Earlier this week, Redditor maxpower888 started an epic thread on the /r/mmorpg sub asking everyone to chime in and name his or her top five MMORPGs of all time. I thought it was a nifty thread to skim to see how many times the same games kept popping up (and the same games turned up in combination with each other).
“You can tell how old people are by their lists,” one gamer objected, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true!
So for this week’s Overthinking, we’re going to join in the fun, then explain our choices and puzzle out what those choices say about us — don’t forget to click the entries to expand them for explanations! You should do the same down in the comments!
Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Don’t forget to click each one for an explanation!#1: Asheron's Call
It’s hard not to include EVE Online here (admittedly another PvP game I’ve yet to jump into, unless you count Dust 514 or Valkyrie), but I feel as though the grand-daddies of MMOs did a few things. First, they were among some of the first successful MMOs that are IP based and more successful than their original titles (sorry, Asheron’s Call 2, I loved you but apparently I was in the minority).
Brendan Drain (@nyphur): (Brendan is on a plane destined for EVE Fanfest at the moment, but I think it’s safe to say EVE Online would top his list! -Eds)
Interestingly, this is the only game on my top five that came out in a period that wasn’t the 2003-2005 era. That’s why I don’t think you can use the answers to age folks. I started MMOing in 1997, yet I don’t think the real golden age began until the second/third wave of MMOs!
Still, that fifth one was rough. I could have as easily said Ultima Online, which I still play; Asheron’s Call, one of the greats I wish I’d played much more at its peak; or Glitch, a brilliant little sandbox that actually made me unsub UO. Twice.
Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): I hate doing these, mostly because I think they’re rarely all that revelatory and prompt exactly the sort of “no, this is a better game than your pick” waving that I find intensely unpleasant. That having been said, I also doubt anyone will be surprised by mine. (Click to expand each entry!)#1: Final Fantasy XIV
MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): Anyone who has known me for five minutes should probably already know the top game on this list. It shouldn’t be terribly surprising that the other four share some main characteristics with the first, which is why they are games that I love (and still play). Click to expand my picks!#1: Star Wars Galaxies
I know it wasn’t the exact experience of everyone, but the combination of everything — my class, me, the mechanics, the setting, the community — made it perfect for me to be able to live and roleplay in the world fully without mechanics getting in the way. Let me emphasize: Game mechanics did not get in the way! I didn’t have to fake it or resort to “tavern RP” where people just sit around talking about their made-up personal exploits. You actually went out and lived those exploits! Even when my computer started crashing, we integrated that right into her life. And I wasn’t in any way pigeon-holed by the game to be anything particular (in the early years at least, before the dreaded changes). I didn’t have to fight, which was totally against my character; she could be true to her personality without the game getting in the way. She became a broker of information, and could acquire or point out where to get tangible or intangible goods — for a price! She could heal, she could dance, and her cats and others could protect her. Which brings up another awesome aspect: interdependency. I loved that the community needed each other. No one could do/be everything, and it made us come together. The stories were all interwoven together, which is what made them so fascinating and unpredictable.
It was a vibrant life, and I never grew tired of seeing where it went, both on a personal level and how it related to the server story as a whole. I even told my kids the ongoing stories at the dinner table. And all the stories I wrote were events as they transpired in game. That is an experience that has never been duplicated throughout all the rest of the MMOs that I have played. And I have played many (though admittedly not all). Oh man, I still miss this game.
Now let’s talk stories. I can’t even tell you how much I love the stories in this game, the twists, and the overshadowed darkness. It is an atmosphere unlike any other MMO, and I crave it. The atmosphere is what really ties this world together and gives it a life. It is the experience of walking through many little Twilight Zone vignettes instead of just watching them. Add the fact I can seriously look however is fitting for my character’s story/personality/mood thanks to the innovative gear system (all clothing is cosmetic, equipment is considered charms, jewelry, etc). It really gives me the feel that the character is who I want her to be, not who the game forces her to be.
Also, the way crafting was meaningful and interdependent in the beginning will always keep this near the top of my list. Working up to being one of the two best, most trusted armorers was an accomplishment I was truly proud of and gave fun meaning to my game time. Sadly, that went away with the simplification of crafting. Why must we make everything so oversimplified? What’s wrong with having to work at something to be good and the chance to take pride in accomplishment? The loss of the racial boroughs is also still painful, as it took away a chunk of the charm and personality of the game. No longer can I stroll the streets where many a story took place, and into my little one room apartment with its own stories. Thank heavens the walls can’t talk!
Now let’s talk the music system. Talk about creative expression! Being able to play music, tons of music, on different instruments is awesome. Traveling bands are a real thing. A thing I say! Music happens to be a major part/love in my life, so having such a robust system here is a major, major plus.
And honestly, I am overjoyed to be a little guy — a background character — in that world. I don’t need or want to be there hero, we already have the heroes. And we sure as heck can’t do the heroes better than Tolkien! Just to be some random person in that world, it makes me feel like I truly am a part of the world. I think so many games totally miss the mark when they try and make you THE ONE, THE HERO, THE ALMIGHTY SAVIOR OF EVERYTHING. No one wants to be Uncle Owen eh? Well, I do. OK, I’d actually prefer Aunt Beru. I just want to have my own story in the world, and LOTRO provides this. (The fact that my own story also involves a place to call my own is even better! Yay for housing, even with restrictive hooks.)
It also had a brotherhood system that would ensure that you’d never out-level your friends and make grouping and doing the content together impossible. That was definitely a treasure! Suddenly you weren’t tied down to only playing when your friends could. You could actually still enjoy the combat content of the game those times you couldn’t both/all be on; you didn’t have to resort to just crafting or decorating if you didn’t want to. What’s this, having choices in a game? Gasp!
I have some real hopes of adding Shroud of the Avatar to this list as it seems to fit right into my ideals. And that, if you haven’t guessed, is a living world that is a vehicle for creative expression. A place to explore. I don’t want a game to play, I want a story to live somewhere where my actions do have a real and lasting impact on the world, be it on a small or a sometimes large scale. How will it end? What happens next? These are the things that keep me coming back for more over and over again.