Fiesta has been around since 2007; it’s been a free to play MMO from the get-go, designed around microtransactions. The game suffers a bit from the pay to win issue, with purchasable items providing significant combat boosts, however, it is possible to get similar boosts without paying, but you’ll have to work for them, and they may not last as long. The good news is that it doesn’t appear that these boosts are necessary for the usual playing session, although very nice, you can usually handle any level-appropriate fight alone, and there aren’t significant exp boosts for trying to fight far above your level. The pay-to-win items would be very beneficial for attempting to take on boss monsters alone, though, it would seem they were designed around multiple players. The game starts up in a small window, but that’s fixable with a quick trip to the options menu. Aside from that there were very poor descriptions on the class choices in-game, I had to look them up on the wiki to decide which one I wanted to play. For instance, the description of the mage in-game is: “Mages can manipulate the forces of the world with the wisdom of magic.” As you can see, there are no examples of skills a mage can use, his role in a party, or anything else you might want to know when making a class choice. The game is Korean in origin, it sports an anime graphical theme similar to that of other MMOs from the region. Combat I’ve found can be spammy at times, classes with the SP to spare simply spam their damaging skills as fast as possible, although those that don’t have as much SP will tend to rely more on their auto-attack strikes. Soloing can be fairly slow paced, for some classes the only way to regain hp aside from the purchase of potions and such from other players is to rest in their very own mushroom hut. Although very cute, the hut is a fairly slow way to regenerate health and SP. Having a cleric around makes it far less necessary to have such a hut though. Every few levels you can choose where to place skill points, as well as attribute points. Attributes are what everyone is used to in MMOs, strength, endurance, etc. The skill points, however, are not. In Fiesta you can customize your individual skills, increasing their power, lowering their cost, cooldown, or increasing the effect duration where applicable. This makes every player’s abilities unique to that person. The crafting in the game is somewhat simplistic, every character may choose two production skills from a list of only a few. Clicking on a chosen crafting skill brings up a menu; in this menu is a list of things you can make, confusingly though, it lists even recipes that you don’t know how to make, you have to visit the skill merchant, and purchase the recipes for various items before you can craft them (with in-game money that is). Overall Fiesta is a fine choice for your limited gaming time! The game is a fun, fairly standard MMO that is well designed, and not too money-hungry. Create your account for free at http://fiesta.outspark.com/
Yes, it’s a kid’s game, and yes, I’m still reviewing it. While it is most definitely aimed at a much younger audience than the other games I’ve reviewed, Wizard 101 is still one of the better ones. Wizard 101 eschews the typical formula for MMO combat in favor of a card-based battle system. Players take turns playing their cards (or choosing not to in order to build up power for a more powerful attack).
The game creates a battlefield with spots for both players and enemies, anyone wishing to join in on the battle need only walk onto the field. This can get annoying, however, as you can inadvertently step onto a battle zone and get stuck fighting an enemy you have no interest in. You can choose to flee most battles, thankfully, but it still takes a moment.
When you first join the game there isn’t much you can do aside from lay down attack cards, but as you progress you gain access to more interesting choices, such as cards that reduce your damage taken or increase damage done, healing, etc.
There are multiple schools of magic you can choose from, ranging from elemental (fire, ice, lightning) to summoning (which uses creatures to aid in fighting) to life (the obligatory healing school). To start with you can choose primary school, and a secondary school, however later on down the road you can choose a third and fourth school, there are enough schools of magic that there are plenty of unique combinations though.
The developers of Wizard 101 have chosen a stylized look for the game, rather than trying for realistic, it’s somewhat cartoonish, but still pleasing enough to look at.
Mana depletes with each spell used, more powerful spells taking two or more turns to complete and of course additional mana. Health can be picked up just about anywhere in the form of floating orbs that look similar to “wisps” in the Warcraft series, but it’s much harder to find mana wisps floating around. Fret not though, you can recharge your mana by drinking potions, and playing mini-games (coincidentally you can even get more potions from the minigames). The better you do in the mini-games the more, and better rewards you’ll get for them. The mini-games themselves are entertaining for long enough to get your required items/mana, but not much longer than that, they’re only simple games, something you might play in a web browser. Overall I like it. It’s actually quite fun once you get a few of the more interesting cards, but getting to that point could turn off some people.
Wizard 101 is a free game with microtransactions, the microtransaction items could be very helpful to new players, however, they are far from required, you can craft items, as well as pick them up, it’ll just take you a bit longer. So no complaints about micro-transactions here. My one and only complaint is the voiceovers! Oh god, they’re terrible, read in silly voices for the young demographic, and extraordinarily simplistic, but you can’t really fault them for catering to their target demographic!
