So it’s just about that time again – we’re remembering when City of Heroes launched and when it said goodbye. Which is a bit of a sad time, y’know? I loved that game. I still do. Is it my favorite game ever? Heck no, but the fact is that it was a good game, and I wish it were still around. I could, of course, just rewrite my last column when I was talking all about that game for this year… but that’s not how I do things.
No, this year I want to go a different route. At the time it closed down, the game had 10 normal archetypes, which were and were not classes; they were most cleanly classes rather than anything else, but a given archetype contained more variability than your average class in most MMOs. Yet leaving aside the epic Archetypes, we’ve got just the right number for this list format. So while we all know Crab Spiders would be at the first-place spot if we included those… out of the original basic archetypes, how do those rank up, worst to best?
Thus, that’s what we’re doing this year. Which archetypes were the most original, fun, and nifty, and which ones were the most boring? Which means this time we’re starting at 10, because I like countdowns.
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.
Every so often, a man needs to have a conversation with some anthropomorphized concepts. I do that every few years. In the past, I’ve usually focused on more philosophical concepts. I had a great conversation with Insight and really learned a lot about myself in the process, for example, and I can’t stop thinking about my talk with Contemplation. My dinner with Indulgence was fun, too, even if I would up spending far too much money on it; I feel like scheduling a chat with Regret the morning after was a bad idea.
Most recently, though, I decided to have some conversations with studios. Not their representatives, but with the actual studios themselves. Some of those conversations went better than others, though. You don’t need to take my word for it, though; I included the most interesting ones just past the break. I double-checked with Honesty first, so we’re good, it’s all fair.
I’m a details man. I like to stop and check out the small things, to drink in my environments, and to notice how all sorts of elements connect (or not). In MMORPGs, I often find myself stumbling to a halt while I investigate some strange sight or find a perfect moment for a screenshot. For me, it’s not just the big set pieces that are impressive, but also the small touches that add unappreciated depth to the world.
When you’ve been in a game world for a long time, you pick up on many of these details and have them ingrained into your subconsciousness. I’ve been playing Lord of the Rings Online since launch, and even today there are still parts of that game that charm the pants off of me (which is not a pretty sight, so I’ll thank you to eject it from your imagination). And I’m forever noticing the little things that don’t get much attention in press release bullet points but are just as important to me when it comes to the full experience.
So why not, here is a list of 10 little things that I love about LOTRO. Minute and inconsequential as they may seem, they’re still important to me.
Many moons ago (so, a few months), I wrote a column about terminology that we need for the MMO genre. This made our Editor-in-Chief Bree extremely happy, and she informed me immediately that we would be going back to that well because it was such fertile ground for future exploration. Thus, for the past several weeks, every single time I write a Perfect Ten, she wonders if this is the one wherein I’m finally going to deliver more terminology.
The answer, this week, is yes. Partly because these are pretty easy to come up with, and partly because we have so many things we see over and over without specific names. It’s just a matter of giving these things words.
Here, then, are another ten bits of terminology we may immediately begin working into our lexicon. I’m happy to see that some of these are already becoming used, so that’s a good thing; now we’ve got a need for more. Place them in your appropriate forum signature immediately.
My initial foray into MMORPGs was, to put it nicely, quite ungraceful. I wasn’t even aware that they were a thing until about the year 2000, when I started to notice EverQuest and Asheron’s Call boxes on the shelves. But stories about addiction from friends and the seeming obtuse nature of these games kept me from trying… until fall 2001, that was.
That’s when I saw a sci-fi title lumped together in this unknown category, and I had liked Funcom’s The Longest Journey so much that I thought I’d take a chance on this odd online game. My subsequent experiences in Anarchy Online were fragmented, ignominious, and confusing as all get out. It was so weird, in fact, that I needed a “redo” of City of Heroes several years later to properly get onto the MMO bandwagon (and I haven’t fallen off since!).
So what was it like being a total Anarchy Online — and MMO — noob back in the day, feeling out this game from a position of complete ignorance? Glad you asked, friend, because I’m going to tell you all about it.
I have long been of the opinion that there are few more terrifying animals on this planet than bears. Sure, there are sharks, the mighty kraken, and that little fish that may or may not swim up your urethra and summer home there, but as I live primarily on the land, I think that the odds are greater that a rampaging bear might ruin my day.
True story: When I lived in Colorado Springs, one morning I left home to drive to work and there was a black bear sitting in the middle of the road. I looked at it, nonplussed, and then sloooooowly backed up into my driveway and called in a sick day. Bear days should totally be a thing, however.
