Hi, I’m Alphasim and I’m a recovering World of Warcraft addict. I’ve been clean for a month now after over 1,000 hours lost to Blizzard’s life-ender.What does this have to do with Free Realms? Not allot, I guess, but it does point out that I probably shouldn’t be reviewing another MMO at this point. Fortunately, Free Realms is the anti-WoW in many ways, enough so that it’s fun to play without kicking my addiction back in gear. It’s advertised as a ‘fun, casual, free-to-play MMO,’ which, for the most part, it is.  I have to say that I’ve enjoyed it, but it’s definitely not for everyone.

Free Realms

Free Realms is a browser-based game that installs itself to your hard drive, to the tune of over a gigabyte. Think about that for a second. Why does it launch and run from a browser when it installs itself to your hard drive like any other MMO? To look more ‘casual’ and fool people who think they’re getting a quick gaming fix without the commitment of an installation? If you find and click on the .exe file that comes with the install, it loads your browser, so it’s definitely a browser-based game. Color me confused.

The graphics are pleasant to look at, with bright colors and smooth lines. Even the ‘darker’ areas like Blackspore are welcoming. This makes the game a good place for unwinding after a long day or playing with younger gamers without being ‘Disney’-level bright. Sound effects and much are also well done. Presentation-wise, this doesn’t have the usual low-budget hallmarks of a free game.

This game doesn’t revolve around the usual class-based formula that MMOs seem to adhere to. Instead, everyone starts as an Adventurer and can pick up 14 others ‘Jobs’ that can be selected at any time. Jobs include Chef, Ninja, Postal Worker, Miner, Kart Driver, Card Duelist, and Pet Trainer, among others. They each a mini game of sorts. Combat classes like brawler and ninja fight monsters in dungeons and in the world (open-world monsters do not attack on their own, and the fighting takes place in an isolated instance that you enter when you choose to attack them, so you can’t get assailed at random or forced into combat as a chef, for example), postal workers deliver mail, chefs do Cooking Mama-style mini games to make food, and so on. The most common mini game is the ‘match-3’ type. Collecting food for cooking and mining both use it. Kart drivers race upgradable cars, while demolition derby drivers wreck them.

The most unique jobs are the pet trainer and card duelist. The pet trainer buys and raises dogs and cats, teaching them tricks with mouse gestures. The card duelist plays a Magic: The Gathering-style game against both the AI and other players. This card game is allot of fun but can have a steep learning curve if you haven’t played a collectable card game before. Recently, Sony Online has added a soccer star job, but I’m not a fan of it because the game isn’t really well balanced. All in all, there’s a job for everyone. However, not all jobs are for all players… not for free, anyway.

Like any Free-to-Play model, there’s a micro transaction feature for you to invest real money into the game to get bonuses that players who don’t pay up can’t get. Unlike allot of F2P design models, this one has a subscription model. Hellgate: London got lambasted for this; why isn’t Free Realms taking heat for it? Dungeons and Dragons Online has since gone this route as well, so maybe it’s just more accepted now. Without paying a $5 monthly fee, only nine of the fourteen jobs are available to you, and a large amount of quests aren’t able to be undertaken. What I’d like to see is for Sony to give members a Second Life-like ‘stipend’ of Station Cash, the cutesy in-game name for the currency you can buy with real money (not to be confused with Coins, which you can find and earn in game). If I’m paying $5 to Sony every month, they could give me part of it back as Station Cash. I’m not going to pay extra for frivolous goodies, no matter how much I’d like them.

One last note is that the game does servers the way I feel that Champions Online should have. You’re not tied to a specific server, but you’re also not changing them each time you enter a new zone. When you log in with your character, you pick one of the ten servers, and that’s the one you play on for that session. Do you want to change servers? Log off and select a different one. It’s genius. In all, this is a fun time for both casual gamers and hardcore gamers that want a break from the traditional MMO grind. It’s not just a digital chat room like Second Life or the late Sims Online; it’s a true game in it’s own right that delivers where countless full-cost MMOs fail. Alphasim out.