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 Online Entertainment releases Free Realms. SOEs collection of minigames is delivered in a very kid-friendly package , and (most importantly) its very fun.
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, its 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 weve 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.
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, Ill do SOE the courtesy of not highlighting the bugs I encountered. If the serious ones remain in the client at launch, Ill blast them for it with due diligence. For now, Id 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. Its not over the top puns like in Dungeon Runners, but its 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 doesnt mean you cant have fun.
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, Im home! was the title). From start to finish, my experience was pure check your brain fun. Id recommend Free Realms to anybody who isnt solely a hard core raider. I wont tell anyone how much fun it is to whirl around as you morph into your chef clothes if you wont.
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!
April 22, 2009
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|Runes of Magic -
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|Dungeon Runners -
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|Dream of Mirror Online - (http://domo.aeriagames.com)
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|Rohan: Blood Feud -
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|Ralsu's Watch List|
|Free Realms -
(www.freerealms.com) 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 - (http://mlbdugoutheroes.gamescampus.com) 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 -
(http://neosteam.atlusonline.com) 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 -
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 - (www.wizard101.com)
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
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