It is a familiar situation I am sure. After days, weeks, months, even years, interest in a MMORPG will wane. Why the sudden change of heart? Maybe it just isn’t as interesting as it once was, maybe the mutual attraction has disappeared, and perhaps you both are indeed different people now? Whatever case it may be, after a period of time and at the end of a gaming relationship you will find yourself solemnly staring into this websites very own “Game List” looking for that next muse, love and great pair of gaming mechanics.
Oh sure you spend a few fleeting hours searching through various review scores and forum threads but at some point you will choose and make that decision that will define your online experience for a period of time- but hey you will be right back here, staring at the endless list of MMORPG titles trying to find the one.
This is where I come into this dirty little debacle. I have spent countless hours with various MMORPG’s, my first true love coming with EverQuest and to be frank I never got over it. Oh sure I have had flirtations with World of Warcraft, a seedy one-night-stand with Lord of the Rings and short-term relationship with Eve Online, but alas, I have yet to find that something that will take my attention like that first Sony based piece of software did.
So here I am staring at the aforementioned “Game List” all but the worst titles have been selected, tried, tested and ultimately found wanting. I say that I have tried a lengthy selection of MMORPG’s finest but something eats at my ambitious mind like a hungry thing- all of my choices fit into the category of Pay To Play; a lovely little system which involves leaving a cash tribute to the mighty development gods once a month to “keep the good times rolling” as it were. Perhaps I should tip my hat and invite a little of the libertine spirit into life? For myself there remains and un-spoilt, pure section of online role playing fun that I have yet really delved into, that is the Free to Play game.
It is a spine-tingling and exciting prospect. There may be micro-transactions and hidden payments to progress but what the hell let us, you and I, throw caution to the wind for a moment. Imagine a world without monthly fees. No more paying the man and no need for mature pursuits such as having a bank account. It’s a world of possibilities which involves sticking it to the system of subscriptions and showing your arse to the powers that be. I am excited merely thinking of such a concept.
Like Communism though, flirting with Free to Play is seemingly only a good idea in theory. With anticipation and longing for new adventure, one swift look at the list of F2P games reveals the sheer number available to an excited prospective player. And herein lays the problem. With so many games how does one pick out the virtual weak from the virtual chaff? How can one discernable Diablo clone be selected over another? The sheer choice boggles the mind; will it be Wizard 101 or Runes of Magic? Could it possibly be Dungeons & Dragons or 2Moons? With so many titles and with such a wide selection of exotic prefixes followed by the word “Online” how can one really and truly fall in with this crowd of F2P?
It is a conundrum and make no mistake, so without further stalling my missions statement is simple. I, Adam Tingle of sound mind and body will roam free into the wilderness of Free to Play, sampling the finest and the not so finest pieces of software on offer without paying a single penny, pence, silver and/or platinum. Do not think of this as a piece of journalistic rambling but as a Bible of sorts to the world of the free MMORPGs and in this economical climate I am almost approaching public service in my endeavors. Let’s get going.
As mentioned before, the mammoth task of choosing which F2P game to start with is no easy thing. Should I choose the game with the coolest name? Maybe I should go for one advertised in a garishly animated pop-up ad claiming to be better than any Blizzard attempts? Maybe I should play it safe and go for a game that once upon a time ransomed its gameplay for ten dollars a month? The most frightening prospect of all however is there uncanny likeness to one another.
A problem with the F2P section of MMORPG market is that albeit a scattering of titles, no developer seems to really take a risk with their game. While I sit and stare into the colorful lights of my monitor I am awash in a sea of titles that seemingly offer the same experience; some look like Diablo clones, some look like World of Warcraft clones and others look like childish cartoon affairs. Such prejudice at this stage is surely unfounded but hand on heart I can say that the majority of P2P games have an identity and individual premise. The search for a new object of affection in this realm of freebies will be difficult.
Without further delay and moaning however I must choose. Being a man-child of a certain age I can narrow my first random choice down to one or two subjects: Pirates and Kung Fu.
