Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Sometimes the words just won’t flow.  Concepts are there, but everything is building in the back of my skull and nothing I write does the idea justice.  So in situations like these, I sit back, watch a little TV, and find some games to play.  Thankfully the net is full of new free-to-play MMORPGs out there.  I’ve tried several of them over the past few weeks and figured I’d put a little effort into writing a review of those that passed my first test—attracting my interest.

First thing—it can’t be pay-to-play.  I refuse to get sucked into the WOW phenomenon.  I played a few of the earlier versions of Warcraft and, while enjoyable, they lacked a certain something.  Then a couple of years ago I picked up a copy of Guild Wars.  If you’ve never played it, let me put it this way.  It’s a great game.  Visually stunning, with intuitive mechanics and User Interface, it’s something anyone can start playing almost immediately.  And it’s a lot of fun.  Sure, GW has its faults—it’s a bit tough for some folks to get used to the idea of only having access to 8 skills at a time, but since skills and attributes are always open to redistribution based on quest requirements, it tends to promote tactical thinking.

I like the fact that you can control the character with either the arrow keys or mouse clicks.

It does, of course, require the initial game purchase, but no more.  One can buy more character slots and a few other items through the game store, as well as a few expansion packs, but none of this is necessary to enjoy the game to its fullest.

Okay… enough about GW.  I’m waiting with great anticipation for the next installment—GW 2—but I’m hardly the only one.  The makers have proven themselves to be very good at doing what they do so most of us are happy to let them take their time to produce a game worthy of being GW’s successor.

Next in line is Dungeons and Dragons Online… usually known by its abbreviation DDO.  For one at all familiar with the universes of Dungeons and Dragons, DDO fulfills at least part of the requirements for a reasonably enjoyable MMORPG.  There are aspects of the UI and mechanics I don’t care for, having been spoiled by the auto-attack features of such games as Neverwinter Nights and Guild Wars, but once one becomes accustomed to the interface it isn’t bad.  Graphics are okay and the rules are fairly straight-forward for an old D&Der such as myself.  I like the fact that you can climb and jump, but be careful—this also means you can fall.  A lot.

Beyond that, of course, there’s a whole bunch more.  I typed in Free online RPG and came up with TONS of them.  So far I’ve tried only a few.  Shaiya is similar to Guild Wars except not nearly as pretty.  And the UI is rough.  I tried it and didn’t like it much.  What else can I say?  Then I found a few more.  Fate isn’t bad, if you like the simple 2D hack and slash.  Me, I got tired of that stuff back with Icewind Dale.  Neverwinter Nights more or less ruined me for anything 2D.

So I tried a few others.  4Story isn’t bad, but didn’t really catch my interest.  I couldn’t even say why.  The next game I tried was Perfect World International.  Let me start by saying it’s really pretty.  The UI isn’t bad, and it puts a lot of emphasis on jumping—you can even double jump, which gives you a rather Incredible-Hulk like feel for the territory you’re soaring over.  Game mechanics… A lot of what seems like grinding.  Kill, kill, kill… go back to base.  A lot of time traveling here and there, killing, and then running back over ground you’d already covered.  Which, it seems to me, is one of the biggest flaws of a lot of them.  Even in GW one spends entirely too much time slogging through the same territory—mostly because you died trying to accomplish the mission and have to start from the beginning again…  One of the things about PWI that’s amusing is the really bad English.  You can make sense of it, but it’s obviously translated.

My newest discovery, and so far my favorite of all the free-to-play games, is Cabal Online.  It seems like a smaller world than a lot of them, but that more cuts down on the slogging portion than anything else.  The storyline is rather engaging, if also obviously translated into English from another language.  It’s not as blatant as PWI, but there are subtle clues.  It’s a little cartoony, but not too bad.  The combat system and UI are easy to learn, though the skill mechanics are more complicated than one might be used to.  Cabal is a 3D game, but there is NO climbing…  At all.  A little bump is all it takes to impede the character’s travel… slightly reminiscent of Neverwinter Nights, to be honest.  If anything, I find this to be a bit of a flaw, but not a big one.  Of all the free games so far, I’ve found it to be the most intriguing.  Why?  I think it’s the combat and skill system, honestly.  It’s unique, and just complicated enough.

So all in all I’d recommend in this order… Guild Wars—if one is willing to put out the initial cash.  It’s something I play on occasion even now, though I’m waiting with great anticipation for the 2.0 version.  DDO, for the old D&D geek in me, and then Cabal Online.  If you’re looking to wile away some time doing something that gives the illusion of accomplishment, any of these options will do.  And face it… this is why we do this whole gaming thing anyway, right?  For the illusion of accomplishment?

“Oooh!  Another level!  My character is a BADASS!”

Uh-huh.  Be honest now.

So if you’re tempted to join any of these games, feel free to drop me a line and let me know.  I might hook up with you.  I don’t socialize in-game, generally, preferring to go my own way.  I know, they’re MMOrpgs, but I don’t care.  I just want to kill monsters as a stress relief.  All that typing to chat—I can do that in IM for gawd’s sake.  Besides, I haven’t figured out how to switch between the two modes in Cabal yet.  And having to sign on and off just to do it is a pain in the ass.

As they used to say—“See you in the funny papers.”  Or, in today’s version, “See you in the MMORPG.”

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