A Pleasant Surprise
The norms of MMORPGs have changed quite a bit since the rise of the genre. Ultima Online is often credited with introducing us to the concept of a virtual world rife with adventures, but even that has been subject to the test of time. Games have since phased out features in hopes to ‘make it big’ with some innovation they’ve created. Sadly, not many developers take a look at what made the genre great in the past. Fear not though, for Seamless Network Systems saves the day! Their project, Fantasy Realm Online pulls a lot of inspiration from the legendary Garriott title, although it has been met with little attention. The makings of a great experience are present however, with the vast world constantly informed of development and all the tools to advance down multiple professions.
Aesthetics - 6
Now I’m not one to puke rainbows over something that interests me, and I try to do the same for my readers. People should be informed of what is good and bad in a product, and this section isn’t particularly noteworthy. The graphics have a lovely classic feel to them, although the character models are a bit… ugly. In the game world the models look alright, but there is a blobby picture of the character staring at you from a menu. In my opinion it’s just not needed. One thing that is definitely needed is a volume control on the login/character creation screen. The music and nice and fitting but there is a storm sound effect in the background that makes the process deeply annoying to get through (especially if you forget your password), so eventually I just muted it with the Windows volume.
Small annoyance aside, the aesthetics match the feel of the game really well. From the get-go I was very interested in the world and the immersion was just wonderful. FRO takes advantage of the classic ‘good vs. evil’ concept, with the gray area being pretty negligible. In a world where games seem to be wrought with straw-men about not-so-evil antagonists, it felt good to have a clear representation of the extremes. SWTOR had a similar idea, the difference of course being that evil characters will fight knights and fairies in this game while good characters fight traditional Tolkien-esque baddies.
Gameplay - 9
Now this is where Fantasy Realm really shines. The game is still having features added and announced almost weekly, and the current product could already be considered a finished one. There are still hiccups though, which keeps this section from being one of the best I’ve ever reviewed. The major issue I’ve seen is the playerbase; it being almost non-existent. For a game that provides such a classic experience, there simply aren’t that many players. I actually saw one or two other people in total throughout my journey. This just isn’t satisfactory in a sandbox game, and will certainly turn some folks away. That said, the actual dungeoneering, exploring, and trading experience can be enjoyed for what it is, and shouldn’t be dismissed easily. The population problem can easily be rectified with proper marketing and getting the word out, so the bad is pretty much dwarfed by the good in this category. The most notable good is that there is actually a tradesman class, instead of just the deviations of the warrior/mage/rogue that many games seem to be based on. While I didn’t really get to delve into the Merchant class, but I’m sure it would be entertaining for some.
There are tools relating to the social scene present in the game, but they can be considered bare-bones. On top of that, the lack of players made it pretty difficult to explore these options as well. The game takes place in a rather small window (which I’ll explain later), so the default size could certainly be increased to accommodate more of the screen. With more and more screens going past 1600x900, it seems silly to have to leave such an option out.
The UI is another area that leaves a lot to be desired, as I’ve brought up in other parts of this review. It is fairly old-fashioned and in some cases ugly, but everything works and the menus can be moved to fill up the empty space on one’s screen. The controls and tutorials can be somewhat of an issue, as the mouse doubles as a left-right click and movement, and I ended up looking at a Let’s Play to figure out how people use it efficiently.
This was a difficult section to write, because innovation can be a wide spectrum of things. It can be a single feature, or an entirely new concept, or any mixture in-between. However, is it innovation when the game is merely a revival of an older style of gameplay? I’m willing to say yes in this case. There is a lack of truly engaging sandbox MMOs out there, and I think it’s a bold move to try and bring it back. Whether or not FRO will be successful in the end, I’m not sure. Nevertheless, the development team is confident and talkative, so I wish them the best of luck.
Longevity is another iffy point that I’m going to explain. As it stands, the game has a large swath of features already in place. Probably more than enough for a casual playthrough. However, population is still disappointingly low. Sandbox worlds need players to maintain interest and activity, so hopefully that will change soon. Maybe my article will give them the attention they deserve.
Value usually comes down to how worthy the game is, in terms of fiscal cost and time. Fantasy Realm exceeds expectations in both. For a one-time fee of $10, you can make up to 10 characters, and own 2 player houses. Or, you can pay $5 for half that. There are no monthly fees, so you won’t have to worry about spending too little time playing. There is a somewhat glaring issue about the game, however, sitting in the web-based token shop. One can purchase gold and XP in the shop, which doesn’t sit quite well with me. While both can easily be acquired in the game, gold and XP being sold for real money rarely turns out well.
I was surprised to find that Fantasy Realm Online was actually pretty decent. I heard of it via the dark recesses of the web and decided to try it out, and I could see myself playing more once the population improves. I had a good time playing and I hope the next few patches and updates are well-received. Definitely worth a look if you long for the days of old school MMO-ing.