The latest feature in SOE’s Free Realms is farming. It’s not just a mini-game like cooking is; it’s a full-fledged “housing” feature. Farming brings a whole new level of fun for players as they hunt for samples from plants in the greater world to grow in their own farm, and there’s also the chance that new plants can be created from two different plants.
Players all get a “wild” farm that they have to clear of weeds, trees and rocks, put in topsoil plots, sow seeds, and tend the seedlings until they are grown, watering, fertilizing and occasionally spraying it with insecticide and/or fungicide if it gets sick.
Players entering their farms for the first time will encounter Farmer Chug who shows them the basics of farming before taking himself off. He does come back once in a while to offer quests as you level your farm. On the farm, players will find a Tool Shed where you store your tools, the Seed-o-Matic which creates seeds from the plant samples you harvest out in the world and hybridizes two different samples if they are compatible, the well from where you draw water to water your plants, and the Farmer’s Market which has various farmer’s shopping lists for you to fill and hence sell the crops you grow.
Free players can level their farms to level five and subscribers can take their farms farther out, adding more growing plots, grow a larger variety of crops and upgrade farm buildings and implements. You start off with a simple spade and buy topsoil which can grow a single plant. But if you use a roto-tiller instead of a spade, you can re-use that topsoil.
Like all things in Free Realms, there’s fun and whimsy. You can use spades and pick-axes to clear rocks on your farm. But for the large boulder, why not use… dynamite? Get a bit of a blast? I was shown the farm tractor which is cosmetic right now. We zoomed around the really large farm and the tractor jumped. Yes, jumped like a bucking bronco. If you can imagine a farm tractor curling up in the air like that.
Pests like groundhogs, pigeons, rabbits and crows will be attracted to your farm and munch on your plants – but only if you’re there tending your crops or maintaining your land. Farmers won’t return to their farms to find them denuded. When they are there though, that’s when you get to use your “scare the pesky animals” emote where your character yells and waves its arms, shooing the pests away. At higher levels, players can unlock a scare crow that serves as a decoration as well as an automated pest deterrent.
Higher level farms with larger fields of crops will require automation. From the small watering can, a player upgrades to a large watering can and all the way to an automated sprinkler system. Similarly, a player with a high level farm could buy a crop duster, a small bi-plane to dust or spray their crops. The Tool Shed can be upgraded to barn size to store all the tools and stuff you need to maintain your farm. Maybe a hangar for the bi-plane? Only time will tell.
The next feature in Free Realms will be Ranching, where players start off with a “wild ranch” and sneak peeks of some of the animals have already been revealed on the player forums. Already, we know that there will be Unicorns, Pegasus (Pegasi?), the T-Rex and dragons. And what about after that? I was told that well… Restaurants will go well with Farms won’t they? Players have to do something with all those crops.