The Golden Age
The year was 1998 and I had just started my very first MMORPG, Ultima Online. I had no idea what to expect from this new genre but at first things didn’t look so different. I wandered around town and eventually made my way to a nearby forest. After killing a few orcs and trolls I thought I had the game figured out but what happened next took be my surprise. In the distance I saw another band of travelers and decided to make my way towards them to say hello. Little did I know that this particular group of players were in fact player killers (PKs) and were more interested in my new suit of armor than in exchanging greetings. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed and found myself a defeated ghost, forced to wander the world in search of a healer who could resurrect me. My armor, weapons, and the loot I had gathered from the orcs were all gone. I was angry and I vowed to take my vengeance upon them when I was strong enough. Over the next five years my skills improved and I joined a guild and even took a side in the ongoing civil war between the forces of Lord British and Lord Blackthorn. Mainly because of its PvP features, Ultima Online kept me engaged longer than any other MMORPG, even longer than the other early MMO hit EverQuest.
A False Dawn
Now fast forward to 2009 and it is obvious that the MMORPG market has achieved new heights. Today there are hundreds of games available, many of them don’t even charge a subscription fee. But what about PvP? World of Warcraft and Warhammer Online both boast of their Player vs Player content. Mythic even claims RvR (PvP between larger numbers of players) as its opus magnum but both games fall short of the kind of open PvP first offered over a decade ago. Death in either of these games is meaningless since players are instantly resurrected with only a slight financial penalty in the form of damaged equipment. Some free to play MMORPGs like Atlantica Online, Ragnarok Online, Shaiya and Warrior Epic offer many controlled PvP features but again, it lacks the natural feel of Ultima Online’s open-world, anything goes atmosphere. Many free MMORPGs don’t even bother with PvP at all these days, take for example Maplestory or Fairyland Online. What is even more unfortunate is that EA chose to castrate Ultima Online by restricting open combat and mixing foreign elements into the game to try and make it resemble other popular offerings.
A New Beginning?
Over the years many bold developers have tried to carry UO’s PvP banner but have stumbled before getting very far. Shadowbane comes to mind. During its development it was hailed as the PvPers dream come true, the MMORPG that would be Ultima Online and more. I admired this spirit but unfortunately, the game failed to live up to its fan’s expectations. All Shadowbane servers were permanently closed in the first half of 2009. Now a new game has risen to claim the UO mantle, DarkFall Online. DarkFall offers many of the same features diehard PvP fans crave, unrestricted combat, free looting and so on. The game has so far been attracting so many users that the publishers have had to limit the number of new subscriptions allowed each day. Hopefully they will fix their technical issues soon and allow anyone who wants to try the game an opportunity to do so. Will DarkFall elevate MMORPG PvP back to where it was during the golden age? Only time will tell.