"But why would you want to play in a children's game? And isn't Free Realms all instanced anyway? I've heard it's not even really an MMO!"
These are the types of concerns and questions we hope to answer with this article, so follow along below as we take you through our WoW Player's Guide to Free Realms.
One of the biggest draws for new players to Free Realms is the fact that it can be 100% free, if you chose to skip some features. This is to say that you can play 60% of the game without paying a dime, according to SOE. If you decide to upgrade your experience, expect to pay $4.99 a month for more classes, character slots and quest opportunities. Both free and paid members can also purchase items from the SOE store, ranging from potions to pets to outfits to better weapons and more. The fact that Free Realms' membership option is still 1/3 the price of WoW's subscription rate is something one needs to keep in mind when comparing the level of depth in each game.
For the sake of this article, we will use the comparisons of the FR paid membership, since WoW doesn't have a limited free option.
World Setting and Tone
Throughout this article, you're going to see a reoccurring theme: WoW is not like Free Realms. Nowhere else is this more evident than the world setting of each game. World of Warcraft has its gorgeous vistas and landscapes, but it's an overall atmosphere of post-war, in most areas. Danger lurks around each corner, and many areas are burned out or otherwise ominous. On the PvP servers, this is even more an issue.
I hate to say it, but the graphics of each game are actually pretty comparable. This surely isn't a bad thing for either, but many of you hardcore WoW players out there might get offended by that thought. If you're used to the looks of WoW, be prepared for some "wow" moments of your own when you adventure across places like Seaside's beaches or looking down into the Snowhill valley. Eyecandy is eyecandy, but Free Realms is made to be an adventurer's game. Seeking out new areas and discovering how to reach them is half the fun!
Classes and Combat
World of Warcraft has ten classes in all, and you might be surprised to discover that a few of these are comparable to the fifteen in Free Realms.
- Warrior: Brawler, Warrior
- Rogue: Ninja
- Mage: Wizard
- Priest: Medic
- Druid: --
- Hunter: Archer
- Shaman: --
- Paladin: Brawler, Warrior, Medic
- Warlock: Wizard, Pet Trainer?
- Death Knight: Warrior
Ok, so a few of those were stretching it, but Free Realms still has some of the basic, traditional roles that you'll find in most MMOs and RPGs: healer, tank, stealth, melee DPS and ranged DPS.
Combat is quite different in Free Realms though. You'll never find yourself aggroing an unwanted creature while exploring the world. All combat is done through instanced encounters or "dungeons". You may see an enemy creature walking around in an explorable area, but you can literally walk right up to it and it will not attack you. If you wish to fight that creature, you can click on it, which will then bring up a window showing you the enemy's difficulty rating, a brief description and a button to begin the encounter.
Dungeons are handled in much the same way, but on a larger scale. You'll find a dungeon entrance and enter as an instance by yourself or with a group. The goals of the dungeons vary greatly, but most have an end boss with epic loot drops, much like you'll find in WoW. There's also a dueling system in place where any two players can agree to a little one-on-one at any time. Is this the extent of PvP in the game? Well, yes and no. If you count demolition derby or kart racing to be player vs. player, then it certainly has more PvP options.
In the "battle" classes, you can train to get better skills, ranking up each skill a maximum of four levels through the use of earned stardust. Unfortunately, the skills available are very limited, as each battle class only has four they can learn through to level 20 (max level in any class). Once you learn these skills, they can be used from a traditional skill bar like any other RPG.
The remaining classes could be broken into two major groups: crafting and just plain fun. The crafting classes (which we'll touch on more later) include Blacksmith, Miner and Chef. The classes strictly there for their fun value could be considered Pet Trainer, Postman, Adventurer, Card Duelist, Demo Derby Driver and Kart Driver. These all have purposes, but they're somewhat unique from anything you may be used to in WoW.
- Pet Trainer: This is where you buy a pet (currently cat or dog only) and level the pet with certain gestures you perform on screen. As your pet levels and learns new tricks, you also gain higher levels in the Pet Trainer class.
- Postman: Think of this as a class dedicated to the Fed-Ex quests. Like running errands for NPCs? Than this one is for you.
- Adventurer: This is your default class, as everyone starts out as an Adventurer. You gain levels in this class by exploring new parts of the map and collecting rare items scattered about.
