a pretty short list, as so many retro MMORPGs have popped up in the last few years promising to resurrect a ton of old-school features, good and bad. So you help me fill in the gaps: What’s the best old-school MMORPG feature that has never made a comeback?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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116 Comments on "The Daily Grind: What’s the best old-school MMORPG feature that has never made a comeback?"

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steve

I’ve always thought that EQ was on the right track with splitting PVE and PVP rulesets. The only benefit I see in merging those playstyles is to provide victims for the PVP players.

PVP balance destroys entire systems that might otherwise have helped flesh out our online worlds, and PVP in a video game most often devolves into things that equalize the forces in match play, so instead of a complex, dynamic virtual world we wind up with a themepark supporting a sports stadium.

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Chris Clark

The SWG profession system, entertainer classes, open world housing, political profession, dynamic resource spawning, random resource qualities, crafting experimentation, crafting unique items, naming/branding crafted items, mass production of crafted items, and probably a few other things I can’t dredge up right now.

Celestia
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Celestia

I absolutely loved being able to mark my own teleport/gate runes in UO, but what I really love is support classes (not whack a mole healers), and they seem to be less and less available with each new MMO.

possum440 .
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possum440 .

Choice.

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Slaasher

Vanguard’s diplomacy feture was very cool and to my knowledge has never resurfaced again anywhere.

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Stormwaltz

From Asheron’s Call 1, the ability to inscribe any item with a message (for gifts or item ID), and blank books that could be written in and passed to other players.

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Sajiri

I really just miss the old hunter pets in WoW. I liked that you had to take care of them, you had to teach them abilities, and they had a friendship rating. It was kind of a chore sometimes, but I have such fond memories of wandering around azeroth with my wolf best friend. Made me care about my pet.

mosselyn
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mosselyn

Crowd control and encounters designed around it. Seems like everything now is “rush in and aoe everything death”. Boring, boring, boring.

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Rottenrotny

We can look to SWG for both of these gems.

1) Non-combat classes.
2) Open world housing.

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starbuck1771

you forgot their top notch crafting and resource systems

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Serrenity

There’s a lot of really solid features here from yesteryear. In a lot of ways, it makes me wonder how we’ve gone from systems that did a lot right, to many that just seem to keep making the same mistakes again and again. When I think of games when I started playing, it took effort to learn the ropes of the game and there were aspects that were super deep and nuanced that took every longer to learn. I can’t tell you how long it took me to really understand the buffing meta in Anarchy Online.

I think what I miss most about last generation games is the depth of the world. From Lore, gameplay — kind of the whole thing. I’ve lamented ad naseum the tired feature of worlds where your sole interaction is combat and chat messaging — occasionally emotes. Crafting is at best a stapled on feature that has little to no interaction with the rest of the game, and in the case of WoW just flat out isn’t worth anything as the gear treadmill ensures anything you can craft is outdated within days of a release.

I miss games with depth. That’s about the extent of it.

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Schmidt.Capela

One thing, though: complexity isn’t the same as depth. If a system is a pain to figure but, after the player understands it, there is just one “best” way to proceed, then it’s actually a shallow system using complexity as fake depth.

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Walter Eldredge

It’s because statistically it’s all the purchases AFTER release that makes the companies money. Whether it be micro-transactions or not it’s an video game industry problem. FPS games are plagued both console and PC where the game gets released with minimal content in order to have to buy the DLCs and expansions.

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Serrenity

Depth isn’t necessarily content though. Depth can be a robust system that organic content springs up around (for example, like the buffing system in Anarchy … or the Monarchy system). Those didn’t necessarily take much ‘content’ creation in the traditional sense, just an open-ended implementation of a robust system.