I have also been of the opinion that bears are consistently underestimated in MMORPGs. They’re low level trash mobs or pets that finger players as complete noobs for not picking something more exotic. More exotic? Son, if you have a bear on your side, you have won the game. Period. One swipe of its paw and any raid boss’ head should pop right off.
There is a plague of bears in MMOs. Today, let us delve into the ursine horror that curses our genre.
I have played a lot of MMOs. It’s inevitable, given enough years in this job and hobby. And the sad thing is that I wind up seeing the same things over and over again. There’s always a class called the Warrior, for example, and if your game doesn’t have classes, you still have a “recommended path” that makes you a dude with a big two-handed weapon that smacks things. There’s always an opening questgiver. You always need to collect animal parts.
Yes, even in games where there’s no wildlife. Don’t ask me what street thugs in Champions Online are doing with bear hearts; I just need the experience.
Of course, there are always bears. In fact, there are always pretty predictable enemies roaming around. Every MMO has at least some of the same things from the same bestiary, so it’d be nice if we could just accept these features of the omnipresent lineup and term them as such.
Sometimes even the most die-hard MMORPG player finds him or herself a little tired of constantly looking at the back of a head and a running butt. We yearn to slip the surly bonds of the world to explore the cosmos in our very own rocket ship to see what is out there. E.T., are you taking house calls? Can we hang for a little while? I brought Reese’s Pieces!
Getting this experience isn’t quite as easy as, say, finding an MMO that caters to the dragon-slaying crowd. It’s well-known that sci-fi MMORPGs are in the minority, and only a fraction of those center around or contain some element of space flight and combat. However, over the years we’ve seen online games here and there allow us to live out our fantasies of being a space jockey, whether in the form of a trader, a fighter pilot, or an explorer.
Today, let’s look at 10 MMOs, past and present, that helped us get our spaceship on!
MMOs, like any other hobby, have their own terminology. We have the term “newb” for new players, “noob” for players who aren’t actually new but still make new player mistakes, and “n00b” if you want to sound like an insufferable weirdo from the aughts. But we also have a lot of terminology that just plain doesn’t work any more for a variety of reasons, like “pay-to-win” and “hardcore” and so forth.
That does not, however, mean that we do not need our specialized terminology. Indeed, while some of our older vocabulary is not up to the tasks of modern games, I think a great deal could be accomplished just by adding some new words to our lexicon. So let’s create some brand-new terms (or codify existing ones) so that we can, in fact, have shared words to describe scenarios that we encounter on a regular basis.
It’s an objectively known fact that Warhammer Online’s squigs were the peak of MMORPG pet design and functionality. Giant balls of attitude and appetite with a mouth to match, squigs made me proud to be a gamer. Before and since, there have been no better combat pets in existence, which is why it is a tragedy that they went down with that particular sinking ship.
Yet as an MMO pet expert and the best-selling author of “For the fiftieth time, turn off your pet’s taunt, Kevin!” I am here to share my wisdom about the rest of the companions that may trot, fly, or slither alongside your character in games. Which are best? Which are worst? Why are you picking on Kevin? These are the questions that I will answer today as I rank common MMO combat pets from best to worst.
The lives of NPCs are unpleasant within MMOs. Imagine coming into existence knowing that you are forever doomed to perform one singular function, one thing that you have to do until the end of time. Bad enough in and of itself, but then you realize that you’re going to always perform that same function until the servers finally shut off. No one will care if you do well at it or not, they only care that you continue to do it, over and over, forever.
If they have a religion, it’s probably bleak.
Of course, some NPCs have it worse than others. Some of them just have an existence which is bleak; others have existences which are actively a parade of suffering. So here, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, are the lives of MMO NPCs from best to worst. You probably won’t change how you behave around some of these poor souls after understanding their plights, but you can at least respect what they’re going through.
In third grade, my teacher sent home a report card with the note that “Justin is wonderfully strange.” Ever since then, I never found the terms “strange” or “weird” to be pejorative but rather a signpost pointing the way to interesting paths less traveled.
To be weird is to deviate from the safe and predictable and instead venture into the wild and woolly lands of the imagination. When it comes to MMORPGs, I feel that more devs would love for their games to be more strange while the risk-averse studios (and their publishers) pull hard to keep traditional tropes in play.
Still, every once in a while a game comes out that walk on the weird side. These MMOs don’t usually boast universal appeal, large numbers, or even great respect, but they do offer vivid imagination, hidden qualities, and a certain uniqueness that is rarely found elsewhere. Today, we will celebrate the wonderfully strange in online gaming with these 10 titles.