This year marks 20 years since Meridian 59 launched, the game that many people consider the first MMORPG. To celebrate 20 years of MMORPGs MMOGames will be making content all year looking at the history of the genre, highlights, and low points. To start that journey we're looking at 20 old MMORPGs that you can still play today.
Video games have always been known for their innovation, but the introduction of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games changed the course of gaming forever, and we will never forget some of the old giants that launched us into the fantasy worlds of our choosing. Before the advent of such titles, our only gateway to multiplayer fantasy worlds were the tabletop games of old which many of us still enjoy quite a bit, don’t get me wrong.
Today if you take a look at the MMO landscape there many next generation games from Wildstar, to Guild Wars 2, and even Tera, all of which have taken the entire thing to the next level. What about the old games, though? Have you ever been curious about them? Have you ever wondered where we came from? The next time you’re playing one of those fancy new games with their voice acting and cinematics to die for, think back on these old giants. Love them or hate them, we wouldn’t be where we are without them, and that’s something to love.
Launched: November 2, 1999
1999 was a great year for the MMORPG with Asheron’s Call developed and published by Turbine entertainment. It was released as a Microsoft title until the year 2004, and those who played it will remember it as a game that spawned several worlds, though primarily set on the island continent Dereth. Those who played Everquest will recall that most MMORPG’s used a mechanic known as ‘zoning’ to allow players to transition into different areas, but Asherons’ Call was able to present a completely seamless world by using dynamic load balancing. After a full 40 months of development and eight months of beta testing, and a launch that came nine months after the original Everquest, a game was delivered that not only had tons of content, but 500 miles of passable terrain to explore. If that sounds impressive, you can still jump into it today for the modest fee of $9.99. The game boasts no monthly fee and is currently in maintenance mode, meaning there will be no additional content added. Essentially you can still play it, though it is now no more than a simple monument to days long past.
Editor's Note: Asheron's Call is now officially shutdown.
Asheron’s Call 2
Launched: Novemer 22, 2002
The sequel to Asheron’s Call offered better graphics, new lands to explore, and a ton of fun. Later on an expansion would be released, Legions, and it included a brand new playable race. In addition to that , the Knorr landmass, and those who preordered would be able to play as the Drudge. The ‘hook’ for AC 2 was simply that it took place after a cataclysmic event on the planet of Auberan, making the first game and the second very different from one another. Unfortunately, due to technical problems and a lack of interest, the game simply dwindled down and was shut down December 30, 2005. Fortunately it was revived as a beta for those who purchased a copy of Asheron’s Call after the game went into maintenance mode. It still lives on, though with many of the same technical problems.
Launched: January 1997
Tibia is one of the oldest MMORPGs, still entirely playable today. It was developed by CipSoft and considering it was released before Everquest, it was considered to be revolutionary. Of course, at the time no one really knew what an MMORPG was, so it shouldn’t be surprising that the game grew very slowly. It features an isometric view and an extremely small download. The game is not graphically demanding at all, and can in fact be ran on just about any computer with an internet connection. This game is still run on the original servers and is essentially free, though those who pay will be able to utilize premium features with special benefits and naturally more land to explore.
Released: January 2001
This MMO differs from others as it is played through a browser rather than a downloadable client. A client is available today, but it can still be played in many of the popular browsers via Java. Runescape featured 3D rendering of avatars and environment. Additionally, there are 200 million created accounts, and is even recognized as the largest free MMORPG in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records. The game takes place in the world of Gielinor, and instead of traditional leveling, the game focuses upon skills, such as cooking, prayer, combat, etc. You can still play it today, and even check out the classic version.
Released: October 2005
It’s definitely one of the newer games on our list, but it still counts. Cabal Online is a Korean MMO that has been localized to countries all over the world. It does make use of a cash shop, The game takes place in Nevarath, a land that was once ravaged a thousand years ago by the CABAL. After the apocalypse, only eight members of the CABAL survive, leaving the players to face them and unravel any new mysteries that they might weave.
