Free Realms Beta Impressions


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.

The Pros:

  • Change jobs to be what you want to be when you want to be it.
  • Top notch music and sound.
  • Hunt for money, loot, and fun in dungeons that scale.
  • Enjoy a vibrant world with enormous growth potential that makes your jaw drop at times.
  • Relax and enjoy simple gameplay in its purest form.
  • The “woah” factor when you see the polish and detail added to such a simple game.

The Cons:

  • Again, it’s simple.
  • At times you’ll feel like it patronizes you if you don’t stop to remember the target audience.
  • If you’re not willing to pay, expect to be reminded that you’re not a member.  Expect to be reminded often.

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.

  • Sounds very interesting. The only thing I’d recommend they do is CLEARLY identify what’s membership content and what’s not (maybe via some visual icon / indicator). For example, if I have to go up to every job giver and click on them to find out if it’s a “member’s only” job or not, then I’m going to quickly get very frustrated with the game and leave. If however I clearly know where I can and can’t go then I’ll probably stick around longer and eventually sign up, especially if there is some eye candy (i.e. uber sword from member’s dungeon) that entices me whenever I play.

  • Good call on the sound, something that is often overlooked, er, overheard? hehe, by players.

    The music is great and so is the voice acting!

    Good stuff, reminds me a lot of older social games like There. I used to spend hours in that game drinking and talking politics.


  • IS this game for pc or ps3 (i hope pc :S) and where is the page for dowload the client
    thx for the replies!

  • I have to admit I’m surprised by this post. FR sounds as different(*) from DarkFall as a game could get, yet you seem very enthusiastic about it – even though you play (and apparently enjoy) DF. So what are you, carebare or hardcore-PKer? 🙂

    (*) Is there any PvP in FR?

  • I’m not the type of person who only enjoys one type game. I enjoy games for different reasons. I enjoy Darkfall, WoW, WAR, Free Realms, EQ, LOTRO, Warcraft 3, etc. One thing you’ll notice about me is that there are fewer games I don’t like in at least some way than there are games I dislike.

    I can name parts of any game that I don’t like though.

  • For the most part I agree with what you’ve said, the sound is really great but after playing for a few days it is already becoming repetitive.

    Personally, I am not enjoying the brawler class that much, but I have yet to check out the Ninja (I’ve been looking for the person to train you the job.)

    Honestly I have spent the most time playing the in game TCG, which I absolutely love. I’m not sure if I will subscribe to the membership content, but I am sure I’ll be buying online booster packs to play the TCG!

  • 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.

    I know you will disagree but, this is one of the things I love about WoW after all this time. I’ve found the PvE polish is just simply unrivaled. It has changed overtime, from more story oriented in areas like westfall and duskwood, to the WotLK type “movie experience” where everything is cohesive but, this is the feeling I get (well, got) playing WoW.

  • The greatest compliment I can give to Free Realms? I’m playing it as a beta, but I would gladly pay to be a member right now to see some of the things I’m missing. It’s that engaging.

  • Quest descriptions are horrible and the automatic path to your quest target, while good, only works on some of the quests. There is no category by area in the quests log. So if you don’t complete a new quest immediately, you might have a hard time remembering where you got that quest to begin with.

    Combat can be surprisingly hard as accidental pulls of half a dozen mobs are common. Not a bad thing for experienced players but a child might get frustrated quickly. Beyond that it seems to be just a simple key bashing session, so the challenge is really in the pulls.

    Maybe it’s just me, but controls seem somewhat unresponsive. I have a weird sense of constant lag with it, sort of like swimming in jelly. Not that it isn’t playable, but the same level of precision of movement that other MMO’s have just isn’t there.

    Character creation is dissapointly limited in customization options.

    Options, both graphical and game play, are all but nonexistent. You can change the resolution and disable click-to-move, but that’s about it.

  • Consider the impact of parental controls as well when thinking about comments in chat. I’m playing this with my five and six year old daughters and they are having a blast, but I’ve turned off all chat, so you won’t here me commenting there.

    I suspect only older kids and their parents are talking in /global (or whatever it’s called).