Free Realms officially launched yesterday. It wasn’t until sometime late in the night that the download was actually available, though, meaning I had to wait until this morning to install the game and try it out. I’d like to share my impressions of my first play session, as a player who knew very little about the game going into it, was not in the beta, and just started playing with launch.
My first reaction is mild confusion. The download takes place in my browser? I create my character there, too? It’s strange for me, someone who typically plays MMOs that are completely client-based and only rarely require any browser usage (usually only to create an account). Something nice about this, though, is that new players have the option to start creating their character while the game is downloading. Neat feature.
One of my fellow bloggers mentioned that Free Realms is all about choices. Like most MMOs, character creation puts a big decision on my shoulders: what race/gender combination to play. I’ve made it clear before that I tend to only play female characters, so the only choice left to me is between a pixie female or a human female. Tough decision. The pixie girl looks very cute, but my instinct is pushing me to pick the human. Seems like a good, safe way to begin the game.
Character creation seems somewhat limited, and there is a major drawback in that you can’t spin your character while customizing, but otherwise there are a few nice features. There is a wide array of skin color options, meaning your character can be any ethnicity you want (something that has been limited or absent in other games). While there aren’t a ton of hairstyle options, there is a nice variety of color options for hair, including pink, blue, and many shades of blonde and brown. You can also choose a starting outfit for the character, which is a neat touch. For human females the options include a hoodie and sweats, a casual skirt and sweater, or a t-shirt and jeans combo — all in a few different shades. Finally, you can give your character face paint or make-up (at least for females).
Naming is interesting also. You can either choose from three wheels to select a name (the first being your first name and the second two comprising your last name) or you can submit a custom name. I decided to stick with the wheels and choose a standard name. I’m not very good at naming anyway, so the wheel was handy. My character completed and named, I’m ready to launch the game. Meet Zoe Honeydale!
My first impression on loading into the game is that the graphics are a lot less impressive than my browser made them appear. It’s nitpicky, but the game designers should consider forcing players to create in the game mode, as that way they wouldn’t be disappointed when they see their characters go from smooth and pretty to dithered and dull. Zoe’s cute, toothy smile on the browser now makes her look like a vacant mouth-breather. It’s sad. I’m not sure if there are graphics options, either.
That’s pretty much the only thing I’m unsure of, though, as the creators of Free Realms make sure every player gets a tutorial when entering the game for the first time. This is an extremely basic tutorial (as in it’s designed for people with absolutely no understanding of how to play an online game), beginning with teaching the player how to look around and move. It’s simplistic for those of us who have been playing MMOs for years, but it’s probably a nice touch for the game’s target audience: first time gamers and small children. As I’m playing I’m trying to keep my 5 y.o. sister in mind, to determine whether it will appeal to her. She’s a pretty quick leaner with the mouse, but she would obviously be extremely confused upon entering other MMOs. Free Realms might make it easier on her. It’s mildly annoying for salty MMO vets like me, though, because it feels like I’ve got training wheels on.
The tutorial zone presents me with another option, the one anyone who has read anything about Free Realms is already aware of: Chef vs. Fighter. Because most accounts I’ve read of Free Realms show bloggers choosing to be fighters, I picked chef. Being a chef brings me face-to-face with my first mini-game experiences. The first mini-game required that I “harvest” fruits. It reminded me of bejeweled or other shape+chain games, and was simple, perhaps overly simple, to complete. I thought the same of the next mini-game, which required very easy tasks like hitting raspberries with a “hammer” (the mouse) or stirring a bowl of soup in a counter-clockwise direction. At least, I thought that until I actually managed to fail one of the tasks.
The tutorial ends by offering me the chance to learn how to do the other job I didn’t pick: fighter. Basically you have to kill three goblins and the computer (which sounds a little bit like GlaDOS, eerily enough) guides you through the combat process. Despite my experience using hotbar-based combat, Zoe lost about half her health during this fight. I’m afraid that the combat tutorial might be a little too hard for someone like my little sister, who would probably lose much more health during the process than I did. But it’s likely that the game instructs players on how to rez or whatever happens when their characters die, so maybe that’s not such a bad thing. It’s all part of the learning process, you see.
