I just had the time of my virtual life.
I finally got some good play time in with Free Realms, and I have to say that I was sucked in pretty bad. I ran around, discovered things, played games and met some other players. The art design is top notch, and some of the areas are downright beautiful.
First off, I discovered the built in video recording. I immediately bought some new digs (you get 150 Station Cash for free) consisting of a skeleton hoodie and a military style hat. You can view all of the contents of the shop in a "dressing room" style mode which is a good thing considering that you should really see what you might be spending real life money on. Below is the little film I made, and I continued to play while it uploaded to YouTube ( an easy to use, built in feature):
I went on to discover a great monster town that played Oompa Polka music in the background...picture a kid-friendly OctoberFest. I found a neat looking little stage and decided to try my hands at conducting, a mini-game that makes you follow the beat and notes with your mouse. I took another video of it:
I realized at this point that I had a smile on my face the entire time. The only time I have a constant goofy grin is when me and Leala are joking around or when I am playing with my pups.
The night before I went exploring, and found myself in a museum type cave, complete with a childrens group on a field trip, and missions to do. I followed the numbered rooms and read the story books that went along with the great paintings, and I discovered that Free Realms actually has a pretty tragic and deep back story. Beautiful stuff!
The game has some stunning details, and especially if you consider the download size and the fact that it streams most of these details while you play. I kept my Adventurer hat on and kept discovering new, clickable discoveries. I even managed to jump down on top of a tree to get a very rare discovery. I haven't lifted a finger in combat yet, but I've had the most incredible time.
This looks like they pulled it off. Not only can you see where they will be adding future areas and games, but you can see so much potential in this game for so many things. This game is like all the other social games I have played before, like There and Second Life, but on the next level. This is social-fun gaming 2.0.
I really give credit to the art design..like WoW, Free Realms depends not on massive textures but a feeling that the world flows together. Also, keeping the texture resolution down helps the game to run on many different PC's...another reason for WoWs success.
But that's where the similarities end. I actually read a blog that claimed that Free Realms was just a more cartoony WoW, with more grind. I was so amazed that someone could compare the two games. By that stretch of logic, Free Realms could be like any game that puts you in the driver seat of an avatar. Yes, there are quests and yes, there is combat, but Free Realms is attemtping to be as deep or as light as you want it to be. Of course, you would need to suspend a little more disbelief as an adult than if you were a child, but not much!
Speaking of that, could you imagine having a game like this when we were children? Wow, indeed.
It's hard to call Free Realms a game, much like it is hard to call Second Life or There a game. They have mini-games to play and goals to achieve, but there is no defined way to play. There are no rules and a great deal of customization, not only in your character, but in how you want to game.
Games like this are the future, but tweaked a bit for different audiences. Obviously Free Realms is geared more towards children, but take the delivery of Free Realms and wrap it with a more "mature" or "realistic" skin, and older players would climb all over it. In fact, most of the games I have experienced in the last year have been called "kids games" without even considering that all games stem from the same play drive in all of us, regardless of age.
While I understand an older gamers need for a more realistic experience, I say give Free Realms a very large chance. Give it an evening to look around. No, leave those goal-oriented play sessions behind. Just log in and look around. Forget achieving anything and just take a walk. I think you'll like what you will see.