Perfect Ten: MMOs obsessed with the floating islands trope

    
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Get in, losers, we're going exploring.

One of the fun things about this hobby is that certain tropes repeat themselves constantly. And they’re usually weirdly specific tropes, too. Poop quests, for example. So many MMOs have one quest or another that make you dealing with poop. Someone has a fixation that is probably not entirely healthy, and that someone keeps getting hired to design quests.

But sometimes you try to come up with a trope that’s so specific that it has to be unique. Or at least rare. “MMOs that feature a zone full of floating islands requiring flight to travel around.” At least one zone, and it is traveled around via flight. That cannot be common, that has to be…

Wait. How did I not only get a full list but actually have to decline some entries? How the heck did this happen? There are this many MMOs using this astonishingly specific trope? How did this happen and why?

Gotta fly these things somehwere, guys.

1. World of Warcraft

All right, this one makes sense. I can accept this without much trouble. You have a whole expansion about the weird floating landmass of Outland, so it makes sense for this to exist here without a doubt, and the whole “floating continent” trope applies here. Yes, floating landmasses where you need to fly to get around. Super, cool.

It’s also kind of traditional fantasy with added extra, which is also… well, very World of Warcraft, let’s be fair. The first expansion was supposed to be really out there, and it succeeded in that regard.

Appropriate.

2. Allods Online

I seem to recall vaguely that Allods Online is based on a long series of RPGs which feature the same concept, so again, that makes sense. If you’ve got a series based around floating sky islands, you sort of need to have more floating sky islands in that series. It’s just how things work.

More than that, I couldn’t tell you because I could never actually get invested enough in this game to get up to the cool ship parts. It might be awesome. I don’t know.

Oh, right, more freaking sky pirates.

3. Final Fantasy XIV

This one… I mean, sure. It makes a little sense, considering the influence other games have on this title. Not a lot of sense, though; the Churning Mists and the Sea of Clouds feel like they’re kind of in existence just to facilitate this, you know? Why are we not just flying over mountain peaks?

Why is there a whale here, to boot? Final Fantasy XIV, you’re giving me a concern.

We'll get this right sooner or later, probably.

4. Riders of Icarus

I… you know, all right, you’re mounting up on exotic things in Riders of Icarus. That includes flying monsters, you have to give those monsters somewhere to fly. I guess this is… easier? On some level?

Why is “floating island” a sign of magic, anyway? Wouldn’t that require a whole lot of extra work for no real gain over being on land? You have to overcome gravity, you no longer have any local hydrology, and you also make it easy for people to just fall off of the edge and die. At this point, you’re just showing off.

We all float up here.

5. Worlds Adrift

All right. You’re traveling between islands, I can accept that. You’re making your own ships, I can accept that. But why did you basically import the setting of another game here, Worlds Adrift? Why do you have me hopping between sky-islands on a sky-ship instead of… you know, real islands? On water? Which works just as well?

No. No, I’m not going down that route. Three dimensions makes things different. This should not be a common trope, but it makes sense here. I’m just really curious about why this is so common. We’re still firmly into the same fantasy realms.

I'm going to blame these jerks.

6. City of Heroes

Wait, all right, we need to have some words. What is this trippy metaphysical nonsense doing here? We don’t need floating islands in City of Heroes. There’s already enough weird stuff going on.

It was around the time that I realized how far this actually goes. For some reason developers just keep filling games with zones full of floating islands that you traverse by flight. How is this a thing? Who decided that this should be a regular feature of MMOs, not just fantasy games?

Of course, to be fair, I've never known anything about Aion.

7. Aion

Seriously, a lot of these aren’t even endgame zones. The Abyss in Aion is pretty endgame-ish, or at least it was when the game launched, but many of these are just… whatever, just things you hit while leveling. So they’re not even a sign that you’ve reached the apex of power and can now kiss the clouds as you flit between the spaces.

I guess the nice thing in Aion is that you are at least flying around solely under your own power, so floating islands make a little more sense. But it’s still… well, weird. I don’t know enough about Aion to be sure how weird.

How are you this way.

8. Pirate101

Oh come on, guys, come on. You wanted to make a fun game for kids about pirates, that’s fine, but there are actual options for using water here. There’s no need for this sky pirate nonsense. I have never actually played Pirate101 (no animosity, just not interested), but I am going to go out on a limb and say that it’s unlikely the game makes intricate use of the three-dimensional space when it comes to combat mechanics.

