Try-It Tuesdays is a (semi) regular weekly feature in which I take a break from my current roster of games to play something else for an evening. You can check out past Try-It Tuesday adventures here or submit a suggestion for a future title in the comments!
Today we’re really going back, all the way back to the mid-90s and Meridian 59. I feel that as a guy who often writes about older MMOs, I should at least snack on them from time to time. The game’s been in maintenance mode for years now, a relic of the past that’s kept the lights on well beyond so many other games that have come and gone since its debut. That deserves a little bit of respect.
But can a player from 2016 even approach this game? I mean, I play retro games all of the time (and blog about them too), but older MMOs with alien, archaic systems are a little intimidating. Let’s see what we have here.
Check out THAT character creation screen! It’s so vintage Windows 95 that I couldn’t help but smile. Hey, at least its (a) functional and (b) more detailed than most modern MMO creators. Well, not more detailed visually, but you do get to build your character, choose spells, stats, and skills before heading into the game.
I rolled up a warrior-ish character, Goobie, who used his precious few skill points to buy a minor heal spell, the block skill, and the ability to fight with a short sword. I’m so epic it hurts.
My kids and I had some good fun with the character creator visuals. It turned out that we’d never see his face in the game anyway, since Meridian 59 puts you in forced first-person mode, but it’s nice to know that I’m stunning everyone else with my eye patch and balding red hair.
Meridian 59’s game engine, if nothing else, triggered so many memories of gaming in the 90s. It’s not 3D, but what we called 2.5D — sort-of three dimensional, but you lack a lot of vertical mobility and world objects are paper-thin cutouts that rotate to always face you so that the illusion is not dispelled. It’s kind of creepy to be standing there in an inn where the NPC is nothing more than an immobile picture that faces you no matter where you go. He’s coming for you. Soon.
The interface was functional and mostly intuitive, if still very ugly and old. I had to turn on mouselook mode to move just because sliding around felt so unnatural. What was really interesting is that you can right-click on objects, even mundane ones, to read surprisingly verbose descriptions.
Well… you have to admit that this is about seven words more than a bar stool typically deserves.
Naturally because of the graphics engine, everything in this game looks blocky, flat, and fake. Even outside, which is more colorful, still feels like you’re in a box with the sky making up most of the walls and ceiling.
I tried to broadcast a message to the entire server (world chat?) to see if anyone was there. If there was, they didn’t answer me. Am I… all alone? The only person in an entire MMO? That seriously gives me the creeps.
Starting out, I got a letter from my “guardian angel” giving me some practical advice and saying that I was being given limited protection. Good to know, Mr. Angel. Ms. Angel?
Tell me that this isn’t a face that you’d like to hit with a mace. And boy does that mace look painful, doesn’t it?
The NPCs seemed to emphasize how alone I was here. They didn’t do much of anything. Supposedly, you could talk to them, but only one lady ever answered my hello. Was I supposed to get quests from them? Buy from them? Marry them and have paper children? It was unclear.
At least the descriptions continued to amuse me. Way to pile on the deceased!
The tutorial area had a museum, which I found to be pretty interesting. Tapestries and objects to investigate, all speaking of past stories. It made me curious if this was a later addition, grown over time as relics were pulled from the game’s development, or pretty much made up on the spot.
Meridian 59’s biomes seamlessly transition between each other.
I jumped through a portal that took me to the world proper, but a combination of my general laziness, the feeling of being so very alone in a fantasy realm, and a cluelessness what to do. I guess if I had a lot more time, I could look up guides and investigate everything, but I was antsy and wanted to explore. Don’t think less of me.
After wandering down some forest paths, I came upon my first (and, as it turns out, only) enemy mob, a centipede. This is his thorax, because it was really hard to get a good screenshot (we’re talking maybe five jerky animated attack frames) and try to defend myself. I was jamming on the “E” key, because that was the only way I could swing my mace. Was I hitting? Where did he go? Ahh! The screen is red!
Aaaaaand I died. But you already assumed that.
I woke up in what I assumed to be hell, or a house occupied by someone with incredibly bad interior decorating skills. Is that lava? Shag carpet? I didn’t know, but I made a beeline for the purple portal over there and got spat out into another village. By this time, I had just no grasp on where I was or what I should be doing. I just knew that if there was a loss condition of the game, I was hitting that pretty solidly.
My Meridian 59 adventure ended in the rooms of what I assumed to be a palace or a badly designed Doom level. Mmm… suckling pig with demon eyes. My favorite! There were also a lot of identical guards, all looking at me with the obvious intent to devour my soul the second I turned my back and lowered my guard.
So what did I learn? Probably that I need to digest a guide to the game and take it a lot more seriously if I ever came back. I tried to imagine what it would be like to play this back in the mid-90s, and I assume that the novelty of it and contemporary visuals wouldn’t have been so much a problem. Still, without direction, companionship, or a fun combat system, I’m left with a tour through the husk of what used to be a living game. Was it worth it? I… guess?