Microcosms - The Future is Now

It has been a fairly quiet week in the world of free-to-play gaming, but there is always something going on out there. Our away team beamed off to PAX East to report on the entire goings on of the first East Coast iteration of the popular conference hosted by Penny Arcade’s Gabe and Tyco. It doesn’t look like PAX East will be the treasure trove of free-to-play goodness that GDC 2010 was, but rest assured if there is something newsworthy our team will sniff it out.

An email from a long time Ten Ton Hammer reader prompted this week’s feature, as it seems that my soap boxing about the new breed of subscriptionless gaming may have spawned some unintended misconceptions about the current state of the genre.

Blizzard also announced their annual foray into conventions this week--perhaps the big reveal this year will be that the gaming juggernaut is throwing its hat into the free-to-play ring as well? Stranger things have happened.

In Top Ten news, Algalon took a tumble from a pretty high rank in last weeks poll and fell completely off the list. Black Prophecy and Perfect World Online also suffered similar fates while Requiem: Bloodmayne and The Chronicles of Spellborn benefited from the aforementioned departures. Maybe version 2.0 of Spellborn will pack some punch, we will have to wait and see.

Join us this week as we look at some of the best titles currently available in free-to-play gaming in Microcosms – The Future is Now.

I received an interesting PM this week from one of our loyal readers who was interested in taking the proverbial leap into the free-to-play realm. While I was thrilled initially to receive such a message, the more I read the worse I felt. You see, this reader had come to the conclusion, based on reading this column, that you had to cast your eyes forward to games still on the horizon to find quality in the subscriptionless segment. After re-reading every week of Microcosms I couldn’t find fault with this point of view; I certainly have been rather consistent in my stance that the new breed of free-to-plays are ushering in an era of high quality and originality.

With that in mind I need to dispel a couple of misconceptions that I may have unwittingly perpetuated here:

  • Older free-to-play MMOGs are low quality rip-offs. -  This is simply not true, while I may have been later to the party than our previous “guru of the free,” Ralsu --indeed I didn’t start playing them until about halfway through my six-year affair with EQ1--I still found several games early on that were amazingly innovative and fun
  • All new free-to-play MMOGs are innovative and high quality. -  While I desperately wish this axiom were true, it simply isn’t. Many developers and publishers will continue to rush out low quality games to capitalize on the hot trends and try to make a quick buck. Fortunately, we here at Ten Ton Hammer are committed to honestly evaluating these games to help you make the best decision on which ones may be the best fit for you.

So with that in mind, let’s take a look at three current MMOGs that meet the criteria of being both innovative and accessible. All three of these titles have been live since at least 2008, and feature fairly robust communities.

Atlantica Online

One of the first free-to-play games to give the AAA titles a run for their money, Atlantica Online is going on its third year. Featuring turned-based combat, this fantasy-based game is flecked with a steampunk feel and offers a huge world to explore.

Atlantica Online has one of the more robust communities among free-to-plays and the developer, NDOORS Interactive, is also the publisher of the game, which makes for quick response to player concerns and rapid deployment of new features. Earlier this week the game added integrated voice chat support to its already considerable list of features

 Players will never have to solo in Atlantica Online as the game uses a mercenary system that allows you to hire powerful companions to assist you in your journey across the alternate Earth game realm. While there may not be a plethora of races-- there is only one playable race in fact--and the classes may not follow the traditional pattern of fantasy MMOGs (they are mostly defined by the main weapon they use such as the Axe class or the Sword class) Atlantica Online has created a deep and enjoyable world that will keep you coming back for more.

Mabiongi Online

Some MMOGs are all about killing, questing and competing, and while that’s all well and good, that formula sometimes forgets the basic purpose of gaming–having fun. One game that remembers this prime directive, and sticks to it in all aspects, is Mabiongi Online. This Korean import from Nexon is heavily anime influenced in its graphical styling and was originally aimed at the teen market, however it has been accepted by players of all ages due in no small part to its wide range of in-game activities.

There are no classes in Mabinogi (which is a word of Welsh origins, and refers to the prose tales of the Mabinogion, which is where the game’s lore is derived) so players are free to learn any skills available to their race through the use of ability points, which are both earned through traditional MMOG means such as quest completion or leveling up or received when the player advances in age in the game. Aging is integrated into the game as a means of character advancement and ties into the games complex system of time and seasons, which are all derivatives of Celtic lore.

Skill-based combat, player composed music and a ton of in-game activities keep Mabiongi fun and engrossing for fans of all ages.

Sword of the New World

North America, circa 1400 a.d., isn’t your typical fantasy game setting, but then again Sword of the New World isn’t your typical MMOG. Another in a long list of South Korean imports, this one, brought to the North American Market by publisher GamersFirst, is known for its multiple character controls, beautiful graphics and massive weekly PvP battles for control of the game’s colonies. While Sword has some grindy elements to it, the wide variety of gameplay modes and the multiple character controls are enough of a diversion to keep you happily distracted.

Another huge plus for Sword is the staggering amount of GM interaction, it is not at all uncommon to find multiple GM’s in game at the same time leading events in different areas that are seemingly unrelated but that ultimately lead players into frenzied PvP combat.

Hopefully my free-to-play neophyte friend, and many of you, will find this information useful as you wade the murky waters of microtransaction games. There are plenty of quality games in the segment and helping you find them will always be a priority of this column and part of the core mission here at Ten Ton Hammer.

 Atlantica Online features a lush and beautiful world to explore.

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