After my daughter asked for "WoW: Cataclysm" for Christmas (which precipitated the purchase of Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King as well, since I had never upgraded from vanilla WoW) I got to thinking about the MMO experience. Way, way back in the day my coworkers and I played Asheron's Call. AC was contemporary with Everquest and Ultima Online, so definitely in the trailblazing era of MMO's. The thing about AC that strikes me now is that it was big.Really big. To get anywhere you had to make a fairly harrowing and time-consuming run that would likely use several of the portals that existed throughout the world. This was not an "on rails" experience, by any means. Even getting from the starter town to a somewhat larger town required a dangerous run on a road through territory with monsters that could easily kill you. And death in AC wasn't as forgiving as death in WoW.
In retrospect I can see why AC hovered around the 100k subscriber level while WoW has more people than the nation of Portugal. WoW streamlined the fun parts and did away with the tedious parts. AC embraced the tedious parts, and the "buff cycle" was a big part of it. Going out into the big, wide world in a somewhat non-suicidal way required a series of protection and enhancement spells. Since most fighting types could not cast those spells at any respectable level, a decent mage would be required. To a great extent this required a lot of player cooperation; you did not solo this game very effectively. You would get protection from piercing, blade, bludgeoning, acid, fire, lightning and cold. You would get enhancements to your strength, coordination, endurance, quickness, willpower or focus depending on your role requirements. You'd get a boost to your run skill, mace mastery, sword mastery, healing, etc. Often the buff cycle would start with the mage casting a series of self-buffs so that he could successfully cast the high level buffs. It was, to say the least, complex. Oh, and there were spell components you had to carry that would sometimes get consumed when you cast the spells. Out of hyssop? Sorry, you can't cast anything that requires hyssop now. (This was significantly simplified in the few years we played, being reduced to just a few different components.) The title of this post refers to the four buffs that every melee character's weapon would get (yes, the mage would target the weapon and cast the spells.) Blood Drinker increases the damage of the weapon. Heart Seeker increases the accuracy. Swift Killer improves the speed of the weapon. Defender improves the melee defense modifier of a given weapon. Yes, carrying a weapon often gave you increased your ability to defend yourself against others wielding melee weapons. The game was definitely thorough.
Maybe I'm nostalgic for AC simply because it was the first MMO I played. Maybe just because that was a more game-filled time in my life. In light of my recent playing of WoW (as a Cataclysm Goblin) I see that AC gave much more freedom to the player than WoW does. It meant there were tons of places to go but not always a sense of why you wanted to go there. A lot of the play was emergent from playing with friends. WoW gently guides new (or new-ish) players to the next area through the quest chains. I suppose much later in the game you would have more options... I've never gotten past about level 40 in WoW, and I will say that getting there in WoW was quite a bit more interesting than grinding the Lugian Citadel and then the Olthoi Hive Nest was.
There was less to do in AC, but you were more free to do it. Wait, what? Okay, never mind.