“It’s your world” and “you rule”, these were the slogans that debuted with Free Realms in 2009. A lot has changed since then, but these slogans are still very true. Free Realms is a free-to-play massively multiplayer online game (referred to as MMO from here on) targeted at children. I first learned about it when some of my relatives invited me to play it back in 2009, and after some time playing on their account, I decided to make my own. Since then, I have completed hundreds of quests, played numerous mini-games, fought in countless battles, and had fun doing it, despite some problems.
Membership to Free Realms is $5 for one month and $35 to become a lifetime member. While membership isn’t necessary to play, the level cap is raised for members, which allows them to access harder battles. Special weapons and clothing are also for members only, along with discounts and daily sales. While the “free” part of Free Realms is only about 25%, newcomers should be able to decide whether or not they want to purchase membership.
As a reviewer, I try to keep my gameplay descriptions short; this way my audience doesn’t fall asleep on me. But since this is a MMO, I’m afraid you’re going to have to bear with me. Instead of picking a class in the beginning, the game allows you to play as every “job” (class) right from the get-go, and each one levels up individually as you use it. These jobs fall into five categories: combat, racing, crafting, miscellaneous, and adventure.
Combat is the meat and potatoes of Free Realms, and where the majority of the content lies. Instead of fighting within the game world, fights are divided into instances which can be an entire dungeon or simply a fight against a single character. There are six classes in all, and each one focuses on a different play style. Wizards and archers are long-range, while ninjas and medics are mid-range, and warriors and brawlers are heavy, damage dealing tanks. It’s nice to have multiple classes to choose from; it means I could pick how I wanted to take on a fight. Whether you want to be a support class like a medic or a wizard, or run head first into battle, destroying anything that stands in your way as a brawler or warrior, you can play how you want. Add in the ability to play with three friends, and you can make some awesome strategies for some of the tougher dungeons.
Originally, when Free Realms launched, combat was slightly more complicated (and better, in my opinion); but ever since December 2009, the combat has been simplified into a basic attack, a special attack, and a power-up. The weapon you currently have equipped determines what extra effect your basic attack might have, and what your special attack does. Power-ups come in the form of floating icons scattered throughout the level or can be gained from a defeated enemy. They include things like temporary invincibility, to causing an earthquake, or shooting fire.
Racing is composed of the racer and demolition derby jobs. Both jobs are simple mini-games and exactly what their names imply. I wasn’t particularly impressed with the driving though, as the controls lagged too much, the vehicle physics were way off, and the frame rate felt a bit slow, considering the fast-paced nature of racing. Now, this could have been because of my computer, but I even tried lowering the graphical settings and it still seemed slow. The jobs themselves also felt a bit underdeveloped, like they decided to add it near the end, just for the sake of having it.
The crafting jobs (chef, blacksmith, and miner) are far more passive, and more meant for supporting the combat jobs. Chef is essentially an imitation of Cooking Mama, used to make food items that either buff your character’s stats or augment your character’s appearance. Blacksmithing is similar to the chef minigame, but instead you’re making weapons. Mining is my least favorite crafting job, simply because it doesn’t feel necessary. The only thing a miner can do is gather materials for blacksmithing, something that it seems like a blacksmith could do. I enjoyed the mini-games for these jobs, and I like that there are options for people who don’t wish to fight.
The miscellaneous jobs aren’t necessarily a class of job, but all the jobs that don’t really seem to fit in anywhere else. Things like fisherman, soccer star, postman, and card duelist; the odd jobs. Fisherman and Soccer star are mini-game based jobs, similar to combat in that they are both instance based. Fishing is rather laid back, and even though it’s a bit simplistic, I enjoyed it. The soccer however, is far too fast for the amount lag that was present, the same problem I had with the racing. Surprisingly, I did enjoy the postman job, which is composed of timed footraces to deliver the inhabitants’ mail. I was addicted to the races, constantly going back to shave a few seconds off my time. The card duelist is generic copy Pokemon/Yu-Gi-Oh, and feels like a cheap way for Sony to cash in on someone else’s popularity. It’s not broken, but it feels unnecessary.
