I swear, so many of the posts I bookmark on Reddit to muse on later wind up deleted, and today I’ve got another one, but hey, I at least liked the topic! The now-deleted user wondered aloud about the most obscure MMOs in the genre, games with hardly anyone playing but full of heart.
“Do any of you play some obscure MMOs that barely have any people on, possibly even less than 10? Something that you find really fun and good, but it’s not popular cause it’s made by a dude or couple of dudes that poured their soul into it but didn’t have a marketing budget.”
Not many people popped up with responses, which may be the cause of the deletion, but I wanted to riff on it anyway because I love these kinds of games; they’re often the ones coming up with the weirdo innovative ideas. I bet everyone out there can name an MMO, dead or alive, that never got the praise and attention it deserved given its quality or passion or creativity, games whose void has never quite been filled since. So let’s talk about this for Overthinking. Are there any ultra-tiny MMOs out there that really deserved more love and players, whose voids in the genre just haven’t been filled?
Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): It’s going to be obvious coming from me, but the Asheron’s Call series really never got the love it deserved. Even after the fact that it’s been dead for years, I still go through wikis and file dumps and find not only stuff I didn’t know about but stuff I can trace to real-world influences that made it easier for me to pickup foreign loan words/concepts. The lore alone in my opinion makes it worthy of a movie more so than other MMO I can think of. A “choose your own adventure” on Netflix might be cool! Horizons/Istaria is another that really could have done better but I feel is also a classic example that, sadly, most MMO players and devs care more about combat than world-building. But if we’re going by ultra tiny, there’s a few others I want to bring up.
First is the Darkfall series, which really should have just been one game. In some ways, it’s what I felt Horizons was pitched as before launch: a PvP fantasy world with large amounts of world building. No, you couldn’t be a dragon, but I still feel their dragon MOBs are the best MMO dragons I’ve ever battled. No silly dance-gimmicks, just flying terrors that would literally stalk you through the wilderness raining fire down below. There’s a reason there’s been a couple of teams trying to keep it alive, but they just don’t appeal to me. A single, large, global server felt like it worked best, and it was large enough that you could have a dungeon to yourself, find a local town to raid, get into a guild war, or even have a multi-continent-wide world war. I don’t think I can handle that these days, but I did enjoy casually playing it and offering my mats to guildies to help their war effort. ArcheAge looked like it might be able to do that, but it was too large. Multiple, single-language servers don’t give the same feeling as global servers where you actually need to figure out how to communicate with people for survival is such a unique experience and lends itself well to fantasy worlds.
The next is Graal. It’s way different from when I played it in high school, but the idea of an online Zelda game was pretty cool, and people were cutthroat. What I do recall was dungeons weren’t linear, which is probably also why griefing was possible. Honestly, it should have lacked PvP, and instancing wasn’t a thing yet, but these days, I feel like it could be possible. Wizardry Online was close in some ways with their dungeons, and TERA was close with it’s combat (but too slow action wise), but marrying the two could make for something really fun. It would need to have instancing and progress save checks, but really, wouldn’t it be cool to have something like a dungeon where people split up into different wings and help each other along with switches, distracting guards, etc.?
Then there’s Saturn Valley Online. There was also Earthbound Online, but I never tried that one. It was super simple, and I don’t think it was more multiplayer than having chat, but the idea was there: a modern, quirky setting for an MMO. One could say Roblox or the various VR Chats with user generated content can scratch that itch, but I I just can’t agree.
Finally, there are two MMOARGs I want to mention. Maguss, the Harry Potter MMOARG before Niantic did it. It was grossly over-monetized and more of a two-player game during beta, but that’s better than Pokemon Go was. Multiple systems and unique combat choices made it quite engaging just on a single player level. I still think with proper development, it could have gone far. Niantic really needs strong competition in this sector. Mowa had good single small-scale ideas, while Next Games’ Walking Dead: Our World has large ones, like in-game guilds, chat, and world building. It’s also sadly attached to an IP that feels highly divisive at this point so it’s doomed to remain small in my opinion. I briefly tried the Minecraft MMOARG, and it just didn’t feel as intuitive for playing/building as Our World did. Both Maguss and Our World offer(ed) familiar MMO experiences that feel like MMOs IRL rather than MMO-lites we get from other IPs. I feel like we need more of these innovations and less automated grinders with huge action that would feel more at home on a larger screen.
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I had a game in mind here, and if you recognize the header for this piece, you already know: It’s Glitch. I know Glitch’s founders have downplayed the game’s qualities, but it was truly something special. For one, it was a platformer that didn’t nauseate me, and that’s a first! But in all seriousness, it had an absolutely epic crafting system (first MMO I ever saw do a proper hierarchical crafting mechanic, even before Guild Wars 2), an incredibly cool modular housing system, and a skill over time (rather than just by use) system that’s duplicated in a rare handful of titles (EVE Online most notable among them). I doubt if the game ever had more than a couple thousand simultaneous players if that, but it deserved a lot more. If it launched now, on a platform other than Flash in a browser, I think it would’ve taken off in the avant-garde indie and mobile scene, rather than the crappy Facebooky Flash game scene it entered into. Alas, too late for that now.
Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): MapleStory 2 springs to mind, as does Gigantic, Landmark, and WildStar, all of which had their own little unique spins or takes on existing genres. But of all of them, I find myself missing Atlas Reactor the most.
Every single thing that this game offered — PvP, tactical combat, teaming up with PUGs — should not have been as involved and as fun as it was. But it was. I hate the axiom, but this game really was easy to learn and difficult to master, and its sense of tactics and the way matches often played out made Atlas Reactor wholly unlike any other game before or since.
Also, I just miss PuP.
Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): That question makes me think of a recent experience I had playing on the Chronicles of Spellborn rogue server. I highly suspect I was the only person on at the time, which is an incredibly eerie feeling when you’re in an MMORPG. These games really need people around to work, you know?
But to address the topic, the MMO that comes to mind is Fallen Earth. It wasn’t ultra-tiny, but I think toward the end, it hosted a very small but very passionate community. It was always a game that I thought had incredibly creative ideas and satisfying gameplay but didn’t get the time of day from the Fallout crowd. That is a shame, and I do hope it comes back some day.
Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I’m probably the last person to talk about smaller MMOs, but I’ll throw out a few thoughts. Hackmud is a really great game. It has a fantastic mood and ambience, and it’s well developed. The tutorial also begins the game as a full single-player campaign which introduces players to the game and it’s world perfectly.
I’ll also include a not-so-massively title, Absolver. It is absolutely gorgeous and breathtaking. The combat is second to none. Even the nearest competitors are leagues away. It can also be played as a single-player title, which means it can never be completely lost. However, it is truly a shame that it isn’t a more popular title. Anyone who enjoys hand to hand martial arts combat must play Absolver.