The MMO Graveyard
Just in time for Halloween, we bring you The MMO Graveyard; an MMObituary listing of sorts in which we take a look at some of the top games that simply didn't stand the test of time.
Earth & Beyond was one of the first, and arguably best, sci-fi MMOs to ever be released. Among other things, the game featured regular monthly updates that helped drive the storyline forward. In many ways, this was an early precursor to the Living Story update series in Guild Wars 2. In fact, resident GW2 expert and community manager of GW2Hub.com, Lewis B, has noted on many occasions that E&B was one of his absolute favorite MMOs of all time. The game did have a lot of great things to offer beyond the evolving storyline, and it's a shame that it ultimately had a relatively short life cycle.
Asheron's Call 2 is the MMO industry's sad equivalent of a parent outliving its offspring. The sequel to the original AC shut down surprisingly fast all things considered, but AC2 is also a cautionary tale about how sometimes creating sequels simply isn't the way to go. It was also shuttered in such a way as to leave a bad taste in the mouth of gamers, having released an expansion only one month prior. Ouch.
Even if the crew from NetDevil never quite reached the kind of commercial successes I always felt they deserved (had JGE ever had a chance to launch, things might have gone quite differently) I consider them to be some of the most innovative thinkers in the industry. When Auto Assault first launched, it was during a phase when many developers began to question the necessity to tether MMO gameplay so rigidly to a carbon copy of Dungeons & Dragons. Unlike many of its peers, however, AA not only offered the first destructable environments in the genre, but also attempted to prove that avatars need not always be humanoid.
The irony there, of course, is that humanoid avatars were shoehorned into the game where they didn't really need to exist at all. Still, I'll always have fond memories of ramming into every fence and building I could find to gather crafting materials, and squashing bugs as I sped down the highway like Mad Max translocated into the middle of a Starship Troopers invasion scene.
One of the shortest lived MMOs to date, I would still argue that Fury was simply ahead of its time. When it originally launched back in 2007, gamers were still warming up to the concept of a purely PvP-focused MMO, even though during that same period it was considered commercial suicide to release a shooter without online multiplayer modes. Go figure.
To be honest, I'm surprised that The Sims Online lasted as long as it did. The scant few people I knew that actually played it largely only did so out of that human tendency to want to watch train wrecks happen. At the time, it was basically the Cyber Central Station of online gaming, a crown ultimately held by Second Life thanks in no small part to the plethora of available penis attachments and furries running rampant.
If nothing else, Tabula Rasa is responsible for sending random gamer DNA into space. Imagine what a repopulated Earth full of TR fan clones will look like 100 years from now. You know it's totally going to happen, too.
Creepy nerd rage armies of the future aside, TR can largely be credited as the first MMO to introduce what eventually became known as Public Quests in Warhammer Online, or the Dynamic Event system in GW2. Even if the rest of the game felt a bit too unpolished and lacked any true depth, the outpost invasions were a total blast whether you were defending or attacking. This same system also helped spawn the era of dungeon tokens as a currency to purchase gear upgrades, also largely uncredited much like Public Quests.
Another, less upbeat distinction is that TR is one of three NCsoft titles currently residing in The MMO Graveyard. There are even more if you count such glorious titles as Exteel. TR also cost NCsoft one ticket into outer space thanks to General British deciding the company should have spent more on marketing a game with his name in the title.
Of all the games currently residing in the MMO Graveyard, Shadowbane is one of the only titles I wish someone would come along and weave their necromantic magics on. I figure if Hollywood can go through cycles of churning out countless remakes of former box office hits, then its only a matter of time before the MMO industry follows suit. Here's to hoping that Shadowbane is on the shortlist of candidates.
Had MXO offered more than a half-baked reskin of City of Heroes the game might have stood a chance. It also didn't help that fans had somewhat moved on from the franchise by that point, the magic of the original Matrix film diluted into a never-ending stream of techno dance party fight sequences in the sequels.
Still, MXO did have a number of cool things going on that are worthy of note. For example, I always enjoyed the combat system, one of the first in the genre that began to truly attempt to move away from static hotbar mashing and into proper combo systems. It was also one of the last titles to offer proper GM events in-game; something I hope developers eventually return to if they ever hope to foster real community and socially-driven gameplay in future releases.
Not only did Dungeon Runners feature an actual Ten Ton Hammer in-game weapon, but we were even quoted on the boxed copies, noting that, "...when Dungeon Runners released, it was the surprise hit of 2007." That being the case, you have to wonder what went wrong.
Whether the world wasn't quite ready for micro-transaction-driven online gaming, or NCsoft didn't consider the game profitable enough to keep the lights we'll never really know. As is often the case with MMO closures, the real stories tend to be walled behind soulless marketing press releases with no honest answers ever spoken. As evidenced further down the list, this isn't the only time that NCsoft pulled the plug but refused to paint a clear enough picture to appease fans, regardless of how few remained at the time of the closure.
The game that helped kill all of my hopes and dreams for Jumpgate Evolution ever seeing the light of day. Thanks LEGO Brand.
One of the most interesting things about LEGO Universe is that its legacy will live on, albeit in a very different format, in EverQuest Next. Despite my many attempts to get the folks from Storybricks to admit that LU was at least a partial inspiration for their product, to date they still haven't budged. However, the entire system functions (even from a UI standpoint) in an eerily similar fashion as the Builds & Behaviors system in LU.
Once it became clear that Jumpgate Evolution wouldn't become a reality, Black Prophecy became the next great hope for space combat nerds, myself included. All things considered, it wasn't a bad game. It did have one fatal flaw though, in that it exemplified exactly what's wrong with the Tortage Syndrome. In other words, never create a super slick, engaging entry into an MMO that you can't continue to deliver on as you progress further into the game. And you especially don't want to pull a bait-and-switch by giving people a decent PvE intro only to have the game suddenly turn into a PvP gankfest.
Chances are, we'll never know the real reason why City of Heroes was shut down. Given the timing, I suspect that it helped NCsoft afford to move into the slick new building where ArenaNet relocated prior to the launch of Guild Wars 2. Either way, the CoH saga is a rarity not so much due to the closure, but more so due to the fact that gamers didn't simply nerd rage about the server shutdown (although they most certainly did), they ultimately became the first group to take action to the point of working on the creation of a spiritual successor to the CoH legacy.
It's still far too early to tell how City of Titans will turn out, but the project has exceeded its funding goals on Kickstarter by a fair amount. I certainly tip my hat to the folks behind Phoenix Project, and can't wait to see if they can keep the dream alive for thousands of exiled superheroes and villains. They could have simply cobbled together emulated servers for CoH like fans have done for so many other games on this list, so it just goes to show that CoH did indeed have a pretty kick-ass community.