perfect ten

Perfect Ten is a humorous list-themed feature column by Justin Olivetti and Eliot Lefebvre. [Follow this column’s RSS feed]

Perfect Ten: My highlights from pre-launch MMO hype

Maybe the hype and anticipation of an upcoming MMORPG leaves you feeling burned out and turned off these days. Considering that some titles can be in development for up to a half a decade, it’s crazy to think that a high level of personal excitement can be sustained. I’ve always loved the build-up to MMOs, although I go through cycles of paying attention and getting really jazzed, followed by taking some time off while the title cooks more in the oven.

There’s just something special to me about the pre-launch hype. Communities are forming, devs are talking constantly, and fans are contemplating their future adventures. For me, the only thing similar is the advent season and counting down to Christmas morning.

Yes, many times the hype wasn’t justified by the gameplay delivered, but I usually enjoy both all the same. I was casting my mind back lately over memories from pre-launch hype eras of MMOs, thinking about those certain moments that got me incredibly eager to dive in and play the game in the making. It’s happened many times over the years, so here are 10 of those highlights to share with you!

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Perfect Ten: What your MMO character type says about you

Every MMO has character classes. Every single one. You might rail against this by pointing out that there are several games out there with open skill systems, and this is undeniably true, but it’s the rare MMORPG that allows you to really mix and match from totally opposite ends of the skill spectrum. You might have plenty of freedom in building your character, but in most MMOs, you’re not wielding Ranged Spell of Doom alongside the Great Armor and Smashy Hammer of Destiny.

Unless you’re playing Darkfall, at least, and then everyone is playing “teleporting death wizard” anyhow, so who cares?

The point is that there are certain character types that show up again and again in almost every game, no matter how far off the beaten path its advancement system might be. Skill-based, class-based, whatever – if you’ve got combat, you’ve got some familiar character types. And you probably have some types that you play over and over again, which says something about you, in the same way that always ordering the same thing at Starbucks but debating over it for half an hour every time says something about you.

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Perfect Ten: The final minutes of beloved MMORPGs

“This is how the world ends,” T S Eliot wrote in his famous poem, “not with a bang, but with a whimper.”

That might well describe the concluding moment of any number of MMORPGs that were closed down over the years. From the death of an exceedingly popular title to the demise of a ghost town, those last seconds are pretty much all the same: “Connection to server lost” followed by silence forever.

But what happens before that fatal conclusion is of interest to us today, for it is in the final minutes of MMOs that the community rages, dances, mourns, and celebrates in various ways. Today we’re going to take a trip back in time to the end of 10 MMOs — and what it looked like to the players who were there.

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Perfect Ten: Ten City of Heroes systems every MMO should have stolen by now

Today, City of Heroes turns 12 years old. Except it doesn’t; the game shut down three years ago, it never lived until it reached twelve, and any and all adventures in the game were cut short. Like the ending of Bruce Sterling’s short story Dori Bangs, anything we write about the game is just a paper dream to cover the holes that are left. No more adventures will be had in Paragon City.

You don’t need me to tell you about it, though. I wrote about it when it happened. That was then and this is now, and amidst everything else it’s sometimes easy to forget that CoH was a game.

I’m not going to tell you that it’s the best game ever, but I am going to tell you that the game had some damned brilliant systems that have not been picked up by the world yet for no good reason whatsoever. So in the wake of the anniversary, let’s talk about the stuff from Paragon City that should be in every metaphorical living room across the MMO sphere.

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Perfect Ten: What I loved about Dungeons and Dragons Online

Dungeons and Dragons Online was a very strange game at first glance.

Ten years ago, I ventured into Stormreach with no more motivation than a longstanding desire to play D&D and an idle curiosity to see what an MMO version of this famous pen-and-paper RPG would be like. DDO was so very unlike World of Warcraft and its ilk that it took a large mental readjustment to get into the spirit of the game.

But adjust I did, and off and on I spent the next five years enjoying what this title had to offer. It was one of the first games that I helped to cover on Massively-that-was (yes, DDO had its own weekly column back in the day), and I looked forward to my weekly runs with a team of friends and colleagues. It’s bizarre to look back and realize that DDO is now a decade old and still gamely forging on, and in the spirit of this anniversary I wanted to offer up some of my favorite aspects of this unique title.

Without further ado, here are 10 things that I really loved about Dungeons and Dragons Online.

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Perfect Ten: MMORPGs with huge class rosters

After talking with Mark Jacobs the other week about the difficulty of balancing Camelot Unchained’s 30 classes, it got my mind thinking of MMOs that don’t merely stop with a half-dozen or so classes in their roster. It seems like having a wide array of class choices used to be in vogue early on in the industry but has since been abandoned for a smaller field of archetypes that are easier to manage.

Me? I love choices, particularly with classes. My interest in a game gets a shot in the arm if I have a lot of prospects for alts — the more, the better. So I started drawing up a list of MMOs with large class rosters and decided to make it into a full-blown column.

For the purpose of today’s list, I’m not counting skill-based MMOs (which could be considered as hosting infinite classes). Also, for games that allow a measure of mix-and-matching between classes, I’m counting only the actual classes or powersets available, not the total number of permutations that could be created by their merging. So which MMO has enough classes to satisfy your appetite?

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Perfect Ten: Most notable console MMORPGs to date

It used to be that hunting for a console MMORPG was one of the most fruitless endeavors known to gamers. The PC was where it was at, dating all the way back to the birth of MUDs back in the 1980s. For decades, console gamers could only look on in envy as their PC comrades enjoyed persistent worlds, massive multiplayer, and online events.

