Perfect Ten: Time travel in MMORPGs
Over the years, I’ve been fascinated with the concept of time in MMORPGs. It’s one of those things that developers probably don’t want you thinking about too closely, since it could create a crack in the world illusion that they’ve created. But really, how does time work in these games? Are you forever frozen in the same fixed point in history, advancing only to a new era when a patch or expansion releases? Does the timeline advance only as you go through new quests and hit arbitrary milestones?
Even more fascinating is when developers decide to have a little fun with their storytelling by throwing players into the past and future via time travel. It’s not even strictly for science-fiction games, either; plenty of fantasy MMOs work in time travel at one point or the other. It can be a great way of expanding upon the game’s lore and giving players an insight into events that led up to the modern era.
Today we’re going to look at 10 instances of how MMORPGs have used time travel with reckless regard to paradoxes and splintering the world into millions of alternate universes.
Just like the TV show and movies, Star Trek Online is up to its armpits in time travel plots to the point where it’s just something characters do before downing vitamins and brushing their teeth in the morning. Whether it be slingshotting around a planet or stepping through the Guardian of Forever, characters find themselves jumping around in different Trek eras. It’s a clever way to work in voice actors, and it even became the lynchpin of the Agents of Yesterday expansion (which included both characters from the past time traveling to the present and characters from the present going back in time). As long as we got to go on a pub crawl with Scotty, it was all good.
Everyone knows Chromie, the dragon-cum-gnome who enlists players help in understanding and repairing the timeline of Azeroth. She’s the mascot of the game’s popular Caverns of Time, a hub for instances in which players can visit past historical events and even tinker with time a little. One might worry a little about the security measures in place to keep griefers from killing Thrall as a baby or ganking your character when you were a level minus-15 teenager, but so far it’s worked out well.
No stranger to the concept of time travel, The Secret World has sent players into the way-back past to fight alongside Vikings in the New World. Even more interesting is a series of quests in which players get to revisit the Roman era courtesy of a “time tomb” and a very long-lived mummy.
Oddly enough, all of LOTRO’s base game involves time travel, as players traverse the half-year or so that the story of the books covers. It’s not an uncommon thing to be able to jump around to different versions of zones to see a battle progress. But even more interesting are LOTRO’s story play sessions, many of which involve inserting the player into a character from the past to see the history of the world and significant characters.
How did humans first arrive in the world of RuneScape? Find out by rubbing a magic key and going back to the First Age in the quest Meeting History! Oh, you might be doing some mundane activities, like planting trees and feeding a baby, but the payoff of finding out more about the world’s key mysteries are more than worth the effort.
6. Lineage II
When you step into a place called “The Mystic Tavern,” chances are that you’re not going to get merely ale and some light entertainment. In Lineage II, this locale allows players to traverse time itself and experience a trio of legends first-hand thanks to… magic, I guess? A wizard did it. Yeah. That’s what I’m going with.
Tucked in among the details of last year’s New Order update was a half-dozen single-player adventures called Distortions. These Distortions are alternate versions of the past that need some serious Quantum Leap-style intervention. The devs said that player actions in these instances could make “a truly tragic impact” on the events of history.
Wasting very little time after launch before getting into time travel insanity, this fantasy MMO invited hordes of players to jump through a dimensional rift and land in a zone 1,000 years in the past. Seems a little unwise to open an express lane to the past without any guidelines about messing with the temporal stream, but “fun before prudence” is Riders of Icarus’ motto!
Apart from the prologue, which had players traveling both back and forward in time (depending on the faction chosen), RIFT’s Nightmare Saga expanded to include a tour of history with your genial guide, Orphiel. By hitting up the past for information, the hope was to uncover the origin of Lord Arak. Less optimal but more enjoyable than a weekend of research in a library!
10. Final Fantasy XI
A time travel quest here or there is one thing, but Final Fantasy XI scoffed at that and started peppering the entire landscape with time portals to the past. By entering into any of these cavernous maws, players could jump back 20 years to see the effects of the Crystal War in person. It’s a neat idea, to present an alternate world on top of the familiar one that you know well. Wish more MMOs would do this!