The Top Ten Oldest MMORPGs
Many gamers were first introduced to the MMORPG genre by World of Warcraft which was released in 2004. This explains why so many people compare every new MMORPG release to WoW, and even go so far as to label them clones of Blizzard’s fantasy MMORPG.
The truth is MMORPGs have been around for much longer. Many classic MMORPGs are still alive and kicking. Many of them are even free to play or offer free trials. Below are some of the oldest:
Meridian 59 (1996)
Meridian 59 was first released on December 15, 1995 as a subscription based game. The game had a classic fantasy theme and allowed players to create custom characters. Unlike many of today’s games, Meridian 59 had no levels or classes and instead allowed players to improve individual skill and stat scores as they progressed. Meridian 59 is still playable today on an official free server to play servers. Like most old games, meridian 59 was a PvP heavily title and allowed player killing anywhere.
Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds (1996)
Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds was one of the first Korean MMORPGs to be developed and brought to the West. The game has an Asian theme and has been in continuous development since its release. The game is still a subscription based title but allows gamers to play for free until level 49. Nexus has seen several major graphic overhauls which have kept it more or less up to date with the visuals of other 2D MMORPGs. Gameplay is still a bit archaic, but Nexus is definitely one of the most playable classics on this list.
The Realm Online (1996)
The Realm Online, or simply The Realm, was launched before the popular phrase ‘MMORPG’ was coined. Back then, online multiplayer games with graphics were referred to as ‘graphical MUDs.’ History lesson aside, The Realm Online is a subscription based fantasy game that’s still around. There is a 7 day free trial available, but users are expected to pay $6.99 per month after that. The Realm Online has a turn-based combat system which makes it unique among the classic MMORPGs on this list.
No not the bone, the game. Tibia is a classic fantasy MMORPG that continues to astound. The game still has a huge community with dozens of packed servers. Players can log in and try the game for free, but many premium features are reserved for paying members. Tibia almost looks like a beta version of Runescape. There are four first class choices (or vocations as they’re called in Tibia) available after hitting level 8, but the gridded map and dated graphics are likely to put off gamers before they get that high. Tibia is one of the few MMORPGs on this list to gain an international audience. There are servers located in Europe, South America, and the US.
Ultima Online (1997)
Richard Garriott’s Ultima Online may not of been the first MMORPG, but it is credited with bringing the genre into the mainstream. UO was based on the same fantasy world of the previous single-player Ultima RPG games and so had an enormous amount of material to build off of. Additionally, the Ultima brand helped the game attract hundreds of thousands of subscribers whereas older MMORPGs only had player counts in the thousands or tens of thousands. Ultima Online offered player housing, a skill based progression system, mounts and mounted combat, pets, and a detailed crafting system over 10 years ago. Many of these feature have yet to be implemented in today’s MMORPGs. The game is still available as a subscription based game by EA, but has undergone significant changes since its original release. Players who want to experience the retro UO experience must turn to one of the many free private servers out there.
NCsoft is one of the best known names in the MMORPG business today. The Korean company got its start with a medieval fantasy MMORPG Lineage back in 1998. Lineage was designed by Jake Song, the same man behind the earlier Korean MMORPG Nexus: Kingdom of the Three Winds. In many respects, Linage was a major step up from previous MMORPGs. It had action-RPG style gameplay and fostered a competitive gaming atmosphere. The game took off in Korea and across Asia and is still regarded as one of the most popular MMORPGs in the world. While it never got quite as big in the West, there are still official Linage servers to play on provided you pay a monthly fee. The game spawned a ‘prequel’ known as Lineage 2: The Chaotic Chronicles which was released in 2003.
Dark Ages (1999)
Dark Ages is the second MMORPG to be released by KRU Interactive after Nexus. The game is based on Celtic mythology and is still available today. Players can play for free, but must start paying a monthly fee to continue gaining experience after level 99. The game was best known for its rich community involvement and player run political system. While the game does have five classes and is still supported by the original developer, its not likely to attract many new gamers.
The Forth Coming (1999)
The Forth Coming, also know as T4C or by its french name ‘La Quatrieme Prophetie’, is another classic MMORPG with Diablo style combat. Players can equip any weapon or learn any spell provided they meet the required stats. The level cap in the game is 300, but few players have gone beyond 250 because of the exponential experience point requirements. T4C is still available in the United States and elsewhere through several official servers.
Mir 2 (1999-2000)
The Legends of Mir 2 was another early Korean hit that paved the way for the country’s flourishing gaming industry. While I couldn’t find an exact release date, I did find that the original developers formed a company called ‘WeMade’ in 2000 as a response to a Chinese studio releasing the game without their permission. Mir 2 had 2D graphics and an isometric camera view. It played a lot like other action-RPGs of the 90s, and was well received across Asia. Mir 2, along with its equal The Legend of Mir 3, are both available in the US today as free to play MMORPGs.
Released by Sony Online Entertainment in 1999, EverQuest took mainstream MMORPGs into the third dimension. The game offered a huge variety of races and classes along with a massive game world filled with lore. EverQuest placed much less emphasis on PvP than previous MMORPGs and thus helped extend the genre beyond the young male demographic. Large groups of middle age players could safely explore a dungeon without a small band of punks harassing them at every turn. Some lament this change, but there’s no question that EverQuest paved the way for World of Warcraft. In fact, many WoW developers were veteran EQ players. EverQuest is still going strong with over a dozen expansion packs. Players can try the game for free, but will need to pay a monthly subscription to play past a few days.
We neglected to mention the very first MMORPG to display graphics: AOL’s Neverwinter Nights.
Neverwinter Nights (1991)
Developed cooperatively by AOL, Stormfront Studios, SSI, and TSR (later acquired by Wizards of the Coast), Neverwinter Nights was the first MMORPG to display actual graphics. Due to the severe technical restrictions of the time, Neverwinter Nights didn’t carry a monthly subscription, but instead cost $6.00 per hour and as much as $8.00 per hour during peak times. As technology improved, the hourly rate was reduced and eventually dropped. The game ended its run in 1997 at which time it had around 115,000 players. While Neverwinter Nights is no longer with us, it will be remembered as the first MUD to use graphics and thus it paved the way for the other games on this list.
By, Erhan Altay