- Card Duelist: This class is for those Pokemon fans out there who love strategy and fighting your battles one deck at a time.
- Demo Derby Driver: This is a kid-friendly, safe version of a demolition derby. Your cars don't get damaged, but you can upgrade your cars, much as you would weapons and armor.
- Kart Driver: Think of this as Mario Kart stuck in an MMO. You can race your friends, race random people or just race NPCs for your chance at the leaderboard title.
Questing is actually very similar to WoW's quest system where you have a quest log (30 max quests in membership mode) and quest-giving NPCs actually have exclamation marks over their heads. There is a difference here between those quests available to free players and those available to members, as the member quests with have an obvious "winged" symbol surrounding the exclamation mark.
The quest logs in FR show descriptions of each quest and a progress indicator showing how far along you are. There are also options in the UI to turn on quest marker arrows (much like popular WoW add-ons) and a dotted green path that will practically walk you to your next objective. In fact, there are UI indicators for everything you might be looking for, from NPCs to quest goals to resource gathering, and so on.
Achievements are also a large part of the Free Realms gameplay, as your character possesses a book of collections that will continuously be updated throughout your play sessions. Collections include everything from map markers, rare insects, shells, plants and flowers, toys, job-specific items and much more. More and more of us gamers are becoming achievement junkies these days, and Free Realms certainly plays to that part of us all.
Free Realms is not as much of an item-based game as World of Warcraft, which might be surprising considering you can buy so many items in the SOE store. But you still have your traditional outfits (or even armor) for each class, and they do get progressively cooler-looking as you level. For example, a basic amateur sword just looks like a plain, boring sword, but as you gain higher levels, you can find (or buy) flaming swords with some fairly remarkable effects. SOE understands, just as Blizzard does, that it's all about how you look. Still, in Free Realms you won't find yourself spending 8 hours in a dungeon for a chance to get the epic loot. The best items in Free Realms are either crafted or bought, with level restrictions set in place for the higher-tier stuff.
Grouping and Socializing
If you've ever found yourself frustrated by the level of immaturity in WoW's General Chat, it may seem ironic to find a more mature option in a kids game. Yet, Free Realms has put a lot of effort into making the game safe for children. This means limited chat for peopmle not on your friends list, and not in your immediate area. Of course, a peculiar part of this restricted chat is the fact that you really don't see too many people talking in Free Realms.
Friends lists are set up in a similar way to WoW, yet there are actually tiers of friends based on age. On any account made for children under 10, the chat restrictions are much higher and you'll be added to friends lists as an "acquaintance", limiting your options to interact with them. One characteristic of friends lists that have upset several players is the fact that you need to be connected and visible to another player in order to add them as a friend. This was set into place as another measure to protect children, although many times you'll find players running around inviting every single person they run across. A friends list bug at launch allowed those players to add everyone they requested, regardless of the other person's acceptance. You can imagine this caused some problems.
Guilds are not yet implemented in Free Realms, although there is word that they are coming soon. These guilds will include special guild-only chat channels and guild halls, which will arrive with general player housing, at a later date.
Conclusion and Summary
Ultimately, Free Realms is a game that certainly won't appeal to every World of Warcraft player, but it may for those with children. The level of difficulty in many mini games and instances is actually quite challenging for even hardcore gamers (including a wonderful grammar-based game that tickled me to death), but the majority is designed to appeal to those who don't have several hours to dedicate to a game. This, coupled with the price point being what it is, lends itself well to being everyone's secondary game.
Is Free Realms heavily instanced? Yes, although normal exploring and character interaction is done in a persistent world.
Is Free Realms a kids game? Certainly not, although I would imagine that kids will be the majority of players. I would honestly call Free Realms a family game, as it does well to get a range of player-types interested.
Is there a hardcore element to Free Realms, or is it strictly casual? It's not strictly anything. You can get your friends together and play a traditional MMORPG game crawling dungeons for epic boss drops, or you can teach your cat to jump all day. You can literally do just about anything, and have plenty of fun doing it.
Although we're certainly not trying to pull anyone away from WoW to play Free Realms, this article was written to show WoW players that Free Realms is a viable alternative. Is it for you?
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