When you think about it, the proliferation of time travel quests makes a lot of sense from a developer viewpoint. There is a ton of lore that goes into each one of these virtual worlds, but for the most part the players are affixed to a very specific (and unmoving) point in time. Hopping about in time is a great way to experience other eras and actually see history instead of just reading it in a quest box. Plus, if done right, these quests can be quite memorable.
The Franklin Manor is one of the most haunted places in TSW, which is certainly saying something for this game. And instead of being content to let you have the traditional haunted house experience, the devs created a quest that has you using a broken mirror to step into several time periods and unravel just why this house is so messed up. Before the mission is through, you'll go back to 1904 to rescue a servant girl, meet a disturbed child in 1918, protect hippies in 1966, and break a curse in the modern day. The real-world setting and creative redressing of the mansion for the different time periods elevates this to a truly memorable trip.
2. RIFT: Defiant tutorial
RIFT is quite casual with the whole time-travel aspect, starting with its tutorials. While the Guardians start in the past, the Defiants get to see how horribly wrong time can go in the future. Their entire tutorial, therefore, is a quest to get to the time portal (or whatever you want to call it) and go back to the past to make sure that this doesn't come to be. Every time I've run that tutorial, I found it to be quite motivating in my future efforts (at least through the first post-tutorial zone).
3. World of Warcraft: Culling of Stratholme
The whole concept of the Caverns of Time in this MMO was terrific and (in my opinion) criminally underused for how much awesome Warcraft history remains unexplored. But at least we had a few epochs to visit through these time-themed dungeons, including my favorite, Culling of Stratholme. You really felt like a time traveler stepping out of a portal and going on a killing binge that turned Arthas from a fairly well-adjusted member of royalty into Frosty Vader. "Must! Kill! Everyone! Including younglings!"
Time travel in a Star Trek game? Get out of town! Honestly, I'm rather surprised every third mission doesn't send you skipping around the centuries, considering how often that was done in the TV shows. Night of the Comet (not to be confused with the cult movie starring a Star Trek actor) tasks you with using the slingshot technique from Star Trek IV to go back in time, dress up as an old-timey Klingon cruiser, and destroy a comet. It rapidly becomes more complicated than that, of course, and your crew ends up rubbing shoulders with Scotty some 150 years in the past. Quick, whip out your Tribble collection and impress him with all of the fluffiness!
5. Lord of the Rings Online: At the Stone of Erech
Past the fact that this entire game is one giant time travel journey, LotRO has a fun mechanism for going into the past using "story sessions." In these, an NPC is supposedly telling you a story about the past, but the game puts you into the shoes of that past character to relive it first-hand. One of my favorites is the At the Stone of Erech quest, in which you witness the initial pact between Gondor and the Men of the Mountains and the subsequent breaking of that pact, which led to the creation of the Oath-breakers (aka Aragorn's ghost army).
6. Final Fantasy XI: Wings of the Goddess
Instead of a mere time travel quest, how about an entire time travel expansion? That's exactly what Wings of the Goddess was, taking players back in time 20 years to the Crystal War. This marked the first time that Final Fantasy dealt with time travel since VIII, and it did not shrink from delivering an in-depth look at the past. By the time players had finished the expansion and returned to the "present," they had explored massive quest lines from all three nations embroiled in the great war.
Four of the price of one, what a deal! Guild Wars' bonus mission pack contained four time-hopping adventures back to significant historical events, such as Gwen's traumatic escape to the North and the Battle of Jahai. Like LotRO's story missions, the time travel mechanism is staged as a tale that is "lived" by the player. If only all history classes could be this engaging!
8. RuneScape: Meeting History
An enchanted key sends players back to visit the very first humans that came to these lands. Interestingly enough, this quest allows players to freely move between three time periods (the distant past, 20 years after that, and the present) in order to solve objectives and alter small but significant details. Kill 10 rats has no place here!
9. EverQuest II: Chronoportals Live Event
Every year, EverQuest II leverages its rare position as an MMO sequel (prequel? sidequel? I don't know what the official line is any more!) of an active game to tie the two together with time travel. Players can find and use several "chronoportals" scattered across the world to hop into the world of the original EverQuest. Do all of them, and you get a "Time Traveler" title. Best title ever? Absolutely.
10. City of Heroes: Flashback
Superheroes have a long-standing tradition of time travel, so for City of Heroes to base an entire series of missions on this concept was perfectly in sync with the genre. Update 11's Flashback system used a portal to send individuals and teams back to various moments in the past and experience previous missions. It was certainly a clever way to reuse content without bending the advancing time frame of the story. Now if someone could only give us a time machine so that we could go back and play this game before it shut down!
Justin "Syp" Olivetti enjoys counting up to ten, a feat that he considers the apex of his career. If you'd like to learn how to count as well, check out The Perfect Ten. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.