Egads, this is just chilling.
Egads, this is just chilling.
To kick off my 10/10 project — 10 MMOs I’ve never played in 10 days — I decided to go back to a title that pioneered free-to-play and browser-based online gaming, RuneScape. It’s amazing how long this game’s been out there and how popular it’s remained.
Making a new account and getting into the game was exceedingly easy. Just an email address and password, then about a minute for a loading screen, and I was in. I’ve got to say, that was a huge plus.
I guess RuneScape doesn’t really do classes so much as a skill-based system, so character creation was picking the visuals for my toon. There’s only the option to be a human (boo) and the graphics, well, let’s talk about the graphics for a minute. Even with so many years of development, RuneScape’s visuals still skew toward 1997-era PlayStation 3D blockiness. Seriously, I haven’t seen this type of primitive chunky polygon design in a long, long time. Whenever the game zoomed in on character faces it got downright ridiculous how bad it looked.
Yet there are two factors that overcome mere looks. The first is that it allows a full-fledged MMO to run in a browser, and that ain’t nothing. The second is that there is a ton — I mean, a ton — of personality in the animations. It adds up to a cartoony feel that made me look at the game as a cartoony style, and that was that. I was OK with the looks.
What I was less OK with, and never quite resolved, was how RuneScape handled. It’s click-to-move with arrow keys moving the camera, either pulled back in an isometric view or swooped in to over-the-shoulder. It felt slow and unresponsive to me, particularly movement but also whenever I’d ask the game to perform an action, as there’d be a second of lag. Combat was also rather underwhelming, as I couldn’t really tell if my character was attacking with her magic staff or if her abilities were doing much at all.
But what I found is that RuneScape isn’t primarily a combat-centric MMO, which I guess I knew but didn’t really realize until just then. The opening zone moves you through the different types of activities that your character can perform, including combat, gathering, and crafting, as you level up your various skills. I had to outfit a soldier by making him a helmet and gloves, exercise my thieving skills on some snooty rich merchants, and fry up some crawfish for hungry soldiers. Actually, aside from the opening scene and one point where I had to kill a cow, I wasn’t engaging in combat at all. That felt different and not unwelcome.
What I probably liked most of all is the cheeky dialogue and sense of humor that ran through it all. RuneScape made me chuckle at least twice in this first play session, and I was pleased that the NPCs had memorable personalities (and occasional voice-overs) instead of being boring cutouts. At one point, the game had me deliver a poison pie to a fat jerk, and I had the option to listen in on him barfing everywhere or not. Of course I did.
That’s another nice aspect: choices. The game kept throwing me little choices, either in dialogue or actions, and it was quite effective in pulling me into the world. Do I fire a baby troll out of a cannon or save it? Saving it netted me a cute little pet, but I had to wonder what it would’ve been like to see that cannon fire.
Would I play it again? The question I’ll ask myself at the end of these articles is if this initial foray into the game was intriguing enough to make me log in again. With RuneScape, it’s probably a no. The clunky controls are a big deal-breaker. If I was a poor kid in the early 2000s with no other alternative, however, I could see myself getting into it.
Chalk this up to the “probably has been there forever but I just found out about it today” column, but RuneScape’s made a huge amount of its soundtrack available for free. Right here. There are even remixes and shanties. SHANTIES, people! The second best word in the world that ends in “anties”! I wish every MMO studio would do this for their music.
Update: And here’s some for Ryzom that’s also free!
And yes, I’m adding that to the MMO Music page on this here site. As always, if you know of any MMO scores that are either (a) for sale through a digital download somewhere or (b) being given out for free — legally — by the studio, let me know!
In an exercise designed to satiate a whiff of whimsy, I wanted to plot out an entire year of MMORPG gaming, where each month a player would hypothetically play a different title for free, paying $0 for their year’s experience. What would I recommend starting with December? Hang on to my every word, faithful readers, and let’s see:
December 2009 – For the Yuletide season, I’m going to recommend an old favorite of mine, Dungeon Runners, a sort-of snarky Diablo clone that enjoyed exaggerating and mocking RPG conventions while feeding your desire for mayhem and loot frenzy. Since the title is being shut down on January 1, 2010 (with a nuclear explosion, as a matter of fact), this is the absolute last month to play it, and perhaps the best — they’re really jacking up the loot drops and XP rewards for DR’s final weeks.
January 2010 – Why not use the first month of the new decade to reconnect with a MMO of yore? Anarchy Online has been running free-to-play for a couple years now (although with certain limitations if you don’t subscribe). It may not have the glitz and glamour of more modern MMOs, but it’s one of the only “old school” titles that let people tromp around for nothing!
February 2010 – Assuming that Chronicles of Spellborn is still in “redevelopment”, or whatever that means, you can play this recent title for absolutely nothing — and that includes the full game! Of course, there’s the very real chance that some day they might pull the plug or wipe the servers, but it’s a small price to pay for free fun.
March 2010 – Get your Harry Potter on by signing up for Wizard101, the acclaimed title that mixes together turn-based combat and bright wizardy venues. They have an unlimited free trial that certainly gives you a nice big chunk of the early game, which took my wife and I a few weeks to run through earlier this year.
April 2010 – Warhammer Online’s “endless trial” is next up for your gaming pleasure — the full Tier 1 experience, with 24 classes, PvE and PvP is yours for the taking. If you’re willing to roll up a few alts, then this will more than meet a full month’s worth of fun.
May 2010 – Ever since switching to its hybrid free-to-play/microtransactions/subscription model, Dungeons & Dragons Online has earned the title of the best free MMO you can get your grubby mitts on. It comes highly recommended from myself, and the free content is quite expansive, certainly more than a month’s worth.
June 2010 – Cute little Asian MMOs that are funded entirely through microtransactions might not be your thing (and they certainly aren’t mine), but Maple Story is one of the best and most beloved if it is. So enlarge your eyes to 500% of their normal size, color your hair bright blue, and embrace 2D zaniness.
July 2010 – An Adventurer Is You! Or so proclaims the folks over at the long-running Kingdom of Loathing, one of the wittiest browser-based MMOs in the world. There’s no catch on the cost (players who want to support the game can purchase special items in the shop), and the wordy game has enraptured many a soul — including mine.
August 2010 – We’ll assume that by next August, Allods Online will have left beta and gone into full launch, in which case you might already have heard the siren’s call to play it. It’s been getting excellent press so far, and for a free to play title, why not give it a whirl in the dog days of summer?
September 2010 – Many a MMORPG player has cut their teeth on Runescape, the free to play browser MMO that showed how far the limits of Java could go. It might not be the most polished or good-looking title, but it’s had a number of overhauls and revamps, and hey — it’s light on the wallet.
October 2010 – Speaking of runes, Runes of Magic bowled a lot of people over in 2009 as both a decent WoW clone and an excellent free to play title. They’ve already released their first expansion (also free), and you could certainly do a lot worse than give this a try, particularly if you are a current or former WoWhead.
November 2010 – Sword of the New World is one of those odd little MMO cult hits that you know, intellectually, are better than the rest of the pack, but may have yet to ever give it a whirl. So why not, in this last month of our hypothetical experiment, do just that?