I am working on a game opinion summaries / first impressions article for my newest (old) console, the Intellivision. It shouldn’t take too long, but in the interim, though, how about this thing? Working on my Guild Wars screenshot series has made me look for old screenshots I’ve taken of other games, but unfortunately I took almost none. I’ve never filmed myself playing games, and I only have a small handful of images of high scores and such I’ve taken, my many hundreds of Guild Wars images, and a few others, including the ones in this post and some from the Guild Wars 2 betas. Those latter ones are for another time.
Online RPGs have been around for decades. Apart from a few games such as Cavequest, Castle of the Winds, and Quest for Glory I, however, for the most part I did not play RPGs in the ’90s on our PCs; I mostly stuck to platformers, strategy games, shmups, racing games, adventure games, and such. As for console RPGs, I wouldn’t be at all interested in those until the ’00s. I love Quest for Glory, but it didn’t get me to play other RPGs; that is a somewhat unique game series, being a hybrid of RPG and adventure. When Baldur’s Gate released in 1998, however, this changed. I had an interest in Dungeons & Dragons, though I hadn’t played much of the pen and paper game, but the mid ’90s were not a good time for D&D games; there had been good ones earlier on, SSI’s Gold Box series particularly, but I didn’t play those in the early ’90s, and they probably would have been too much for me anyway. Anyway, Baldur’s Gate interested me in a way that RPGs hadn’t before, so I wanted to play it, but not so badly that I was going to spend $50 for the game. Unfortunately it didn’t have a free demo, so, I bought the retail expanded demo version, Baldur’s Gate Chapters I & II. I liked that, so I bought the full game in ’99. I loved the game a lot and it’s still a favorite of mine, but I must admit I never finished it; it’s pretty non-linear, and after wandering around in the forests a lot I eventually lost interest. It’s a great game I mean to play someday, though. I usually have preferred a somewhat more linear, directed experience over a very open-ended one. I also don’t care much at all about loot and don’t play games a game just to get better items or “collect them all”, and I do not like grinding experience either. I also quite dislike crafting unless it’s very simple. I love history and the middle ages has always been my favorite historical period, but while I like some RPGs, I’ve never loved the genre as much as some do.
And that gets us to MMORPGs. Right from when I first heard of them, I wasn’t all that interested in actually playing online RPGs myself not only because I wasn’t a big RPG fan but also because the kinds of games they are run directly against what I like in games — they are all open-ended, with an endgame where loot is often your main draw, after all. So, for years I did not play them. By 2004, however, I was interested enough that I wanted to try some… and then there was that Guild Wars alpha test in May 2004, with a no-monthly-fee game made by former Blizzard developers, my favorite game studio then thanks to their amazing RTSes! I had to try it, and the rest was history, as the Guild Wars Screenshots and Memories series shows. In a lot of ways Guild Wars is exactly the kind of online RPG I’d love! It has very little to no required grinding and a low level cap, loot is heavily de-emphasized except as a visual thing, the game has a main path that follows a series of linear missions, there is a very satisfying mapping component as you reveal the map, and gameplay is complex and strategic in some level, and isn’t just mindless button-mashing. It also looks great, has no monthly fees, and ran relatively well on my computer’s then-aging GeForce 2 GTS graphics card.
However, Guild Wars was not out yet, and the public tests were sporadic. So, in the interim, I tried a bit of a few other mostly free online RPGs, including Saga of Ryzom, ArchLord, a very small amount of Anarchy Online, and, at the end of 2004, the open beta for Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. A little later, in 2006, I would also try Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst, the PC version of the Dreamcast classic Phantasy Star Online. All these games reinforced all of the reasons why regular MMORPGs do not interest me all that much; they’re fine games, but just aren’t for me. I would continue trying them every once in a while, however. Unfortunately I can’t find any screenshots I took in any of them, not from 2004-2005 at least. I do, however, have some shots from a little later, from when I bought World of Warcraft when it was on sale in 2006 and played it for a month.
Of those games, the most successful is of course World of Warcraft. Because I was a huge Blizzard fan at the time, particularly of their RTSes — though the game would prove to be the end of that — I did try World of Warcraft when Blizzard had an open beta for the game in late 2004 just before its release. Comparing it to the Guild Wars betas I was playing so much of at that time, WoW had worse graphics, worse art design, significantly worse performance and framerates, and much less interesting, much more solo-focused gameplay. And on top of all that, Blizzard wanted users to pay a $15 monthly fee to play their game, while Guild Wars had no fees beyond buying the box! I liked pretty much everything about Guild Wars a lot better and never considered buying WoW when it released soon afterwards.
Unfortunately, I don’t think I took any screenshots during that beta, but I remember making a couple of characters and wandering around and such. So, this article starts later, in 2006, when I played the game again and did take some screenshots. The article has three parts, in chronological order based on when the screenshots were taken. First, Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst screenshots from summer 2006. Second, World of Warcraft: Cataclysm screenshots also from summer 2006. And last, my three screenshots from a PSO Blue Burst fan server from 2008.
Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst (June 2006)
Guild Wars aside, PC online RPGs formed a consistent formula by the late ’90s, typified by the influential classic EverQuest and, following it, World of Warcraft. On consoles, however, a different online RPG was popular — Phantasy Star Online, first released on the Dreamcast, and its’ more action-heavy form of online RPG. I did not have a Dreamcast during its life so I could not play it then, but when a demo of the PC version released some time later I did try that out. I’d also tried a bit of a relatives’ copy of the Dreamcast game. It seemed fun, but not quite enough so to buy for PC when the full PC version, PSO Blue Burst, released in Japan in 2004 and the US in 2005. I did play Blue Burst in 2006, however, but didn’t stick with it. Most of the screenshots below are from when I started a few characters in ’06. The game is fun but very grindey. The grind is part of my issue with it, but that it also had a monthly fee was definitely a part of why I didn’t play PSO more, I did not want to pay every month just for the privilege of playing a game I had already bought! The game was shut down after a few years, but fan servers kept it running.
Compared to regular MMORPGs, PSO does some things I like more, and others less. On the one hand, PSO follows a clear game progression path. Each episode is made up of areas, and each area has a map to fight through, a bunch of quests to do in variations of that map, and eventually a boss at the end of each of the four parts of the game. Unlike an MMORPG, PSO areas are very small in size, particularly in the first game; you fight in a series of rooms, essentially, defeating the monsters in each room before you move on to the next one. It works, but you’ll go through each area over and over and over as you level up, and that gets old. The game also very much rewards playing with other human players, as a solo player is at a definite disadvantage against the enemies and especially bosses while team have a much better shot. Your reward for all this? Loot. That’s not really what I want from a game. I mean, I do like PSO, but the repetitious nature of its grind hasn’t kept me coming back, though I might someday; there are still fan servers for the game, after all. Anyway, these are my screenshots from when I first tried PSO Blue Burst in 2006. I played the game for a bit but stopped, again, in part because of the whole monthly fee thing. So, this is all lower-level gameplay, but I took a decent number of screenshots. This set has 19 images.
World of Warcraft (from somewhere between late 2005 and July 2006)
I had played WoW, again, in the pre-release beta in late 2004, but as with the Guild Wars betas, characters were wiped before launch. However, In November 2005 I got a 10-day key for WoW. However, I don’t have screenshots or memories of playing the game then. Instead, what I do have is a batch of screenshots dated to July 2006. The dates on those files are probably wrong, but I’m not sure when these shots are from between those two dates. These screenshots are almost certainly from that 10-day trial somewhere in this timeframe, probably actually November 2005 when I got that trial key, but perhaps as late as the date on the files. I was never very interested in playing WoW, but because of its success and my past love for Blizzard, I gave it multiple tries, and these screenshots are from my second such attempt. I did not buy the game anytime soon afterwards, but in 2010, when after the release of the Cataclysm expansion Blizzard sold the original WoW and its first few expansions for $5 each, I did buy the game. I don’t think I have any screenshots from that month, however. If I do, I haven’t found them. I played the game for the month that came with the games, but did not subscribe, so I have not played WoW since 2010. I am fine with that.
Unlike that first pre-release test, however, I did take a handful of screenshots of WoW this time. They are all from the starter areas and aren’t very interesting, but here are 15 screenshots anyway.
As I said previously, four years after this 10-day trial in 2006, I bought WoW in 2010 and played for a month then. It was the same game you see here, just better looking since I had a newer computer, and I had some fun but did not take any screenshots or subscribe after the free month ended, and have not played it again since. Overall, World of Warcraft was okay. Running around, getting skills and items, exploring, and doing quests was kind of fun. Some things about the graphics are good, also. It was a totally solo experience for me, though, and I don’t know how I would ever have met other people to play the game with, either. And the core gameplay, all based around grinding and getting items, is not the kind of goal I keep playing a game for. Still, it’s good. I don’t at all agree with the popular pronouncement that WoW is the best MMO ever, but it’s not bad I guess, based on my memories of playing it years ago.
Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst – Fan Server (2008)
In 2008, along with some people from the then-great (and now quite the opposite! Use Reset Era now, instead) gaming forum NeoGAF, I played PSO Blue Burst on one of the fan-run servers for a while. Sega shut down the Western PSOBB servers in March 2008, so this would have been from some time after that, as fan servers sprang up and gained popularity in lieu of the official one. Unfortunately the server we used deletes characters if you don’t use them for a few months, Diablo 2 style, so my character, like the ones from the official server above, is long gone. Before that happened, though, I played the game with them enough to finish PSO Episode I, which was a nice accomplishment. I really wanted to beat the original PSO game, and I did! It was worth the repetition, I think. I didn’t like it quite enough to keep going in episode 2, but if I start a new character on a server which doesn’t delete characters so often maybe I will, someday… though it would be harder solo than when playing with some other people as I was here. Oh well.
Unfortunately, I only took three screenshots in this period, for some reason. More interesting are the chat logs — this version of PSO allows you to log all chat when you’re logged in, and I had that on for a while. The old chatlogs are pretty interesting for me to read, but I don’t think I want to share them, at least not now. So, these three images will have to do. They are higher rez than the previous PSO screenshots because I had that better computer by this point.