Friday, May 29, 2009

News Filter: The Matrix Online Goes Offline

  • By way of Warcry, we heard that The Matrix Online is shutting down its servers on July 31, 2009. I never had occasion to play the game since the Matrix franchise was dead to me after the sequel films were released. It's essentially the opposite of Star Wars Galaxies: a license I wanted to love, but a game I couldn't get into. Since I didn't ever play, you might want to check Tipa's post at West Karana for a little more insight.

  • I'm not posting to dog pile on another dead MMO. Instead, I want to commiserate with my online friend, Mesia (not his real name).

  • I met Mesia at the Ring of Blood in Nagrand. He played a gnome mage, I was a human paladin, and we both wanted to get through that quest chain. He is, to date, the sole remaining person I keep in contact with on the Alliance side of my World of Warcraft server. And whenever I ask what he's been up to since I last talked to him, he would tell me he's been playing The Matrix Online. For him, it was the game he always went back to when he had his fill of everything else. Much like Guild Wars is to me, MxO is his first MMO love. And now it's going away.

  • Games have shut down before and they will do so again. I wish everyone well and hope their gaming won't feel too empty after this world has vanished.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

News Filter: Remaking Buffy Without Whedon

  • What the hell is wrong with people? Over at Whedonesque, we get news that the original producers of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer film want to reboot the franchise. Only, they haven't even talked to Joss Whedon about it. The story, for those adverse to link-clicking, is that Roy Lee and Doug Davison from Vertigo Entertainment approached Kuzui Enterprises (who own the rights to Buffy) about making a Star Trek style reboot of the property. They're talking with various writers about the idea, but Joss Whedon is not one of them. You know, the guy who created it all?

  • It is safe to assume that a non-Whedon Buffy film is a non-starter for the fanbase. Personally I'm not a Buffy fan, I'm a Joss Whedon fan. A film without his input would be openly antagonistic to people like me. The question is: will this movie be good enough to draw an audience that didn't care about Buffy before? Star Trek has proven that you can hit big even if the hardcore fans hate it sight unseen. We'll see if they can do the same here.

  • So far, Joss Whedon's reaction to the potential film is "I hope it's cool." Sometimes it helps to take a Zen view of things.

  • EDIT 06/23/2022: HOLY SHIT THIS POST DIDN'T AGE WELL AT ALL. Let's just say that I'm a little more open to new Buffy without Whedon attached than I used to be. Ahem.

Read Lately: Brush With Passion: The Art & Life of Dave Stevens

  • When Dave Stevens died in 2008, there were the usual sympathetic farewells from the comic community. It was sad to have another great artist pass on, especially one taken before his time. For me, though, I barely knew anything about him. There was The Rocketeer, a pulp icon created much too late. And I knew about his fascination with Bettie Page. But outside of that, I knew very little about his work. So when Brush With Passion: The Art & Life of Dave Stevens showed up at my local comic book store, I initially ignored it. When the book was still there the following week, I wondered what I might discover about this man.

  • Brush With Passion serves as both a collection of Stevens' works as well as a reminiscence about his life. Starting when he was young, the book tells his tale of growing up, discovering and learning about art, and where that journey takes him along the way. The tale is very candid, describing what his life was like through both the highs and the lows. However Stevens only turns that candor toward himself. He has little poor to say about anyone else, only occasionally expressing his disappointment in how some personal and business relationships turned out.

  • I have referred to this book as a tale quite specifically. This is not a stilted autobiography by any means. Instead, I feel like I sat down with Dave to look over his artwork and it inspired him to tell a long story about his life. Alongside his tale, we get sidebars from the various people he knew, like Jim Steranko and William Stout, that give us more insight on the man.

  • It may seem odd to you that I've reached my fourth bullet point without talking about the art since this is an art book. The reason, of course, is that I'm singularly unequipped to make any critique other than "That is/isn't very good." Brush With Passion is full of art from all across Stevens' career. Most heavily represented is his Rocketeer work and his "good girl" art. However the book gives a surprisingly wide spectrum of pieces from all stages of his life.

