...but not every MMORPG does enough right.
However, in this entry, I am going to be positive and only focus on things that MMORPGs did well, because too often we lose sight of this and simply slam an entire game outright. Each release sees something added to the genre, or refined, and these are the things I wish to celebrate today.
So, the following will be a discussion of things I felt were strong aspects about some of the MMORPGs I have played. The list will not be comprehensive, as I will only point out one or two things per game, makes no claims about which game did what first, and will be highly subjective, but with that in mind, let's begin!
I did not play UO for very long, nor did I advance very far, but in my short time all those years ago, I must say I marvelled at how it truly was a world, not just a game environment. MMORPGs that have come since then may claim to be "living, breathing worlds" or some other marketing junk, but UO actually delivered here. You truly were thrust into the world and basically told to play however you wanted and do whatever you wanted.
You could set foot in the game and, before even killing a single enemy, go out and chop down some trees, craft some shields, and go sell them. You could buy a house, or open a shop, and virtually never engage in combat at all, and still have a load of fun. Of course, you could take a more sinister route and be a feared brigand who murders at will and develops an infamous reputation.
Basically, UO was more than an MMORPG, it was more of an virtual world, and it is this freedom that I feel was its greatest asset.
I played EQ for a long time, and the difficulty I have is choosing only a couple things to praise, since it did so much for the MMORPG genre and set so many standards that still govern how MMORPGs basically function today.
The first thing I must say it excelled at was atmosphere. The feel of all of the different areas in Norrath was superb, and the themes throughout could definitely be identified and appreciated. Each race's city was exactly what it should be, from the Wood Elves' treetop capital of Kelethin to the Gnomes' mechanical capital of Ak'Anon. Even the dungeons and zones nailed the ambiance they were looking for, and often took my breath away.
Verant did not cut any corners when it came to producing a truly captivating world, and little touches were everywhere and tied in with the story of the game itself. I do not think any MMORPG since has been as deep when it comes to this aspect, nor as polished, and I doubt any ever will be again.
The second thing of special note was class definition and group roles. For the most part, each class played distinctly, was fun, and had a special role in a group. Also, group dynamics were really solidified here, and presented to a lot of people for the first time. The concept of bringing a group composed of different classes together to achieve something bigger than an individual could alone was not new, but EQ really perfected it and made it accessible and enjoyable. Every MMORPG since has taken cues from EQ in this regard, without changing the formula very much at all. If anything, any minor changes have been to water things down rather than advance them.
AC was an MMORPG I merely dabbled in, as I played it and EQ concurrently and heavily favoured the latter. Still, AC had a lot of good things going for it.
The first, and to me the most important, were the very regular, very large content updates that came along with just a regular subscription. Turbine really raised the bar when it came to expanding the world and increasing the quality of the game without relying on expansions alone. I fondly remember looking forward to each update, which would often add to the plot via story arcs and quests, and seldom disappointed.
Secondly, the uniqueness of AC's advancement system was also wonderful because it was so open. The ability to spend experience as you earned it on various attributes made your effort immediately rewarded, which I think is a great "carrot". Furthermore, the very deep, and very complex spell and spell research system was interesting. You actually felt proud when you discovered a new spell, and the fact that the lesser-used ones were more powerful since the game tracked use was pretty cool. Ultimately, it was all a bit confusing to some, but I appreciated the effort and depth, all the same.
Dark Age of Camelot
DAoC is an easy game to do - Realm versus Realm combat! Finally, an MMORPG came around that offered a real purpose to PvP, and made it very much about a communal effort and about community pride, both key ingredients in longevity and participation.
Even the smallest person could feel they were part of something, and the rush of conquering an enemy and taking their relics was great. Even the sting of defeat was good, too, because you felt something was at stake. You did not want the enemy to beat you because you developed a deep sense of pride, something other games lack. The ongoing conflict provided limitless content and thus kept things exciting, which is a good game model because static content gets consumed, but endless conflict does not.
Anyway, I am going to stop for now, as I am rather tired and need to be up early tomorrow. However, I do intend to continue this as I am not nearly done.
In the meantime, if anyone wants to share what they liked best about these games I have mentioned, or want to comment on anything else, feel free.