Where once upon a time I viewed the MMORPG genre with excited eyes, I now only see them as hollow cash mongering tyrants. For the last week, I have fumbled through various reputed “free” games with a dash of hope in my heart; now I am only beginning to doubt my own definition of the word. Does it mean “without cost unless you want a new haircut” or perhaps “no charge unless you wish to progress further than the ten minute mark” I just do not know anymore. They say there is no such thing as a free lunch; they were right.
With Lord of the Rings Online and EverQuest 2 set to convert to the F2P system, I am unsure whether to be excited or terrified by this trend. Will we be charged to speak with Bilbo? Perhaps we may be taxed on our way into Qeynos- SOE’s way of ramping up the immersion factor? Bah humbug I say, here is my Survival guide to F2P, get your wallets ready you vultures.
Throwing caution to the wind and getting all Oliver Stone on your asses I wish to start my article with a controversial choice. Designed and developed with the Apple brand in mind, Pocket Legends is not technically an MMORPG and neither is it technically or strictly speaking free. It is however portable and virtual heroin within a sleek and attractive package.
Obtained from the iTunes store for the grand price of nothing, Pocket Legends is an enjoyable mobile romp that will have you indulging in iDevice entertainment for hours. With a choice of three class-based woodland creatures on offer, the game throws you into character building and gear customizing heaven as you will grind your way through various levels, alone or with friends.
The visuals of the game are snappy and the sound will have you whistling along as you slaughter enemy after enemy. Unlike most iDevice related games, the controls are easy and intuitive and will rarely see errant thumbs swiping across the screen in the name of creative play. Pocket Legends is concise in its methods and everything is delivered with style and success.
Pocket Legends handles multiplayer sections akin to a game such as Borderlands. A player creates a 4 slot server and can either choose to adventure alone or allow others to jump into their game at will and journey on together. There is even a hub where players can socialize. The seamless and easy connectivity to others is a massive appeal and to virtually swashbuckle together through various stages of the games is a joy.
Overall Pocket Legends is a terrific F2P game for your iDevice except for one inevitable flaw: the game is not free. The first ten stages come with the game, but if you wish to progress further you must buy “platinum” which can be obtained via the iTunes store. This is the games major problem: unless you are willing to depart with your cash the game will only last for a small number of hours, be it stages, customization, and enhancements. While Pocket Legends is good, I cannot justify lumping up for micro-transactions. If the game simply had a price of a couple of dollars, then Pocket Legends would be a must-have for all iDevice owners.
Ultimately the need for micro-transactions brings me back to my original grievance with the F2P genre. Other than spending a set price for the software, I cannot see a game such as Pocket Legends driving me to pay. While the game is great for what it is, with the lack of a real, persistent world or more than three choices of class it still would not take my loyalty away from P2P.
Pocket Legends is for a number of hours great, however, if the aim of the article is to find free games then this piece of software fails. High in ambition and stylish in delivery, but those micro-transactions ultimately nip the enjoyment in the bud. On to the next...
Venturing into lands marked “F2P” would not be right, nay, complete, without bowing in respect to the metaphorical “grand daddy” of the genre. For near on a decade, the developer Jagex have delivered sandbox MMORPG goodness for absolutely free. With all of these newer and fancier F2P’s trampling on its lawn and throwing dog excrement over the fence, just how does the world’s most popular free MMORPG measure up?
Let me get this out of the way and say: I love RuneScape. This is a game so deliciously old-school, if it were a person it would be wearing MC Hammer pants and screaming “Wassup!” down the phone to you every night. RuneScape encapsulates gameplay from a different era of the MMORPG genre which simply cast you into a world and told you to go make your own fun. As a hardened veteran of the genre, I take to this approach with open arms, inviting endless grind and possibilities with arousal and a cheeky smile.
After creating a character, RuneScape delivers you into a helpful tutorial and then onto the village of Lumbridge. From here the player is totally independent as to what course of action to take. There are a number of skills to pursue so the first couple of hours of the game will see you dabbling in multiple directions. RuneScape echoes games such as Ultima Online in a way that past players may melt at the sheer nerve of it all.
The great thing about RuneScape is the independence it allows you. While there are numerous helpful guides and tutorials on offer, RuneScape challenges the player in a way that only older games do. One example of this is the fact that a player starts naked of any gear and must craft or kill themselves an outfit fit for purpose. There are quests like any other game, but the player is not channeled into certain paths and areas. The choice is yours to do what you wish, be it combat, fishing, crafting, woodcutting or mining, and for this RuneScape is a perfect relief from newer games of the genre.
The graphics of the Jagex’s creation are not perfect but are serviceable, and the advantage a browser-based service is that it will run on most systems. The sound too is serviceable but deadly infectious and will have veterans harking back to the days of EverQuest and simpler times of gaming. The only issue I had with RuneScape in general was the look of the avatars themselves which are blocky, ugly and rather out-dated.