Once I left the tutorial, I was deposited in a large starting zone full of new players. I was instructed to visit a certain NPC, but despite that I still feel pretty overwhelmed. The world looks huge, especially in comparison to my little tutorial world, so I’m a bit anxious going in. Nevertheless, my quest tracker guides me (literally, there are little dots on the ground for me to follow) to the NPC, so I guess I’d better go see what this person wants of me.
She wants me to introduce myself to the other NPCs, one of them a pet trainer and the other a racecar driver. The latter offers me a follow-up quest when I arrive, but I decline. I want to explore the game, and don’t feel like being herded off to the derby. I decide instead to visit the chef trainer, who gets me going on a bunch more mini-games and quests. The mini-games so far are identical to those that I played in the tutorial, and frankly are getting a bit tedious. I’m hoping they change a little somewhat.
To raise your level as a chef, you have to complete tasks for NPCs and do well in mini-games. The latter is actually easier said than done, as the mini-games have lots of elite bonus tasks that I can’t seem to obtain, e.g. bonus scores and fast finish times. Overall, I’m starting to get bored, so I head off on my next quest, to visit the royal chef, intending it to be my last. When I get to the chef he asks me to, of course, cook some soup for him. It’s easy enough, but incredibly tedious. It’s all the same mini-games that I’ve been doing for the last hour, with all the same tedious tasks involved. The chef mini-games are incredibly tiresome, and if they don’t change as you level up, I don’t see the benefit to being a chef.
I’m about ready to leave the game, but I want to experience more than just being a chef. I run into an NPC who is also the liaison for the trading card game. He offers to let me play with a training deck to get a feel for the game, so I gladly accept. The first thing I notice is that the loading time to get into the TCG mini-game is extremely long. I watch the little gold starburst chase its tail for several minutes, wondering when the stinky TCG is going to launch. I’m even starting to wonder if this part of the game is glitched, or if I don’t have access to it. Ultimately I went AFK and puttered around the house for five minutes, only to come back and find…that it was still “loading.” Okay, forget that then.
I still want to give the game a chance, though. Boyfriend encourages me to try the derby, so I agree, but have no idea how to get back to that lady who was going to take me there. Fortunately I figure it out after teleporting around some and make my way to the speedway. I enter a tutorial mini-game in which I’m riding around in a car. The controls are sort of difficult to master (just in that they aren’t very sensitive or reactive) and the tutorial doesn’t make it plain what I’m supposed to do. I thought it was a Mario Kart-esque racing game, with a track, but it’s actually more of a fighting pit in which karts smash into each other. I did the basic and advanced tutorials. While it seems like this might be a fun part of the game for some, for me it just induced a lot of dizziness. You have to spin in a circle a lot to be able to smash the other karts, so if you have a weak stomach I wouldn’t recommend participating in this particular activity.
And with that I’ve completed my first hour of playing Free Realms. Overall I’m a bit disappointed with the game. The game play alternates between ridiculously easy and needlessly difficult. Some of the games seem simple enough for my little sister — or even someone younger than she — to complete. The chef mini-games in particular are far too simple for me to enjoy, but seem like they would hold her attention pretty well. In fact, they remind me a lot of the Flash games she plays at the Sesame Street website. Other things in the game seem difficult, or at least aren’t explained properly. For instance, when I opened my map, I found I could teleport to anywhere I wanted. I was only able to figure that out, though, because I am familiar with maps. It would be better for someone new to gaming if the computer tutorial popped up to inform them of this feature whenever they open the map for the first time.
I’m hoping to spend some more time with Free Realms in the future, perhaps trying out some of the other jobs that I didn’t get to experience (fighter, postman, etc.). Until I get a chance to see all of the game it’s hard to judge, but if the rest of the game is like what I’ve seen so far, I’m not sure how successful the game is going to be. Sure, it will probably appeal to children, but I just don’t see the appeal as an experienced, adult gamer. In the meantime, can any of my readers who have spent some time in the game offer suggestions on what I should try out next time? Have I missed something amazing? Let me know in the comments.
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