2008 Best of F2P Awards

I started playing free-to-play (F2P) games in March 2008. I was sick of paying subscriptions for games I had too little time to play. I expected to find low quality titles filled with adolescents who couldn’t persuade their parents to pay for a subscription game. Despite my lowered expectations, I found a handful of games that were better than I anticipated and communities of players just like me. I met moms and dads who struggled to find precious time for gaming and could not justify the expense of buying a game at the retailer and paying a monthly fee. I encountered college students trying to scrape by on minimum wage who deserve a little down time now and again.

Best of all, I discovered a portion of the F2P player base that had plenty of time and money but enjoyed the more intimate communities of F2P games, communities where developers frequently drop posts in the forums and participate with the players. My pleasant experiences in the F2P market inspired me to help others like me find the finest titles available (and there are some duds!), so my Top Ten Free-to-Play Games was born in April 2008.

As this year comes to a close, I want to celebrate the best of the best that I played and offer my personal applause to the developers responsible for the last nine months of my enjoyment with online gaming. Thus, I offer the 2008 Best of Free-to-Play Awards. I’ll be recognizing games in several categories by drawing from my personal experience in F2P gaming this year, so some titles may have launched prior to 2008. I further made a personal rule that the same game cannot win two awards. I want to spread the love.

This year’s lovely winners don’t really get anything, so let’s say I gave them a Ralsu, which obviously would be a trophy of a devilishly handsome man leaning toward his computer as he plays some of the games mentioned here. Enjoy your Ralsus developers, and thanks for a great year in gaming!

Best Game for Beginners – Fiesta Online

One of the benefits of free-to-play games is that you can share them with a loved one without any monetary investment. In a sense, F2P games can be the perfect gateway to more intensive experiences. The entire time I played Fiesta, I was aware of how perfect the game would be for the budding MMOG player. The tutorial quests, which progress smoothly in complexity, do an excellent job of getting players acclimated to the standard elements of MMOGs. All of the interfaces are clean and easy to use, and the NPCs are memorable characters. My daughter is only six years old now, but I’ll be looking for a game just like Fiesta to train her on in a few years. The best part of the game is that it has the complexity to last beyond the training cycle. Try this game from Outspark with a younger relative to get the most out of it.
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Honorable Mention: Deco Online

Best New Feature – Warrior Spirit System, Warrior Epic

Warrior Epic has a few novel features that could qualify for this award. Download on Demand allows players to download content as they need it and uses a type of peer sharing to take the load off of the servers. The Warrior Hall pleases gamers who like a lot of alts and allows players to unlock bonuses for their warriors and teammates. The Warrior Spirit System stands out as the best new feature in F2P games because it has the potential to add so much strategy to your experience. You might choose to resurrect your hired warrior when he dies, but a more intriguing option is to fuse his spirit with your gear to make it more powerful and to unlock special abilities. In a recent interview, Warrior Epic’s Brice Lucas indicated the system is still expanding while in development. Beta testers are not allowed to talk about what they saw in the first stage of closed beta, but the promise of this system is very exciting. Look for the second round of closed beta from Possibility Space and True Games Interactive in early 2009.
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Honorable Mention: DNA System, Requiem: Bloodymare

Most Innovative Gameplay – Mabinogi

To the uneducated observer, Mabinogi is a simple game. Don’t let the pastoral setting fool you. Nexon started from the ground up to create a fantasy life with their game. Combat involves strategy but plays out in real time based on the stances and special moves you have ready. In your down time, you can go to school, learn to fish, farm, or take part in any number of other activities that don’t involve combat. In a market that trains us to believe that progression through combat is the only possibility, Mabinogi brings innovation to the scene.
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Honorable Mention: Atlantica Online

