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.

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