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Walter Eldredge

What about ‘skill’ based combat? Where gear only affected the efficiency of a build and not the making the build itself. You and someone in the same class would do relatively the same amount of damage but the way in which you used your character was allowed to be more complex. Too many of the more recent MMO’s have that the customization of your character lies on the aesthetics and the gear pieces. Even so, you don’t see games that may allow you to ‘gimp’ your characters by poor stat or skill point allotment. Cookie cutter classes. Your character doesn’t stand out with the other 100’s or 1000’s of others? Maybe you will if you get the ultra rare shiny purple ‘blank’ in this months/seasons chest/crate that might make you do 5% more than everyone else!

TL/DR: 10 years and beyond you could face the exact same build, less geared and still see that person handles their character as if they were completely geared. Skill combos were more diverse and there weren’t just that ‘one’ build that was OP until patched.

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Robert Mann

There are a number of options here, and indeed things like the Monarchy system were cool. I’m going to go with WORLD rather than background, though.

Early games were built on the idea that the world around the players mattered… not just as a background, or something to be poorly written about to sate the few people who bother in a game all about pushing forward to the next carrot. No, they were designed based on the idea that the story and the journey was important.

That, to be honest, is something very much missing from the genre anymore. I probably wouldn’t detest themeparks so badly, if they actually had solid stories which mattered in how the players moved through the world… stories which weren’t always about the ‘max level’ and how a select handful of NPCs are always saving the world as these totally awesome people, just with a little help from you the super heroic awesome person (and some others) because they aren’t quite as awesome as the villains.

Give me a themepark with lots of story and details, making understanding the lore important to the game, and I’ll dive into that! Give me another combat simulator with minimal world aspects, and I’ll probably just sit here asking why.

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Nordavind

Development. -> Launch.

No fundraisers. No Early Access. No Soft Launch. No any of that.

xpsync
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xpsync

Glacier slow leveling.

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Rottenrotny

I agree with this.
Games were a lot cooler when it was about the journey, not GOGOGO zerg zerg zerg and then bitch about how bored you are.

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Walter Eldredge

While I agree with you, the age of instant gratification is upon us. Even the gamble buys of micro-transactions and ‘crate-buys’ are proof to what is successful. It is long passed the era of the story or build up of the game, investment into the growth of your character. But rather the end-game and the constant speedrun mentality of ‘the faster the better’. What’s the rush, some of my favorite PvP were the low level PvP in WoW when it launched.

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Space Captain Zor

Indeed. That’s because when you’re lvl 20, and your enemy is lvl 20, you’re not looking at a likely >100 point difference in gear ilvl.

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Robert Mann

Sadly, agreed.

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squidgod2000

EQ1: Items sold to an NPC went into that NPC’s inventory and could be purchased by other players. Always liked that little feature—it worked especially well in EQ since crafting mats were all drops and nearly every drop had some kind of use. You could wander around, scrolling through the inventories of various NPC shopkeepers and hit the jackpot with bone chips, HQ hides, etc.

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Schmidt.Capela

I believe Shroud of the Avatar is planning to bring back that feature, or something similar to it.

camren_rooke
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camren_rooke

Yes this. Used to love going shopping in the stores for a new silifi in Asherons Call.

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Walter Eldredge

Shadowbane: Large scale, true Player housing sieges that gave purpose of ‘protecting your pixels’. TRUE sandbox MMO where you have PVM areas and every where else outside the ‘zones’ are able to be build on with unique designs. No carebear PVM-only garbage, but rather real-to-life, always looking over your shoulder kind of atmosphere.

I feel like today’s gamers NEED a reboot of this kind of game. You have all of these battle royale games out where the risk is ALWAYS put on the players, no safe zones. Shadowbane today would have an absolute dedicated fanbase that would focus on longevity and gameplay rather than being ‘whats new’.

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Space Captain Zor

“always looking over your shoulder” is totally the fun gameplay bullet point I always look for in a persistent massively multiplayer game… not!