Most Original Setting – Requiem: Bloodymare

Literature buffs know that setting includes both time and place. In the case of Gravity Interactive’s Requiem, the time is “at any moment all sentient life will be wiped out by demonic beasts and plague-infested humanoids.” The place is a dark world dripping with blood and bristling with danger. In short, Requiem is a horror-themed MMOG, a setting underutilized by MMO developers. While traditional games always put players in a fantasy forest brimming with elves and pixies or a futuristic society that travels through space, Requiem takes us to undiscovered places. The apocalypse is upon us and nothing is beautiful or majestic.
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Honorable Mention: Sword of the New World

Best Story – Dream of Mirror Online

The most appealing aspect of the story for Aeria Games & Entertainment’s Dream of Mirror Online (DOMO) is the source of the tale. Steeped in Chinese mythology, DOMO gives players a chance to step outside of the Western themes that have been done to death. While the game offers plenty of things to do besides the main story arc, the inclusion of special story-based quests projects a clear message that the story and your actions in it are the most important things happening in the game. Judicious use of instances allows each player to feel special without taking away from social aspects of the game.
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Honorable Mention: Runes of Magic

Best Graphics – Rohan: Blood Feud

For some gamers, graphics are the most important element of a game, and even those who don’t care about graphics can’t help but marvel at the beauty of water in Rohan. YNK Interactive’s ambitious game features polished character models, nice lighting effects, gorgeous outdoor environments, and a lush-but-not-loud color palette. Rohan looks so good (and the first ten to twenty levels are so well designed) that it’s hard to remember you’re playing a F2P game.
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Honorable Mention: Sword of the New World

Best Game That Failed – Mythos

I cannot weep enough for what the loss of developer Flagship Studios and Mythos means to me. Sporting a team comprised largely of Diablo and Fate designers, Mythos was built to bring the frenetic fun of hack and slash to the MMOG realm in a grand scale. The game dominated my play time while its beta lived, and the Flagship staff was a dream to work with; they were courteous, responsive, and honest. I became worried about the game’s fate when production halted after a decision was made to switch from instances to a large, open world. It wasn’t long until the crew had to pull the plug and kill the dream. Even then, it took some time for the full story to coalesce. To this day, Mythos is the third best F2P title I have ever played.
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Honorable Mention: N/A

Surprise Hit – Runes of Magic

When I use the word “surprise,” I feel confident it strikes a nerve with some very hard-working developers out there. For sure, nobody at Frogster Interactive would say she is surprised by the early success of Runes of Magic (RoM). I don’t mean my award to be insulting, but RoM has been a surprise for me. I mistakenly assumed based on its stylized graphics that RoM was yet another World of Warcraft clone trying to cash in on folks who couldn’t afford the real thing. I became cautiously optimistic when Frogster started releasing gameplay details and lore. It was clear there was meat to the game. Now that I have played it, I am sold fully on the concept and think the game will continue to grow in a way F2P titles normally don’t. Using a complex Dual Class System and story-driven progression, RoM offers all of the features of a pay-to-play game in a F2P package. Frogster also is committed to quality and longevity as evidenced by the founding of an office in the US. This is one game everyone should try.
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Honorable Mention: Atlantica Online

Best F2P Game of 2008 – Atlantica Online

I could write many pages about my love for Atlantica Online (and have in the past). The title from NDOORS has quality features from crafting to weapon upgrading. It offers innovative gameplay with its squad-based battles that play out in short turns. Gamers get a little bit different setting with Atlantica; some mercenaries use guns but others cast powerful spells. The feeling is one of a fantasy version of Earth on the verge of becoming industrialized, and the search for Atlantis is a story far outside the norm. The graphics are good (though they aren’t superb), and the community is active. Atlantica easily is one of the two best F2P games I have ever tried, and I believe only its defiance of convention and difficulty will keep it from reaching the same mass audience I expect Runes of Magic to capture. In fact, Atlantica can be so brutal in the early levels that I wrote a 1-15 Leveling Guide, and I find players who could benefit from it in chat each time I play. Without a doubt, Altantica is worth a try for anyone. Thanks for the awesome game, NDOORS!
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Honorable Mention: Dungeon Runners

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