The adventurer isn’t really a job at all, but rather a basic look and overall experience level for your character. Instead of using mini-games or events to level up, the adventurer levels up by finding hidden coins and completing main storyline quests. They can also wear normal clothing and costumes. I appreciate that there’s this option, since you can look however you want while you wander the land. Whether you want to be dressed as a T-bone steak or in the latest fashions, you can look how you choose.
Overall, I was happy with the wide selection of jobs, but the tradeoff was that none of them felt very deep. Although this keeps it kid friendly, it means that anyone else will quickly tire of the shallow gameplay. I was never completely bored because of this, but it did make the game less enjoyable. Then again, this is a game for kids, and I’m sure they’ll be happy with it; so I suppose it’s my fault for being too old.
But people of all ages can enjoy Free Realms’ graphics, because they are absolutely fantastic. They won’t win any awards, but everything was colorful and mystical. It incorporated many magical elements but isn’t afraid to add in some steampunk and futuristic themes as well. This may sound like just a mish-mash of all the things kids like, and it is, but it works well. It’s a kids game, it’s okay if there’s not a real reason why both wizards and racecars exist in the same world. It just needs to look cool, and it does. And besides, who doesn’t love a cyborg T-Rex?
And while perhaps not as important as cyborg T-Rexes, lore is an underrated but important part of an MMO. Without lore, the world has no story, no history, and no reason for being. Thankfully Free Realms has even more than I was expecting. I doubt kids will care all that much, but I found all of it easy to understand and interesting to discover. From the conversations between NPC’s (non-player characters), to the museum in Sanctuary and the main quest line, it was a tightly woven story well worth reading.
The sound is the only thing I have mixed feelings about. Because even though I loved all of the beautiful music, I was disappointed that none of the characters had voices. I understand how hard it is to find voices for all the characters (not to mention in multiple languages), but it would have been nice to hear at least some dialogue. This wouldn’t be as much of a problem in a MMO geared toward an older audience, but this is a kid’s game, and not very many kids like reading lines of text. Now, it’s not necessary to read all of the text, as there are quick descriptions in your quest log, but kids will miss a lot of the personality and lore of Free Realms without it.
What can I say about controls for a MMO? WASD is for movement, number keys 1 through 3 are for attacks, 5 through 8 are for items, the space bar is to jump and the camera is controlled via the mouse. It’s the same as all the other MMO’s, and it works just as well here as it does everywhere else. Plus, if you prefer, you can control nearly everything by the mouse: movement, combat, even pulling up menus. This way you can mix and match the controls you play with to find something that suits you.
As an MMO with fantasy elements, there are going to be some problems with morality content. Things like magic within the game, violence, and the chat filter possibly letting crude or vulgar words through. I found the majority of these problems rather small however, and I’m sure most parents wouldn’t find too many problems. Although magic is present within the game world, it’s not based on any occult. Violence is fantastical in nature and no worse than Saturday morning cartoons. Being an online game, the possibility that something may slip through the chat filter is always possible. However, the chat filter in Free Realms is by far the strongest I’ve ever seen. I did find some instances of crude humor, farting and burping, but nothing terribly distasteful. Also, with this title being an MMO, there are certain “addicting” elements, which might make it necessary to limit the amount of time you play.
I really enjoyed this game, even if it was made for kids. It was colorful, magical, easy to play, and kid friendly. Add in the low price of admission (nothing!) and lifetime membership at only $35, I don’t see many reasons why a parent looking for a clean MMO shouldn’t give Free Realms a chance. It’s a great alternative MMO, a fantastic way to spend $35, and as long as you control yourself with the in-game microtransactions, ridiculously cheap for an MMO.