  • Having looked through several art books, I am very impressed by what Dave Stevens and his editors, Arnie Fenner and Cathy Fenner, have done here. While not every book needs to be part autobiography, this effort is an exemplar I hope to see more of from other artists.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Random Shots: Free Realms Destroys Gaming Forever

  • Over at Tobold's MMORPG Blog, Tobold discusses the New York Times review of Free Realms. In response, commenters on his post flip the eff out. Evidently, FR is the end of gaming as we know it. Everything is sunshine and rainbows and easy mode and kid-friendly now. Sure someone should tell CCP, Aventurine, and everyone else running a hardcore game that the carebears have won and they can turn off their servers.

  • Actually, wait. I'm pretty sure the world hasn't ended. Syncaine doesn't have a sudden urge to play mini-games. I doubt Longasc and Xash (both unlinkable, darn it) are going to give up their chosen games for Hello Kitty Online or the like. I'm pretty sure no one is asking them to.

  • I think the problem that the hardcore needs to come to terms with is that they are a niche audience. You'd think that calling yourself hardcore would tell you something, but the message hasn't gotten through. So here is the message: by becoming hardcore, you have set yourself apart from the mainstream. Revel in your niche! Stop complaining that business caters to the mainstream when you've have purposefully separated yourself from the mainstream.

  • MMOs are no different than anything else. Here we have hardcore players complaining about Blizzard and Sony making games for a mainstream audience instead of them. Instead, it could be Sci-Fi fans complaining that everything on television is a cop or lawyer or medical show. Or it could be wargamers complaining that everyone plays Monopoly instead of Great Battles of the Civil War.

  • As long as your niche is strong, there will be games made for you. Not every game will be made for you, but neither are those games an assault on your position. Show game companies that they can make money serving you and they will listen.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Random Shots: Adventures In Advancement Schema

  • Over at Kill Ten Rats (one of my favorite MMO blogs), Zubon and Julian hosted a discussion about the effect of levels on PvE encounters. The thing that struck me, as I know it has occurred to others in the past, is how leveling schemes inform every decision about how you'll play an MMO. I'm going to review a few games and discuss the positive and negative aspects of each.

  • World of Warcraft - With as acclaimed as the game is, it's pretty funny that World of Warcraft actually has the most traditional advancement system in MMOs. Following the line back through Everquest and DIKU-sytle MUDs to Dungeons & Dragons, advancement occurs through experience levels and equipment upgrades. This model has stood the test of time due to the obvious benefits:
    1. gaining levels is a strong, visible goal for character improvement,

    2. discrete levels allow for targeted content challenges, and

    3. it is not very complicated.

    In the con column, targeted content can be trivialized when a character outlevels or outgears the challenge. This also means that groups of players need to be at a similar level to play together or the content might be too challenging or too trivial. WoW avoids this problem by just not caring. The assumption is that a new player will solo low level content until they can reach the newest expansion zone and can play with everyone else.

  • Everquest 2 - In development at the same time as WoW, Everquest 2 also borrows from its predecessor, though it remembered to borrow something WoW left out. Along with leveling and gear upgrades, EQ2 has a robust Achievement system, based on EQ's Alternate Advancements. This provides diversification of characters while promoting quest completion, exploration, and killing special enemies. The game also allows higher level characters to temporarily set their level to match lower level members and earn achievement experience instead. It's an excellent system to force players to roam widely through the world and facilitates playing together instead of grinding a single track to the endgame. The primary downside is that Achievement experience is another linear grind, with many of the attendant problems leveling has. The fact that EQ2 gives so many options to grind them in parallel is a testament to the game's designers.

