Free Realms Overview

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Free Realms, the free-to-play casual friendly MMORPG from Sony Online Entertainment has finally made it out of beta.

Free Realms is aimed at a younger audience than the average MMORPG, but actually manages to offer something for everyone. The game has a graphical style – and level of polish – on a par with World of Warcraft, but instead of grinding, raiding, and PVP-ing, the game offers a much wider range of activities.

In Free Realms you don't pick a specific character class when you start the game. Every character swap jobs at will. Swapping jobs is done by changing the clothes you're wearing – kind of like putting on a uniform to go to work.
Each job has its own activities associated with it. Combat jobs – like brawlers and ninjas, would fight monsters – such as the Robgoblins you meet in the game’s tutorial area. Chefs, Miners and Blacksmiths get to play various mini-games to gather ingredients, process them, and make things. The games range from bumper-car racing to 'Simon Says' style games, rhythm games, and puzzles similar to the classic 'columns' game.

There are also collection quests – which work similar to the collection quests in other SOE games, except that you just pick up items around the world, rather than having to loot monsters for them.

Free Realms has a trading card game built-in. The game has a heavy focus on deck building, and is about combat between the cards in play, rather than the objective-focused play of the Everquest, Star Wars and Stargate trading card games.

The game is free to play, but certain professions are locked to free users. Also, there are certain items that can only be bought using Station Cash – which is bought with real life money.

The mini-games, and combat, are both activated by clicking on items in-world. This means that a younger player who is either not interested in combat, or not quite up to that level of keyboard and mouse usage, does not have to take part in it. This avoids the frustration that would inevitably be felt if they 'died' – although things don't actually 'die' in Free Realms. Even the baddies are just temporarily knocked out.

The mini-games are ranked based on their difficulty. The easiest difficulty games are very simple, while the challenging ones are pitched at a difficulty that most adults should enjoy. The main objectives are very easy to achieve – most likely again for child friendliness, but there are bonus objectives which are much harder.

I very much doubt that Free Realms will become the game of choice for hardcore MMO playing adults, but as a family game – or a 'few minutes of fun' game, it shows a lot of promise. There's so many things that players can do in the world, and each challenge only takes ten minutes or so. Travel time is kept down thanks to the ability to teleport to your friends, and running between quests is a trouble free experience too. Job level progression is very fast compared to traditional MMO games, but there are leaderboards and elite objectives that will keep the game fun for the more serious and/or experienced players.

Children will love the graphics, the character customization, and the freedom, and thanks to the different difficulty levels of the challenges, adults and older siblings will be able to join in and still have fun.

The game is easier to install than most MMOs – just go to the web site and install the browser plugin. The game downloads as you play, and has very low system requirements. That, combined with the low subscription cost, free play modes, and high level of polish, should make this a very successful family game. Heck, I find myself dipping in and out, and I'm a bitter hardcore gamer that doesn't have any children to use as an excuse!

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