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The Return of the Early MMO

Garrett Fuller Posted:
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Gaming can go full circle with trends and concepts. Back in 1997 Ultima Online created a concept that allowed large groups of players into a digital sandbox to grow a fantasy world together. EverQuest picked up the ball and ran with it scoring a huge touchdown by taking the game from an isometric view into a third person view. After EverQuest the third person view became the norm and most MMOs went that route. There were exceptions, Runescape for example, remains hugely successful on the old school isometric model. I say old school, but I am honestly wrong in that regard. This simple view of a game is returning in a big way and bringing a host of new possibilities with it. Funny enough, it never really did leave as games like Diablo 3, Pillars of Eternity, and the latest Grimdawn in the action RPG side have proven to be a huge success. Even Marvel Heroes has a huge fan base on the MMO side. So, let’s look at a few MMOs that are coming out in the next year which take us back to our early days with some great new mechanics for the future.

Shards Online

In early test stages right now Shards Online is bringing back the full world sandbox experience. Players will be able to host their own servers for the game. Hosting our own server in an official capacity is nothing new, but doing it in a game like Shards will allow guilds and game groups to have their own worlds. Run them however they want and set the ground rules. Shards offers a very similar play set to Ultima’s original design with skills being the main focus and characters growing in range rather than being stricken to one specific class.

Where Shards adds to this is by using NPCs you can boost your resources. In old school Ultima player shops were a big part of the game. With Shards NPCs can do a lot more for you. The end result of Shards design will be a living world that you can live in and host yourself. There will be dedicated servers for players as well. The game heralds back to what made early MMOs great. The ability to log in and do more than just quest and raid, but actually be a part of the world you are looking to grow.

Das Tal

Das Tal is another game in development and brings the mainstay of the sandbox world into a strong PvP format. You have a similar design with an isometric view for the game, but the mechanics are much more PvP focused. Das Tal talks about meaningful conflict in an important way. While old MMOs had hardcore levels of PvP few games were really built around it entirely.

Ultima was renown for its Player Killer groups who ravaged the landscape, but the game was not centered on that aspect. It was not until Shadowbane and Dark Age of Camelot came along to where we saw PvP playing such a large role in the overall design and feel of the game.

Das Tal steps back into that mind set and is building based on survival. Losing does have consequences, but forming groups will take the sting out of it. Players use skills based off of the weapon and armor sets that they choose. You may want to wield swords, but wear robes to get healing benefits over the protection of armor. So if you are looking for a faster paced game and like to go to war against others, this PvP eccentric sandbox is the perfect place for fans of old school MMOs.

Albion Online

Albion Online is another game that goes back to the very heart of the early MMO. It boasts more of an exploring and crafting philosophy but still has all the MMO trimmings. While all of these games have a player driven economy of some sort, Albion is heavy on the crafting side. Making armor, weapons, or anything else plays a big past in the world. You also have a skill set you can expand upon through a complex tree so there are no limits to class. These skills combined with gear make you who you are. It is a simple formula that worked back then, and continues to work now.

Albion does have PvP in the game as well as areas to explore and fight monsters. Albion is a game where I could see players having multiple characters for different purposes. It is also a game that you can take with you at work. Yes it is playable on tablets. This definitely makes it a full time game.

Shroud of the Avatar

Through Kickstarter and a great team Richard Garriott is back to his Ultima routes with Shroud of the Avatar. The game is also in the stages of development but is playable for backers and people looking to get into early access. Richard’s game takes all of the features that made both the single player Ultima’s great as well as Ultima Online great and combines them together. Even though it is third person view, the game keeps a lot of strong elements from earlier times.

If PvP is too much then you can play Shroud in RPG mode. If you want to enter the sandbox and join others, go ahead, the options are there. The game also has a player economy and PvP to it, however, the PvP is in flagged zones. This is much more friendly to players who want the mix of fighting or adventuring without fear of losing all of their stuff. With Richard and Star Long at the helm it is interesting to see what lessons they have taken from MMOs over the past twenty years.

So, if you think MMOs are going away, there are currently four out there that bring back some great elements of the way MMOs were played back in the 1990s. These new games build upon true sandbox worlds and bring a lot of what the genre was missing for so long. The living world concept was what made these games so popular and has even transported its elements into games like Minecraft. Somehow the large theme park MMOs missed the boat on keeping a world that people could stay in all the time.

All of these games are playable in some form right now, so look them up and give them a try. Especially if you miss the old school style that MMOs started out with. We’ll have more news on all of them as they launch and enter into different stages of beta throughout their life cycles. For now, it is safe to say that MMOs are not going anywhere.


Garrett Fuller

Garrett Fuller / Garrett Fuller has been playing MMOs since 1997 and writing about them since 2005. He joined MMORPG.com has a volunteer writer and now handles Industry Relations for the website. He has been gaming since 1979 when his cousin showed him a copy of Dungeons and Dragons. When not spending time with his family, Garrett also Larps and plays Airsoft in his spare time.