The hot topic of course is the manner of RuneScape’s so called freeness; the answer to this is a little more difficult to explain. In RuneScape, there is no micro-transaction or hidden payments, for the free game the player is permitted a large portion of gameplay and with only a small selection of skills omitted. The problem however, is that an even larger section of gameplay is only obtained by subscribing five dollars each month. This leaves one in a tricky dichotomy; on the one hand, the free game is only a little better than most F2P’s and on the other, the subscription game would in all honesty be neglected in favor of a more attractive game.
For myself personally, I would subscribe to a game such as RuneScape, its older generation appeal is something that strikes me with worrying lust, however, as a F2P it wouldn’t be much more than a distraction.
All said RuneScape is brilliant; a Goliath of the F2P, but like most of its kin, I can’t see its being anything more than a passing distraction unless subscription is obtained.
Whilst keeping with the old-school theme, it is only right that we tip our metaphorical hats in the direction of Anarchy Online; a game that started all this P2P turncoatery. Offering the original game content with the Notum Wars expansion, Funcom defected to the side of the freebie back in 2004, a time when EverQuest 2 was a newly born babe and Lord of the Rings Online was a mere glint in the eye of a Turbine developer. While the game still packs the same brilliance it always has, time has been a cruel mistress.
For those of you newer to the genre or simply stupid, Anarchy Online is a science-fiction MMORPG complete with blaster rifle action, alien invasions and anatomical inaccurate playable races. As the game is almost reaching a decade in age, the visuals are a little tired, and the gameplay sometimes errs on the side of outdated. All in all however, there is still something lovable about Anarchy Online and with a rumored face lift of the games engine to take place in the near future; it is as good a time as any to strap on your space boots.
Upon character creation, Anarchy Online is very similar to any older generation MMORPG. You fill find yourself alone on a beach surrounded by wildlife, which are incidentally willing you to cull them, from here you will progress through various quests and make your way to the main land. While there is nothing new here, the game is still solid, and a small number of newcomers help the tutorials tick along at an entertaining pace. The only problem I have with the game is that the quest system seems to have been haphazardly thrown in and gives a distinctly underwhelming and outdated impression.
There are a large number of varied classes to roll and with the free content offered by Funcom, you will find hours of entertainment. The greatest achievement of the game is its approach to the F2P system. The player is never pressurized into paying, and the subscription fee is only there if you wish to experience more content. The fact that there are no hidden payments or some form of paid for currency is also a joy.
If you are willing to put aside some of the aged issues of the game, Anarchy Online is still supremely playable and indeed enjoyable; however, this is not healthily populated game. It is a given that after achieving a certain age MMORPG’s tend to lose a well rounded player base and become more top heavy, Anarchy Online is no exception. If you are willing to look past the population, Anarchy Online is still a solid game.
A notable mention must also go to the community which while at times a little entrenched in the world, is pleasant, helpful and kind natured. My time in Rubi-Ka was punctuated by well meaning veterans helping me along by answering questions, showing me around and wanting to welcome anyone who wish to try out their game.
If you cannot wait for Turbine or SOE to flip all of their products to the F2P model, then look no further than Anarchy Online. Anarchy Online is a game, while a little old, still factors high in enjoyment and most importantly: is genuinely free (for a number of hours).
Myth War 2
Finally to cap off all of this F2P madness is the formidable and randomly chosen Myth War 2. This is a game which makes some bold decisions with its gameplay, but ultimately fails to inspire love or indeed individuality. Also, it craves money from you like a ravenous hobo.
Upon launching Myth War 2, I thought I had accidentally time warped back into a world of late nineties isometric RPG’s. Everything about the games graphical style screams Black Isle Studios, and if you are not a freakishly loving fan boy such as me, you will find the whole affair rather primitive and ugly. On the plus side, it is colorful and fairly individual, but to be frank if you want my cash then we need some nod towards three dimensions.
The gameplay itself is promising and fairly engaging. Myth War uses the ATB battle system which is familiar JRPG fans, and for the most part, it works fairly well. My only issue here is that battles can either take too long or be too uninvolved. My time playing the game however was punctuated with boredom, and while things are spiced up with a Pokémon style pet capturing side distraction, it is all a bit dull.
Myth War 2 ultimately feels like several good ideas (Diablo, Final Fantasy, and Pokémon) all stitched together with a small budget and a slightly underachieving development team. While I will not say Myth War 2 is horrible, it is not great, and I can not see this game catching any loyalty from the P2P crowd.
This game has some intriguing ideas, but overall lacks in entertainment. I will admit that it is not to my personal tastes; so therefore some may enjoy; I however found it rather uninspired.
Join me next week as I venture further into the world of F2P looking for something that will reduce me to orgasm. Hopefully…