Thursday, April 30, 2009

Free Realms vs. EQ2: Impressions from the FR Beta

All the blogs are coming out with reviews on Free Realms. Heck, Massively Speaking #50 turned into the Free Realms Fanboi podcast. I’ll admit for the short time I played in beta, I liked the game and found various things that could get me hooked if I wasn’t already involved in EverQuest 2. But when I’m writing, I like to come up with an unusual take on what I’m writing about. So I’ll take a different approach and compare Free Realms to a traditional Triple-A MMORPG title, EverQuest 2, based on my experience in beta.

Leveling? What’s that? In traditional MMOs like EQ2, players level their characters very quickly through the first few levels as they learn to play the game. Maybe I didn’t play the game right, but after 3 hours of game play in Free Realms I was still at level 1 with all my jobs. I found myself exploring the world looking for the tutorials (and bugs) and following quest lines to see what the next cool mini-game would be. In EQ2, I think I was either level 7 or 8 after about 3 hours into the game on my first character and I could probably be much higher if I were to create a new character today. In traditional MMOs, you have to level to get to the good content, which leads to the race to max level and whining about the lack of high level content by those players who refuse to stop and smell the roses. I really have the feeling that Free Realms has slowed down the race to the top.

Who needs alts? In EQ2, I have a character I adventure with and a small army (7) of crafting alts who made a lot of my equipment and advanced combat arts as I leveled up and still make my food, drink, ammunition and adornments. None of that infrastructure is required in Free Realms since your character can do everything. Okay, your character can do everything if you pay $4.99 a month for a member account, but you get the idea. But your character can do a lot even playing on a non-subscription account.

For those who like alts, you will have to pay for the privilege. Non-member accounts only get 1 character and member accounts can have 3. So if you want to have both a male and female pixie and a male and female human on the same account, you’re out of luck. Hmmm … reminds me of another game in which you can’t play all races and all character classes.

What’s a bot? A big difference I see between Free Realms and EQ2 is the absence of the ability to create macros. (Maybe I’m wrong, but I didn’t see the ability to do it.) Even though I love my macros in EQ2, I see this as a good thing. Think about it. Do you really want kids to play a game in which how good they are is based on the mods they are using? Yes, I’m thinking of my time in World of Warcraft where using some mods (like the late and sorely missed Decursive) were mandatory to be a good player.

When I’m playing EverQuest 2, I use macros that allow me to change into my fighting gear, my crafting gear, my harvesting gear, and into my running shoes when I have to go someplace in a hurry. But those are unnecessary in Free Realms. All you do is change your job and your clothes and gear change automatically. The mechanic is sort of like what happens when you change from fighting to crafting to diplomacy in Vanguard, except in Free Realms your avatar does a cool tornado-type twirl and your clothes are changed.

Another big difference on the scripting side of gaming is I really don’t see how people will be able to create bots to do things like crafting and harvesting. In EverQuest 2, I’ve seen people using harvesting scripts to go from point to point where resource nodes spawn. If you’ve ever been in the same area harvesting as one of those bots, you know how annoying bots really are. In Free Realms, you don’t have to worry about those annoying bots interfering with your game play as those activities are mini-games that require mouse movements. If you want to craft and harvest, I don’t see any way around playing the mini-games. In other words, players can’t cheat (at least that way) to get ahead in the economy.

Mommy, can I get a dog? Pleeeaaase??? Yes, you can use Station Cash in both EQ2 and Free Realms to buy a pet. But in EQ2 there are other ways to get a pet in-game. As a ranger, I have a tiger, bear, falcon, and water creature that can follow me around on my adventures that I either won or purchased with in-game gold. Did I mention I have a unicorn I ride? If all else fails, a player can get a pet just by worshipping a deity. And of course, there are a lot of house pets that are quest rewards.

Of course, in Free Realms pet training is one of the jobs everyone can do and you can train your pet to do really cool things. Just remember you need Station Cash to get the pet. And if you’re a kid how do you get the cash? Allowance? Mowing lawns? Shoveling snow? Chores? Hmmm … I wonder if the FR devs have taken into account the possibility of kids giving their parents in-game gold in exchange for Station Cash. Puts a whole different spin on real money transactions (RMT) in Free Realms, doesn’t it?

Another instance? Please make it stop! One of the features that makes World of Warcraft so great is that zoning from area to area is seamless. In EverQuest 2, running around Qeynos on my first character just about drove me crazy. Free Realms is chock full of mini-games. You go to do something, you load up a game. Or if you are used to playing traditional MMOs, you enter another instance every 5 minutes. I’m so glad the instancing in Free Realms usually goes quickly, or I’d bang my head on my keyboard. I really don’t want to do that because the keys glow in the dark and I don’t want to break it.

I’m going to leave off on the comparisons for now. I wrote this before I logged the live release version of Free Realms for the first time. While Free Realms will not be my main game, I’ll be poking my head into the game from time to time and might have some things to say in the future.


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  2. Wow, I do like your point of view. Very good review, I think. Bravo. :D

  3. Although I very much like this review, I disagree on the fact that you can be 3 hours into the game and still have level 1 in all skills. Minigames are easy to find for say, Combat Jobs, because they're everywhere. However, knowing what I know now, I could probably get a maxed skill in 3 hours, or three level 10 skills in the same amount of time. And, since FreeRealms is out of Beta, they have much more Minigames and content.