Free Realms: Not Just for Kids

Adult MMOers often show prejudice for anything that doesn't appeal to them. Obviously, not all games are appropriate for everyone, but that doesn't mean they don't have merit. So, when I took another look at Free Realms from Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) recently, I was surprised to find just how broadly appealing their free to play (F2P) MMO is working out to be.

We've covered Free Realms a few times here at Allakhazam, and I've been excited about it since I first heard the premise. Of course, I get excited about everything, so that shouldn't be a surprise.

One of the first things that sets Free Realms apart from other SOE MMOs is the low barrier to entry. They are designing the game to download while you create your character in a Flash application. By the time you've finished creating the character, the game has loaded and you're on your way to playing with no installation hassles or long patch times.

In addition, the developers are aiming to make the game compatible with GeForce 3 video cards, a series released in 2001. It's safe to say just about everyone should be able to access the game with this requirement.

The stylized graphics are, and I hate to use this word, down right cute. The world gives off a carefree and fun vibe. There's nothing I've seen in this world that gives the idea of being overwhelming or out of style! The whole visual feel is truly uplifting.

The game features over 20 different classes which you can switch between at will. Doing a postman (delivery) quest? Just click the button and turn yourself into a postman class and off you go! Your clothing outlines your job duties, and you can have choices like we've never seen before! Be a medic, soccer player, ninja or mailman and visually identify what those around you are doing simply by their outfits.

Leveling each class type comes from distributing reward points into skills for your avatars. These reward points come from many places in the world. From the mini-games to socialization, your class advancement really is up to you!

Looking at this system aimed at teens and tweens, that accepts a more enlightened idea of leveling than every graphical MMO I've ever played, I become a little disgusted that no one else has implemented anything like it!. I guess I'll just have to be first in line to get my character into Free Realms!

So far, there's no pirate class, a surprising note that shocks those of us familiar with SOE's developers Ninja's without pirates makes for a very sad world!

Part of the monetization of the game comes from having the opportunity to purchase clothing that will differentiate you visually and give your character a much cooler look. For those underagers who are learning to manage money, parents can assign dollar amounts to characters through the parental control system, and the players can then decide what to spend the money on. As great a lesson in getting the most for your money as I've ever seen!

Here though you'll see the micro-transactions aimed more at visually changing avatars rather than balance breaking the game with experience bonus items and such.

In all, the parental controls are incredibly well thought out and implementation is and will continue to be a priority for SOE. Parents can decide who their children can group and chat with, definitely a concern for a game that will be known for hosting a younger audience. Time per session and day are also features that parents can control, giving them a much wider range of control than your average MMO.

There are more than 30 mini-games as part of the world, and all are available without leaving the client. That is to say, the games are all 3D and your avatar takes part in them. The games include soccer, mahjong, match 3, chess, and all sorts of fun games in between.

80% of the map area will be free to play; the other 20% will require payment. The old in game advertising that's standard for web games will also be found in game, unless players decide to subscribe. No word yet on the average cost of clothing or what it will take to get rid of those nasty ads!

The world, though large, allows for instant teleportation to the areas of your choice from the second you log in. No waiting for certain level requirements or having to run 20 minutes to experience content. Feel free to jump from area to area as you please! It's as close to a god client as you'll likely ever get folks.Who would say no to that?!

Missions, quests, objectives, or whatever you'd like to call them, can be obtained and completed without fighting. Or one can simply choose to do nothing but log in and play soccer 24 hours a day (not recommended), if that's all you wish to do. Since parents can decide whether to let their children group, all missions are being designed to have a solo aspect, though some could be considerably easier with friends.

This is almost a hook better than cereal commercials! Who's going to want to play alone when you can get all of your friends into it for a big, giant party in game! With content aimed at both boys and girls, there's surely something here for everyone. There's even fantastic goodness here for me, a 30 year old female gamer who's as much at home on the battlefields of Warhammer Online and Dark Age of Camelot as I am at and Puzzle Pirates!

While the game is aimed at a younger market, it's not hard to see, with the casual web game market so very popular today, that this type of game would appeal to a broad number of folks! Their Facebook ( style social network pages for your characters (fully customizable with parental controls here too), include a way to zone right to your friends in game, rather than trying to track them down.

SOE is working with their other Sony counterparts, planning for in game events surrounded by music launches with an in game live stage show blaring the newest age appropriate music, and other special events to help boost community!

PvP content is available but it's not only severely limited, as is market appropriate, but it's also much less intense than you'll find in MMOs aimed at older markets. Pets, houses, and such weren't talked about, but there are plans for both of these!

There are plans to release the game for Sony's console, the PlayStation 3 (PS3) as well. When asked whether we can expect the servers to be joined so that PC and PS3 players were in the same world at the same time, Steve George, the Producer for Free Realms, said that's not been decided on quite yet. It would be a challenge, I'm sure. But with SOE's plans to bring all of their future titles to both platforms, it would be a step in the right direction.

Free Realms is scheduled to launch at the beginning of 2009 - but, as always, Sony Online Entertainment says 'it will not launch until it's done '. The game is being localized into nine different languages including British English, French and German.

You can find YouTube footage of Free Realms from Fan Faire 2008 here, and the SOE introduction to the game  here !


Becky "Tovin" Simpson
Senior Editor, ZAM Network


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