You can play Wizard 101 for free at http://www.wizard101.com
This one is actually a bit out of order, Vindictus is the sequel to Mabinogi, however it was reviewed first. That’s because there’s really no pattern to which game will be reviewed next, there’s just a big list of games to be reviewed (in no particular order). That being said, there’s no reason to skip over this review; Mabinogi is a wholly different game from Vindictus. The only things the two games have in common are the setting, and the aim of the combat systems (both games try to provide a more active combat experience than a typical MMO, Vindictus is more successful in that regard; having the best combat of any action MMO to date). Vindictus really is about the combat, while Mabinogi attempts to provide more of a virtual life. While the capability is provided in both games, you’re far more likely to see people gathered around a campfire chatting, telling stories, sharing food and the like in Mabinogi than you are in Vindictus, and while the goals of the combat systems are similar, Mabinogi features much slower paced, more deliberate combat than Vindictus.
In Mabinogi you select from one of three basic combat skills (there are more, but three in particular form the base of the system), you have a basic attack, which will beat out a slow attack, which will beat the block, that blocks the basic attack. It’s heavily styled on rock paper scissors, it gets more complicated once there are more skills to play with, but that’s the gist of it.
Acquiring skills is a bit tougher in Mabinogi than most games, requiring you to find specific NPCs that teach specific skills, or sometimes just discovering the skill as you find the appropriate tools. The sheer number of skills is staggering, and your character ages as well as levels up. You get skill points as you age, and the max age is around 25, but you can be “reborn” as a younger version of yourself, which will allow you to once again get those skill points, so really, there is no limit to how many skills you can max out in the game, but due to the time it takes to learn specific skills, you’re best off specializing yourself into one or two general avenues of play at first, and learning a larger breadth of skills later.
Where Vindictus provides an amazing combat system, Mabinogi provides an amazing crafting system. Crafting in Mabinogi starts by collecting materials (as it often does), you then grab a schematic (or pattern, mold, what have you), and tools (some can be carried with you, other tools are features of buildings, like windmills). Much like in older MMOs, you have a chance of failing and wasting your materials, however, unlike in older MMOs this will not destroy your final product. It takes several successful attempts to make a product, but the number of times you fail in between is somewhat inconsequential, the overall quality of the product is determined by a mini game at the end of the crafting. Tailoring for instance will require you to sew up the last few stitches accurately and quickly, while cooking is dependent on getting the ratio of ingredients just right. Whatever the mini-game, if you do well you can produce an item with a much higher quality (and as such, better stats) than what a player might ordinarily find, or buy. Higher skill levels make the mini game easier, but it is quite possible to make a very high quality product at low levels.
Mabinogi has a store where you can purchase things such as pets, new hair styles, increased inventory, and the like, while many of the things sold will make your life in the world of Mabinogi much easier (reduced death penalties for instance), it is not required to reach your maximum levels. It is, however, required to experience the story quests, so minus points there. But if you can put up with it’s quirks, and the age of the title, Mabinogi is a good solid choice for a free MMO.
Although I do rate the sound of every game I play, I don’t always talk about it. In Mabinogi, sound plays a pivotal role, it can give you a warning about when an enemy is going to use a skill, and there are even two crafting skills dedicated to sound. Musicians can play music composed by composers (and many musicians are also composers) on a variety of instruments in the game. While the sound effects in the game are not the most realistic I’ve ever heard, they ARE, however, perfectly appropriate for the game, and the music-based “life skills” are impressive!
Start your free account at http://mabinogi.nexon.net/
This will be the first of quite a few games I’ll be reviewing that no longer requires a monthly subscription. DDO (Dungeons and Dragons Online) has a unique gameplay style – as you play your adventures are narrated. The narrator tells you if your character can hear trolls in the next room for instance. A welcome warning, but you’ll only get that warning if your listen skill is high enough. The goal with the narration of course being to provide the same feel as if you were sitting in a room, playing a traditional game of D&D with a game master, and it works to a point. The only caveat is that you can’t tell the game master that you want to try something unorthodox, and have him come up with some general rules for it on the spot. The D&D rule set is quite robust, and D&D online does an impressive job of replicating it, that being said there are some omissions, and minor tweaks to make the game translate more readily to a video game. Perhaps the most notable of which is a change to the cleave and great cleave skills, which now, instead of giving you a free attack after killing an opponent, have become an area of effect attack, hitting multiple targets at once. The game doesn’t waste any time introducing new players to the narrative style, directly after making your character, you’re dropped off on a beach, shipwrecked, with no personal belongings, luckily for you there’s a small group of people nearby who are all too willing to help; they get you some armor, and a weapon, but then drag you into their business, fighting off bloodthirsty monsters, and solving puzzles for this small group. Once it’s over you all part ways, and you can begin your quest on tutorial island! Where DDO starts to introduce you to the types of missions, puzzles, and enemies you’ll face in the game. the world is instanced, with town areas being a common ground where players can bump into each other, form parties, trade, etc. But once you enter a mission you won’t see anyone who isn’t in your party; part of the fun of early MMOs was bumping into players who were also out hunting in the wilderness, however it also prevents areas from getting “camped”, and also allows DDO to present more challenging problems that might be too hard if monsters kept respawning all around you. There’s plenty of content to reach the maximum level without paying for anything; however, you will have to run some missions multiple times, and probably travel to the wilderness areas to do a bit of grinding. While you only get experience for completing objectives, the wilderness areas provide some limited, grind-like kill/discover objectives that take more and more kills to reward experience as you go along. It’s worth noting that if you’re willing to drop a couple dollars here and there on new missions, you might never have to replay a mission twice, or have to do anything that feels at all like grinding. As a free game, 3.5 stars, but as a paid game 4.5 stars! DDO is truly a masterfully created title, but probably won’t be satisfying without paying for it. You can create your free account now at http://www.ddo.com/
Vindictus is an MMORPG built by Nexus, the same folks behind Mabinogi, and Maple Story – in fact, in Korea Vindictus is called Mabinogi: Heroes. Vindictus was built using the Source engine, the very same game engine used to create such games as Half-Life 2, and Dark Messiah: Of Might and Magic. That piqued my interest in this title, because I know just what the source engine is capable of.