Released: October 1, 2003
This is actually a prequel to the original game, set a full 150 years prior. Though Lineage II was primarily a Korean game, it was localized to North America and boasted more than 14 million users (take that WoW). The game went free to play on November 30, 2011, and somehow expanded to 25 full gigabytes sometime after that. The game enjoyed Steam release, making it more than easy to play these days. This is one of those truly free games, with the only purchasable content being in-game items which are available through the store. No, you don’t need to buy anything in order to advance, and it’s still very playable even on modern systems.
Release: April 26, 2005
This competitive MMO is a bit different from the norm in that every single area is instanced. There is no open world to explore, though you can still definitely party up and enjoy the game with your friends. Guild Wars also differed from most others in that it never had a subscription fee, though there were purchasable expansion packs and content packs. In a way it kind of reminds me of Dungeons and Dragons Online, though not nearly as extreme. This is regarded as one of the best games in MMO history and is still very much available for you to play, albeit in maintenance mode. You will notice some significant limitations in this game, for example you cannot jump, and the game will not allow you to walk down steep ravines. Other than that, it’s definitely worth a play, and the entire trilogy is available on Steam.
Released: March 16, 1999
There is definitely something to be said for the mythical world of Norrath, and honestly, who wouldn’t love this place? Everquest was one of the first 3D MMORPG’s released in the United States, and it captured the hearts, minds, and wallets of millions of Americans. The thing I like the most about Everquest is that it is a true role playing game. There is a story to follow, of course, but you, as the player, will be free to forge your own path – and equipment. The game is still very playable, though it does look a bit dated. We aren’t going to lie about that. If you want to play this one, go check it out on Steam. It’s waiting for you, along with Everquest 2, it’s little brother that no one talks about.
Age of Conan
Released: May 20, 2008
It’s not exactly an ancient game but it’s not new either. Age of Conan is based in Hyboria one year after the events in Robert E. Howard’s Conan novel. Being based on a book. It went Free to Play with content limitations for those who do not wish to pay. The game features more of an action based combat system and is still most definitely playable today.
Released: September 24, 1997
Ultima Online was released just ahead of Everquest and caught the attention of the media as well as the imaginations of gamers worldwide. It was the first MMO to become incredibly popular, and it has many different claims to fame. One of the most interesting was an incident in which a player managed to kill Lord British using a fire spell during a GM hosted event. In 2007, Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn brought new graphics and a better experience. A recent expansion pack has ensured that the game will continue to run for many years to come, though you will have to pay a monthly fee if you want to play. Still, if your computer cannot handle the higher end MMO’s, or if you simply want to go retro, this is one you will want to look into.
Dark Age of Camelot
Released: October 10 2001
Unlike most other MMORPG’s Dark Age of Camelot is a bit more based in real life. It is a combination of Arthurian legend, Celtic mythology, and Norse mythology. It is set after the death of King Arthur, and the kingdom is split into three different factions. Naturally a game like this features Realm versus Realm along with a strong PVE game. Though it was transferred to Broadsword Game Studios, the game still runs to this day, albeit under a subscription fee.
A Tale in the Desert
A Tale in the Desert is a very different type of MMORPG in that it includes no combat of any kind. Instead, players perform social interactions along with various type of crafting. The beginning, middle, and endgames are all entirely social, with focuses on building, research, and group challenges known as tests. Unlike other MMO’s, the game actually ends and scores are tabulated. After that, a new ‘telling’ of the tale begins, and players will be able to set the rules by passing their own laws. This is another game that requires a subscription fee, though you can play for free for 24 hours if you’d like.
Released: May 2003
Space based games aren’t exactly a dime a dozen these days, so it’s no surprise, at all that Eve Online has lasted this long. It is a different type of MMORPG in that your level isn’t quite universal or permanent. Instead, your skills are learned by your character, and your abilities are often dependent upon the type of ship you are flying. The world itself is comprised of 7,800 star systems, connected by stargates.
The game permits you to do virtually anything you want whether you want to be a simple asteroid miner, a pirate, or the leader of a large corporation. The game has come a long way since its 2003 release with constant updates and graphical improvements. It became available on Steam in 2008 and continues to be one of the most populated MMOs of all time.
Released: April 29, 2003
Here we have yet another game taking a break from the norm by being a side scroller rather than an isometric game or even a third person game. Maplestory allows players to travel through the Maple World and just as with any other MMORPG, they defeat monsters, develop skills, and interact with one another. It is free to play, though as per usual, there are always perks too subscribing.
