| Bullet Hell MMO
Free to Play
Permadeath not overly punishing
Retro, pixelated graphics
| Guilds or lack thereof
While beta began in January 2010, Realm of the Mad God was officially released June 30th, 2011 by Wild Shadow Studios. Calling itself a "Co-Op Fantasy MMO Shooter," the game has done an above-adequate job at classifying itself. Thrust into a world where death is uncommonly unforgiving, the Mad God, Oryx, has intended you to be food for his minions. You must cooperate with other players to battle his minions, defeat guardians, and eventually confront and defeat Oryx himself. Offered through a self-titled website, Steam, and the Google Chrome Web Store, Realm of the Mad God is a top-down shooter, very reminiscent of bullet-hell type games where dodging incoming enemy fire is just as important as dealing out damage. But how does it work as an MMO?
Realm of the Mad God plays similarly to a top-down shooter, where your field of vision is centered directly above your character's location and you can actively see a preset distance in all directions. A mini-map in the upper right corner of the screen further enhances your ability to "see" the location of nearby allies, enemies, and the area around you, allowing you to identify what areas of your current world your character has reached with a "fog of war" style masking of the map. While your normal camera view can be rotated to change the directions you move relative to a compass, the mini-map is directionally static, but can be zoomed in and out to give you a closer or wider view of your world, based on preference.
In what would now be called a "retro" style, the actual graphics of Realm of the Mad God feature an overly large, pixelated display of characters and enemies, using blocky graphics and sprite-style movements. This choice of graphics appears to be intentional, as some "extra" clothing schemes can be purchased through the in-game store, many which feature patterns on what would normally be blocky, one or two-color displays. Even the landscape and buildings of this game have this form of graphical representation. Indeed, even the speed of characters has been discovered to work as an equation based on tiles per second.
The game's interface is extremely simple and easy to pick up on. Movement is achieved through a WASD scheme, and your character faces and attacks the direction of your mouse cursor whenever you click. Though inventory space is limited to 8 items, this is more than adequate for carrying enough potions to keep you alive through most combats. They are all accessible through a click-and-drag system, but can also be used directly from your inventory with the 1-8 number keys as hotkeys. Equipment is also easily managed, each character only having space for a weapon, armor, a class-specific item for their special ability, and a stat-boosting ring.
As stated earlier, Realm of the Mad God is extremely accurate when it calls itself a "Co-Op Fantasy MMO Shooter." The overall objective of the game, in its most simplified form, is to kill monsters, get loot, level up, and beat the boss. From a storyline perspective, the job of the player is to team up with the other players to complete a series of quests based around killing special boss-like monsters in an effort to enrage Oryx enough and have him teleport you to his stronghold. Once there you must then venture through and eventually face Oryx personally.
The game is broken down into several groups. At the top, there is the server that your account connects to. There are 20+ servers to choose from, though at most times no server seems to have a severely higher or lower population. Once you pick your server, character, and enter the world, you come to the Nexus. Within the Nexus is the in-game shop, which uses realm gold (which is purchased) and Fame, which is earned as you play and awarded upon the death of your current character. Also within the Nexus, leading to the next level of breakdown in the game world, are the Realm Portals. Different numbers of these portals will appear, each named after a type of monster, depending on the overall population of the server. Each portal leads to a world that can hold up to 85 players across the whole level range. Dungeons can also be found within realms, allowing a group of players to enter a small area filled with enemies and a single boss. This system leads to a very small chance of overcrowding, except in endgame situations. However, it also allows a large amount of players to "group up" and overcome fight encounters which would be much too difficult to be done alone or with a small group.
Once you enter a Realm Portal, combat begins. You find yourself at a beach, where the weakest of monsters are located, usually a mix of snakes, scorpions, and pirates. As you venture further inland, the landscape changes from beach to forest, with the occasional ruined house or castle as you continue inland. Also, as you venture inwards, the level of the various monsters increases. Now instead of lowly pirates, you may find yourself facing off against Elves, Dwarves, eventually reaching the highest level areas, populated by various Demons, Beholders, and Medusas. This progressive level scaling makes it extremely easy to stay in a relatively "safe" area for your character, but also allows you to easily find tougher areas if you feel like taking on a challenge. In addition, the game gives you "quests," or boss monsters to kill, based on your current level. If enough of these quests are completed within an individual Realm, Oryx will lock the portal, and two minutes later, teleport all players within the Realm to his castle.
Just as one of the only certainties in life is death, Realm of the Mad God holds this true. One of the more unique features of this game is “perma-death”. When you die in Realm of the Mad God, you do not get the opportunity to run back to your corpse, pick up some gear you dropped, and continue on. Your character is deleted, along with anything you were carrying, your fame is calculated and awarded, and you get to start over from the beginning with a new character. While this is much different from the forgiving nature of death in most other MMOs, given the extremely easy and fast level progression of the game, this simply adds more of a survivalist feel. Your character is certainly not invincible, and suicide situations should be avoided, if possible, unless you really are looking to get rid of your character.
