Free Realms Preview: Your Next Guilty Pleasure?

Fresh doughnuts. Homemade fudge. An extra beer. Yet another “figurine” for the collection. We all have our guilty pleasures, but MMO gamers are about to acquire a new addiction when Sony...

Fresh doughnuts. Homemade fudge. An extra beer. Yet another “figurine” for the collection. We all have our guilty pleasures, but MMO gamers are about to acquire a new addiction when Sony Online Entertainment releases Free Realms. SOE’s collection of minigames is delivered in a very kid-friendly package , and (most importantly) it’s very fun.

The exterior is very kid-friendly, but many adults will soon find Free Realms to be a guilty pleasure for them, too.

I joined the closed beta for Free Realms (FR) over the weekend and was impressed early into the experience. Since it is a browser-based game, the tiny plugin for FR takes just seconds to download and install. The game downloads new content as you need it, so you can jump in and play right away. From my experience, the download happens seamlessly with only a little icon on your screen alerting you to the fact that data is transferring. The opening tutorial instantly got me into the fun of two different minigames: cooking and combat.

Cooking required me to first harvest ingredients and then to prepare and cook them. Harvesting was a separate minigame that worked a bit like Bejeweled. Match three or more items in a row or column for as long as you can draw a “line” through them. Each match puts some harvest in your basket. After enough matches of one item, you get a full unit of the item. Reach a certain number of units to win the minigame. Next, I had to chop vegetable, tenderize and slice meat, and smash berries. I stirred in the ingredients to make a stew. It was a fun way to harvest and craft.

The combat minigame was only slightly less fun. Combat is real time with a key press or click required for each attack. My one special attack was a leg sweep, which has a longer cool down timer than the almost instantaneous regular attack. My one gripe here was that I could not find an option for auto attack. Yes, I wanted auto attack! Since even a regular attack has a tiny cool down, it’s not possible to get more attacks by clicking frantically. But it IS possible to be less than 100% efficient in timing your attacks by having to watch the icon and time your clicks.

The great part about combat missions is that they help deliver the story and conflict of FR, which revolves around the mischeivous actions of such pesky critters as "robgoblins." First introduced as part of the tutorial for how to walk, robgoblins are trouble-making goblins that raid crops, torment pets, and steal items from the good humans and fairies of FR. Early quests are very light-hearted and pastoral in nature, but things get a bit mroe serious later on. Even so, FR keeps it upbeat and adventurous at all time.

After the tutorial, I made my way to the starter area called Sanctuary where everyone was friendly and had a quest for me. There was so much to do that it almost became overwhelming. I learned to train, bathe, and feed pets. I had a chance to ride karts in a race. Some citizens needed to put my skills as a Brawler to work in combat. One original quest spruced up the tired “postman delivery” concept we’ve all played millions times by making it an actual postman delivery. Literally, I turned into a mail man and delivered letters! It sounds dorky (okay, it is dorky), but it was fun.

Combat requires a lot of clicks. You could be chopping on this tree for a long time!

My only real complaint in Sanctuary was that there were almost too many options too soon. I felt a bit like I was going straight from taking the training wheels off of my bike to the Tour de France. I had wanted to concentrate on cooking and build up my chef levels. Once I had done a basic quest in Sanctuary, I needed only to roam to the next town. Nothing in the game was stopping me; it was years of training by other games to wipe out all of the quests in one area before moving on that had me paralyzed. Still, the paralysis was real and is something I think other “type A” personality gamers will find creates conflict for them.

Since the product I played was a beta, I’ll do SOE the courtesy of not highlighting the bugs I encountered. If the serious ones remain in the client at launch, I’ll blast them for it with due diligence. For now, I’d encourage anyone who can to try the title and see just how free it makes you feel. I will add the caveats that I did not try any of the premium content (some classes, quests and minigames are for subscribers only) and that FR does what it can to make you aware that you need to subscribe. It’s not over the top puns like in Dungeon Runners, but it’s blatantly obvious from the limit of one character slot to the restriction of some classes. Without subscribing, you will not get the full game. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.

Parting Thoughts

For a MMO marketed as a great bridge to bring young players into gaming, I think Free Realms will have better hold among casual adult gamers and women than with teens. I found the explosion of available quests in Sanctuary disconcerting despite the fact that I am a reasonably educated adult with a modicum of patience and maturity. I cannot imagine trying to concentrate among all of those distractions as an energetic youth!

Along the rest of my play time over the weekend, I killed a few minor bosses in quest instances, made some more advanced culinary dishes, distracted vicious dogs while I delivered mail, and managed to come in third in a kart race. I even discovered one addicting game that was of the “protect the fortress” variety (“Honey, I’m home!” was the title). From start to finish, my experience was pure check your brain fun. I’d recommend Free Realms to anybody who isn’t solely a hard core raider. I won’t tell anyone how much fun it is to whirl around as you morph into your chef clothes if you won’t.

