The NDA is down for Free Realms. I’ve been testing since the closed beta began, which hasn’t been too long actually, and I have a few things to share about the game. I don’t really feel like formatting this post, so I’m just going to jump right in.
The level of polish in Free Realms is astounding. It actually caught me off-guard when I first started playing and got past the tutorial. For a (mostly) free game, Free Realms’ production quality is top notch. When you’re playing it feels like someone cared about what you would think at precisely that moment. Have you ever stopped to think about that? Ask yourself whether or not what you’re doing in-game at this very moment feels like it had the undivided attention of a developer trying to make that one moment in time the best that it can be, or if it was just being done to meet some overall objective. You’ll know the difference when you see it.
I have to give this one its own paragraph because I think it might be my favorite part… The SOUND in Free Realms. You have a real fan here. I like everything about it. The ambient music sets the mood and it matches the theme wherever I go The music pumps me up when I’m racing, it scares me when I’m in a spooky forest (okay maybe not scares but you get the idea) and it’s better than 99.999% of all online game music out there. Yes, I’m geeking out over the music and sounds but they’re just that good.
As you probably know by now, Free Realms isn’t really all that ‘free’. It has a “membership” that costs $4.99 / month and then RMT on top of that. You can play the game and spend absolutely nothing, but you should be ready to hit barriers and not get nearly as much out of the game. The game will prompt you to become a member at almost every turn. You’ll see a job that interests and you find out you must be a member. You’ll find a level 15 item that you can’t wait to use just to find out that you either must be a member to use it because it’s that cool, or you’ll need to be a member to be the job that can use that item. You’ll find dungeons and places you can’t go without being a member and mini-games you can’t play without being a member. This leads one to question: Is it worth becoming a member? That’s really what it boils down to when deciding if Free Realms is worth playing or not.
The world is vibrant, gorgeous at times, larger than one would expect, and only going to get bigger and better based on areas of the map that have been closed off. In this world you will probably never run out of things to do unless you’re under the mistaken assumption that this is a game to be beaten — it’s not. Free Realms is a place, an experience, and it should be played as such. You’re not asked to make decisions like what class you want to play, because you can be every job at once. Free Realms has crafting, gathering, dungeon crawling, socializing, arcade-like fun, fluff to embarrass all other fluff, and it has all of this at the same time blended seamlessly together.
I spent the majority of my playtime approaching Free Realms from the fantasy dungeon crawler combat perspective. Being a mail man sounded neat. Racing cars was fun. Buying pets and then wardrobes for them was appealing. Playing mini-games and gathering fruit was okay. Hunting for hidden secrets was enticing. But what really stuck out to me was the dungeons. I started as a Brawler, as all of you will, and can’t really put my finger on how to explain it. It’s a melee class, obviously, that can use hammers (that start out looking like hammers but eventually they’ll look like big mallets of dooom) and you smack stuff. Brawlers have a lot of aoe attacks and stuns and it’s a very straight forward job for newbies. After I reached around level 5 in the Brawler job I decided to head over to Lakeshore and pick up the Ninja job. Going on a short little quest unlocked this job for me and I was able to immediately dress like a Ninja and use a Ninja sword. I leveled Ninja up a bit, but decided in the end that I actually liked Brawler more. What’s tempting me to become a member the most right now are the Archer and Wizard classes.
The jobs are simplistic, and you’ll be using a lot of the same skills over and over, so what makes combat so appealing? Dungeons! Yes, this is what makes combat appealing and what would keep me playing Free Realms. I like crawling through dungeons and clearing them. Free Realms dungeons feel like the action games where you clear the same dungeons over and over and you do it for loot to see what goodies will drop. Dungeons scale when you enter them with more people and I believe they scale based on the levels of the players in them. There are simple and short dungeons, and there are more complex and difficult dungeons. Some dungeons have bonus objectives (maybe all?). Boss fights range simple tank and spank to ones that go invulnerable until you kill adds, to ones with scripted events. The loot, money gained, and simplistic fun is alluring. I’ve tried to do every dungeon available and I’m impressed with the number and diversity. From looking at the map, I would be surprised if SoE didn’t make “raid-like” dungeons for people to clear. It’s definitely viable in a game like this for large groups of friends to gather up and go clear something difficult. The themes are all there for some truly amazing crawls and the loot potential is through the roof. Sadly, the best ones look like they’ll require membership.
Oddly enough, I think Free Realms is going to attract a different audience. During beta I saw it multiple times that adults would be talking in chat saying “I tried to get my kid to play, but he spent 10 minutes playing then asked if he could play WoW again.” Free Realms might be too simple to appeal to the gamer kids. A weird side effect of this is that it’s going to appeal to the adults of those kids; The same adults who play(ed) WoW and other games. Free Realms will attract new faces and I’m sure that as the kids realize (or become forcibly convinced) that Free Realms has a lot to offer that they’ll give it a chance. It’s going to be incredibly popular regardless and it deserves every bit of it.
Would I spend $4.99 a month? I just might. It all depends on what I’m doing at the moment. Free Realms can’t fill the void of a normal MMO, but it can supliment one for me. If I’m between games I would absolutely spend the money. If I’m just looking for something fun to play then I might just play for free and hope that they open up more free content. Should you spend $4.99 a month? If you’re looking for simple relaxing gameplay of pure design that won’t get old fast and a game whose polish puts most “next-gen” mmo’s to shame then yes, you should. But try it for yourself and see how you enjoy it. I have already recommended Free Realms to all my friends and the ones who got to play it enjoyed it.
Give it a try and don’t be embarrassed if you like it. I’m proud to admit I like this game. I would really like to see SoE take what they have here and make a slightly more complicated game for an older audience. That right there could attract millions.