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theblackmage75

City of Heroes grouping. Hard to pin down what single element made it so extraordinary but I loved being able to group up with anybody, virtually anywhere. When looking for stuff to do with others my own level didn’t matter, my archetype didn’t matter, my powerset didn’t matter, my raw dps and which enhancements I had didn’t matter. And it led to the most social, welcoming, and easygoing grouping in any game I’ve ever played.

camren_rooke
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camren_rooke

The whole ‘we can do this mission with 2 people or with 8 people’ thing was the best thing about COH missions.

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A Dad Supreme

” What’s the best old-school MMORPG feature that has never made a comeback?”
=======
Support classes that are actually ‘support’ classes, not doubling as tanks, healers or DPS.

R.I.P.

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Aquarion

At the risk of touching the third rail of Massively, City of Heros’ Sidekick/Exemplar system. Plus the base attack system was one of those ideas that, had it ever actually worked, would have been awesome.

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Zen Dadaist

Level ranges for open world PvP. Anarchy Online has kept them and it’s what stops level 220s from 1-shotting a little newbie that’s still learning their way around. The fact modern MMOs have absolutely no level-based restrictions like that is absolutely mind-boggling and literally terrible.

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Melissa McDonald

PvP in Black Desert Online starts at level 45. One of its best features.

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Robert Mann

But the elite high level peoples want to gank the newbs! We haz to satisfy them!

Yeah, it is stupid.

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Melissa McDonald

Corpse runs? It was a mini-game unto itself.

I haven’t really seen a good Charm Animal spell since original EverQuest. Druids could just zap a nearby animal with magic and it would suddenly become your tank or minion. Pretty much anything but insect-kind could be charmed and sent into battle. I loved that spell.

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Oleg Chebeneev

>Corpse runs?

They said the best, not the worst

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Melissa McDonald

For me, it was a 30 minute sidebar game that I didn’t expect, was heart-pounding, even more dangerous, and something I really didn’t want to happen. So I played more conservatively, dying had teeth, I avoided it carefully, and I played much more intelligently.

When dying lost consequences is when MMOs turned into arcade shooters.

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Robert Mann

Depends. A few games had some interesting aspects involved beyond just running back as a ghost to a dead body mindlessly.

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Schmidt.Capela

Back in Vanilla WoW I actually had an addon that would automatically do the corpse run (well, most of it, stopping at the closest point to my corpse along the game’s roads).

Yeah, addon, not a cheat. Back then the API for addons was less locked down.

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steve

Haha. Back then we could automate the whack-a-mole healing for an entire raid down to one macro button. I always regret that they took that from us, though I understand why they did it.

Whack-a-mole was more stressful to me than corpse runs. That whole mini-game ruined healing for me.

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Rhime

Item decay! Crafters used to be able to set up shops either repairing gear or selling newly minted items because player’s stuff would decay with use over time setting up a great crafter’s economy. Now, you never lose gear, but pay a massive one-time price.

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Robert Mann

Schmidt has a point here, in that in some cases it doesn’t really work. First, you need crafting to be important in the first place. Second, it doesn’t mesh well with a game all about constantly fighting things. Third, you need to put it in as a plan at the start, so all those who find the idea abhorrent can just stay away, or can be told ‘No, we aren’t changing the game to what YOU want, we have a player base in mind. If you don’t like our game, then sorry but that’s just the way it is. There are other games that likely suit your interests better.’

Satisfy those conditions, and it is a fine system which makes crafters less of a second-class player.

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Schmidt.Capela

There are some things that, IMHO, need to be decided from the start and not only be clearly communicated to potential players since first reveal, but also have the rest of the game systems designed around them.

Gear decay is one such thing. It can work, but the rest of the game needs to be designed to make it feel like an interesting addition and not just another grind. Also, it’s divisive enough that changing it after starting to charge players for the game can result in a huge backlash.

BTW: gear decay isn’t important exactly for crafters, but rather for traders. I make the distinction because not all crafters enjoy trading; I, for one, love crafting, but loathe having to trade with other players for what I need.

