All right, here I am to continue my brief overview of things the MMORPGs I have played did right. As before, I will not cover all of the things, etc., etc.
Ah, Shadowbane, how full of potential you were! I felt this game actually did a plethora of great things, but was unfortunately held back by a plethora of bad things - let's ignore those.
The RTS aspect of the game was its crowning jewel, and this encompasses the entire aspect of city building, city sieges, and hired NPCs.
For those that never played SB (you can play now for free, by the way), its main focus was the building of guild-run cities and the conquest of other guild-run cities. Basically, a guild would plant a Tree of Life, and then build a city around that, similar to a RTS game. You could put up castle walls, hire guards and trainers, build houses, and even hire craftsman. These craftsmen, at least when I stopped playing, were actually where some ofthe best equipment came from, which made things rather interesting. Even more interesting was that you could run a merchant city of craftsman and set prices on the gear they made, which would be purchased by other players. You would, of course, reap the profits. The same went for the NPC trainers, as advanced ones could train players further than trainers found in major, static cities could.
Few things are as fun as owning your own city in an MMORPG, and destroying the cities of others by laying siege to them, I must say.
I would have to say another great aspect was the traits and disciplines system. I will not go into a great amount of detail, but I will say that traits allowed a lot of stat and proficiency customization, and disciplines basically allowed you to add entirely new skillsets, and with some disciplines it was almost like playing another class entirely. You could take a Dwarf Warrior, for example, and then add the Commander discipline, and suddenly you had some nice group and siege abilities at your disposal.
All in all, SB had a pretty fun and unique customization system that made creating and building characters a lot of fun.
Star Wars Galaxies
Sorry, I actually never played this game. Science-fiction MMORPGs are not my thing, so I steered clear, even though I did, of course, enjoy the movies. I have heard that the freedom of the pre-NGE version of the game was amazing, and that crafting and such was quite deep, but that is just hearsay on my part.
EQ2 is an interesting game, in that it got massively better after launch due to massive game updates, and while I do not play it anymore and have not in a while, I feel it should be doing better than it is.
Though I am loath to do it again, I have to once again say that EQ2, like its predecessor, really nailed atmosphere well. Granted, they took a few shortcuts (justified by the lore they conjured up) and nixed each race having a city, but the cities they did create were simply amazing. They had the right moods, they felt quite alive due to NPC interactions and movement, and they had a lot to see and do. I found the world beyond the cities to be excellent, as well, though not as amazing as the original EQ. They seemed to have run dry on inspiration, but even still were able to produce a large, interesting world.
Oh, and I simply must mention the oodles of voice acting as it relates to atmosphere. Though, like most people, I grew tired of it due to listening to every spoken word taking ten times longer than just reading text, the quality of the voice acting given the scope of the project was really quite good. This is a feature that probably looked great on paper, but despite being executed well was not worth it as players simply will not put up with it for long. Still, it was definitely impressive and, until I got tired of waiting for the NPCs to shut up, engrossing.
The other aspect I will mention is probably a contentious one - the encounter system. Now, many people felt it dumbed the game down, and perhaps it did, but I thought it was rather novel and brought something new to the genre.
For those who never played, every enemy in the game was part of an encounter, if not the whole thing. Then, each enemy was rated via a colour, which showed the level of it relative to your level, and a series of arrows that showed how tough of an enemy it was for its colour - down arrows meant it was weak for its colour, up arrows meant it was strong. It sounds confusing, and was to an extent, but it made sense after you got used to it. Basically, a 'yellow' enemy that had 3 down arrows would be very simple solo, whereas another 'yellow' enemy with 3 up arrows would be very hard solo - arrows meant more than colour.
Anyway, the real beauty of the system was that a single-enemy encounter might might have the enemy marked as a yellow with 1 up arrow, but a multiple-enemy encounter, consisting of the same enemy type, might have each enemy in it marked as yellow with 3 down arrows. Now, both encounters would give around the same experience, but the multiple-enemy one would have you fighting a lot of weak enemies. Basically, the latter encounter was balanced and planned with fighting them all at once in mind, and indeed they were linked and would invariably all attack at once.
Why was this cool? Simple - fighting one enemy at a time is boring! It does not feel heroic enough. After all, in the movies, the hero usually mows down waves after wave of peons, and only duels one-on-one with the main villain. This encounter system allowed the designers to let the player fight a horde of weaker enemies for the same reward as fighting one stronger enemy. This also made AoE abilities and spells more useful and less suicidal.
In a genre typically filled with single pulls, this was refreshing. More enemies, to me, make things more hectic, more exciting, and ultimately more fun. I do not know why more MMORPGs do not take a cue from this and allow more massive battles, even for the solo player.
Well, I find myself out of steam once again. I'll probably wrap things up in the next entry when I tackle the rest of the current MMORPGs I have played. I realize now that I forgot to discuss Anarchy Online, but I did not play it enough to comment much on it, anyway. At any rate, I have already skipped at least a dozen other MMORPGs I at least dabbled in, and I'd be here forever if I mentioned everything, which is why I am sticking to the major releases.