When JRR Tolkien wrote in The Fellowship of the Rings, “Many who live deserve death. And many who die deserve life,” he probably wasn’t thinking about MMORPGs. I’m willing to bet on it. But the greatest lessons in life are the ones flexible enough to match any situation, and although Gandalf the Grey might have been thinking of Gollum when he spoke, I find such a quote perfect to describe the life and death of many MMORPGs.
Being in the genre is incredibly tough. Not only do you have to develop a staggeringly large game with quality server infrastructure, you also have to deliver a constant stream of content to be instantly devoured (and ridiculed) by fans while also ensuring you make enough money to feed the developers slaving away to make it all happen. It’s brutal. But as more and more generic MMORPGs rise and fall, it can be especially painful when one of the greats falls with them. Talk to any fan of an extinct MMORPG and they’ll often repeat the same sentiment: The game was amazing, and I miss it dearly.
When an MMORPG finally closes its doors for good, it’s the players left holding the pieces. Years of their lives are gone in the blink of an eye as a product that they invested in both financially and emotionally suddenly collapses. Few stories about games get me as choked up as people reminiscing about their favorite dead MMORPGs—it’s truly something unlike anything else in the whole medium of video games.
So, in honor of these amazing games and their often untimely demises, here is our wishlist of the MMOs we would gladly use our last Pheonix Down to resurrect.
City of Heroes
Honestly, if you thought this list was going to not include City of Heroes you’re being a little silly. I’m not saying that CIty of Heroes is more (or less) deserving of being revived than any other MMORPG, but few MMOs had such a passionate audience to fight, and mourn, its passing.
Maybe you never had a chance to play City of Heroes. If that’s the case, I wish you could have seen it in its glory days. Before the game was muddled under the weight of feature-bloat and the ceaseless pressure to expand ever outward, there was a time when City of Heroes was golden.
To this day, few games have ever matched the mind-blowing number of options you had to customize your hero. In a genre that seems ever more persistent in pushing you towards characters they want you to play as, City of Heroes was all about freedom, choice, and self expression. When you finally entered into the world after slaving through what could easily become hours in the character creator, you stepped into that world fully attached to your hero. It was a game that, at times, came closer than any other at scraping the true heart of every MMORPG. The hero (or villain) you played as wasn’t just a character on a screen, they were an embodiment of who you were as a person. And when you logged out for the evening, it felt no different than when Superman took off the cape and returned to his life as Clark.
Of course, super hero MMORPGs didn’t die with City of Heroes, they continued on in much the same fashion as they had when it was alive. But if any game is deserving of a comeback, it is this one. Without the anchor tying it to any particular franchise, like DC Universe Online, it allowed City of Heroes to exist as an amalgam of everything amazing about wearing a mask and fighting evil (or good) with your friends.
I’m not naive enough to think that City of Heroes isn’t also deeply steeped in nostalgia, but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate what it did right during its heyday. Obviously, bringing it back exactly as it was would likely lead to it dying all over again, but that doesn’t mean that, like Jean Grey, City of Heroes couldn’t be reborn as something much stronger.
Unsurprisingly, war is at the heart of Warhammer Online, and few MMOs have ever reached as close to that heart again. The frenetic action as the hordes of order and chaos collided on an open field of battle has rarely been better represented. Warhammer has been a staple of video games for ages, but just as much as the franchise has been a blessing, it also has been a curse. The stifling grip of Games Workshop has led to the mistreatment of their beloved games more than once, and Warhammer Online is no exception. Despite the positive critical reception, Warhammer Online just couldn’t keep its head above water. When the licensing agreement, the only thing keeping it afloat, ended, so did the game.
But while it can be easy to forget what Warhammer Online helped pioneer, like public questing, it’s the player versus player combat that will always remain as this game’s legacy. Whether you were engaging in open world PVP, or partaking in the instanced content, Warhammer Online was never short on thrills.
