Perhaps it's a sign of my age, but I find that the more MMOGs I play, the more I long for the good old days of gaming. I started playing MMOGs in 1997 with the release of Ultima Online and have been playing one or more ever since. I have played some that I would call great, like Dark Age of Camelot, and others that were a mess such as Anarchy Online, but I have tried almost all of the big names out there. However I do find myself disappointed the more I play. I mean come on, as technology advances we should be getting better games. Trial and error should help next generation games accomplish what their predecessors could not. I have a hard time saying this is the case currently. With the last couple of years really disappointing on the MMOG front, it got me wondering. Are games released now really that bad, or am I just getting old and crotchety? If I start yelling at kids to get off of my lawn I'll know the answer. Until then I thought it might be enlightening to break out MMOGs by section and examine if it was better in the old days, or do the new kids knock out the old dogs of MMOGs?
To start with let's define what I call old school MMOGs. To me these are games released in the first 5 years or so of the genre. Games like Ultima Online, Asherons Call, Everquest, Dark Age of Camelot and Anarchy Online. These were the games that had to lay the ground work and establish what MMOGs were. I also tend to think of these games as the most innovative, that really pushed the genre. To me there was a huge leap in MMOG audiences when Star Wars Galaxies and World of Warcraft launched, and I tend to see them as the beginning of the new era of MMOGs or next generation MMOGs. With that said, I also feel innovation dropped a great deal from this point on. Games became more about following established models and only slightly improving upon what came before. An N+1 formula to minimize risks and capitalize profits. Nobody can argue that graphics haven't greatly improved with time, but what about the other aspects of game play?
Let's start with a look at PvP. Is PvP fundamentally better in MMOGs today than they were 8+ years ago?
When I think of old school PvP, two games quickly come to mind, Ultima Online and Dark Age of Camelot. When UO launched it was amazing to see hundreds if not thousands of players running around in game together. I remember my first day well, I logged in, spent about 20 minutes or so making a character, and got ready to sally forth and kick some ass. I grabbed my starting sword and ran out into the woods to find something cool to kill. Boy was I a noob. As soon as I passed the edge of town I saw another player call out the words that would haunt me for years, "Corp Por." The words that cast an Energy Bolt in the game, and was the cause of my death more times than I can count. I never got a chance to even swing my blade and I was laying there dead. The son of a bitch looted my beginner gear and left me with nothing. (If there is justice in the world, I will find that player named Malice in need of a kidney or bone marrow transplant, and I will be the only one able to help him. "Oh what's that Malice, you need my help? Remember laughing at my corps as you killed me over and over again? Ya, look who's laughing now funny guy!") It took me weeks of trial and error to figure out how to stay alive and even prosper in the game. It was brutal and unforgiving, and I'm sure there were gamers that simply quit in those early days. However for those that had the intestinal fortitude to stick it out, the game became engrossing. You had a real sense of accomplishment if you survived a dungeon run, or an ambush. It was a very harsh PvP system, kill anyone, almost anywhere, (yes guards could be called in town, but you still usually died from the first couple of hits you took) anytime and for any reason. No level caps, no safe zones. If you were logged in, you better be watching your back. Griefing was common place, and to be honest not a lot was ever done to prevent it. You had to have thick skin to play the game.
Dark Age of Camelot followed with their take on PvP. Gone was the idea of kill anyone, anywhere. Instead they gave you 3 sides to pick from. You chose your realm and everyone in it instantly became your allies. You were pitted against the other 2 realms to satisfy your desire for PvP. These were controlled areas, large PvP lakes or zones, where you knew PvP was allowed. The game allowed you to level in safety from PvP, and join in the mayhem when you desired. Griefing dropped significantly, and new players had time to learn the game before any asshats could camp them. More importantly, DAOC gave you a reason to PvP. It was no longer just to steal other peoples stuff. You got rewards for participating. There were keeps to conquer and relics to steal. Relics that gave your realm bonuses for taking them. The game fostered team work and gave players something to do at end game.
DAOC came out in 2001 and I am trying hard to think of another game that has really pushed the PvP envelope since. There have been games that have followed more of the Ultima Online model, and others that follow more of the DAOC model, but where is the groundbreaking innovation to PvP? Show me a system that is anything more than N+1. In 9 years we can't improve more than we did in the first 4 years of the genre? To be honest, I have a hard time thinking of a game that has even equaled DAOC in PvP much less surpassed it. Sure we have pretty graphics and particle effects with newer games, but can anyone say that the PvP gameplay is better today than it was back then?
I can't help but come to the conclusion that as far as PvP goes, old school MMOGs clearly win. We have a long way to go before we can pick a clear winner, but it's safe to say that old school MMOGs have taken an early lead. Next time we will take a look at raids and see how the old school matches up to the next generation. Until then, "Get off of my lawn!"