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.
I suppose there will always be a special place in my heart for Lord of the Rings Online
. Not only is it one of my most-played MMOs, but covering Turbine’s
title was my first task when I landed a position at Massively-that-was. For years I played, loved, and wrote about
this incredible vision for Middle-earth, and even today I sporadically return to see how the journey to the heart of Mordor is progressing.
So it’s with keen interest this week that I turn my attention to LOTRO’s lesser-known predecessor: Middle-earth Online. Known to some but not to all, Turbine wasn’t the first MMO studio to take a crack at Tolkien’s license — no, for that we have to travel back to 1998 and revisit Sierra On-Line. It was this company that had a brief but memorable run designing Middle-earth Online, also known as “What if LOTRO had permadeath?”
It’s a fascinating glimpse into an entirely different approach to the IP, and even though it died a fairly early death, it’s important to be remembered. Frodo lives!
Up until this point in my life, Puzzle Pirates has always been that “Oh yeah, that actually exists!” game to me. Even when I do lists of pirates in MMOs, this title slips right off of my radar. Maybe it’s because Puzzle Pirates doesn’t make waves (har!) these days, or maybe it’s been around for so very long.
I think that part of Puzzle Pirates’ forgettable nature is that it doesn’t exactly scream “MMO.” I mean, its combat is more cerebral than anything else, it’s all cutesy and stuff, and even its name suggests a casual flash title than anything deep and substantive.
Yet I have friends with a long and abiding love for this game, people who always chide me when I forget it. So to peer pressure I bow: It’s high past time that we gave Puzzle Pirates its due as part of the MMO genre. Avast, ye landlubbers, and swab those peepers: We be goin’ to sea!
Fans of tiny older MMORPGs on the verge of extinction have cause for a bit of celebration this spring: A new patch to five-year-old Spiral Knights this week that updated branding to a new company appears to be the work of Grey Havens, a new company dedicated to preserving old games.
Spiral Knights/Puzzle Pirates Community Manager Eurydice told players back in April that the game had been handed over to Grey Havens, “a group of former Three Rings employees who have come together to keep the games and communities we love alive and happy.” Grey Havens’ official site explains, “Grey Havens operates games created by Three Rings Design back in the glorious first decade of the new millennium. Rather than allow those games to disappear forever, we have assembled a doughty crew to keep them operational for as long as we can.”
A common question that I see posited around forums and Reddit is, “What MMO should I play?” If there is a more loaded question than that in this community, I haven’t heard it. What is usually being asked, by both newcomers and long-time players, is, “What MMO is right for me that I haven’t played yet?”
While I hear you and have been there, the truth is that there is no one universal answer to that question. There are just hundreds if not thousands of MMOs, big and small, out on the market, each with its own personality, feature set, and setting. Those have to be compared and matched up with the millions of people who all have their own unique preferences. It’s what makes recommending an MMO a difficult proposition.
I’m game for difficult! Today’s list won’t be “10 MMOs that I think you should play” but a rundown of how to sort through the important categories that are out there in the hopes of finding the game that’s right for you.
Out of all of the MMOs that I’ve played over the years, I must have spent the most time in Lord of the Rings Online’s wonderfully realized vision of J.R.R. Tolkien’s world. An early magazine article in 2007 intrigued me with the mention of a “low-fantasy” MMO that skewed more to realism than the cartoony World of Warcraft. By the time the head start period had finished, I was in love with the Shire, Hobbits, and ordering my Lore-master’s raven to peck the eyes out of goblins.
Yet the MMO that I’ve played and enjoyed was a title born in the grave of a previous effort to bring Lord of the Rings to MMOs: Middle-earth Online. Turbine wasn’t the first MMO studio to take a crack at Tolkien’s license. No, for that we have to travel back to 1998 and revisit Sierra On-Line. It was this company that had a brief but memorable run designing Middle-earth Online with features such as permadeath. It’s a fascinating glimpse into an entirely different approach to the IP, and even though it fizzled out due to a number of factors, I think it’s important it be remembered. Frodo lives!
If there’s one thing that always, always goes with MMOs, it’s combat. I mean, we can’t be a hero without killing something, right? We can’t explore a virtual world of wonder without needing to murder a small chunk of it, no?
And as exciting and replayable and institutional as combat is, sometimes… sometimes I get a little tired of it. Being in games where everything revolves around supporting combat in some way or directly fighting can be mentally exhausting. So the Massively OP team and I sat around one afternoon trying to name MMOs where combat is not just rare but absent entirely.
We thought we could name only a small handful, but we quickly stormed our way past 10, and that’s not even counting sports MMOs, text-based MUSHes, and the iffy status of Puzzle Pirates. So if you’re looking for an online game that isn’t about stabbing, punching, or fireballing goblins to death, here are attempts by the industry to provide alternatives!