The biggest normally unseen feature of Realm of the Mad God is the "real" aiming system. In many other MMOs, when you want to attack a target, you simply click on them and select the ability you wish to use. This ability will follow them wherever they go, until it reaches them, despite corners and other obstacles, as long as you have a clear line of sight initially. In Realm of the Mad God, all projectiles move, not towards the enemy, but rather exactly in the direction of the mouse cursor when you click. This means that while yes, enemies can dodge incoming attacks, the player can also lead their target, and dodge all attacks coming back at them. This reliance on mobility to avoid what would normally be special attacks during a boss fight is a very endearing part of Realm of the Mad God, putting more reliance on a player's ability to maneuver around all incoming fire to minimize damage done to them, giving the game a "bullet hell" type feel, where in many endgame fights it is more important to dodge fire and get in hits where you can.
Another interesting feature of the game is the progressive system of unlocking new classes. Upon making an account, you only have access to one class: the Wizard. To unlock the other 12 playable classes, you must level up specific characters to specified levels. However, upon death or deletion of your current character, the account saves knowledge of the highest level reached with every class, and so will permanently unlock the new classes.
Currently in build v122.0.1, Realm of the Mad God appears to be continuously re-released in order to fix different bugs that may arise. Most prominently, lag problems seem to bog down the servers in heavily populated areas, such as Oryx's Castle. While this can and does lead to the unfortunate death of some characters, it is a persistent problem throughout most online games. The staff of the game, however, seems to take great interest in keeping up on any problems reported through the forums and has shown time and time again that they do pay attention and work to fix persistent problems. Overall, their willingness and attention shows that while the game may have some problems, it is ever-changing in ways that only continue to improve. Unfortunately, there seems to be no way directly through the game interface to report bugs encountered while playing.
Realm of the Mad God tends to be an extremely addicting game with no real time requirement needed to experience quite a bit of fun, and all areas of gameplay. Characters are made, leveled up, and killed, in seemingly endless cycles. If you are looking to sit at the top and only ever play endgame material with your one flawlessly crafted character, this is probably not the game for you. However, on the other hand, if you enjoy the challenge presented by permanent death and a progressive unlocking system for additional classes, this game will provide endless draw to continue playing (and certainly quite a bit of replay value). The game includes built-in leaderboards for fame generated over the lifetime of a character, so competitive players will have a reason to keep playing their favorite class in hopes of one day topping the charts. The random generation of realms and placement of monsters also ensures that no two trips into the Realm of the Mad God are the same.
While it does have a chat and guild system, Realm of the Mad God's social aspect is more based around gameplay. The game does not have any sort of auction house, rather, every Nexus seems to turn into both a hub for Realm Portals and an open bazaar, players openly offering trades and what they are looking to get rid of and gain. Normal chat in the game is mostly world-based, broadcasting your messages to a large area around you, if not the entire zone. Notifications are also location and zone based, depending on the nature of the message. For example, bigger "boss" type monsters may shout at all players in the immediate vicinity, while the server lets all players in the Realm know when someone has reached level 20, and when someone dies, and what killed them.
Guilds in Realm of the Mad God, while a nice way to have an open chat with your friends, require you to buy Realm Gold, and are certainly not required to experience the more prominent aspects of the endgame experience. For the most part, players will not mind if another character joins in to help them defeat a monster, as the experience is shared amongst all players in the area, where each player gets the full value of the kill.
Realm of the Mad God is completely free to play. Signing up for an account gives you a single character slot and one chest in the account vault. However, there are two forms of currency within the game, Fame and Realm Gold.
Fame is earned by your character's triumphs and exploits, and is rewarded to you upon death of the character. While each character is ranked by their individual Fame, earned Fame is compiled into one value, bound to your account as a whole. Fame can be used to purchase a few things from the Nexus, most commonly Drake pets, which help you out in combat for a short time.
Realm Gold is the second form of currency. Realm Gold is purchased from the game itself, for real money, and can be used on a number of things. Most importantly, to many players, Realm Gold cannot be used to purchase any form of equipment, weapons, or armor. This means that if you do not wish to pay the game your own money, you aren't crippling your character's survival and effectiveness. What you can purchase, however, are additional character slots, to allow you to have more than one live character on your account, and additional chests in the account vault, allowing you to store more and more equipment and potions between all of your current and future characters. Realm Gold can also be used to purchase new solid color or patterned clothing for your character, depending on what is currently available in the Nexus, as these purchase options are constantly rotating. With Gold prices ranging from 100 per Dollar to 160 per Dollar, based on the volume purchased at one time, Realm Gold seems relatively well priced, considering it is unnecessary to experience every core facet of the game.
Overall, we are dealing with a wonderful, but lesser-known game here. The easy-to-learn combat system and temporary nature of characters make the game a blast to sit down and play for a few minutes, while more hardcore gamers will enjoy the challenge of survival while trying to hunt down the biggest monsters to find the best gear, and eventually top the leaderboards. While the lag in the game can be a problem at times, adventuring with smaller parties seems to alleviate most of it, and the developers are always working to improve the game. Furthermore, the combination of several popular styles of games into a single MMO makes for a fun, new, and most certainly refreshing experience. Realm of the Mad God is certainly a game worth taking the time to experience.