Last December, the Massively OP 2019 Awards gave its “Best Trend” nod to the rise of rogue servers in the MMO genre. Preservation of long-since deceased MMORPGs is a topic that is near and dear to our heart here, and it is uplifting to see hard-working volunteers do the heavy lifting of keeping these sunsetted games alive — and even updated! — via emulators.
This week, we’ll be looking at 10 MMOs that were dead and buried at one point and have received a new lease on life thanks to rogue servers. We will not, however, be looking at emulators for currently running live games (i.e., Ultima Online, World of Warcraft, EverQuest, etc.) as those are less about preservation and more about competition.
Also, we should note that in most of the cases below, there has been no legal permission given to operate these games. As such, MOP cannot formally endorse such activity and advises caution when evaluating whether or not you engage with these servers. Enough caveats? Good, let’s go!
Star Wars Galaxies
You don’t have to travel in MMO circles for very long before learning the passion and love that people still hold for SOE’s past sandbox game. The efforts to bring Star Wars Galaxies back have been extensive and varied, with different shards approaching different eras of the game’s development. For those looking to experience the game before the controversial Combat Upgrade, there’s SWGEmu. If you want to exist right in the middle of the CU era, SWG Restoration is your bet. You want a blend of pre- and post-NGE? That’s Sunrunner 2. And for those who enjoyed the post-NGE era, SWG Legends has you covered. And that’s just the tippy-top of the number of live shards out there. MOP’s own Larry wrote a Hyperspace Beacon that went into deeper detail on a few these servers if you are interested.
Earth and Beyond
How long will players carry a torch for a short-lived MMO? Many times its actual lifespan, it turns out. Earth & Beyond went into the black back in 2004, but it lived long enough for a devoted fanbase to form. This led to the creation of the Earth & Beyond Emulator, allowing players to jump back into the cockpit of their spacecraft and be the best pilots they can be. There’s even a wiki!
Considering how relatively obscure Toontown Online was and how litigious Disney is, it’s rather shocking to see a rogue server — Toontown Rewritten — exist. And not just exist, but flourish and develop for many years now! It’s actually become one of the more well-developed and fully supported emulators on the market.
“You should know that Toontown Rewritten is a fan-made revival of Disney’s Toontown Online, created using publicly available downloads and information made freely available to the general public,” the site owners caution.
The Sims Online
Even as The Sims 5 might be angling toward multiplayer, there’s a way to play virtual dollhouse with other people, thanks to FreeSO. This Sims Online emulator has been in the works since 2015 and is “a reimplementation of The Sims Online’s game engine, using C# and Monogame. While FreeSO aims to be faithful to the original game, it includes many quality of life changes such as hardware rendering, custom dynamic lighting, hi-res output and >2 floor houses.”
Here’s another MMO that I wouldn’t have pegged as cultivating a strong following, but apparently Shadowbane won enough people over that the Shadowbane Emulator has been going strong for several “seasons” now. If you’re new to this PvP MMORPG, you’ll definitely want to read up on the Morloch Wiki to get your bearings before diving in (if, in fact, you do).
City of Heroes
Ever since City of Heroes’ bizarre and spectacular revival last year, there have been several emulators that have popped up across the scene. Homecoming is the most popular (and populated) one, but if you’re not satisfied with that, you can check out Unity, Thunderspy, Ashrealms, Island of Villains, Moonshard, Rebirth, Resurrection, and Victory. And that’s not even mentioning the social scene of Paragon Chat or the engineering behind SEGS.
The Chronicles of Spellborn
One of the quirkier fantasy MMOs has seen a rebirth in a small and quiet fashion, thanks to Spellborn Reborn. “Now, more than 10 years later, the moment has finally come for everybody to play this rough diamond once more, complete with new bugfixes and unreleased content.”
It was very disappointing that Turbine didn’t make good on its promise to release the Asheron’s Call source code prior to abandoning the MMO entirely, but at least there are a few valiant efforts to keep it running. So if you miss this weird fantasy game, you might want to peek at what ACEmulator, Levistras, and GDLEnhanced are up to these days.
Those who miss Mythic’s realm vs. realm MMORPG (no, not that one, the second one) should be aware that Return of Reckoning has been doing its best to keep the waaagh going. “The War-Emu team wanted to make his own private server in order to regroup the maximum of Warhammer Online players. We’ll try to do our best to continue our good work, and let this server up to let Warhammer revive!”
EverQuest Online Adventures
Yes, there’s actually an effort underway to bring back this console-only MMO. It’s called Project: Return Home, and it sounds like there’s a way to go for it: “A dedicated group of talented fans decided that they wanted to keep playing EQOA and created Project: Revival. Efforts were made to reverse engineer the game and transport it over to PC to give everyone a chance to re-live the glory days of EQOA.”
As we reported last year, this emulator is still in its very early stages, but at least Nexus Forever offers some hope of returning to this colorful scifi MMORPG. Getting housing up and running seems to be a priority right now.
Age of Empires Online
I don’t know who, exactly, is missing this online RTS, but it’s got to be somebody — and chances are that they’ve heard of Project Celeste, an effort to bring AOEO back. What’s pretty impressive is seeing how the volunteer devs put out regular blog posts about the game’s development. That’s dedication!
“Now with pyramids!” Head on over to Earth Eternal: The Anubian War to get a glimpse of this short-lived MMO. “Set in a world where humans no longer exist, and beasts reign supreme, TAW is developed by a group of ex-players and volunteers who are doing this for fun, not profit,” the team said.”
Rusty Hearts always seemed like it deserved a better shake than it got. At least there’s Rusty Hearts Revolution to carry the banner of this action MMO. “In this gothic-inspired world of vampires, half-vampires, and humans, players will be able to unleash devastating combo attacks, engage in a wide variety of epic monster battles, collect valuable loot, and become a unique hero. No tiresome grinding, pay to win complex or RNG disasters.”