Say you come home from a long day's work, dreaming about the vacation that you've yet to take and how nice it would be to turn off your brain for a while, to kick back and watch the wide world walk by. Unfortunately, vacations cost a pile of money. You have to pay someone to watch the dogs and water your plants and work is a real pain about letting you out of the shackles even for a week.
The good news is that much of the benefit of vacation comes from the mental release. Sure, nothing beats the real, true feeling of pressing your toes into warm water and sand, but it can be fun and relaxing to visit virtual worlds, to take in virtual sights and sounds. MMOs are perfect for blowing off some steam, for taking a moment to realize just how nice it is to have access to such landscapes from the comfort of your desk.
Here are some of my favorite virtual worlds that bring on that feeling of relaxation.
Free Realms is not just for children. Let me drive that point home: Free Realms is welcoming for everyone, any gamer of any age. I'm always confused by people who demand to drive a divider between "kid's" games and (I guess) "non-kid's" games without remembering that the act of play -- even serious play -- comes from the same area of our brain. We are a playful group of creatures at any age, and video games are wonderful for it. I understand the need to clarify the challenge level of a particular title, but a world like Free Realms is just plain joyous and wonderful.
I find more reality in Free Realms than I do in many MMOs that try to be realistic. Why? I'll give you a common example of mine: the shopping mall. Sure, it's fun to say that the shopping mall is lame because it's filled with snot-nosed tweens and distant parents, but even so, you cannot detract from the mall's festivity during the holidays. It's noisy, stuffy, and sometimes aggravating, but it's also sheer happiness for many of the people there. It's a temporary escape, and every nook and cranny is filled with plastic happiness.
Free Realms gives me the same feeling. It's noisy, chock-full of people, and as happy a place as I can find. There are so many details and tiny areas that are inviting and warm, and the music and sound are just as inviting. I log into Free Realms and I just feel happy.
Minus the fact that I cannot stand most of the character models in Lord of the Rings Online, that world has some of the greatest taverns and hangouts of any world I can think of. The true strength in LotRO comes from the fact that its places and landmarks are so very familiar to many of us. The power of being able to visit a place that you've read about and loved sometimes for decades should never be underestimated.
Developers from many MMOs should pay attention to LotRO's use of the familiar to breed social activity. I sometimes go to the The Prancing Pony because it's The Prancing Pony. I know others will be there, and if not, they will be soon enough. LotRO is cozy and warm, like a fireside chair. The addition of the incredible player-created music system only adds more layers to the environments!
Where other titles invite you in with the promise of a tavern or party, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes has always cast a spell of the great outdoors. It's huge, massive... larger than life. In Vanguard you can literally see a distant landmark and travel to it, climb on it, or maybe fight through it. Flying on a mount is incredible even if you've done it for a long time, and you can find yourself marveling at the scale of the project. Sure, the game is an odd beast at times, and it has taken years to finally find its footing, but you can always count on seeing something epic in Vanguard. If you want to relax with a beautiful sunset, there's almost no better game. The video above is quite old but shows just how pretty that game still is.
OK, I have to admit that I was unsure about adding Wurm Online to a list of MMOs that one could describe as "relaxing." In reality, Wurm Online can be a hell of a ride, a very scary descent into pitch-black nights and troll-filled days. The fact that the developers recently greatly improved the graphics engine to include sometimes very realistic-looking monsters (like giant spiders!) means that you'll spend a good percentage of your time in Wurm biting your nails. This game is often stressful.
That stress is the good stuff, though, because it means that when you come out on the other side of that dark tunnel and emerge into a new day marked by a beautiful, misty sunrise, you'll feel elated and real. Once you get your bearings and start to carve out a real home and possibly make some new friends, the real relaxation can begin. You can fish, chop wood, plan out your home, raise livestock, and farm. The game pulls you out of danger and into a world of basic beauty. Of course, danger is always present, but after a while in Wurm, you'll realize that it's only a part of the greater game.
Which games do you go to when you just want to chill out? Are there any MMOs you play just for the relaxation? Let me know in the comments section!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org!