Massively Overthinking: The terrible hot-mess MMOs we have fun in anyway


Every time we cover Hellgate London – and let’s be honest, it’s a lot since the game comes back from the dead at least once a year and it’s a whole running joke – down among the snarky comments are always some replies from people who are like, ya know, I kinda missed this game. And you know what, I hear you. I actually liked Hellgate London when it came out too. My guild had just returned from a real-world meet-up in London, so it was extra special to see some some of the sights in the game too. Sure, it was a buggy mess that truly deserves the scorn it got, but… it was also fun as hell.

For this week’s Massively Overthinking, I want to make a list of these kinds of MMOs. Tell me, writers and readers – what are the terrible MMOs you have fun in anyway? And what redeems them in your eyes?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): No surprise from me: Asheron’s Call 2. It had leveling up via quests instead of grinding (for the most part) before World of Warcraft made it an industry standard. It continued AC’s history of monthly updates, interactive lore, and unique classes. Guild Wars 2 engineers, you’re basically AC2’s Tacticians, except a little more mobile. And have we yet had another bee/wasp-based class? And while AC2 did have a bit more of a raid focus than the previous game, it still was very much more open than the WoW-style combat-dance choreography required as a general singular way to beat encounters.

Yes, there were balance issues for sure. The chat was so bad that it required my friends and I to constantly be on voice chat for the first time in an MMO. Crafting was a joke for the most part. The advertised way towns and cities were to be rebuilt was a lie. And as much as I liked AC1’s free-for-all skill system, AC2’s class trees were still open enough that I made a paladin bow user that could tank without needing 15-20 minutes downtime for buffs. But I still have major memories in that game that the past few MMOs I’ve played haven’t been able to pull off without me having to organize community events, and as my time is far more limited, that really is significant for me.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): It pains me to say this, but Ultima Online is a great but terrible MMO, and I love it to bits. I really have no idea how anyone could roll up to UO in 2021 and enjoy it as a new player. It’s a mess, and no, I don’t mean because it’s an isometric sandbox. It’s 24 years of spaghetti code and convoluted systems and tangled mechanics piled up on each other. It would take weeks, months of research for a new player to understand what in the game is important and what can be cheerfully discarded as detritus, why there are still some skills in the game that have been useless for over two decades, and how to catch up in the game’s economy (don’t bother; you can’t). I don’t really blame the current dev team for any of this; all they can do is hold on to the steering wheel for dear life.

It’s been a while since I dipped into the game, and I let my house drop the last time, but every time I’ve ever gone back, I’ve still managed to have a blissfully good time – hunting, crafting, decorating, shopping, treasure hunting, skilling, wandering, marking runes, doing my own thing. But for someone who doesn’t know the game, I just don’t even know how you’d know how to have that good time.

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX, YouTube, Twitch): I made a tweet about Hellgate on my Twitter the other day! It’s tradition now! I would be sad to ever not have access to Hellgate!

As for favorite terrible MMOs, Eternal Magic. Yes, the game that shamelessly ripped assets out of GW2 and WoW. I know I’m not doing anyone any favors by playing it, but its a color-by-numbers MMO that’s just fun to play. I don’t play it hardcore, but I pick it up to play something that isn’t one of the big five, is somewhat controversial, and also hits all the right dopamine receptors!

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): Dungeons and Dragons Online is definitely the top of this list for me. I don’t visit it too often, but when I do I really enjoy myself in spite of its weird-feeling combat and it’s somewhat confusing character progression primarily because it recreates the tabletop adventuring experience better than any game from the IP. Also, yes I will admit, I’ve had a good time in Star Citizen as well. Not recently (since my computer suddenly can’t find the strength to run it), but the times I have played I really did enjoy the immersion and my overall sense of being in its world, small as it is right now. Finally, while I haven’t had its hooks really bite into me, I do have a good time in Black Desert when I visit.

Colin Henry (@ChaosConstant): For me, it’s Old School RuneScape. OSRS is boring. It’s time-wastey. People made fun of how bad and ugly the graphics were back in 2007, and they have not gotten better with age. But ever since Old School came out, I keep going back. I periodically get bored and wander off, but then it inevitably sucks me back in a few months later.

RuneScape was my first introduction to MMORPGs in late 2004/early 2005, so my enjoyment of it is about 75% nostalgia. But I’ve also never quite found anything else where I enjoy playing the economy more than fighting things or doing story quests (though, to be fair, OSRS’s combat is about as boring as you can get). Maybe it’s because I got to know it back in high school when I had more time and fewer options, and the daunting task of learning the obtuse systems of a sandbox felt like a fun challenge rather than a frustrating slog. Maybe because it’s one of the few MMOs that controls decently on my phone. It’s hard to explain why I enjoy it, and I would never recommend it to anyone, but I do enjoy it.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): Yeah, Hellgate was a fun mess that had a lot of potential, and I was always a bit grumpy that it didn’t get the support it deserved. I’d say that WildStar was quite messy thanks to a divided development focus — but it was an absolute blast even so.

But the one game that was more messy — and still so very enjoyable — than all the others I can think of is Fallen Earth. You could levy criticisms against it all day long, and I’d probably agree with you. And then I’d turn around and play it anyway because there was nothing else quite like it. It was one of the most immersive post-apocalyptic settings I’ve ever experienced, which is why I have my fingers crossed that it does get a reboot at some point.

Tyler Edwards (blog): If you’re enjoying them, can they really be called terrible? Semantic rumblings aside, I do understand how sometimes you can still enjoy a game despite deep flaws. For me right now, it’s Magic: Legends. It’s buggy, it’s unpolished, the story is garbage, and there’s a severe lack of content at the moment, but I’m still logging in every day.

It’s that build system, man. I can’t get enough of it. I’m constantly finding cool new cards, tinkering with my existing builds, and coming up with new ideas for new things to try. It definitely feels like old school The Secret World all over again, if not better in some ways, and I can’t believe I’m saying that.

While this might seem an odd thing to praise, I also find ML does a fantastic job of making a really grindy game not feel like a grind. Even though there’s not much content, the diversity of daily quests and the way there’s so many ways to pursue your goals keeps it from feeling too monotonous, and while the long-term goals might be a huge grind, everything is incremental enough that it doesn’t feel slow. Every time I play, I earn a new card, or a new artifact or piece of equipment, or upgrade some of my existing stuff. Even if I play for a short time each day, it always feels like I make some kind of meaningful progress.

There’s definitely a lot that other online games could learn from Magic: Legends. Just, uh, not the bugs and unfinished content…

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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