There are still some ugly-as-sin games out there as well, but they have endearing qualities all the same. So keep that in mind; this is my top 10 list. If you want to suggest your own in the comments section, I would love to hear them!
Now, on to the list, in no particular order...
I've mentioned it several times before, but RuneScape is so warm and familiar that it reminds me of those old stop-motion holiday specials from my childhood. For those of you who grew up in the '90s, I'm referring to specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer from '64. Yeah, I'm old. Sometimes I log into RuneScape just to walk around and explore the environments. There are so many little details and wonderful bits of design, but the best news is that developer Jagex continues to improve it!
I'm not really a "space" guy when it comes to gaming. Most space games are so bland and unappealing that they all just sort of blend together. Battlestar Galactica Online is sort of boring in that way, but it's crisp and the combat is so much fun. What you wind up with is a game that looks as good as many client-based games, but it's also one that offers twitch-based combat with hundreds of other players. I've been in some really scary yet beautiful fights in this game and look forward to many, many more.
I have to admit that I am not a huge fan of the tones of City of Steam, but I am truly happy to show off its visuals to people who doubt that browser-based gaming can be of any quality. That's such an odd thought to me, someone who has spent most of his time exploring the wonderful offerings that come in browser form, and City of Steam is most wonderful. Gears, cool battle effects, and of course, steam all make for a great visual experience.
Drakensang Online comes from the same sort of design school that many isometric-view MMOs do, games like Ultima Online and Diablo III. I like the top-down view for sure, but the atmospheric effects and music are also top-notch. Add on the fact that the game will run on almost anything and is free-to-play with optional purchases and you have a recipe for a great game that looks awesome. I love playing it in full screen with the graphics on high. I really end up feeling as if I am playing a "normal" client-based game!
Dragons of Atlantis is really just a bunch of mildly animated flat artwork, but it's so pretty and reminds me of those great fantasy book covers from my youth. Each part of your army is represented by a single piece of artwork, something like you'd see on a trading card, but it is so epic and well-done that it feels like a real army component. It's still cool to see a massive dragon hovering over your city, flapping its wings; it's even cooler to see the artwork that loads in between sessions. This is top-notch, high-fantasy stuff.
A Mystical Land is definitely more whimsical and silly, but one look at the swirly bottomed clouds and I was hooked. Although the developer seems content to be a hermit when it comes to the press, the game has developed by leaps and bounds even though I originally thought it would tank. I've been pulling for it from the beginning, though, mainly due to the fact that the art inside the game is lively, cute, different, and solid. The character models are strangely appealing even though they are ugly, and even the most vicious monsters can make me crack a smile.
There's not much that you can do with a browser-based MMORTS. You can decorate the buildings and tack on some nice army art here and there, but generally you're decorating the same game as many others. Lord of Ultima is different from the pack simply because it is done so well. The music, background effects, and overall atmosphere is relaxing enough to keep you glued to the screen even when nothing is going on. The maps are perfectly epic, and all it takes is one or two zoom levels and you can truly see how popular the game is. That means a lot of fighting and a lot of attempts at survival. Luckily the game looks good enough to make it all worthwhile.
I recently took a look at Kartuga for Rise and Shiny and I had a blast. I was having so much fun I almost forgot that the game was fantastic-looking. It was like controlling a remote control boat in a wonderfully detailed miniature world, as though someone had spent thousands of hours setting up an entire world in scale for me to run around in while killing other avatars. The combat is simple, the UI is smooth, and the artwork is interesting. For Innogames' first Unity title, Kartuga shows just what is possible when a team wants to make something pretty and fun.
Ah, MilMo. This poor game has had its troubles for a while now, but it has finally seemed to have settled with a publisher that wants to take care of this gem. It's cartoony, bright, and vibrant. If you like platforming and a fun, linear story while being surrounded by players from all over the world, this is definitely a great game for you.
Arcane Legends is definitely the best game in the Spacetime Studios lineup, and not just because it represents the best gameplay that has been put out by the studio. It's also the best-looking title yet. There are cutscenes and wonderfully plump yet deadly characters, and all of it seems to be a mix of fantasy ideas that I have never seen. It's almost sci-fantasy. To have all of this nice-looking gameplay within the palm of your hand is awesome. Here's a hint: If you are playing in the browser and want to resize the window, add this: ?w=1280&h=720 on the end, replacing the 1280 and the 720 with your dimensions.
Well, that's my list. Do you have any favorites? Even I have a few others in mind, including many that are not yet released or are too far out to be considered!
Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to email@example.com!