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Game Reviewed: Free Realms
Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Developer: Sony Online Entertainment
ESRB Rating: E10+
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Free Realms is a massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG) that was released on April 28th, 2009. Although it was released without much publicity, the game has earned publicity through the response it has received. Eighteen days after its release, Free Realms hit the million-user mark. After a month, the game boasted two million members and as of the time of writing this review Free Realms now has over five million players. So what is Free Realms, and why are so many kids logging on?
Free Realms is a game designed specifically with kids and families in mind. The colorful, cartoon-styled world of the game reflects this, as even gloomier areas of the game still feel whimsical. The game is available for free with no subscription costs. Most of the game is accessible to people playing for free, but there is a $4.99/month membership option available. As a member, players gain access to some jobs and areas of the game reserved for members. Members are also able to use some items that free players do not have access to. There is also “Station Cash,” which is a special in-game currency that is purchased with real money and spent in a Station Cash store in the game. Station Cash allows the player to purchase in-game clothing, weapons, and items that have special effects or that just look cool. Station Cash is also the only way to permanently own a cat or dog with one of your characters.
The emphasis in Free Realms is not so much on killing things and fighting other people as in many other MMORPG’s, although there is the option to go on quests and fight monsters. The game has a wide variety of mini-games to play and quests to do. Each player has the ability to take on many “jobs” that can be categorized as combat jobs, crafting jobs, and freestyle jobs. These jobs are leveled up as you play so that you can unlock new skills and use more advanced items. Combat jobs are for your traditional role-playing monster-fighting action. Players without a membership can be a Brawler or a Ninja. Members are also able to be a Warrior, Wizard, Archer or Medic. Combat takes place only when the player chooses to enter a combat area or accepts a duel from another player. The crafting jobs are for collecting materials and making items and weapons. Non-members can be a Chef or a Miner, while members also have access to the Blacksmith job. To collect materials, players must complete a matching mini-game that is essentially the same for all of the crafting professions. To craft items, a second mini-game is played that requires players to make certain movements with the mouse or to accomplish certain tasks in a limited time. Freestyle jobs are available to all players and include everything else the game has to offer. The Adventurer job is for those who simply want to explore the game world and collect items in their travels. The Postman job requires you to run around areas of the game and deliver mail. The Pet Trainer has to feed and care for a cat or dog that is able to perform tricks. The Card Duelist specializes in playing the Free Realms Trading Card game against the computer and against other players. The Kart Driver and Demolition Derby Driver compete in racing and smashing their vehicles in the game’s racetracks. Aside from the jobs, the game also offers several quests and mini-games that can be played regardless of your job.
In keeping with the commitment to kids and families, the game has a set of parental controls available on every Free Realms account. Currently, these controls include restrictions to the in-game chat and the Free Realms forums. A player can be restricted from using the in-game chat window. If this is activated, players can still use a set of built-in emotes and phrases to communicate very basic things. Players can also be restricted from viewing or posting on the game’s forums. Any player under the age of 13 is automatically restricted with all of the above options. The developer is working on an option to restrict the amount of time a player is on the game, and an option to restrict the times of day a player can be online.
What Parents Need to Know
The combat jobs listed above involve beating on monsters and other players with the skills and weapons available to your profession. Players wield swords, hammers, arrows, and magic. There is no blood, and any enemy who is defeated looks like they are knocked out and not really dead. When your player is defeated they are simply knocked out and can either jump back into the fray after a few seconds or must return to the main game world.
The game itself has a smattering of some crude humor, although it is not prolific. As with any online game, however, there are no guarantees that there will never be any offensive language coming from other players. The great news here is that the game has as many barriers to prevent offensive content as are reasonable. The chat filter did a marvelous job of blocking offensive content. I got the impression that most of the players simply refrained from using anything that could be blocked anyway. The parental controls also allow a player to be restricted completely from in-game chat.
A few of the outfits available to female players show midriff.
Free Realms has the usual dose of fantasy-based magic. The Wizard job is based on casting spells that shoot fire, ice and lightning. One of the Wizard’s abilities is called “chaos,” which affects your target’s mind to confuse them for several seconds. The game contains a usual lineup of magical items, such as potions and orbs that have various effects. Players can also equip shards and jewelry that have various effects. Some of the enemies you fight include ghosts and goblin-like creatures.
One of the regions of the game is called Wuguchug, and is represented by two mugs clanking together. Though the mugs look like beer mugs, they are filled with a bluish liquid that you discover is Sweetwater Sarsaparilla (which is totally non-alcoholic).
The creators of Free Realms have done an excellent job in making a kid-friendly alternative to other online games. As an older gamer, I got bored of the mini-games and very simple quests and combat areas. That means that the game has done a good job targeting kids in its simplicity. The other great thing about the simplicity of the game is that hopefully parents will be able to take a peek for themselves and see what their kids are playing. There is a good variety of things to keep you coming back to the game, even if it is simple. And the price is unbeatable. Since the game is based online, keep in mind that future updates may introduce new content that this review has not covered. In conclusion, if you do not find the above mentioned content offensive then Free Realms is a great alternative for younger kids who desire to plan an online role-playing game.