Image of Free Realms
7.0

It all started with a single request from my teacher. ?Please deliver those ingredients to the master chef. He will also be able to further instruct you in the ways of cooking.?. On my way to the big city I helped a small football team, who were viewed as underdogs at best, achieve greatness, took part in kart racing and dressed as a ninja and went around fighting monsters all the while gathering cards for my deck. By the time I reached the master chef, foams were coming out of his mouth and I was kicked out of the cooking guild for bringing shame to my former teacher's name. Nevertheless, I headed back home and started decorating and arranging the place to my liking. I also bought a cat. Everything is better with cats.

The above is a summary of my first impression of Free Realms, an MMO directed at teenagers and children. You start off by making your character who is either a human or a pixie. The character creation feels somewhat limited compared to other MMOs, but it is distinct enough to make your character feel unique. Additionally, some things like face tattoos can turn you into the school bully you always wanted to be.

Set into the world of the Sacred Groove, your character sets out on his adventure or rather his life in that land. I say life because while there's a sort of main storyline with some hints on things to come, it isn't that noticeable - if at all - and most of the time you are left to you own devices. While this may indicate a lack of drive for playing, the freedom given to you overcompensates for that. Unlike other games like WoW, this game isn't about the world facing a crisis and your rising reluctantly to the rescue. This game is all about you and what you want to be in this world. Do you want to be a chef? Are your interests lying in trading card games? Or do you want to be a footballer? In the end, it's all about choices. As for me, I think I am on my way of becoming the next Yugi Mutto of this world, without the whole shadow realm nonsense of course. It's time to duel!

Of course, for all of you who just want to take a classic MMO approach, there are 6 distinct combat jobs/classes : Archer, Brawler, Medic, Ninja , Warrior and Wizard. However, despite the number, we can notice that the Brawler, the completely free to play combat job, seems to be the template for every other job and the 2 jobs who are furthest away from that template, Archer and Wizard, work least well. Each class has 3 spells/actions by default and unlocks 5 more as they head to the maximum level of 20. Combat is rather simplistic and easy to learn however the game has some potential for interesting, but not hardcore, PvP. The game is intended for a casual audience after all. However that doesn't make its mechanics shallow.

Combat in Free Realms is enacted as an instance. In other worlds no mob will attack you in the wilderness and you can fight them by clicking them as you would for the entrance of a dungeon. While this may feel weird to some people I am kind of relieved. If I wanted to relive the nightmares of Fel Reavers chasing me just because I stared at their cores wrong, I would play WoW instead anyways. The mobs are a lively bunch. Ranging from cute little dangerous critters, that would make even an Anti-Peta individual rage about animal cruelty in videos games, to evil snowmen that can melt your health and arachnids with their spawn that look cute and evil at the same time, they are sure to keep you interested! While nothing is too special or outstanding for an MMO that's not necessary bad. Dungeons exist as well and you can brave them either alone or with friends. In terms of pvp the game is limited to classic dueling Ala WoW Style. While reaching max level with a combat class - or any class for that matter - doesn't take that long, the final dungeons will keep you engaged for a bit as you go through them trying to find that magic underwear that will make you hit harder.

The job system brings a unique spin in all this. First of all, you can change between any job at any given time whether that is being a chef or being an archer. As of now 16 jobs exist but only a handful are available to be maxed out without a subscription. However, since all jobs allow you to do a test run up to level 5, you can decide whether or not you want to subscribe. Jobs include but are not limited to : various combat classes, chef, postman , kart driver, card duelist , adventurer and the list goes on. A downside is that while some of the jobs are well thought out others seem to just be thrown in with no tinkering or fine tuning. On the other hand the mini-games included in the leveling of some jobs, like the chef for example, are pretty engaging and fun. However for those not into mini-games, those parts may seem tedious and boring. Out of all jobs the post-man seems to be the most disappointing one for me. It's pretty much a series of fetch quests from one NPC to another. While I always dreamed of being the delivery boy objected to the whims of various NPCs, I think I will pass on this one. Since we are on it, mini-games are abundant and varied. From puzzles to chess to tower-defense, Free Realms has something for everyone. For all I know, you could join this game just for its deep trading card game and not even bother with anything else. Now if you will excuse me, I got to check out the new booster pack!

Free Realms manages to have an engaging social experience as well. You can own houses and decorate them at will. The customizing options are astounding. It kinda felt like Sims 3 or Minecraft the first time I saw some of the creations out there. After you are done making the villa you always wanted, you can submit it online and other people can visit it and rate it at any time. For all those creative types out there, this feature alone can be pretty enticing. On the other hand, some players even go out of their way to organize parties, which can be summed up as large gathering of players goofing around playing mini-games or chatting under the sound of loud music. And for all those collectors out there, pets and mounts are here. You can ride motorcycles, tigers and even some vehicles that seem out of science fiction. For pets, you can have cats, dogs, chicken and some exotic ones. Needless to say the cuteness reaches dangerous levels. In my case, I have taken a liking to a baby dragon which I groom, feed and teach tricks. Before I know it I will probably get another one too. You can never have too much of cute.

The world is pretty bright and carefree as one would expect from an MMO directed at children and teenagers and only at a sub-area the tone gets any darker. You can find some nice spectacles like a forest with a crystalline lake or a nicely designed cave but nothing is too grand or breathtaking. The music as well is pretty lighthearted and upbeat at times. This can be pretty off-putting to some but considering who this game is made for, it is pretty fitting. If I can think of something negative, the fact that some of the most ?cool? content needs a subscription comes into mind. However, taking into account the fee and that most of the content can be played up to a point for free, this is not a big issue.

Free Realms is a nice addition to the MMO market. It's casual no-strings attached approach brings a fresh air and it can always keep you busy. You will be going from one place to another and before you know it, you will forget why you were heading there in the first place. That is the core of the game. A mass of distractions weaved together into perfect harmony. You will always be busy and while this take on the genre might turn away some people, for those that are interested, Free Realms is nice, casual and pretty fun to boot!

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Reviewed by: Peter Pitidis