Every one of us has an “MMO resume”: a list of titles that we’ve played, whether briefly or extensively. Some of those are just games, casual flings that meant nothing. But others can take a more meaningful role in our lives, influencing how we experience and view MMOs.
I would scarcely say that my resume is one of the most robust you’ll ever see; I’m sure plenty of you have played more than I. However, I like to think that I’ve had a journey over the course of a decade or so that’s shaped who I am as a gamer. Since it’s my birthday today, I’m going to share 10 of those influential MMOs with you and what they’ve done for me. You’re going to get me cake.
1. Bulletin Board Systems
My online experience in the ’90s was largely limited by technology. The internet didn’t come to my college until 1995, and even then it was limited to surfing on 28.8K baud modems in our computer center. So while there weren’t a lot of options to, say, jump into Ultima Online while I was getting my Bachelor’s Degree in Beard Science, I did get online previously in high school to play a few games through bulletin board systems.
BBSes weren’t the best-looking programs, even in the early ’90s, but there was a serious awe factor of connecting to other computers and playing with folks from around the world. That was a once-a-lifetime feeling that can never be replicated now, but it was influential for showing me the potential fun for online gaming.
2. Anarchy Online
I mostly skipped over the first generation of graphical MMOs because of the intimidation factor. They looked complicated, and my friend told me horror stories about the time demands of EverQuest. Even so, my wariness was eventually overcome by the science-fiction scene of Anarchy Online. Knowing practically nothing about MMOs or irony, I played on launch day.
A year or two later, when my therapist told me that I had sufficiently overcome the trauma from that experience, I jumped back in to spend a couple of months in the Shadowlands expansion. Even though I was still a laughable noob in all things, I started to catch on to what made MMOs special. Growing my character, exploring the world, and interacting with others was downright addictive.
3. City of Heroes
By the time that City of Heroes rolled around, I was finally ready to jump into MMOs full-time. I’d been picky and selective in preparing for that leap, which is why I held out for this superhero title. For the time, it was a terrific pick for an inexperienced MMO player: City of Heroes wasn’t outwardly complex, but it encouraged experimentation and having fun. Sure, it was a little more hardcore than it and the genre became (XP debt, anyone?), but I didn’t care; I was making superheroes left and right, playing in my first-ever guild (er, supergroup), and enjoying the visuals over the number crunching.
4. World of Warcraft
Even while I was enjoying City of Heroes, I knew that I was just biding my time until World of Warcraft came out. The sheer buzz, the studio legacy, and the slicker-than-snot look had me salivating for it, and the launch didn’t disappoint. WoW imprinted upon me an ideal of what MMOs should be; it sucked up four years of my gaming life, introduced me to raids, transformed me into a guild officer, and generally gave me a wickedly awesome ride. It also introduced me to hard burnout and the bitter resentment that follows, teaching me to keep my gaming portfolio diverse from then on out.
5. Warhammer Online
Hot on the heels of my WoW burnout phase, WAR came along and made a lot of promises to be even better. Despite not really rising to the occasion, WAR was a pretty fun game that sparked my interest in MMO blogging. I wrote about the game for two years and played it for over one, and I regret not a day of any of that. That blogging was what eventually led to my accepting a position here at Massively, so I consider it a long job interview well-spent.
6. Dungeons and Dragons Online
Even today, DDO is a really weird bird in this field. It’s not exactly your standard MMO, with an obscene amount of character customization, stat tweaking, and required knowledge about the D&D ruleset. Plus, it was primarily focused on instanced-based small group content in a D&D campaign setting that no one knew much about. I really dug it. I can’t claim to have ever figured out its labyrinthine ways, but when I was playing with a dedicated guild, it was one of the best group-centric MMO experiences I’ve ever had. It also showed me — and the world — that switching to a free-to-play model can give a struggling title a second shot at glory.
7. Fallen Earth
Probably the biggest lesson that Fallen Earth taught me was the importance of giving MMOs a second shot after a bad first impression. I really did not like or “get” this game at first, but at the urging of friends I stuck with it and was rewarded with a head-over-heels love story involving me, this game, a bottle of fine wine, and a basket of mewing mutant prairie chickens. Flawed as it was, it’s undoubtedly the finest post-apocalyptic MMO with a Western bent that I’ve ever seen. Or seen, period.
8. Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2
Yes, I’m cheating here, but with a good cause. While I did buy the original Guild Wars back at its launch, I never did play it much until the news of guild wars 2 gold and the Hall of Monuments prompted me to take a tour of Tyria. While there are aspects of these titles that chafe and mystify (a denial of grind that masks some really stupid long grinds), I deeply appreciated how accessible both were. The buy-to-play model is spectacular, the jump-in-and-have-fun-with-friends is a role model for this industry, and the beauty is not limited to just visuals.
9. Star Wars: The Old Republic
SWTOR and Guild Wars 2 were the first MMOs since 2008 that I was deeply excited about and anticipating greatly before their release. SWTOR did a lot both right and wrong now that I can look at it in gaming hindsight, but the combination of a deep storytelling approach, a moral choice system, and the use of an IP that I’ve loved dearly since childhood made for a terrific year of play. Really, one of the worst things that I can say is that the Imperial Agent’s storyline was so well done that it ruined playing any other class after that.
10. The Secret World
MMORPGs don’t have to settle for a very specific design, which was certainly proved by The Secret World’s release. I almost let this one pass me by before playing it and becoming bewitched by its engrossing stories, contemporary setting, and quests that more often than not required my brain instead of my action bar skills. It married my love of MMOs to my infatuation with adventure games, and I think I’ll forever be praising TSW because it went its own way without apology. Also? I’ve never been scared, unnerved, and intrigued on such a deep level as I have been with this game.