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10 tips for playing old MMOs

Ah the good old days. When grinds were long and interfaces were incomprehensible.

There’s a certain appeal to playing old MMOs. In some respects, there’s a simplicity to them – there are no season passes or cash shops, no 300-hour storylines to plough through before you can even think about doing endgame content, and well, the graphics are far less intensive too, so it’ll run on any old laptop you have hanging around.

In other ways old MMOs are fiendishly complex, especially when trying to play them several decades after they were first released. The genre has come a long way since the days of Ultima Online and EverQuest, and many gameplay aspects have been standardized to make MMOs more approachable and accessible.

Some games, such as World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, and EVE Online may be getting a little long in the tooth at this point, but due to frequent and continued updates they’ve been able to move with the times and remain welcoming to new players (or at least as welcoming as you could expect EVE to be).

Ultima Online

Other MMOs have intentionally chosen not to implement a lot of modern conveniences into their design, while others simply don’t have the development scope or resources to keep their game ‘up to date’. Some have been shuttered altogether and are now only playable thanks to fans bringing them back to life.

Playing one of these games, either as a new or a returning player, can be an intimidating and sometimes frustrating prospect. Here are a few tips to help get you in the right mindset for playing them.

1) Prepare yourself for the slower pace

As with most things in life these days, playing new games is a pretty breakneck affair. Log into a modern MMO and you’ll be instantly assaulted with directions to a hundred different activities that all need to be done RIGHT NOW.

Whether or not you agree with the game design law which states “Socialization requires downtime”, it was something of a given in older MMOs. These days, this forced downtime requires a conscious effort to embrace and it’s worth taking a minute before you launch the game to try and shift yourself down a mental gear.

2) Get ready to die – a lot

Unless you’re actively seeking out a challenge in a modern MMO you can quite often go several play sessions without ever seeing your health bar hit zero. It can actually be a bit of a shock when you start partaking in endgame content and actually realise you weren’t such a buffed-up He-Man after all.

It’s unlikely you’ll have that problem in older MMOs. Wander outside of the area for your level – die. Aggro more than one enemy at a time – die. Forget to spend two minutes waiting for your health bar to replenish between fights – you guessed it, die.

Again, this is mostly a case of embracing the gameplay design and making sure you’re really paying attention to what you’re doing.

Dragon Ball Online

3) Research first

People of a certain age will fondly remember the days of picking up a physical game from the store and spending hours thumbing through chunky instruction manuals before they fired the game up for the first time. Those things were useful! And there was something of an expectation that you’d take the time to read them.

While some old MMOs may offer tutorials, tooltips or guides within the game, there are no guarantees. For that reason, don’t feel bad about looking online to find a ‘new player tips’ guide or video and absorbing a bit of information on how the game functions before you jump in.

4) Play the way it’s meant to be played

On the other hand, don’t get too bogged down in wikis, let’s plays, patch notes and min-maxing guides before you’ve even made your first character. With thin plots compared to modern narrative-driven MMOs like Final Fantasy XIV and Star Wars: The Old Republic, part of the joy of playing an old MMO is in watching the world reveal itself around you as your character grows.

If you’ve already experienced all that through another player’s eyes you’re denying yourself the enjoyment of living it yourself. Sure, you might choose a class and gear that’s considered underpowered, and you may not reach the endgame quite as quickly, but you’re experiencing the game the way the designers intended you to.

5) Set your own goals

Who wants to be The Chosen One anyway? The age-old trope of starting off by killing 10 rats hasn’t quite died off yet, but you can guarantee it won’t be long before you’re slaying much bigger beasts and saving the land/world/universe in most modern MMOs.

Such accolades are rarely obtained in older titles, and you’ll probably find yourself killing a lot more woodland creatures before you’re slaying dragons and gods. That means you’ll have to decide for yourself what role you want to play in the world.

This may develop naturally as you play, or you may decide beforehand what your long-term goals are. Regardless you’ll want to settle into each play session with some idea of what you want to do or accomplish.

Star Wars Galaxies

6) Roleplay

How often do you really think about the character you want to embody when you’re making a new toon in an MMO? Oftentimes the array of options on offer are so bewildering that it’s fun to just click around and end up on something that looks cool.

Not everybody likes to roleplay. I don’t really feel comfortable doing it myself. When there isn’t a story pressed upon your character through a narrative however it’s worthwhile thinking a little bit about who the character you’re playing really is. You don’t have to share it with anybody, and you don’t have to always embody that character in everything you do, but sometimes just having a bit of backstory established in your mind can help immerse you and guide you in your adventures.

7) Ask the community

Most members of established MMO communities are more than happy to welcome fresh blood into their game so don’t be afraid to seek help and advice from them. This can be either in-game, or out-of-game in Discord servers, subreddits, or forums.

The key of course is that it’s a two-way thing. The existing community want new players to find the game, but only the right kind of player. Be patient and polite and you’ll more than likely be treated the same way in return.

8) Find a group (or bring your own)

There’s unquestionably been a shift towards solo play in MMOs, and these days many don’t require co-operative play at all until late in the endgame. Such a concept would’ve seemed bizarre in the late-90s/early-00s when online gaming was still very much a novelty. Why wouldn’t you want to spend all your time playing together?

With so many group finder tools available today it almost feels weird going back to asking for help in a hub area, but that’s the way it is. Alternatively, you can always bring a couple of friends along to try out the game with you if they’re willing.

Guild Wars Prophecies

9) Multitask

Let’s be honest, sometimes these older games can be very boring. If your play session is literally going to consist of nothing more than killing the same group of mobs for hours on end just to get a bar to go up, you’re going to want a little distraction.

Personally, I’ve never been a fan of second-screen content, so my distraction of choice is a podcast. If you’re one of those people who likes to watch a movie or YouTube video while you’re playing, then you do you.

10) Don’t multitask

It’s ok to be bored. Let it wash over you. Become one with the grind.

You’re playing in a huge virtual world built by actual humans. Even if the game is dated, what you’re having the chance to experience is the culmination of thousands of hours of effort and if you take the time to really look around, you’ll see, hear, and feel that effort everywhere you go.

So crank up those ambient sounds, turn off your second monitor and allow yourself to be transported back in time.

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