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.

Back, back, back in time.

1. Star Trek Online

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.

2. World of Warcraft

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.

3. The Secret World

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.

4. Lord of the Rings Online

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.

5. RuneScape

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.

7. Allods Online

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.

8. Riders of Icarus

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!

9. RIFT

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!

Everyone likes a good list, and we are no different! Perfect Ten takes an MMO topic and divvies it up into 10 delicious, entertaining, and often informative segments for your snacking pleasure. Got a good idea for a list? Email us at justin@massivelyop.com or eliot@massivelyop.com with the subject line “Perfect Ten.”
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19 Comments on "Perfect Ten: Time travel in MMORPGs"

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Bryan Gregory

Still waiting for a Chrono Trigger MMO where different races start in different time periods. When you travel to the future you’ll discover you don’t see some of the races because they’ve become extinct. Or travel from the future to the past to find your race doesn’t exist… yet. :)

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Sally Bowls

Time travel, like jumping puzzles, have no place in my MMO. Begone, you vile defilements, I cast thee out!

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Giles Linnear

ESO has its share of time travel also, as your consciousness is sent back to relive past events in the bodies of ancient heroes…not necessarily just a vision, as at least one Ayleid king remembers you from that time.

capt_north
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capt_north

I wish somebody would make Tales from the Floating Vagabond into an MMO, or one of the temporal/multi-dimensional pubs to which it paid tribute. The superhero genre gets in the ballpark by its very nature, mixing aliens, mutants, ninjas, pirates, robots, sorcerers and talking ducks in a single setting, but the MMO implementations thereof are usually limited to one or two missions or zones outside the prime reality (and not enough talking ducks). I’d like a whole game based around goofy alternate timelines and parallel universes.

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Jeremy Barnes

Time Travel is almost always a bad idea as a plot device. Time Travel is a big part of what has ruined WoW for me.

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Melissa McDonald

LOTRO has a quest where you go back in time to the early Third Age when the Balrog was unleashed in Moria and slew Durin (VI?). You actually get to see the Balrog in the persona of a dwarf in Moria…

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Oleg Chebeneev

Those all looke like minor instanced scenarios to me

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Nordavind

Slight correction: You do not travel back in time in The Darkness War dungeon as much as remembering it. Old Joe, a native american, uses his magic and the memories from the earth to bring to life what has happened in the past. You actually enter the dungeon by clicking a sleeping bag named Dream of the Darkness War, to see how Joe’s tribe and the Vikings fought off the Mayan invasion.

I may be a TSW lore nerd >.>

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Bryan Correll

The stuff from Last Train to Cairo all seems to be legit time travel though. You wouldn’t doubt Said would you?

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Melissa McDonald

Star Trek’s 23rd century throwback expansion was the most fun I’ve ever had in that game. I pine for an entire MMO in that timeline. With film grain just like in the expansion. Klingons that look more like Roy Khan than Worf. It was awesome. :)

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Jon Sleeper

That expansion is what brought me back into the game after a five year absence. I’m still playing.

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enamel

I treat all MMOs as they have time travel. Because in the majority of MMOs a temporal loop is a great explanation as to why you and other players run the same quests, solve the same persons problems and fight the same bosses over and over without affecting any change in the game world.

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Sean

Coh- Ouroboros, Cimerora
Co – vibora bay

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Legend Of Vinny T

Nobody lampshades MMO tropes quite like Cryptic. CO’s Vibora Bay Apocalypse literally ends with Juryrig, the NPC who gives you the initial quest, building a time machine after the apocalypse has already started and giving it to you so you can go back in time to just before you first met him and, without saying so directly, tell him to not give your past self the quest in the first place.

Monsoon
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Monsoon

No mention of Ouroboros and Mender Silos over in CoH?

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Duane Does not check email

Unfortunately living mmo’s….

I could use an ITF….

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TheDonDude

Or Recluse’s Victory.

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bigangry

Not to mention Cimerora…

camren_rooke
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camren_rooke

Cimerora had one of the most enjoyable Task Forces.

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