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Robert Mann

It is, depending. If gear decays, and crafters are the only source of gear, it very much is important for crafters. If there’s three dozen other sources of gear, crafting likely isn’t important in the first place, so gear decay is pointless and will likely become something you deal with at a vendor for a minimal cost (not like we haven’t all seen that before!)

Like I said, all three aspects: Crafting being important, more gameplay than just combat, and planned/known from the start. Any one of those not being present will cause a major issue (aka, I agree with you that changing it will cause a big backlash.)

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Rhime

In great games like UO or SWG, this really did work for crafters to be able to make coin off their vendor sales because you knew the customers would most likely return for repairs or new sales which made to crafting part a real game within the game.

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Schmidt.Capela

FireFall attempted to bring that back.

The player base rebelled. Though, granted, Firefall only added it in the middle of Beta, months after it started selling founder packs, and before that there was no indication at all that the game would have gear decay.

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Armsbend

Training mobs on people. It was the most frustrating and awesome thing about early MMOs.

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Melissa McDonald

I love Train to Zone. Oh man. It was better AI. Why should a pack of fierce Orcs, frustrated when a giggling (or screaming) opponent manages to zone out, not instead turn their wrath on other hated Free Peoples within sight and range? That’s way more exciting and alive than this “oops, go back to my home point and reset” behaviour

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Schmidt.Capela

Actually, putting a leash on mobs is more complex than letting they freely pursue players.

This was changed due to griefing and exploiting, to the point games that were released without mob leashes (like WoW) added them after the fact. And yeah, if you trained mobs on others, you were basically griefing them.

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agemyth 😩

I think the side effect of nerfing this and the ability to “kite” mobs have harmed the ability for players to use some of their skills and the environment in fun and creative ways. The strategy, even for ranged characters, is pretty much reduced to tanking mobs when they get in melee range even though you might wear cloth and die much faster than melee players.

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Robert Mann

Yep. Sadly there’s people who make it their mission to ensure we can’t have nice things…

Andrew Ross
Staff
Andrew Ross

Are there any other games with SWG’s ever shifting, randomized resource tables? Instead of just, say, metal and oil, metal and oil were categories and randomly generated metals and oils would rotate through the game, only seen once, and the location and quality would change. Maybe one week you’d have Awesomia, a high durability, high strength metal with great heat resistance, but next week it’d be lost forever and Weaktanium, a low durability, low strength metal that was only good for corrosion resistance. Scouting planets for new resources and tracking them was great, as was collecting huge amounts of the good stuff and saving them to craft really good stuff down the line.

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Robert Mann

Wasn’t really a fan of that, although I would like to see some limited resources and even resource scarcity across a huge map, making trade and finding deeper sources of minerals (for example) important as the game progressed.

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Schmidt.Capela

FireFall. Between Beta 0.6 and Launch resources had different characteristics that were randomized every few days, and gear made from different resources had different attributes and a durability that would eventually run out and force you to discard it and get another piece of gear.

The problem is, that system wasn’t there in Firefall from the start. It was added to the game in the middle of Beta. Which proved really divisive with old players, used to the older system and gear that never broke down.

I’m among those; I can accept either gear with random stats or gear that eventually breaks down, but not the two at the same time.

capt_north
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capt_north

I’ve seen glimmers of it here and there, but nothing that really makes prospecting for high-grade materials a viable career. Mostly it’s “find node, hit node, get stuff” with little or no variation in either the raw materials or finished product.

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Oleg Chebeneev

EVE Online.

Andrew Ross
Staff
Andrew Ross

So just 2 old school MMOs do it? I’ll vote for this feature then!

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Oleg Chebeneev

Easily Diplomacy in Vanguard. It was very well implemented, fit the game world, was fun from gameplay perspective and allowed to uncover game’s lore in unique way. 10/10 feature.

Also permadeath system. Some MUDs like Armageddon have it but I dont think there is a single active MMORPG that has it (if Im wrong, pls tell).