But even the setting alone is reason enough to want this game back on our hard drives. Warhammer, like Warcraft, has become so deeply entrenched in the milieu surrounding video games that not having an epic online world to explore is almost criminal. It bears mentioning that Warhammer 40k is receiving the MMORPG treatment with Eternal Crusade, but even still, not having the fantasy setting of Warhammer cuts just a little too deep.
The Matrix Online
Okay, listen, I know The Matrix Online wasn’t that great. Both the MMORPG (and the movies) are classic cases of the end product never fully living up to its potential, which is precisely why I am putting The Matrix Online on this list. While the game mimicked the gross neo-punk aesthetic of the movies, the true potential of the Matrix has always relied on the explosive and captivating nature of its action. The Matrix is the ultimate power fantasy and, on paper, The Matrix Online was supposed to put that fantasy in your hands.
While the end result was a game that was arguably hamstrung by a lacking budget and a vision that too closely glommed onto the path of the movies, there is no denying that the concept of the Matrix has almost unlimited potential. If this game is to come back, I want something that throws away the black leather aesthetic and embraces the true potential, something akin to the animated spin off, The Animatrix, which understood that the franchise wasn’t only about nebulous prophecies, but about how the interaction between man and machine had layers of nuance that we can never fully explore.
Richard Garriott is often hailed as one of the most prominent creators of influential RPGs, and, by extension, MMORPGs. His resume is stunning. He created the beloved Ultima series and served as an executive producer at NCSoft for games such as Lineage 2, City of Heroes, and Tabula Rasa.
And if any game is deserving to be revived, it might be Tabula Rasa—if only because the name is Latin for blank slate. How fitting. Richard Garriott is certainly ambitious, and the games he creates live and die by that ambition. When Tabula Rasa closed, it was a sad moment as one of the most innovative games in the genre burned out like a dying star. It was an MMORPG that honestly tried to be different, something that is all too rare in the genre these days.
The futuristic science fiction setting and modern approach to combat helped elevate Tabula Rasa out of the depths of mediocrity, and even if science fiction MMOs are more numerous now, I’ll always be excited about the possibility of playing just one more. Richard Garriott has moved onto his new project, Shroud of the Avatar, after a messy breakup with NCSoft (it was probably for the best), but Tabula Rasa was a memorable, albeit short lived, MMO that could I would definitely jump at the chance to return to.
Star Wars Galaxies
Whenever I talk about dead MMORPGs with anyone, Star Wars Galaxies is always the one that elicits long-winded statements of undying love. It was truly a game that sparked a passion few others could ever dream to muster. But, like all great tragedies, Galaxies end was devastating. Unlike others, Star Wars Galaxies suffered a slow death, killed by a dreaded reworking of its core elements that quickly extinguished any enthusiasm its core audience had for the game. So when Star Wars Galaxies finally shut its doors, most weren’t overly surprised. For them, Galaxies had been dead for years—killed by the endless need to remain relevant to modern consumers.
Star Wars: The Old Republic, the neglected elephant in the room, is certainly a good game worthy of your attention. But, like the younger, less-loved brother, it just doesn’t possess the same spark of life that made Galaxies so vibrant and amazing. Don’t believe me? What if I told you that, for quite some time, multiple groups of people have been working tirelessly to reverse engineer the game so that they can relive their fond memories of it forever?
When it comes to talking about video games, few genres are as fondly discussed as MMOs. There is an emotional investment inherent in playing them that brings these virtual worlds to life and breaks our hearts when they eventually close their doors forever. Unlike most video games that exist in various forms of stasis, MMORPGs are fleeting. Even if they never truly close down, they eventually become less popular, or change too drastically, alienating the people who love them the most.
This list contains only a few of the most beloved of these cancelled games, but if you have your own faovrites, we want to hear from you! Let us know in the comments what MMORPG you would kill to spend another month playing, and we can all weep together.Related: City of Heroes, Column, Listed, MMORPG, Shut Down, Star Wars Galaxies, Tabula Rasa, The Matrix Online, Warhammer Online