Tales of Pirates
(released: 2008 | Publisher: Moliyo | http://top.igg.com)
Honestly I wasn’t expecting much when I installed this game. My expectations were no more heightened when I caught a glimpse of the bright, colorful visuals and a small part of my soul withered and died when the “beginners guide” was simply advice on how to create a character (a process that takes maybe half a brain cell to figure out). I didn’t have high hopes at all but to be honest this doesn’t proclaim to be a game changer, this is a pure and simple pass-time MMORPG. It is neither terrible nor jaw droopingly awful. The tutorial system eases new comers into the experience and the game mechanics stretch really no further than kill X of Y until you have reached level Z. The visuals are bright and magnificently vibrant; the sound is chirping and infectious to the point of murder and overall Tales of Pirates is a simple and nice experience.
Like all apparent F2Ps the game makes handy use of an in game “Mall” which offers advantages such as potions, buffs, armor sets and all manner of visceral delights. As proof to my earlier statement, the game is no different to other titles on the market but then again what was I to expect from something named Tales of Pirates? In essence it is not bad, Tales of Pirates pretty much sums up my view of the F2P- it’s a sort of stop-gap between real games. Bored of Warhammer or Eve Online? Play Tales of Pirates to ease the withdrawal like a methadone substitute. It won’t keep your attention for vast amounts of time but it is merely pleasantly passable but utterly forgettable also.
So far so ordinary but the key element to my first endeavor is that it didn’t induce vomit and bile. Tales of Pirates is simply a pleasant distraction, nothing too serious but nothing too horrible. On to the next random selection…
(released: 2009 | Publisher: THQ*ICE | http://dragonica.barunsoninter.com)
Initial reactions to Dragonica Online were not positive. The cutesy and childish visuals reminded me of the previous game and therefore a great deal of F2P out there. Was I wrong to judge to easily? The short answer is….yes, yes I wrong, Dragonica Online is charming, infuriatingly wholesome and all round good game.
Now before the inevitable angry backlash let me get one thing straight: Dragonica Online in terms of gameplay is nothing much new. It follows the simple path of kill X of Y until level Z, it even has the paid for advancements seen in every F2P. In short it is nothing short of ordinary. But, where it shines is simply stylistically, the game oozes charm from ever virtual pore, from the visuals to the sound to the artistic direction. When starting this task I wanted to find something new and different from the well beaten track of MMORPG, while Dragonica Online isn’t really different in terms of gameplay, it brings fresh concepts and ideas to the style of MMORPGs.
The game is of a side scrolling nature so starting off in the tutorial will see any seasoned MMO player crying in anguish as this game appears to have more in common with Mario than anything else. This is where the game’s appeal lies however, it gives Dragonica Online a real identity. While at times this view point can infuriate such as when other people are near and culling a mob becomes an orgy of sword slashes, kill steals and fireballs, overall it works well.
The leveling mechanics are nothing new and neither is the gameplay but the combat in-game is all handled in real time which gives the game a ridiculously fun and messy appeal. Having hooked up this game to a control pad I found it a refreshing and relaxing MMORPG and had several hours of fun. Another notable feature is the sheer production value of the game. Dragonica Online looks like a MMORPG that has had time and money fuelled into it since birth and therefore at times I could possibly see the advantage of funding your adventures through a game like this other Tales of Pirates. Money makes money I guess.
For all the positives though Dragonica Online is a little too simple however. As a seasoned and somewhat hardcore MMORPG player this game feels like playing “Fisher Prices’ My First MMORG” it is just a little too childish and age friendly. While admittedly I do enjoy the game, it feels like something that would do brilliantly on Xbox Live Arcade or PlayStation Network, its efforts and charms seem lost to the inevitable PC market of angry and tactical goblin slayers.
Overall though, Dragonica Online is a good game and recommendable one. The visual syle sometimes errs on the childish but this can be overlooked for a moment. For all of Dragonica Online’s charm though, I still cannot see myself choosing this game over World of Warcraft or EverQuest 2, the gameplay isn’t too dissimilar from anything else and to be quite honest, this game doesn’t dissuade me from spending my ten bucks a month.
Dragonica Online was a genuine pleasant surprise and instantly likeable, however, the game still doesn’t push that button or capture the attention enough to throw down subscription loyalties.
After a week’s worth of playing and thinking all things Free 2 Play I still have misgivings of the genre. While some games such as Dragonica Online do take advantage of its freedom, seldom do others. I still have yet to find anything that would really inspire the loyalty I have to subscription based MMORPGs but then again my extent of choice has only reached two in number. Join me next week as I continue to sample the finest and worst on offer in this freebie world of wonder.