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Microcosms: SOE Strikes Gold - A Free Realms Review

Posted Tue, Jun 22, 2010 by Medawky


The Ten Ton Hammer team is finally back from E3. Well, most of them are. As I write this our own uber-editor, Benjamin J. de la Durantaye, is stranded in the good old U.S. of A and pounding out E3 articles on my couch as he awaits transport out of sunny California – proof positive that no one goes to the lengths that the Hammer does to bring you all the latest gaming news. And what a week for news it was for MMOG fans, especially those of us who enjoy our gaming with no purse strings attached. Black Prophecy had a strong showing at E3 as did GamersFirst with some new reveals for Sword 2. The folks at Nexon had plenty to show off as well (in addition to hosting the event’s best after party according to many in attendance).  Even though the event is just a memory, you should still check out all of our articles as once again Ten Ton Hammer leads the way in event coverage content.

In addition to playing as many free-to-plays as my wife will allow me the free time to explore each week, I rotate through a few other titles for fun or more likely just out of compulsive habit. One of the AAA titles that I returned to recently for a few hours of play time was also the first MMOG that really got its hooks into me, sure UO was interesting and Meridian 59 had its upside, but EverQuest took a hold of my (thankfully) post college life in a way that no game before, or since, has been able to.  While the community in EQ is smaller now, it isn’t unfriendly and multiple chat channels are readily available to link you to players on all servers. During one of these chat sessions the conversation inevitably turned to SOE and their perceived mistakes and blunders throughout the years, but when I offered up Free Realms as an indicator that they had not completely lost their way, everyone was in agreement.  But does Free Realms make the grade as a free-to-play MMOG? Is it simply a kid’s game? Let’s see how it fares when evaluated on graphics, gameplay and value. 




If I had to describe, in clinical terms, what Free Realms was, it would look something like this:
Free Realms is to MMOGs what the Wii is to gaming consoles - fun, accessible and highly entertaining.  While many people consider it a gateway game that leads younger gamers by the hand into the world of MMOGs, Free Realms can also appeal to the seasoned or jaded veteran. While not as hardcore of a game as most AAA titles, there exists here so many different styles here that it would be nearly impossible to find two players whose experiences are the same.

Graphics


Free Realms

Graphics that rival those of client based games.

The first caveat that most people are apprised of regarding Free Realms, is that it is a browser-based game. That usually conjures images of blocky low res avatars set against textures that look more at home on an early 90’s console than in a thriving MMOG. Free Realms defies that stereotype, however,with colorful 3D graphics that, while not bleeding edge by any means, are highly stylized and give the game a lot of personality.  Models are cartoon-like and the environment is similarly styled. Textures are clean and shading and shadows are well done.

The UI is, at first glance, a bit of a jumble, but this is a direct result of the game having many different aspects. After a few minutes of familiarization the UI reveals itself to be fairly straight forward and intuitive. Due to the nature of the content delivery, UI customization on a broad scale is pretty much out of the question in Free Realms, but as I stated earlier, it’s laid out well enough that any annoyances with it disappear within a couple play sessions.

What impresses me the most about the graphics of Free Realms is how seamlessly they blend from one section of the game to the next, from racing mini-game to exploration to quest driven monster bashing instances, it all flows together nicely and nothing seems out of place.

Gameplay


The heart of any game, and the question most often asked when I describe a game to my friends is “so what’s the game play like?” In Free Realms the answer is a little more complicated than it is in most traditional MMOGs, because here you can truly be whatever you want to be. Crafting, cooking, pet collecting and fishing aren’t add-on skills in Free Realms, they can define how you play the game as much as adventuring can. Players are never locked into one class or role; the world is wide open and you are free to explore any of the multitudes of jobs to your heart’s content.  Most of the non-combat aspects of Free Realms are mini-game driven (think Bejeweled and other super addicting flash games instead of something droll and boring) which make the process of skilling up fun and entertaining instead of a chore.

Free Realms

Combat is as fun as the rest of the game.

Combat here mimics other MMOGs with players using skills and powers to defeat foes in mostly instanced scenarios that are usually the result of accepting a quest. While there is a lack of harsh death penalty or white knuckled battles that test a gamer’s skill, it really isn’t a loss as that sort of experience wouldn’t fit with the overall theme and feel of the game.  Anyone from the most hardcore gamer to their 10 year old niece can find something to do in Free Realms, and you don’t have to look hard or long to find it as everything is well laid out and accessible.

Value



Free Realms

Items enchance, but dont dictate, game enjoyment.

SOE was one of the first major publishers to tackle microtransactions in any sort of broad application with their introduction of Station Cash, and Free Realms was their first title to use it as the main source of monetization. Players can elect to purchase a subscription for around five dollars a month to unlock extra character slots and subscriber only jobs, but you can easily enjoy the game without ever spending a dime. For casual players I would recommend the free option with microtransactions to supplement, but if you decide to make Free Realms a regular destination you can’t beat the subscription plan.  Do expect to also spend some coin in the store, as some very fun items pop up there.

You would be hard pressed to average more than 15 dollars a month, even with a subscription plan added to sporadic purchases. For just over 15 dollars a player could buy a mount, a house, a weapon and a set of clothes, none of which are needed to enjoy the game but are the major types of items you would eventually want to obtain if you were invested in your character.

Score


(5 / 5 Hammers)

Overall Free Realms gets 5/5 Hammers for its unique blend of gaming styles and finding a perfect balance between them. While the cartoony style and casual atmosphere may not appeal to all gamers, those who are willing to give it a chance will be pleasantly surprised and probably more than a little hooked. 





Free Realms
 Virtual summer camp anyone?



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