  • Warhammer Online - Born from the lessons taught by WoW, Warhammer Online has a very familiar feel. Only in this case, you have a Career Rank, capped at 40 earned through PvE, and a Realm Rank, capped at 80 and earned through PvP. Again, we have multiple advancement tracks that you can grind in parallel. WAR allows lower level characters to PvP with high levels through a Bolster system which temporarily sets a player at a higher Career Rank. This helps keep PvP battles balanced, but Mythic still has to gate content to prevent griefing. Thus, there is the same rush to the endgame and empty low level content.

  • Guild Wars - As a direct reaction to the standard MMO style, ArenaNet designed a game specifically to avoid the leveling treadmill. Instead, Guild Wars treats the accent to the maximum level of 20 as an extended tutorial, saving the majority of the PvE content to be challenging at that level. There are maximum gear levels as well, with upgrades primarily to mix and match the most optimal statistics or for cosmetic reasons. Also, since the game is based on slotting a limited number of skills, the player grows horizontally by accumulating a wider variety of skills. With this system in place, you can guarantee a large amount of appropriate content to players. However horizontal growth is not a strong incentive for players accustomed to continuous increases in power, which is why GW added faction and title grinding into later editions.

  • Free Realms - While other SOE games have been quite conservative, Free Realms turns out to be the most innovative recently. Instead of a single vertical advancement track, FR's job allow a single character to advance in 15 separate jobs as fits the player's mood. With six potential combat jobs, low level content can be used repeatedly while low level caps don't get in the way of people playing together. The nine other jobs open a number of mini-games that add variety to the game. On the positive side, having so many options means that one can easily change focus as your mood shifts. As a negative, fans of linear advancement will chafe at the lack of focus to the game. (I know this is a weak entry. I'm enamored with Free Realms right now so I haven't had time to turn a critical eye to the game.)

  • EVE Online - I haven't played much EVE, so I'll keep this short. However, it's too important of a game to leave off. EVE Online completely throws out the level grind for a skill based advancement. Skill based games allow for infinite customer customization with the risk that eventually, everyone looks the same. EVE seems to have avoided that pitfall by having too many damn skills. Beyond that, EVE's skills are earned completely in real time. As long as you have an active account, you can earn skill points whether you are actively playing or not. While this means that newer players can never catch up to veterans, skills in EVE only allow for more options. A new player can still perform specialist roles with just a little time and effort. This type of advancement system would be anathema to a great many players, but EVE (and similarly Darkfall) exalts its chosen niche.

  • As I was researching this post, I found that Ferrel over at Epic Slant already had a number of posts about this very thing. Go check out his Character Advancement/Development posts for much more. If you have anything to add or correct, or maybe just want to make fun of me, go ahead a leave a comment.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Played Lately: Free Realms

  • If you are at all ambivalent about whether or not you should play Free Realms, I have this screen shot for you.

  • That's right: ghost ninjas.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Random Shots: The Problem of Sequels

  • Tobold has a post on his blog about MMO sequels and the challenges facing them. He reviews prior sequels and gives some thoughts on how to get around the problems game companies have. In particular, he points out Free Realms as the perfect sequel to Everquests 1 & 2. While this misses the point a tiny bit, it's actually the perfect answer to the question.

  • I don't believe MMO sequels can ever thrive due to the nature of the genre. As Blizzard and others are fond of pointing out, they are providing a service, not a product. This protects them in certain ways, but it also hamstrings them. The problem we're worried about now is the lack of planned obsolescence. With normal video games, there is no real reason to stick with the old version when the new one comes out except for nostalgia's sake. When the new edition of Madden comes out, you are (hopefully) getting improved graphics, systems, and up-to-date rosters. Sequels nearly always improve on the old game, so there is no incentive not to upgrade.

  • Contrarily, there is no reason to abandon an MMOG. For the player, you have invested yourself in the virtual world, both from time-based advancement and social connections. Starting a new game, while rewarding for various reasons, discards all of that investment. For the developer, MMOGs are a constant stream of income. If people are already enjoying and paying for a service, there is little incentive to launch a new service that will compete with the old.

