I’m Searching For An MMO That Reminds Me Of The Good Old Days

I’m Searching For An MMO That Reminds Me Of The Good Old Days

“When will MMOs return to their glory days?,” I’d ask whenever the genre of /whispers and warlocks came up in conversation. “Just look at these MMO youngsters fast-travelling across an entire world when, back in 2005, I had to run across five zones for two hours to get where I wanted — and if I died along the way, I’d have to do it all over.” The grind made every bit of progress so sweet, I’d tell myself.

Shroud of the Avatar

This week, an MMO in the style of the classics left early access. Nostalgic for the so-called glory days, I gave it a go. Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues is a fantasy MMO designed by Richard Garriott, creator of 1997’s groundbreaking online role-playing game Ultima Online. It’s a return to Garriott’s “innovative early work,” reads Shroud of the Avatar‘s Kickstarter page, which raised nearly $US2 ($3) million to make the game.

Five hours in, Shroud of the Avatar taught me that it’s not a return to MMO’s glory days I want, which may be as much on me as it is on the game.

Shroud of the Avatar wasn’t necessarily going to take me back to the specific MMO glory days I was looking for, but I was eager to try it. When I say “glory days,” MMO-heads know what I’m talking about: Mid-’00s Final Fantasy XI, Guild Wars, early World of Warcraft. There were years when basically the only thing I enjoyed was playing Final Fantasy XI. Why? It didn’t have mind-blowing graphics.

Its combat system wasn’t challenging, innovative or high-stakes. And it certainly wasn’t because it was it was easy to make progress. FFXI‘s wondrous zones — a mushroomy forrest, a sprawling ice castle, a glowing sky city — kept me curious. Its punishing grind made each small victory a celebration. Its community, back in 2005 or so, was tight-knit, ever-helpful.

There were rites of passage, like running to the Jeuno zone for the first time — an hours-long undertaking, that almost certainly required a friendly human guide to ward off aggressive monsters.

New MMOs tend to be so slick. Publisher Square Enix smoothed down FFXI‘s rough edges with the MMO’s 2013 incarnation, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Its character creator is exceptional. Its tutorial is thorough. It’s effortless to figure out where you’re going, how to get there, who to talk to. The game’s graphics are beautiful and its systems coherent. Yet, I was struck by how low-stakes everything felt, despite the game’s overwhelming beauty and ease-of-play.

Playing it with my MMO-loving friends, who whiled away their childhoods in a similar fashion, FFXIV and its modern MMO kin feel a little heartless.

Shroud of the Avatar has heart and does feel like a throwback to at least one past MMO age. The player, an avatar in a medieval fantasy world, learns of a new evil that’s overtaking New Britannia. It’s a divided world, rebuilding after some cataclysm years ago. Its people are slowly developing mechanical technology, a fun insertion in the traditionally-styled MMO.

After an Oracle determines the player’s class, she travels across the world, learning of the growing evil and fighting its ever-stronger incarnations. In Shroud of the Avatar‘s online mode (there’s an offline one, too), you and a couple hundred players develop your Virtues to ward off evil. It sounds like a “glory days” MMO, looks like one, and plays like one, too.

Combat is a pretty basic auto-fight with a few extra skills thrown in — although you can opt for a deck-building mechanic for their skills. Looting a corpse means clicking on a dead body and taking their money and items. Talking to NPCs, you can ask them more questions with a keyword system (a la the Ultima franchise) that sometimes works and sometimes assigns you quests you don’t want.

Players can also type whatever they want to NPCs, but whenever I did that, the NPCs responded something a little nonsensical. If you die, you have to wait about four minutes to respawn unless somebody resurrects you. Holding a torch means not holding a shield.

I appreciated how dedicated Shroud of the Avatar was to accessing the retro style of its predecessors. In practice, I felt like I’d played this game before, years ago. Although its story is filled with unique plot points and world-building details, I didn’t feel a desire to continue the game. Shroud of the Avatar felt all too familiar.

Is a return of MMOs’ so-called glory days what I want, or do I want there to be new glory days? A decade after binging on the MMOs of the time, perhaps it’s time to admit my tastes have changed. Top-tier graphics can sell a game, I admit.

Unique combat mechanics and a fresh world (preferably not medieval-style fantasy) might whet my palate to figure a game out. Perhaps once MMOs stop trying to recapture their own ghosts, we’ll see something really special.


  • The problem doesn’t lie with MMORPGs, they pretty much haven’t changed. The issue is that your life will never return to the point where is was compatible with playing an MMORPGs.

    • Wholehardetly agree.

      Me 10 years ago: WoW is the bomb I play it all the time!

      Me now, with 2 small children, housework and everything else adulthood entails: Turn based games like XCom, Civ and even Pokemon are the bomb, I play a single round then leave it alone for hours at a time!

    • I don’t agree.

      They have changed. I can’t stand modern WoW… but I got completely hooked to Vanilla WoW again last year.

