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The MMORPGs That Defined A Genre

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The massively multiplayer online RPG (MMORPG) genre has been one of the most lucrative and compelling to ever grace the video gaming scene. Once graced by dozens of titles, now, as Windows Central highlights a fresh ongoing war for influence between Final Fantasy XIV (FF14) and World of Warcraft (WoW), gamers are looking to history to see what games influenced the modern gaming ecosystem. Before 2004, when the juggernaut that is WoW first appeared, things looked a little different.

The equalizer

Old-school MMORPGs were technically demanding. They required good quality internet and, often, at least semi-decent computer hardware. This was quite the barrier for entry for most gamers – in the year 2000, only just over 50% of Americans even had the internet, according to Pew Research, nevermind the high-speed lines that AAA titles of the day demanded. Enter Runescape. A huge fantasy realm that saw players combat everything from bandits through to the mythical Hydra, Runescape lowered the barrier to entry by being playable on Java, via a browser, and being usable over 56k dialup modem. Runescape survives today, and has had a recent surge in interest following the release of its Steam and Android variants on the game. Still going strong with nostalgic gamers via Old School Runescape (OSRS), the quirky and lovable world that Runescape provided will last long in the memory.

Original greats

For those gamers that did have the hardware capacity and internet, there was only one option – Everquest. Still going two decades later, Everquest was the original big MMORPG; WoW was anointed the Everquest killer, just as FF14 has been for WoW all these years later. Where Everquest revolutionized the online gaming market was in its looking-for-group system. Previous online games were based on co-op or private servers; Everquest truly was open-world, according to ArsTechnica, and to get ahead necessitated the making of new friends and using the expertise everyone had. Everything good about WoW and FF14 has its roots in Everquest – just as Everquest has its root in the Ultima universe.

Ultima Online

Ultimate is a long-running universe. The first instalment in the game series came all the way back in 1981, released on the Apple II. In 1997, the game went online, featuring extensive player versus player content. According to VentureBeat, the joy of Ultima Online was, again, in its quirkiness. Bug-hunting in the game would often summon the attention of Lord British, who, in-game, was supposed to be invincible. However, using tricks designed to overcome the game’s programming, the lord of the empire was toppled on numerous occasions. The real joy came in the co-op. Getting ahead in Ultima Online was difficult, and required the input of a diverse group. This lays the foundations for the fundamental group play present in every MMO since.

More MMORPGs are lined up for the future. Amazon has their first foray into the genre, and former Blizzard developers are working on their own title, too. Whatever happens, you can be sure they’ll base  their roots in those legendary MMORPGs of the past.

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