  • Tobold's suggestion is sound but he is not talking about a true sequel. Free Realms is no more a sequel to Everquest than Legends of Norrath was. What SOE has done is target a different audience that happens to overlap the current MMO audience. SOE has actually launched two sequels to Everquest, Everquest 2 and Vanguard, though neither has been able to maintain the old audience in any appreciable way. Blizzard, working on a new IP for its second MMO, obviously knows better than to kill the golden goose by building WoW 2.

  • From my point of view, there are only two ways handle a sequel. One less radical option would be to overhaul the current service in such a way that players would be eager to give up advanced characters to play an new character through new or refreshed low level content. The other option would be to pull the plug on the old service while grandfathering players into the new game. You do not need to literally turn of the servers. Just stop updating or expanding the old game and stop accepting new subscriptions while giving incentives to take up the sequel. As both of these entail a lot of risk, it would be a huge gamble for a game company that may never pay off.

  • Clearly there are many difficulties involved with this issue. As long as MMOs are treated as services, I can see no upside to launching a sequel while a current service is active.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Played Lately: Free Realms

  • Pete over at Dragonchasers describes his time in Free Realms and the combat instances. His and his wife's experiences match my own so far: the combat does ramp up at the higher levels and you can't expect to spam your "1" key through every fight. I'd say more, but he does a great job all his own.

  • I haven't been spending as much time in Free Realms lately. Partly due to the standard business of my life. Partly I've tried to blog more regularly. Since the occasional person actually shows up now, I don't want to look like a slacker. Finally, I have been careful to not outrun the content. I don't know how much is in there. I keep finding quests everywhere I go. Even places I thought I'd cleared out before. And there are many instances I haven't seen. But I still worry about rushing. I love the game, but I don't want to overdo it.

  • I've been spending a lot of time running around, trying to clear my quest journal. As a member, I get to keep 30 quests at a time and it is perpetually full. There is so much to do! (Yes, the exclamation point was required.) It is currently full of quests leading me to Wugachug, an area I've been avoiding to stretch out the content. (See the prior bullet point.) I suspect I'll have 30 Wugachug quests soon and I'll be forced up there anyway. The game also gives you a quest line for each job, so I've got 14 of those to follow. And no, I can't just focus on one at a time. I know I'm weak. Finally, I picked up the quests leading to the Haunted Mines in Blackspore Swamp. Haunted Mines are broken right now, so those quests will sit for a while.

  • Rereading that, the last paragraph sounds like a whine, but it's not. I actually like having so many threads to follow. I regularly thumb through the journal to see where the greatest concentration of quests is and set off. And again, that is something I love about Free Realms. Very little is off limits because my level is too low. I can run from one end of the map to the other without fear of aggroing high level mobs. I'm a carebear, and I don't care.

  • Hmm. I might have to rethink that last sentence.

Random Shots: Defending The Solo Player (Again)

  • Another interesting discussion has cropped up over and Bio Break and Stylish Corpse intending to defend the solo MMO play style. Syp gives us a bullet list (yay!) of various reasons someone might prefer solo play while Ysharros fights back at the anti-soloer. So much of the arguments we see on the internet come from 1) the lack of nuance available in stark text, and 2) the fact that the standard style of blog discourse is a rant post. I'm not holding myself up as a paragon of nuance and equanimity. Far from it, in fact. But I can't help but jump into the discussion with both feet and try to calm to waters a bit.

  • As I originally articulated way back in March 2007, I am a solo gamer. I primarily play MMOs alone, only grouping up when the moon is full, when Jupiter aligns with Mars, or the bones fall in the prescribed pattern. It's not that I don't like to playing group or raid instances. They are often a lot of fun and some of the most interesting content in the game. My problem is that I cannot be shackled to time demands of anyone other than myself or my family. I've tried it, it was fun, but I'm done with that now.

  • Defining myself as a solo gamer does not mean I resent group content in MMOs. Quite the contrary: I want there to be games to cater to every audience. Since MMOs were built on a foundation of forced grouping, there should be games for group players. Hardcore PvPers deserve to have their own game, where they can kill and triumph away from the carebears and WoW tourists. Roleplayers should get a game that lets them dream and act. And soloers should have a world where they can come and go as they please, have fun while they're playing, but not be tied to a game longer than they want.