      Modern MMO’s have taken too much inspiration from mobile games

    • Pretty much this… i pove PSO2 but the time required to invest in the game just eats up too much time especially with all the other games i wanna play!

    • I disagree. The problem isn’t this… The problem is we’ve been desensitised (best way I can think to explain it) to the wonder and awe that early MMOs created. I still remember that feeling from original Wow back in December 2004. The awe of the first griffon ride from SW to West fall. Seeing hundreds of other players running around in real time (well as close to real time back then with US servers and ADSL). The immense size of the world and endless sense of wonder and mystery (no guides or YouTube videos). No game has ever come close to replicating that feeling and I think it’s like chasing your first high (forgive the drug reference). It concerns me now as I flick through my steam library of 500 + titles (most of which I’ve barely scratched) and I have nothing to play that can hold my interest. I’m an adult now with a full blown career and life but I’ll always happily try and recapture that feeling of wonder and amazement from titles like Wow, Mario 64, Doom / Wolf 3D, Sierra/Lucasarts, early squaresoft/Enix, bullfrog etc etc etc… The sad point is that games haven’t stopped being amazing and wonderous, it’s that we’ve seen too much of it to be surprised or impressed anymore.

  • I think it comes down to the fact that when MMOs first came out they were fresh and exciting and stirred up large emotions with a big impact. As time went on though, developers iterated and improved on the formula but the feelings weren’t as strong because a lot of it remained familiar. Then you started wanting those big emotional impacts again, associating them with the games you played, not with the newness of them. However, now you have all sorts of points of reference and this taints your experience so it doesn’t feel as good as you imagined it would.

    • That’s a big chunk of it for me. My Good Ol’ Days MMO was Everquest, and when it launched there was approximately zero content online you could search for. Hell, the game didn’t even have minimaps. Everything was new, everything was unknown, and there was nothing to help you. You basically made your own adventure.

      Fast forward to today, there are 300+ page prima guides you buy at launch, along with several hundred websites all eager to be the first to spoil the experience. A simple corpse run in EQ was one of my favourite gaming memories, yet will never be recreated, thanks to how connected we are today.

      I want that, but if it came along, I doubt I’d play it anyway. Its too easy to go to something that’s done the hard yards, like Guild Wars 2, and just stay comfortable. And that’s the biggest difference – we have so many more options now that to recreate the Good Ol’ Days feeling just isn’t going to happen.

  • If you appreciate the feeling of an old school MMO I’d recommend playing an old school MMO. LOTRO is still going strong and hasn’t deviated as much as something like WOW has from the original feel of the game. I just came back to playing it after a 5 year break & I’m having a blast!

  • I’ve been searching for that feeling of warmth, home and nostalgia or is it familiarity.
    I realised that trying to re-live those first moments of wonder of running through World of Warcrafts zones and levelling beside hundreds of other players will almost be impossible to replicate. Dying, running back, questing and dungeoning and raiding have all in some way or another been overhauled to appease the insta-gamers, bragging rights to the highest DPS because they figured out how to either out level the dungeon or raid or complained because it was too hard to run back and die a dozen times or ask for help completing the quest and have some troll query why you’re so retarded you can’t solo it.

    None of the gaming companies have any balls left, they are too scared of offending someone and having their game bagged and no one playing it and wasting millions of dollars. It’s all too hard to just simply make a game, keep their mouth shut about it, drop a sneak peek at Games Expo and then shut up and get on with making and delivering it.
    How many games have we seen come and die in less than a year?

    Another massive issue is alpha/beta and early access. This can completely kill a game even before it’s ready for launch. This HAS to stop. Gaming companies need to go back to a bunch of people hired who have no clue and getting them to bug test it for 3 months and go from there.

    The first time you step into another world can be broken down into 4 core needs. Visual, Sound, Clear Direction and Growth. If the game is weak on one of these the game will struggle. If I look at WoW for instance… The landscape of wow met my visual needs of a fantasy world, the sound captured me, music and background noise, I had clear direction which lead to my character growing. I was immersed in a world that few games let you escape too. So many things to do and loads of time to do them.

    But all games must take a step forward or perish into obscurity. I understand Cataclysm step, I don’t like that Blizzard stomped on my memories of the old Azeroth and Cataclysm actually made BC and WotLK irrelevant. I still play the game, it’s ugly and it’s lost it immersion, it’s not a place to escape to anymore, it’s actually become a household chore and it has no hope of recovering unless massive changes are implemented to it’s immersion.

    But I digress, “Old MMO”, where you have to run, recover your corpse or atleast run back to where you died, where there is no power levelling/boosted advantages, collecting, learning, researching and creating better gear, increasing your spell/skill level or secondary skills, actually talking with other people in the game to learn things, where there is little information about the game. These are days that you will remember in a golden afternoon light.

    I’ll say this, Vanilla World of Warcraft is perfect plate to create your own game from. Not too much, not too little content, just perfect for 2 years. All you really need to do is write your own storyline and just remember that it doesn’t take much too captivate 12 million people.

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