|System: PS3, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: SONY Online (SOE)||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: SONY Online (SOE)||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Q3 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: Unlimited||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Nathan Meunier
February 28, 2008 - With so many different MMO games available, it's surprising there's not a better selection of all-ages oriented titles out there. Sure, the online gaming community has got you covered if you feel like battling rampaging hordes on the plains of Thu'Klor or hopping into a starship full of Wookies to cruise for bounty, but what about the younger players who may be less interested in tearing foes apart? Sony Online Entertainment is seeking to fill the gap with its upcoming MMO title Free Realms. The free online game is directed at engaging tween and teen audiences by immersing them in a humorous and upbeat fantasy world that de-emphasizes violent combat in favor of more social pursuits.
Set in a large, exuberant, and colorful 3D fantasy realm, Free Realms will contain numerous elements and themes that appeal to young players, but it also strives to provide a larger, open-world play experience found in more mature-themed MMO offerings. The whimsical environment - a world where fairies, humans, cute pet animals, and other to-be-determined creatures co-exist - isn't overly serious; the fantasy backdrop will be juxtaposed with current pop culture references kids will pick up on. Players will have the freedom to compete in mini-games, hang out, raise pets, do battle with foes (in limited form), grow their characters, and interact with other players in a social networking setting, among other activities.
Some may argue Free Realms looks and sounds a bit too girly or a bit too young for their own personal tastes. Indeed, the game's vibrant, lighthearted vibe might appear to mesh well with a particular demographic, but not all red-blooded young males inherently gravitate towards an interest in fantasy violence. The game is designed to provide a balance of functions for both male and female players without alienating either audience. Still, it's clear younger gamers, casual audiences, and even parents are the main groups likely to be immediately drawn-in.
Character creation is designed to be quick and easy, so players can jump right into the game in a short matter of time. When creating a character, players will choose their avatar's race, its gender, and customize its appearance to suit their fancy. It will only be possible to create either human or fairy characters when the game initially launches, but SOE has announced plans to eventually offer other races including different animal-beasts. After the simple process is completed, players are plopped down into their village with a wide range options spread before them.
At launch, gameplay will primarily focus on social networking, combat, pet raising, and mini-games, although a house building feature is expected to be included as an eventual add-on expansion in the future. The game's class system appears to be based-on changing outfits, which will determine some of the activities players can engage in and abilities they'll have. For example, throwing on a postal uniform lets players enter into a mail delivering mini-game while donning a ninja suit enables shuriken chucking and other entertaining battle skills. Combat is an optional venture to be acted out against NPCs, but it will include multiplayer guild support which should encourage some light rough housing. Players will be able to gain experience and level up their skills as well. The ability to find, tame, and train a range of adorable pets will likely be an appealing pursuit for many. Penguins, cats, and dogs have been confirmed, although it's presumed other furry animals will also be available. Mining, soccer, rocking out, and skating are just a few of the many mini-games can try out. Between various games and combat, the game will feature plenty of quests for players to explore.
A naughty word inhibiting kid-safe chat feature (which lets parents select whether their children can use the full featured chat or only basic chat options) and character profile pages will help facilitate interaction between players. The game lets the player teleport to the location of a nearby friend, check out what pals are doing in the game world, and drop them a quick message if they choose. Many of the mini-games also encourage multiplayer interaction in some form.
As the name implies, Free Realms is a free game to those who don't mind constantly dealing with advertisements and have no interest in purchasing visual extras to deck out their character with. For a nominal monthly subscription fee, players can view the game ad-free, but there doesn't appear to be any other benefit to making the subscription plunge at this time. Additionally, players will be able to purchase in-game items, outfits, and other goodies in the form of micro-transactions. Hopefully SOE will spice up the deal to make the pay-to-play aspects more enticing. Still, the game looks promising enough to attract players to take the free version for a spin. From what we've seen so far, they may find themselves hooked before long.
CCC Freelance Writer