  • But I see arguments all the time about people mad about soloers in their MMOs. Or group content that can be soloed. Or PvP and PvE balanced to the determent of the other. Or roleplayers being ignored entirely. And everyone blames the other for the lack of developer attention. Especially since we should be blaming the developers themselves.

  • Developers are in a bad position and I understand that. Tastes change over time and you can't change course in a running game very fast. Also, businesses don't want to exclude potential subscribers by designing a specifically niche game. World of Warcraft has tried to balance many play styles at the same time, but everyone complains that everyone else is ruining their game. Darkfall is the definition of hardcore PvP, but they still have people clamoring for better PvE.

  • If you don't like how the game is designed, vote with your wallet. The only message you can send is in cash. Flooding the forums, blogs, twitter, or whatever will have little effect on the company. The language of business is money. Support the games that support you and abandon games that don't.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Listened Lately: Shut Up, We're Talking #47

  • As it's one of my favorite podcasts, I was frustrated this week when the crew from Shut Up, We're Talking took on the topic of avatars as tokens (initially expressed by Tobold and refuted by Raph Koster) that arose from the Shake Your Bunny-Maker achievement in World of Warcraft. The goal of the achievement was to find female characters of level 18 or greater and bestow upon them a set of bunny ears. While many people found this to be a humorous bit of pop culture snark, a small group took such offense to the overtly sexualized theme that they were essentially driven from the game for a week.

  • My frustration though, with both Tobold's initial post and with the SUWT crew was the outright dismissal of that minority position. Further frustrating was the conclusion reached on the podcast that putting some psychological barrier between player and avatar was a sign of maturity. I can't fathom the hubris involved in assuming that the position advocated from a personal level is not only immediately valid, but also the superior to any other argument without even examining the counter.

  • For some people, the purpose of a role playing game or virtual world is to inhabit that world in a way most games do not allow for. Not everyone acts this way, but it is not invalid to do so. As Raph Koster points out, it is very human react to an avatar in an automatic way. Yes, over time one learns to look beyond the superficial. But one must also understand that avatars are projections of self into the game space, each chosen for specific reason and with specific intentions. Some might choose an avatar solely for game purposes, for personal aesthetics, or entirely haphazardly. But some do so to express themselves in ways they can only do so in a virtual world. Losing control of that avatar, even in such a minor way as sprouting bunny ears, has very real implications for these people.

  • I have said this time and again on this blog and elsewhere. I have a propensity toward playing female characters in games. Of course it is easy to fall back on the old standard "If I'm going to stare at a character's backside for hours on end, it might as well be one I find pleasant." But it would be foolish of me to not admit that might I also feel protective of these virtual women that I guide through their lives. Or that I'm expressing a femininity in the game that I cannot in the real would. Or, conversely, that maybe playing a female character allows me to psychologically distance myself from my avatar so that I do not become personally invested. Maybe it is a combination of these or more.

  • These are the kind of things that should be examined and taken into account when dealing with a population as large and varied as game players. Dismissing points of view as immature because they differ from yours is counterproductive and potentially dangerous.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Played Lately: Free Realms

  • One the first things that caught my attention in Free Realms was all the little arrows on the main map pointing to areas off the edge of the current world. Lavender Coast, Silver Hill, Stormfront Mountains, Black Forest. Each marked "Coming Soon." Can you believe they would tease us so badly? They obviously know how to expand their game and they are dangling those plans right out in front of us. So instead of just retelling my latest adventures, I thought I would point out some points of interest that give us a little insight into what SOE might be thinking.

