"Fine, obscure gems." Part of a periodical series: Great Games You Never Played.
Lineage 2 may have been fated for obscurity from the beginning, if only for carrying the dreaded stigma of being a "Korean MMO," but it also didn't help that EverQuest 2 and World of Warcraft were just around the corner. Either way, L2 never achieved mainstream popularity in the West. If you were too busy playing some kind of sissy MMO, then you missed out on the most hardcore online game of them all: PVP everywhere, clan wars and politics, 400-person castle sieges, and a huge, huge level cap.
Unlike some other great games that you never played, where you can still go back and experience their glory, this one is too late to get into, as the online community is almost assuredly dead. If not, then the player-base is assuredly well over level 80 and it'll take you way too long to catch up. But L2 was an excellent MMO in its time, and deserves a retrospective spotlight for its unique gameplay accomplishments.
The first thing that comes to mind when most people hear the words "Korean MMO" is "more grind than a sausage factory." That is most certainly true of L2. At launch the level cap was 75, and it took maybe three times as long for a dedicated player to reach 75 in L2 than it took a similarly dedicated player to reach 60 in WoW. This mostly amounted to spending hours a day camping one spot, repeatedly killing infinitely-spawning mobs.
But despite the repetition, grinding in L2 was extremely rewarding. It took time, effort, and commitment to level-up, which made every single "ding" exhilarating, especially since you knew that it was a true accomplishment. But besides the psychological gratification, grinding had its own statistical rewards, because being a higher level always gave you an edge in PVP and PVE; the difference between being level 78 and 75 was tremendous.
|Spectating PVP in Lineage 2.|
The most important aspect of L2, though, was the political society of each server. The servers were heavily run by clan-based politics, with lots of PVP and competition. Epic raid bosses, for example, dropped extremely important loot that clans needed in order to be competitive, but the respawn periods often took one or two weeks at a time. This made the gear limited and almost invaluable, resulting in fierce competition over who would get to fight the raid boss; clans frequently PVP each other right in front of the boss. Sometimes it meant smaller clans teaming up to handle a big threat, be it the boss itself or a bigger, stronger clan.
All of this competition was aided by the fact that anywhere outside of town was a PVP zone. Killing mobs for experience, working on quests, farming crafting materials and loot drops, you were always vulnerable to attack from other players, whether they be PKers who wanted your hunting spot or "war targets" from enemy clans. If your clan was at war with other clans, you could go on the offensive and attack their members while they were trying to accomplish things in PVE, and if you were trying to PVE, you had to watch your back.
The whole server was basically run in anarchy, with the strongest clans deciding what other players could or could not do. Sometimes a strong clan would completely lock-down a hunting ground, killing anyone who tried to enter it, just to hold a monopoly on the valuable resources within. Sometimes the strongest clans would just get to everything faster and better than other clans, forcing smaller, weaker clans out of competition by default.
The effect of the pseudo anarchy was that clans (and alliances between clans (both official and unofficial)) meant a lot. Clans weren't just collectives of players who sometimes worked together and hung out; a clan represented something far greater. Clans often wound up representing whole ideals and concepts, with the non-factor players/clans respecting some clans for being benevolent, heroic, honorable underdogs, and hating other clans for being rude, dictatorial jerks.
|Raiding Antharas, the most epic MMO raid boss (at the time).|
In the end, clans felt like a family. A successful clan had to be a tight-knit group of people with strong leadership, competent supporting staff, and a committed player-base that would make individual sacrifices for the good of the clan. Of course, some of the stronger clans would have more members, higher levels, and better gear, but achieving these things usually required the above pre-requisites. When the clans in L2 required such degrees of teamwork to be successful, you developed strong bonds with your clan-mates, and an intense disdain for some other players.
Another fun advantage of not being a super-popular mainstream game is that with smaller servers, you got to know the community a lot better. It was so that you could walk around the more popular towns and recognize dozens of players based on their names and reputations. So your words and actions impacted your own reputation in a significant way, with some players being driven off the server just for being despicable jerks, while others got a lot of sympathy and support for their goodness of character, whether you knew them personally or not. That's just not something you find in a game with a million players, where you literally can't keep track of anyone besides your own personal friends.
Besides the raid bosses, though, clans competed for ownership of castles--strongholds that ruled over towns and districts of the realm. As the lord of a castle, your clan could set the tax rate for all purchased items in your towns and claim the taxes, as well as tweak other settings like the "manors" that other players used to obtain critical crafting materials. Owning a castle brought in a constant stream of revenue, but it also served as a base of operations where you could receive buffs, auto-resurrect after dying, and teleport to and from important locations.
|A defending force at a Castle Siege.|
Every two weeks, clans warred during scheduled castle sieges, a two-hour event of strategic maneuvering, organization, a sheer fire-power. Multiple castles went up to be claimed during each siege period, which meant that clans could sign-up to attack one castle, help another clan at a different castle, defend their own castle, and attack the one they signed up to try to take. The more successful clans held two or three castles with "alt clans" and had to stretch themselves out between them, making stealthy ninja tactics a viable option to sneak into a castle while they were away and claim it.
Straight-forward sieges, however, were the best. Some battles featured hundreds of players storming up against each other. Players died, respawned, and rushed back into the battle field, while the survivors lingered on weak and out of mana or special skills. They were tense and euphoric; I could literally feel my muscles tensing up, holding my breath with each push because of how much stuff was going, trying to keep track of what my party members were doing, picking my targets, watching for enemies, following large-scale battle plans and executing smaller-scale maneuvers.
And, well, that's Lineage 2 in a nutshell. The player society in that game was truly unique and went unmatched by other MMOs that I played or witnessed. The grind was a lot of work, but it was rewarding, and the sense of community persisted beyond the game world. So if you missed out on L2, then that's quite a shame, because it was great game for its time. I wouldn't recommend trying it out now.
And just for the fun of it, here's a video I put together back in 2007, showcasing the new "Dinosaur Island" where you could hunt tyrannosauruses and other dinos. The place was terrible XP, but some classes needed to get rare spellbook drops from there. Not a lot of players ever got to spend any real time out there, so it was pretty fun to get the chance.