The graphics in Vindictus are some of the best of any MMO on the market today, looking at screenshots and videos you probably wouldn’t even guess it was an MMO game, there are physics-based interactions, pillars crumble, walls break, and objects can be thrown at enemies for ranged damage as well. The fighting is fast and furious, more reminiscent of a top tier action game than any typical MMO. Attacks can be chained together, and then topped off with a final strong attack, the exact attack you get differs depending on when in the weak attack combo string you activate your strong attack, and other factors.
But now the bad news, the Source engine is a fine choice for any action game, but in an MMO it can be a bit restricting. The engine wasn’t designed for wide open areas, so the game can feel a bit cramped at times, although the engine does an excellent job of conveying the feeling of being in a wide open area, you can’t actually explore it as if it was one. There’s also quite a few loading screens, even in the middle of instances, which detracts from the play experience. There is a visible indicator of where you’ll find loading screens in the instances, so it isn’t TOO jarring, but still an annoyance.
The combat can be repetitive, although there are options to spice it up, so I don’t see that as a huge problem, while they are wholly unnecessary, and not always the most effective approaches, players can choose from many “secondary” weapons, such as spears, and bombs that deal significant damage to enemies (usually from a distance), in addition to the physics based play. That said, it’s still a whole lot better than clicking your enemy, then clicking attack and waiting till the fight is over.
The game has a strict theme park type design, the battle zones often feel like something you might be playing on Xbox 360, very linear. The new player experience consists of running the same dungeon (albeit slightly different tracts of it) several times in a row, this gets tiresome. Micro transactions seem limited to cosmetic changes such as hairstyles, or giving an item with a specific look the stats of another item (so you can go through the game looking as you want to, without sacrificing power), and convenience items, that, while nice (sometimes very nice) should never be REQUIRED in your adventures. This is the proper way to handle micro transactions.
Overall I give Vindictus a 3.5/5, it’s quite fun, a beautiful game, but ultimately flawed, while anyone should be able to find enjoyment here, this is a tad too linear to be called the BEST free MMO, however, it does deserve a closer look, and will make it to the next stage in the review process, where high level content will be reviewed.
Start your account free of charge at http://vindictus.nexon.net/
Today the search for the best free MMOs available begins. Every week a new article will be posted reviewing a free MMOG (massively multiplayer online game). It is understood that when you’re talking about MMOs you can’t really experience all that it has to offer in just a week, however, since these are free MMOs they will be judged on a different standard, not only do they need to be able to keep you interested, but they also need to be able to get you interested in the first place. With pay games it’s easy, there’s an investment made; nobody is going to shell out $40, and then $15 for a subscription fee just to play for an hour and decide they don’t like it. When the game is free to play, there is no investment, if the game can’t grab the player in that hour (more realistically within a few minutes), then that game won’t convert that player into a subscriber.
In other words, a review that reviews only the end game of an MMO, or allows the endgame to be a justification for a poor new player experience isn’t doing the person reading the review any favors, since they will then decide to play the game, and not have any fun at all because the new player experience is cruddy. Each MMO will be given a review of up to 12 hours of play time, the end game will be considered as well, but first impressions will be weighted heavily in the review scores.
Games already due for review include Dungeons and Dragons Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Mabinogi, Maple Story, R.O.S.E. Online, Everquest 2, Karos Online, Entropia Universe, Istaria, Loong, and Wizard 101.
Any other suggestions for free MMOs that need to be included on this list to be reviewed should be posted as comments. MMOs receiving a high score in this initial review will later be reviewed in a more in-depth fashion. The ultimate winner will be announced in the final article of this series, and will be a game that offers (with absolutely no monetary investment from the player) a good new player experience, and deep end game content. Scores will be dinged (heavily) if end game content needs to be purchased, or you can’t participate for some reason or another without spending money, but games will not take a hit merely for having the option of microtransactions. (they have to make their money somewhere, but it shouldn’t be by dangling better gameplay in front of you)