  • Soon after earning my Archer profession (my favorite combat job so far), I discovered the road to Lavender Coast. You can tell it's the road since they set a warpstone right there called "Lavender Coast." I love the anachronistic construction barrier and I will miss it then they eventually open the road. As a side note, please excuse the lame outfit here. I have a really sweet archer outfit, but the armor stats on this sad ensemble are ever so slightly better. Of course I'd dress in a clown suit if it protected like plate mail.

  • On one of my exploration fits, I found myself in Shrouded Glade. After passing through the cave entrance, I was greeted by this little guy, Tran. According to Tran, Shrouded Glade is the school for druids, although they are not accepting new students at the moment. Did you catch that? If that doesn't send up a red flag, I don't know what does. Druid would be an great expansion job and this would be the place to train it.

  • At the far back of Shrouded Glade, behind the main building you find more construction barriers. While the town is a bit of a dead end now, I believe this will be a quite busy the first day Stormfront Mountains open. As a bonus, that is hilarious looking. There are even barriers on the other side of the river as if they want to keep the new expansion people out of the current game zone. Also notice in this pic that I'm wearing my Seeker's gear from the rare exploration collections I've found. This is my default outfit while I'm running around because I look that good.

  • When I first found this place just north of Snowfall, I did not immediately think "Ah, another blocked expansion path." Without any obvious barriers set up, I thought it was just a nice bit of scenery. The only indication this might be an unfinished route to maybe Silver Hills or Stormfront Mountains is the little guy standing in front of the ice. And what does Silversnow say when you talk to him?

  • Elves? Did he say elves? What kind of elves do you think is he talking about? Will they be tall, willowy Tolkeinesque elves, afflicted with immortality and insufferable smugness? Will they be North Pole elves with a knack for hand-made toys? (Would that mean a new Toy-Maker job? I dare not dream.) Do elves really like fruitcake? That would lend credence to the Christmas elf theory. SOE has said they will be expanding the playable races, so this seems an obvious choice. Another question: what the heck is that guy, anyway?

  • I still haven't poked my head into every crevice the game has to offer, so this is only what I've found so far. I imagine with all the Wug-things around we'll see them as a playable race as well. I'd also love to see Tailors and Alchemists for new crafting options as well as knights and rangers for new combat jobs. And doesn't Lavender Coast just scream out for a Pirate job? You know you want to wear the eye patch and swing a cutlass, too.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Read Lately: The Name Of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

  • For the last couple years, several people have told me that I should read The Name Of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. My reasons for not doing so are two-fold. First, I discovered Raymond Chandler a while back and have been stuck in the mystery and crime fiction genre ever since. Second and more important, fantasy is a broken genre for me. When I was younger, fantasy was all I read. And I read a lot of bad fantasy. But I did read some good stuff too. Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn stood head and shoulders above the mass-produced flood of titles. Then George R. R. Martin's A Song Of Ice And Fire came out and set the bar so high for fantasy that I haven't been able to really enjoy another book in the genre since.

  • The Name Of The Wind had me hooked by page eleven.

  • With this book, Patrick Rothfuss has created a world and a character that is immediately appealing to my personal sensibility. You can see from the start that his main character is larger than life. At the same time, from the very first page we see that Kvothe (like quothe) is a haunted man. The descriptions of Kvothe and the silence that permeates him as well as the entire book set a grave tone.

  • I told my wife that I started worrying about the book at around page fifty. After a gripping first few chapters, the novel turns to retelling the story of the main character's youth. I'm pretty sure I rolled my eyes at this point. I don't know how many times I've read about the boy child learning magic at the foot of his master. Too many, to be sure. Thankfully, instead of devolving entirely into cliché, Rothfuss takes the story through a dramatic redirection fitting the tone he established earlier. Once over that rough patch (which is more likely my problem instead of the book's), I enjoyed to story clear to the end.

  • This retelling of Kvothe's life takes place over the course of three days within the frame story, with each day a book in the trilogy. The retelling has a high point, but it definitely comes to a screeching halt without much resolved as we run out of pages. To mask this, Rothfuss gives the framing story a tension all its own that serves as a fine backbone for the main story being told. I'm secretly hoping the final book gives us more about this current Kvothe after learning how he became the man he is.

