Last played: 2011
Experience: Very Minimal
Just three years ago, the idea of an MMO with massive castle siege battles sounded unique and thrilling – to me, at least. I know old Dark Age of Camelot players, and even some Age of Conan-ers will scoff, but the first a game to pique my interest with this premise was Aika.
I think I got into the headstart beta a week or so before its North American launch, which is what games used to do before they’d charge you $100 to play an unfinished game months before launch. And sure, I understood that I wouldn’t be storming the castle with a thousand of my closest friends right out of the gate. (Literally “a thousand”; the game was promoted as offering 1,000 vs. 1,000 PvP battles.)
Even so, I wasn’t expecting… well, whatever it was I got. Looking back, I think Aika was probably a turning point for me in my opinions of MMOs, the last time I got excited about something or some feature of a game only to realize that it was just a gimmick, a lure to draw you in and something that you wouldn’t be able to access for dozens, if not hundreds, of hours after launch. Basically, it was “grind away for days or weeks and then we might let you do the fun stuff we talked about in our marketing.”
It wasn’t the first game I encountered like that (tomorrow’s entry comes to mind), but it was when I first realized that this was A Thing, and not just an occasional random entry in the genre or unintentional error in expectations: “Oops, tee-hee, we didn’t mean to gate the cool stuff behind the grind, it just turned out that way!” It’s separate from the notion of having to level up to run dungeons or do PvP or any of a number of other fun activities a game might have. This was the only thing the game had to differentiate itself from others in its field, and it felt like a bait-and-switch when you saw how long it was going to take for you to access it.
I said I would say something good about each game, right? Well, Aika‘s personal pets were called prans, cute little anime-girl-style “pets” with their own personalities that would converse with you and grow with you as you leveled. And they possessed spectacular powers if you progressed far enough with them. Hey, it sure beat having yet another bear or mystical-spirit-elemental pet.
After Aika, I learned to be a little more discerning in my MMO choices and decided to do more research before committing to a title. It’s an approach I still use today, and one that you should too. Expect the game that exists, and not the one you want to exist, and you’ll be much better off.