Released: December 25, 2005
The name of this MMORPG is actually an acronym which stands for: Fly for Fun. There isn’t much of a story to follow in this game, and in the true style of a Korean creation, it is very much focused on grinding. If you’re looking for a good group game, this is probably the route you want to take, and with 30 million players worldwide, you’re sure to find someone to party up with.
Released: June 22, 2004
Mabinogi is a game loosely based upon Irish mythology, and made unique with stylized graphics. The game is constantly updated and is often considered more of a ‘life simulator’ than a full fledged MMORPG. In it the player will often need to maintain various jobs in addition to completing various story missions.
Released: June 23, 2003
I know we say this a lot, but once again, this isn’t a typical MMORPG. Players are able to create an avatar which is designated as neither male or female (you can customize it however you wish) and exist in a world designed entirely by the players. Structures and landscapes are formed at will and players choose how they interact with one another. Essentially, this game is what would happen if Facebook became an MMO. The download is about 100+ megabytes simply because the entirety of the game is hosted server side rather than on the user’s computer. Honestly, this game could be played in a web browser; and it has been.
World of Warcraft
Released: November 23, 2004
World of Warcraft really needs no introduction. It is based in the world of Azeroth, a continuation of the story told in the popular real time strategy games, Warcraft, Warcraft 2, and Warcraft 3. Players live in and battle their way across a vast fantasy world, which, like Asheron’s Call, is entirely seamless. There is no zoning, save for entering and exiting dungeons. The game is still highly playable, especially with the new Warlords of Draenor expansion, and it can be downloaded via the Battle.net launcher. If you’re new to MMOs, this is probably a great place to start.
Released: December 15, 1995
Meridian 59 is widely regarded as literally the first 3D MMORPG ever released, and it is still running to this day. It was first published by the 3D0 Company, and is now open source Freeware, run by the original developers. The most populated of the servers is 103, which is home to the Ogre client which gives the game a more traditional 3D look. Server 103 is maintained by several volunteers along with Jacqueline Christine, the enthusiastic public relations manager.
Dungeons & Dragons Online
Febuary 28, 2006
Once again, Dungeons & Dragons Online is a game that needs no introduction but it may have been overshadowed by the recently released ‘Neverwinter’. Like Guild Wars before it, the game is almost completely instanced, using the city of Stormreach as a hub rather than giving players an open world. Traditionally the game is located in Eberron, though recently added Forgotten Realms content causes a rebranding. As for it’s relation to D&D, it is based loosely upon the D&D 3.5 ruleset, and the game itself is set within the continent of Xen’drik. Though it is free to play, free players will need to purchase individual modules to enjoy most parts of the game. Expansion packs are also released regularly, with one featuring Wil Wheaton as the dungeon master.
Released: June 7, 2001
I overlooked this game when I wrote this article initially, and that was a huge mistake considering it was not only released on my birthday (hint hint), but it was also the first MMORPG to feature a science fiction setting rather than the same tired fantasy setting that we have all come to know and love. If deserts are your thing (We’re looking at you Frank Herbert fans) then by all means, jump into the world of Rub-Ka, which you can still play today. There’s no particular objective other than to survive, advance your skills, and enjoy the world that has been built up over the last fourteen years. The MMO genre may have become stale over the last few years, but Anarchy is just one of those games that reminds us what it was all about, and is definitely one of the ‘true’ MMO’s out there.
Final Fantasy XI
Released: May 16, 2002 (Japan)
The Final Fantasy franchise had always been incredibly popular, having saved Squaresoft from certain destruction ages ago, but the introduction of an MMORPG into the series AND giving it a Roman numeral was almost unthinkable for some fans. Fortunately, it panned out. Not only was this the first MMORPG in the Final Fantasy series, it was the first cross-platform MMO, playable on the Playstation 2 (you needed a hard drive for this) and the XBox 360. During the course of the game, five expansion packs have been released, each one expanding on the original story and giving the players more to do. The console versions of the game have been shut down, but the game still operates in maintenance mode on the PC. It’s kind of like touring a museum now, but the game is still alive and well with a loyal player base.