  • Anyone with a high standard for fantasy fiction needs to look no further than Patrich Rothfuss and The Name Of The Wind. If you are as burned out by the genre as I am, this novel will welcome you back gladly.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Played Lately: Free Realms

  • After all my complaints earlier, it is only fair for me to come back and say how much I am now enjoying Free Realms. How much? A lot. Quite a lot even. Enough to keep me up until 5 AM Sunday morning because I wanted to complete just one more quest, one more instance, one more collection. On and on and on. From all the press and hype, I did not expect to find myself in this position. I am ensnared.

  • When I finally jumped fully into the game (in Windowed Mode to avoid crashes), I found myself at the Crossroads, one of three starting areas. I was immediately overwhelmed by the number of choices available. There was a fighting ring right there in the town to get your first taste of instanced combat as a Brawler. (Oh, I could go on about the instances. Maybe in a little bit.) Then there are the Chef, Pet Trainer, and Kart Driver jobs to try as well. And quests. Many quests around to keep me occupied. I dabbled a little bit, but soon found myself following the quests as they led me around the map. Here are a few things that I've really enjoyed about the game:

  • As I suspected, the job system is a work of genius. There are so many things to do in the game. And there is fun stuff to collect for all your jobs. This genius is especially evident for the combat jobs. In most games, low level encounters are quickly bypassed as you increase in power. In WoW and other linear advancement games, only the highest level encounters are much of a challenge. Here the low level instances will always be in demand since there are currently six combat classes to level. And I know I'll want to level them all.

  • The instances themselves have been a lot of fun. I think the best comparison would be to Guild Wars missions, though obviously on a smaller scale. This is everything I've been asking for in WoW for a long time. They feel like regular group instances with patrols and various aggro traps, like bosses that pull everyone in a room if you haven't cleared the area. The bosses are rather inventive as well, drawing mechanics from raid encounters to keep from getting too boring. And there are bonus objectives to complete, like escorts or finding hidden items, as well as plenty of dungeon quests to complete. One instance I ran last night, Cracked Claw Caverns, had 5 quests available beyond the regular and bonus objectives. So far I've been able to complete all of the Easy instances I've run across (for levels 1-5), but I'll be hitting the Medium difficulty (levels 5-10) pretty soon.

  • Beyond the questing and instancing, I've enjoyed running around and just exploring the lands. There is so much to see and the exploration collections actively encourage you to poke your head around. Of the rare collections, I've only fully explored Shrouded Glade. I attribute that to there only being 3 tokens in an enclosed space, but I love the new backpack and hat I earned. They don't even have combat stats, but I was more excited to win them than the big hammer I picked up as a Brawler.

  • Another thing that has kept me busy is the collection system. Lifted entirely from Everquest where glowing wisps make a collection item, Free Realms gives us sparkling pools of water, piles of leaves, fossils, junk, or other items to denote a collection. And there are so many collections available, it is crazy. I'm pulling my hair every time I find a pile and a new collection starts. I may start lobbying for better sorting tools. Nonetheless, I find myself constantly scanning the horizon for signs that another arrowhead or button or apple is out there to find.

  • Finally, I am completely taken by the trading card game built in to Free Realms. I love that there are quests to find NPC players in game to challenge them. I don't see myself spending a lot of money on putting a bunch of decks together. But I'm having a lot of fun and I hope they keep the card duelist quests going for a long time.

  • The one problem I've foreseeing is running out of things to do. I played so much over the weekend that this possibility started bothering me. On the official forums, I found a post by a player lamenting the fact that he had run out of content already. He had rushed so badly through the game that he literally did everything he wanted to do within days of launch. While that seems insane to me, I wonder how soon SOE will be pushing out the boundaries of their game. Those arrows pointing off the map labeled "Coming Soon" gives me reassurance there is a lot to come. In the mean time, I'm going to take it easy, keep doing everything I talked about above, and enjoy myself.