Every MMORPG that makes it big today is stamped as being a World of Warcraft clone. The thing is, WoW wasn't exactly an original idea itself. Before WoW, there were a handful of hugely successful MMORPGs: Ultima Online, Asheron's Call, Dark Age of Camelot, and EverQuest. EverQuest was really the second commercially successful MMORPG, behind Ultima Online from 1997, but there's no doubt that it brought massive success to the genre as the first MMORPG on a 3D game engine.
Released in March of 1999, EverQuest has branched out into several titles like Lords of EverQuest, Champions of Narroth, EverQuest II, and the (unfortunately) terminated title that we all thought would retake the MMORPG scene by storm, EverQuest Next.
Before there was WoW, there was EverQuest. Without it, who knows if any of the MMORPGs thereafter would have seen such impressive numbers.
First-person shooter fans in the late '90s were absolutely spoiled by developer id Software, the company behind Wolfenstein, DOOM, and Quake. Those three names alone can send chills up the average 30-year-old nerd's spine.
While the original release of DOOM and Quake did have multiplayer capability through local networking features, QuakeWorld opened up the genre when it included the capability to play with others over dial-up and broadband connections.
Not only does the Quake series still live on today through hits like Quake Live, but QuakeWorld is still played competitively at some events. Since its release in 1996, several modded versions of the game have popped up to help breathe some fresh air into this 20-year-old title. Check out nQuake and ezQuake if you're interested!
Let me just start by saying that this game was so damn good. Diablo II helped inspired Dark Souls, and many of this generation's gamers adore that title as one of the best of all-time.
ARPGs like Diablo II aren't usually massively multiplayer, but multiplayer does exist through realms where cooperative play (through parties) is enabled. Some ARPGs, like Path of Exile, even have PvP arenas or open-realm PvP. Hack-and-slash games have always been about drooling over that loot drop with insane rolls on it. That's what we all love and remember about Diablo II.
Diablo II's gameplay paved the way for a slew of amazing series like Torchlight, The Witcher, Borderlands, The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, and many more. In 2012, everyone went crazy over the release of Diablo III. Although it was a bit disappointing to many of us who were able to experience Diablo II, it's a quality ARPG that helped appease our nostalgia.
There's a stereotype in today's MMO culture surrounding games that are developed by Korean studios, and it's generally that they're low-quality, pay-to-win games. Ragnarok Online was the first Korean MMORPG to make it huge in North America in 2002. It was originally neither of those things.
While it was far from the first game of its type, Ragnarok Online had an incredibly unique art style. Players interact in a 3D environment as 2D sprites, and it could be played as player vs. environment, guild vs. guild, or player vs. player.
Keep in mind that at the time of its release, anime culture was just then becoming huge in the US. While RO isn't a Japanese game, it seemed to really resonate with the DBZ-loving children—myself included—of that time. A combination of its perfect release date, new and refreshing artwork, and addicting, grind-oriented gameplay made this game a hit in the West.
This is something unlike every other game on this list. EVE came out in 2003, but unlike many other games that released more than a decade ago it's still getting bigger and stronger. In 2013, EVE Online hit over 500,000 subscribers.
EVE Online is an MMORPG that takes place in a persistent world. It's a space simulation that revolves largely around its intricate economy. It incorporated elements of gameplay that were so new and game-changing that it mesmerized the MMO world. Player characters in the game advance over time, measured by actual real-world time. Griefing is a huge part of EVE, too. Stealing from, extorting, and baiting players into large groups of deadly NPCs are all allowed.
Games like Perpetuum, Star Citizen, and Dust 514 manage to scratch the surface of EVE Online, but there's no other game truly like it. While it hasn't been recycled to death, there have been many unsuccessful imitators.