Recent rumors suggest that the next installment in the storied Diablo franchise will feature elements reminiscent of Diablo II, which could be a step in the right direction. However, the news is only a small light at the end of a very long tunnel for fans of old school MMORPGs. Fortunately, Diablo IV isn’t the only enticing prospect for gamers of a certain age looking to relive the glory days of the MMO genre.
This isn’t to say there haven’t been honorable attempts to recreate that late 90s/early 2000s magic, but as someone who’s tried more than a fair share of games claiming to return to the genre’s roots, I’ve come across very few that manage to remotely compare. Shroud of the Avatar, for a time, might have been our savior, but even Richard Garriott’s spiritual successor to Ultima Online becomes bogged down by problematic modernizations like real-money transactions, a more forgiving PvP system, and an unfocused social structure. Despite its admirable tributes to classic MMOs in its player-based economy and generally unguided nature, Shroud of the Avatar tries to appease everyone, and in doing so captivates very few the way its predecessors did.
To be specific, what I personally miss about the MMOs of yesteryear are open, unrestricted PvP, full inventory looting, player-driven economies, unguided exploration, and vibrant communities. Reading that, you might assume me a griefer and shutter in disgust, and I take no offense to that reaction. Not everyone wants to wander out into an adventure with the looming threat of gankers and the potential of lost progress. Luckily for them, they have just about the gamut of MMORPGs to choose from for a safer, more consistent experience. Those of us longing for the thrill of uncertainty have been proven the minority, and thus our options are shamefully limited.
The fact that I can’t find a satisfying successor to a 20-year-old game says more about me than the MMO genre itself, of that I’m fully aware. I’m relentlessly picky and hopelessly nostalgic.
That being said, the forthcoming Legends of Aria is extremely promising. The “spiritual successor” to Ultima Online is being developed by much of the team behind Ultima Online, although notably without the help of creator Richard Garriott. In fact, numerous mentions of UO are included in its marketing, which emphasizes the game’s open PvP structure, moddability, and player-run servers. Gameplay and presentation are unmistakably UO-inspired, with a near-identical overhead perspective and sprawling environments cluttered with real-life and fantasy-inspired wildlife.
Having spent a few hours with the game already, I can say Legends of Aria not only looks like UO, it feels like UO. Actions like shooting a bow and stabbing with a knife have that familiar weightiness, while walking and running mechanics are expectedly less clunky. Communicating with other players is similarly structured, with overhead chat boxes appearing locally.
Thematically, the UO inspiration is even more blatant. The inventory bag and map are permanently displayed on the screen, while the avatar can be toggled on and off. The only thing preventing me from precisely replicating my UO screen setup is LoA's avatar, which is too big to fit in the upper right side without obstructing my view somewhat.
PvP, while restricted to certain areas, does allow for full inventory loot, which is a breakthrough for fans of classic MMOs. Combat will feel very comfortable for UO players, utilizing the same left click and auto attack function.
Perhaps most importantly, players have the choice to build their world to their liking or join other shards created by the community, giving near limitless freedom to folks like me looking to fine-tune their experience.
Everything from animal taming and player housing to crafting and skill-based progression appear faithfully replicated in the beta. For disenfranchised MMO fans still on the hunt for a passionately faithful old school experience with some of the comforts of modern tech, Legends of Aria is a beacon of hope.
Steam Early Access for Legends of Aria has been pushed back to January, however the game can be accessed via the official website for $30 at the lowest tier.