While we’re on the topic, what is this weird obsession with airships and pirates? The two almost go together better than water and actual pirates at this point.

To be fair, I suppose you can't make a game with that title and then have lots of water, but.

9. Cloud Pirates

All right, now you’re just mocking me. Maybe the characters in Cloud Pirates are actually pirating clouds? That would make a fair bit more sense. I just don’t understand how we have so many games under this same header. This seems really specific.

All right, I can sort of see it.

10. Anarchy Online

Justin, who is my source for all Anarchy Online knowledge, does not remember whether you actually travel between the Shadowlands islands via portals or via flight. At this point, I no longer care. Everything is floating islands now. Land is boring and dumb. And this isn’t counting edge cases like EverQuest, Final Fantasy XI, Shroud of the Avatar, The Elder Scrolls Online, and countless other games I’m sure have their own floating continents that you might not travel around with flight.

This seems way too specific to be common. And I know you folks are going to share more examples that I didn’t catch in the comments.

You know what seems like fun? Walking. Doesn’t that seem fun and novel right about now?

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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Mush V. Peets

I love me some floating islands, so I’m totally OK with this being a thing. \o/

Granted, just shoehorning into a game like “hey, we haven’t done floating islands yet, so let’s do that!” is not all that great, I’ll admit.

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Rheem Octuris

Everquest 2 had a whole expansion about floating islands. And it came out a year before The Burning Crusade.
Also, SkySaga is pretty floaty-islandy heavy.

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Andrew Sammon

Maybe… MAYBE the one thing I hated in City of Heroes. Navigating the Shadow Shard zones…

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Peregrine Falcon

I, and my friends who played CoH with me, loved running around in the Shadow Shards.

Spending 3-5 minutes flying between islands wasn’t a problem for us as we were chatting on skype while flying together. The jumpy things between islands were cool too. I forget what they were called.

rahkeesh
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rahkeesh

The 4th ed. remake of Forgotten Realms actually shoe-horned this kind of thing into the setting as “motes.” Its just a major fantasy trope now, likely started by some novels I know nothing about, that has gradually seeped into fantasy gaming. If you make a big enough world (like MMOs), good chance that you end up grabbing the trope just for some variety.

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Schmidt.Capela

I would say it’s already more common in games than in books, and has been for a long time now. Heck, the first Final Fantasy, from 1987, already had a floating island. Ditto with old MMOs, as games like Ragnarok Online (2002) and Lineage 2 (2003) already had floating islands.

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Schmidt.Capela

This one… I mean, sure. It makes a little sense, considering the influence other games have on this title.

Like, for example, about half the RPGs developed by Square, including multiple entries in the Final Fantasy series? Square just loves its floating continents and flying ships, to the point I would be a lot more surprised if FFXIV didn’t have some kind of floating island.

BTW, the trend is old. Really old. The play The Birds, a comedy by Aristophanes, first performed in 414 BC in Athens, already had a floating island (Cloudcuckooland) in it.

Oh, and another one for the list: DC Universe Online.

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Rheem Octuris

Don’t forget Chrono Trigger. And a couple of the Dragon Quest games had not really floating islands but worlds on top of other worlds. (3 and 6, specifically)

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greyformat

No one is going to mention Wildstar, and the fact that your house is literally a floating island that is most likely Rocket-propelled?

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MesaSage

This is why I play Lotro. No floating islands.

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Vunak

I think WoW is kind of cheating since Outland is technically a shattered planet, its not technically floating, suspended despite gravity, it has its own gravity and it doesn’t even feel like you are on a floating island, until you got to the netherstorm.

But that’s just me. I feel other games like FFXIV made you feel like you were actually on a floating mass better.

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Schmidt.Capela

Not quite. Gravity doesn’t work in Outlands the way it should, so either there is a lot of gravity-altering magic around or the game just doesn’t care about keeping such basic things as gravity straight.

Besides, WoW has floating islands that were never part of Draenor.

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Bobuliss

There’s a simple explanation for all this, at least in my mind. All these developers read the Earthsea Cycle series by Ursula K. Leguin and recognized its greatness.

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Rheem Octuris

Never read those, but I really liked The Left Hand of Darkness.

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Darthbawl

Ouch, no EQ2? Entire zone(s) that are multiple floating islands…

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Maggie May

Yup