The scene, of course, has radically changed, particularly over the past five years. Now studios are downright eager to tap into the console market with their online titles, and in some cases these MMOs have proven to be much more successful on those platforms than their PC version counterparts.

While a full list of every console MMO to date would far exceed a top 10 list, I thought it was worthy of drawing out the most notable titles that have existed to date on video game consoles. Some of these are long extinguished, some are famous disappintments, while others are flourishing even today. What would you pick for this list? Let us know in the comments!

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Perfect Ten: Why MMORPG studios don’t just reboot their games

Last Friday’s WildStar news made me sad. I’m sad because there are two games at war within that title. One of them is a charmingly flexible sandpark; the other one is what I think our dear editor is thinking of when she calls the game World of Warcraft But They’re In Space, since it launched with all of the worst parts of WoW‘s endgame from its original launch without much to improve upon the formula. I really like the former part of the game.

Whenever we wind up with a title in that state, of course, people ask a simple question: Why doesn’t the studio just do a reboot? It worked really well for Final Fantasy XIV, which went from an industry punchline to a success story that’s still building momentum. So why don’t more studios just reboot MMOs that aren’t working?

The answer is that it’s not that easy. And it can conveniently be broken down into several bullet points for this particular column. So let’s get to it.

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Perfect Ten: What your MMO racial pick says about you

In real life, we can’t (usually) pick our race; we kind of get assigned one at birth, thanks to our parents, and we go on from there. So there’s a special kind appeal to the character creation screen in MMOs that grants us the ability to do what we never could for ourselves: choose a racial background.

Some MMOs narrow racial picks down to a whopping one while others seem to add new races every time a developer sneezes all over a lead artist’s drawing board and says, “There, make that happen… call it a Sluggie or something.” I’m always fascinated by the options available and why people choose what they do. I think it says a lot about who we are and what we’re trying to present to the larger game community.

The next time you pause during that character creation screen to contemplate your pick, consider what that choice will say about you. Gross generalizations: They’re fun! Check out my theories below.

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Perfect Ten: Awesome (and unique) MMORPG classes

Class-based systems are one of those holdovers from tabletop RPGs that work surprisingly well in MMOs. I basically put up with class systems in exactly one tabletop game simply because Dungeons & Dragons is likely to abandon classes around the same time that the Earth crashes into the sun and Fifth Edition is pretty good, and the debate over whether MMOs work better with classes and levels or freeform character development systems will still be raging even then.

Even though I’m wholly on board with classes, a surprising number of games wind up trotting out the same basic groups time and again. Here’s the warrior with a two-hander and a big weapon, here’s the caster flinging fireballs, there’s the stealthy guy with paired weapons who stabs things. A lot of those can be really fun to play, too. But my affection always goes toward the odd, the unusual, the classes that you can’t find in many games. Like these classes, basically.

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Perfect Ten: Ten weapons that should be in more MMOs

Swords, spears, axes, maces, and bows for fighters. Wands and fancy-looking staves for mages. Wolverine-style claws and double daggers for thieves. Some useless trinket for healers.

Let’s face it: MMOs (particularly fantasy ones) aren’t often tripping over themselves in an effort to present our characters with weapons outside of the genre norm. If you’ve played one MMO, you’ve probably seen about 90% of the weapon types that you’ll encounter in all of the rest. And while there’s certainly nothing wrong with offering these tried-and-true selections to players, I do wish that devs would broaden their horizons once in a while with a pen-and-paper RPG weapons manual.

Credit where it is due, of course. Sometimes MMOs do bust out interesting weapon types that haven’t gotten a lot of play elsewhere, which is both encouraging to discover and discouraging when you move on to another game that pretends it hasn’t even heard of such items. Today we’re going to go through 10 (well, a few more than that) weapons that really should be in more MMOs.

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Perfect Ten: What you need to know before you play an older MMORPG

I cut my teeth on MMOs with the launch of Final Fantasy XI in America. My roommate in college was interested in the game, so I went with my girlfriend at the time, headed to the mall, bought two copies of the game, and spent most of the night downloading patches and getting the whole thing set up. For years I thought things like the archaic half-functionality of things like PlayOnline constituted a feature rather than a drawback solely because of that title.

There are a lot of older games out there, older even than FFXI in chronology and in design. There are games that launched later that feel older. And after a discussion about exactly that, I found myself thinking about the things you may not realize if you go back to play an older game. If you cut your teeth on more modern games, stuff designed and launched in a more recent environment… there are elements to consider before you download the client and start playing.

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Perfect Ten: MMO problems we don’t really have these days

The weird thing about our perception of time is that we don’t always realize just how much things are changing around us unless we take the effort to notice or have one of those jarring experiences in which we’re faced with the past. What always astonishes me is how we get used to gradual progress in technology without realizing how dependent we’ve gotten on such things.

Take video games, for example, because this is an MMO site and we talk about them quite a lot. A game that you enjoyed 10 or 20 years ago might be absolutely horrid to you now because it lacks a lot of features that have become commonplace in the meantime (personally, I’m always irked that my console JRPG characters don’t regen health after battles). Then again, these games might hold up well and pass the test of time.

As much as we whine and moan about the seeming lack of progress in MMOs, the truth is that in many ways, we used to have it so much worse back in the earlier days of the industry. Oh, there was a lot to admire about the first couple of waves of MMOs, but they were still figuring things out and contained quite a few irritating features as a result. Today, let’s look at 10 MMO problems that we don’t really have these days thanks to newer features and a desire to make games more casual friendly.

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