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Paul

+1 for Vanguard Diplomacy and the associated civic buffs

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Bannex

Vast uninstanced open worlds.

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agemyth 😩

Its one of the most disappointing problems with ESO. The single player games are heavily boosted by the vast unobstructed sight lines and a world designed not as a bunch of individual boxes but more as… a world (or just one giant box).

This probably makes it too hard to port to consoles :( Consoles = money

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Yoshi Senpai

If ESO would just get rid of the constant fog I’d be stoked. My computer is almost always capping the FPS at 100 so let me have a slider to get rid of that ugly fog!

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agemyth 😩

There is a potentially EULA-breaking mod of sorts that allows players to turn off the fog in ESO. It makes the game look better in some spots, but it seems clear to me that the world was shaped and designed with short view distances in mind.

Sight lines seem intentionally broken by trees and mountains/hills in a way to combat the fog from standing out even more.

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Schmidt.Capela

Fun thing, Elder Scrolls was only truly open world in Morrowind. From Oblivion onward cities are closed, with all its contents and NPCs existing in different instances than the open world; that is likely what forced the game to remove the Leap and Fly spells, as the new way of building the world couldn’t handle those.

As for why that change happened, hearsay is that consoles couldn’t handle the open world and the large concentration of NPCs in cities at the same time.

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agemyth 😩

If you were doing flying right and had a PC of the era Morrowind came out (or an Xbox) the world’s cell based loading system and short sight lines didn’t really do it many favors for making it an open world.

The NPC behavior system they eventually called “Radiant AI” in Oblivion was enough to justify the limited loading screens you faced compared to most other games. The performance improvements shown with numerous NPCs fighting in the new 64bit Skyrim release leads me to believe this was a sincere bottleneck in all their games at least up to the original Skyrim release.

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Schmidt.Capela

A cell-based loading system is basically the only feasible solution when the whole game world won’t fit in the system’s memory.

Without a cell-based loading system, or something similar, the game world needs to be kept small and simple enough that it will fit the memory of the minimal required system with enough left for the game to actually run, and simulating everything in the world won’t bog that system’s CPU down; with something like a cell-based loading system, on the other hand, you can make the game world as large as you want, larger than would fit the memory and with more things to simulate than the processor could handle, because you only load and simulate a little of the world at a time.

Yeah, the change to 64 bits helps push the limits further, but keep in mind that Skyrim Remastered is basically the same half decade old game with slightly improved textures and models running on a modern engine; if it didn’t have massively better performance, something would be very wrong.

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agemyth 😩

I’m not a developer and wasn’t trying to say anything was wrong with their tech in general.

Morrowind was as much as it could be for the time. The limitation of the occasional hard stutter or load in the open world of Morrowind was a bit immersion breaking. I found the compromises of the following games to be reasonable for the time they were released as well.

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Schmidt.Capela

I didn’t quite find the compromise reasonable, but that might be because when each of those games launched I had a PC more than powerful enough to run with the cities open, without lag or stuttering. So, from my point of view, the PC version of the game was held back, made worse, in order to accommodate console players.

On the other hand, modders did release open cities mods for both Oblivion and Skyrim, fixing that issue.

That is part of the reason I consider console versions of Elder Scrolls games to be unplayable crap and PC versions of the same games to be among the best games ever made. Mods allow me to undo most of the irrational design decisions and let the true gem that lies underneath shine.

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Robert Mann

Agreed. I think maybe the old Gothic games were some of the best about this, but they also heavily abused cell loading and ran into major issues with that on higher detail settings back when they were pushing the competition against the ES series.

They tended to be a little smoother about it, less obvious about hiding things, and more free about letting you get places that in other games you ‘shouldn’t go’ outside of the flying/leaping exploits (which is what they were when people abused them) in Morrowind.

Zeph
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Zeph

Fun.

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Bannex

Sounds like a personal problem

Zeph
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Zeph

Oh, indeed.

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MesaSage

Cow tipping

borghive
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borghive

Group content that doesn’t have a carebear version for introverts.

