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Forever Fantasy: Replaying the Older Games

Updated Fri, Jan 23, 2009 by Dalmarus

The hype surrounding this year's upcoming MMOGs continues to buzz around us like a swarm of angry bees, with all the games vying for their place at the front of the line in this increasingly competitive market. The last two years have been a whirlwind of activity for companies, as new titles have come and gone. Some have done quite well for themselves, while others have crashed and burned like a dork at a frat party. We gave them props for trying, but the end result was just a little sad.

This week, I decided to deviate from my normal path and take a look back at a few of the biggest heavy weights this genre has seen to date. I've spent some time getting familiar with all three again in the hopes to answer one simple question. Can we really go back home (in terms of our beginning MMOG's), or is it a fantasy best left for those nights we're feeling nostalgic and reminisce about "the good old days"?

Your beginning robe may have the stats of a rag, but at least it doesn't look like one anymore!

I'd dare to say that 90% or more of all MMOG players today started out with one of the three following games: Ultima Online, EverQuest, or World of Warcraft. WoW may be the ruling master of the MMO world today, but it never would have existed if it weren't for the groundwork first laid out by EQ and UO. When WoW came on to the scene, EverQuest was the reigning champ with subscription numbers hovering around 500,000. At the time, it was felt that the number of subscribers (500k) represented the majority of the MMO market and introducing a new game to the scene would just spread the audiences even thinner. Of course, we know things are a little different now (to the tune of 11.5 million) with the insanely popular reception of WoW. Not to be left out, UO broke ground by having a completely open world that players still cry for today, even if they've only started playing MMOG's in the last couple of years.

I started this new journey of mine by loading up EverQuest, my first introduction to the MMOG world almost ten years ago. It had been about four years or so since I last hopped into the world of Norrath, so with a smile on my face, I created a new character and jumped into the tutorial. You know, for a game that I played for more hours than any human being should actually admit to in public, I was shocked to discover just how much I had to relearn. It's not that the game has changed so much as to become unrecognizable, but the way everything is handled is so different from the big titles of today's age. I had to re-map virtually all of my keys, just to make it out of the first room. Fortunately, that's as easy as it always has been, so I was off and running.

It amazes me how we've gotten so used to how things are now. After getting enough levels to finally have more than eight spells total, I was desperately wishing for an additional hotbar to load them onto. Eight spells... what the hell kind of archaic crap is that? I actually laughed about it, but it really highlighted how different things have become. There are so many new things in the game from when I left. There's a new race, you can hire mercenaries, and I had all kinds of new toys to claim through their rewards system. One of the things I enjoyed the most was having to relearn the concept of having to time the casting of my spells to avoid being interrupted in combat. It seems like such a small mechanic in the scheme of things, but I'd forgot how much it made me pay attention during my play times, at least when soloing.

Ultima Online's improved graphics. No 3D for you!

The second game I loaded up was Ultima Online. Flash back ten years with me to the land of Sosaria where my first mage, Azarius, had taken his first steps in a new, magical world. Oh look, another player's coming towards me. Maybe he wants help with a quest... or maybe he just wanted to kill me less than ten feet outside of town and take the hat I had just bought. That was my first introduction to UO all those years ago. Needless to say, it left a less than favorable taste in my mouth, and I'll admit that I still might not be over that incident. I had spent the last hour killing cats and deer in an attempt to earn the cash to get that hat and had it less than 5 minutes before it was taken away. Here's hoping that bastard's computer eventually melted into a pile of slag in a freak accident. Issues? Not me... maybe.

In any case, I'm happy to report that while I'm still willing to bet you can be ganked by one of the local tools in the game, UO does give you a much better chance of survival. The game now begins with a brief tutorial to help you learn some of the basics, but the best part of the new system is this: for your first 40 hours, you're untouchable by other players. It may not sound like a lot, but that's 40 hours of actual playtime. It's not perfect, but it's a definite improvement over the "create and gank" method we all had to deal with so many years ago.

In the latter half of last year, I wrote a piece entitled "The Warcraft Effect". It generated an amazing amount of responses and quite a bit of backlash. Scattered throughout those responses, there were a number of challenges to give the game another try since I had left before the release of the first expansion. I took them up on their challenge and now have something to confess, which I do with a large dose of humility. I've been playing World of Warcraft ever since. Before everyone starts cheering and whooping it up like a cheerleader at a pep rally, know that I still stand behind the words I wrote that day. The issue is less worse on the role-playing server I chose to play on with some RL friends, but it's still there. I've spent a lot of my time crafting, or leveling simply so I can train the next crafting tier, as I've mentioned before. Overall, I've been enjoying my time though, especially since Darksidia is firmly on the path to despair and betrayal. She's already seen the weakness persistent in her Blood Elven brethren and it will only continue to get worse.

I know you didn't just swing that thing at me!

Going back to WoW after a break of a couple years was far less jarring than my jaunt back to EQ and UO. The simplest of explanations is the streamlined user interface of WoW has essentially become an industry standard. I've been playing a number of different games since I originally left WoW, but since future games have built upon the foundations of WoW's mechanics, there's no sense of having to relearn anything. With new races came some new content, at least initially before I can get into the Outlands, but other than that, not much has changed in the Old World content.

We've looked at EverQuest, Ultima Online, and World of Warcraft again, but the question remains... can you ever really go back home? I think it's safe to say that yes, you actually can. While playing EverQuest again this week, I realized I've actually missed it and may continue playing it again, at least periodically. There's a solid foundation of good memories, and since all new characters start in Crescent Reach by default now, you don't feel quite so alone.

I had such a horrible experience with Ultima Online all those years ago, that I'll freely admit my perceptions are skewed. If you loved UO back in the day, you'll probably love playing it again. The graphics have been updated, but other than that, the game is still just as immense and deep as it was before. As for WoW, what can I say? I'm having fun and will continue playing with friends for the foreseeable future. There are some great games on the horizon I can't wait for, but in the mean time, if you really loved a game, you can go home.

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