Have you tried Free Realms? Email your thoughts or post them in our forums!

I've been so busy running giveaways and testing Free Realms that I have hardly played anything else. I'll wait until official launch to make a final decision, but I am unsure I would ever move Free Realms off of Ralsu's Watch List into the Top Ten because of the restricted content. I am having a blast with the game and likely will even subscribe at launch. I'll recommend people try the free version to decide whether or not to buy it. Anyway, we'll see.

You'll see no changes to the lists from me this week. I promise to get more done next week. In the meantime, what are you playing? Let us know in the forums!

Top Ten Free MMOs
April 22, 2009
Rank Game


Last week: 1
Atlantica Online - (

Atlantica is a squad-based fantasy strategy game that breaks the mold. Players can control up to nine characters at once in fast-paced turn-based combat. A lot of the systems in Atlantica are different from the standard fare on the market.


Last week: 2
Mabinogi - (

Mabinogi provides so many things to do that it earns its self-appointed moniker of “A Fantasy Life.” Players can farm, play music, hunt, craft, go to school and more in this fantasy land. In Mabinogi, combat is not the only way to advance.


Last week: 3
Runes of Magic - (

Runes of Magic is a traditional fantasy game that uses a Dual Class system to inject a little strategy into character planning and a lot of flexibility into grouping. RoM has all of the features gamers want in a subscription-based game, but they’ll enjoy them for free here.


Last week: 4
Dungeon Runners - ( NCSoft

Dungeon Runners is a hack and slash fantasy game that infuses every aspect of gameplay with humor. DR makes fun of other games, the genre, and even itself. This is the perfect game for a player looking to blow off steam after a rough day at work.


Last week: 5
Requiem: Bloodymare - (
Gravity Interactive

Requiem: Bloodymare is a horror-themed game that blends the traditional elements of MMOGs with the visceral feel of a gore film. Requiem is worth a look because of its fresh take on setting in MMOGs.


Last week: 6
Dream of Mirror Online - (
Aeria Games & Entertainment

Dream of Mirror Online puts the player in the starring role of a classic Chinese myth. The eastern-based lore provides a refreshing twist on MMOGs, and the multi-class system makes character development in this fantasy game fun.


Last week: 7
Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine - (
Aeria Games & Entertainment

Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine Online brings the popular RPG to life in the MMOG sphere. Players can use friendly persuasion or aggressive coercion to get demons to fight by their side. The dark subject matter and modern setting of the game is a welcome contrast to the enchanted glens filled with pixies we often find in MMOGs.


Last week: 8
Rohan: Blood Feud - ( YNK Interactive

Rohan is a traidtional fantasy MMOG with deep lore and nice graphics. The world features intense PvP, gambling, and a few creative systems for managing gear. The level curve steepens midway through the game while the story diminishes.


Last week: 9
Exteel - ( NCsoft

Exteel is a visceral PvP-centric game featuring mechs and beautifully designed levels. Exteel uses a lobby system to connect players, and people can upgrade their mechs with resources found in game or purchased from the item mall.


Last week: 10
Florensia - ( Florensia Western Global

The peace in Florensia is fragile and you need your friends as well as strong allies to fight against sinister monsters on shore and at sea. Train your skills, experience thrilling trips through the countryside, load the cannons and hire a skilful crew to explore the ocean. Get ready for Florensia!

Ralsu's Watch List
Free Realms - ( Sony Online Entertainment

Free Realms is a a 3D fantasy world designed to encourage exploration and support casual play. With graphics similar to WoW and all the gameplay of a standard MMOG, Free Realms could appeal to adults. Its many minigames and events are designed to please teens.
MLB Dugout Heroes - ( GamesCampus

MLB Dugout Heroes brings arcade-like baseball action to the realm of massively-multiplayer. Controls are simplified to make a smooth experience on the PC. The official MLB licenses allows gamers to play with real teams, players, and stadiums.
Neo Steam - ( Atlus Online

Neo Steam is a steampunk game set in a world where warring factions compete for a limited supply of the resource Neo Steam. It was above average in most categories during closed beta for the US, but it had multiple translation problems. Atlus Online should iron out the kinks.
Warrior Epic - ( Possibility Space

Warrior Epic is ready to begin the next round of closed beta soon. It provides a fantasy hack and slash dungeon crawler experience with some very innovative features, including the ability to choose different character classes for each dungeon and a Warrior Hall that grows with the player.
Wizard101 - (
KingsIsle Entertainment, Inc.

Wizard101 is an online, wizard school adventure with collectible card magic, and wizard duels! The game allows players to create a student wizard in an attempt to save Wizard City and explore many different worlds. In Wizard101, cards are magic spells. There are Fire spells, Ice spells, spells of Myth, and much more. The game is free to download. To access all of the areas, gamers will need to subscribe.

About This List

Please refer to the Top Ten Free MMOs Portal to find out how to get a game you make or like on this list.

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Free Realms Game Page.

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