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Nordavind

Oh sure, easy for an extruded-to-conformity borg drone to pick on individualism >.>

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Dagget Burmese

Anarchy Online’s buffing system, where players had to rely on others for profession-specific buffs to help in equipping armor and weapons (and the whole master-class ‘twinking’ system in the game) did a lot to provide a social fabric.

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Serrenity

Definitely this. While it required several different 3rd party programs to plan out, it was probably one of my favorite aspects of the same. Just sitting in OA and selling moochies for 100k per buff.

Just awesome

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Ken from Chicago

Guild Wars’ press Z on keyboard and the camera would automatically revolve around you 180 degrees to EASILY INSTANTLY show your own character from the front. Also, press X and your character would, if running, reverse course to run 180 degrees from your original direction.

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Veldan

Yeah, GW2 did many things badly in my opinion, but they nailed camera functionality and options.

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Ken from Chicago

I was talking about the first Guild Wars.

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starbuck1771

SWG’s open world housing, harvester, and city placement system.

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Warking

Ryzom’s Animal AI and weather systems that both changed by season

Vanguard Diplomacy

Not old school but necessary

Archeage
Two passenger mounts by default
Boats of all types and sizes
See it? Go there. No matter how big
Vehicles
Trading of goods – this is such a fantastic system that other companies need to copy

Other mmos
Race specific abilities – sorry millennials but I like to be unique ACTING and LOOKING
Elemental weaknesses ala FFXI
Spellchains FFXI
Living blooming plants ala FFXI that aren’t killable just part of the environment
Big overworld maps. I hate the tunnel worlds

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Robert Mann

I’d like this, but certain things I just despise here.

For example, AA trading (actually, all their economy system where every way to earn money worth anything was tied to energy which was tied to the cash shop.)
I don’t mind background plants too much… but I do want to be able to get wood out of that tree there that under any sense of realism I can chop into.
As for the race abilities… again I don’t mind that, so long as they aren’t a massive source of imbalance and faction favoritism -OR- useless. They tended to be one or the other.
The rest is fine to me, although I do thing tunnels have their place (just not artificial crud like making the entire game world a long series of minimal area roads that you just follow in order killing things.)

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Nordavind

define old school

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Lorgarn

I would guess that old school in this particular sense is before the genre became mainstream. (Maybe?) So pretty much anything pre-WoW could sort of be considered old school I think.

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Victor Barreiro Jr.

Still miss Vanguard Diplomacy.

I hear BDO NPC conversations (amity system) is reminiscent of this.

Polyanna
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Polyanna

Gear with stat requirements only, and no level locks, that also buffs the stats you need to equip it. It’s the single most genius feature of Anarchy Online that I’ve never seen done in other games, and it makes twinking (real twinking, AO style) a game all to itself.

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Drewzle

So much this. Combine the old school several days/weeks/months waiting period of perk resetting and it was very much a game within a game.

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Zen Dadaist

Yeah but I’m glad they massively shortened perk reset time, and then added in the full perk reset NPC. I’ve spent more millions on that guy than I care to admit since he was introduced *cough*.

pepperzine
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pepperzine

I really enjoyed the provocation skill in Ultima Online. It would feel awesome getting another monster to do your bidding, while at the same time having to fear that it may just turn on you instead if your initial skill check failed. Games need to bring back bard based classes, and not ones that solely provide buffs and light heals. This was an awesome way to integrate truly powerful combat oriented elements to musicianship.

I am unaware of any mmorpg that has a skill that works in a similar way, but if someone knows one, please share!

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TheDonDude

Might just be the games I play, but I miss those wacky class-specific utility abilities from EQ. Long range teleportation, corpse finding, clarity buffs, SoW, changing the weather…

WoW’s the only modern(ish) game I play that still has that sort of stuff but even that’s gotten downplayed.

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Warking

I miss those too. Changing the weather was awesome.

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