When I was still a teenager in my earliest MMOs, the trend in the communities I ran in was to play MMOs sequentially, due in large part to the fact that there weren’t a whole lot of MMOs to begin with. I personally played a sandbox or two on the side of most of the themeparks we traipsed through, but for the most part, my groups spent a decade playing one MMO and then another and then the next as they came out and caught our collective attention.
But in the more recent decade, we’re flush with choices, and people move around much more between MMOs as they get new content on shorter time-scales rather than stay ensconced in a single title for years. And while some may argue that harms communities, it’s also helped keep alive a ton of older MMOs that might otherwise have died for lack of players.
So I’ve posed this question to our staff for this week’s Massively Overthinking: What’s the oldest MMORPG you still play, and what does it have that other games don’t that makes you keep going back? (With the caveat that “still play” means “in the last half year with intent to return.”)
Andy McAdams: I cut my MMO teeth on Anarchy Online, and I inevitably end up going back to play a few hours every year. Anarchy Online has one of my favorite “magic” systems, a really fun inter-class dependency system of buffs, and a sci-fi setting. It also has one of my favorite classes: the Meta-physicist, which was about a support-y as you can get. (An MP’s direct-damage abilities without a pet are something akin to hitting the baddie with a nerf dart. Sure, it might be satisfying and make you feel better, but it’s not really effective in any meaningful way.) That’s the only old game I wander back to consistently, but in recent years I’ve gone so far back as diving into some MUDs for the depth and complexity they offer.
As soon as Jason Epstein leaves Daybreak, I am looking forward to going back to Norrath in EverQuest II because I love the fae race (so much!) and the Illusionist class.
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): For me, it turns out to be Star Wars Galaxies, though I had to start over on a rogue server, which is not an easy thing for a crafter, so I know I really wanted to be there and wasn’t just riding on the momentum of “10 years of stuff” since I had no stuff to fall back on! There just aren’t many MMOs out there offering the kind of economic sandbox that SWG had and has, full-stop. If I ever find one that tops it, I’m sure I’ll be tempted away. Still waiting, though, and I feel like I still have to play other MMOs for my smashing-stuff fix because SWG doesn’t do much for me there.
City of Heroes would be a close second, but it’s a little less than a year younger than SWG. And I do usually return to Ultima Online repeatedly as well, and I do intend to return again someday, but I haven’t played it heavily since last year, so it probably shouldn’t count for me, though it’s a good six years older than SWG.
Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX): The closest thing I have to an old MMO is Guild Wars. But I don’t really plan to come back to it any time soon. The time I had with it was absolutely magical; however, the more I look back, the more I realize how playing it today won’t bring back the folks I used to play with. It really was the people I enjoyed playing with. Hanging out at Marhan’s Grotto after some tough missions is a fond memory of mine, but nobody goes there anymore, so there’s really to point to just sit back and hang out after I’m finished with a play session. It’s a blessing that Guild Wars is still around, but nothing will bring back the carefree days of playing Guild Wars all day and then hanging out with folks on Teamspeak. But that’s fine. I’m glad it happened.
Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I guess the oldest game I play right now is City of Heroes. The things it does differently than other MMOs should be pretty obvious to most by now: The character customization above and beyond body sliders is yet to feel matched by any other game, trying new combinations of powers is a game in and of itself, and of course there’s the nostalgia factor at work. It really does feel unlike other games out now, and I can’t help but dip my toes in now and again.
Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): Final Fantasy XI, to the shock of absolutely no one. But it’s not a case of what it has that other games don’t – in fact, most of the things that I’d say the modern FFXI has are also things that FFXIV has. The difference is all in the details, and it’s instead a case of appreciating two very different flavors of big, baroque, richly developed worlds that both do a delightful job of leading me on an adventure. It’s like the difference between vanilla ice cream and strawberry ice cream. I might generally prefer one, but I like both of them a lot.
Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): Right now probably the oldest, chronologically, is World of Warcraft and City of Heroes. There aren’t a lot of pre-2004 MMORPGs that still appeal to me today, even if I did play them and appreciate what they contributed. I would say that both CoH and WoW are very user-friendly, have strong communities, and are simply a lot of fun in the combat department. I may be middle-aged, but bright, shiny colors still appeal!
Mia DeSanzo (@neschria): Have you ever known people who keep going back to their exes, even though those exes are no good for them? I just subscribed to Daybreak’s All Access in order to play EverQuest with all the perks. I knowingly gave money to Daybreak to play a 21-year-old game that I can log into for free. There’s no justification for that.
MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): The oldest MMOs I still play are Star Wars Galaxies (via the emus) and EverQuest II. What do these games have that keeps bringing me back? Stellar housing! A literal home to go back to. Also, the opportunity to live and breathe in a virtual world, with a myriad of activities to choose from, has just not been replicated as well as these. It helps that I have so much history and many great memories with these games. The stories I made, the character lives I roleplayed – they are stories I love returning to. OK, and leaper mounts in EQII are just totally fun!!
Samon Kashani (@thesamkash): The oldest game I’m still playing is Guild Wars 2. Time being what it is, I can’t seem to make enough of it to be able to play anything older. I’ve thought about going back and playing dozens of games, but it just isn’t reasonable. I’ll stick with GW2 for the same reason most people stick to their game: inertia. I’m already past all the beginning stuff. I know how to play. I have good gear and look awesome. And I know most of the game’s lore. Going into some other game I’d have to start from the bottom and that just isn’t going to work.
Tyler Edwards: Probably Star Trek Online. I came into MMOs later than a lot of other people on staff, and I never really got into older games in a meaningful way. The oldest game I’ve been heavily invested in is WoW, and I haven’t played it since Legion, nor am I sure I’ll ever come back. It feels like it lost something when Metzen left, and I just can’t do another Pathfinder grind ever again. As for what brings me back to STO, it’s Star Trek in an MMO. I’ll forgive a lot for the privilege to fly my own D’Deridex.
For anyone keeping score at home, the oldest-oldest game one of us still actively plays turns out to be EverQuest (1999). The youngest-oldest game one of us still plays is Guild Wars 2 (2012).