Don’t know how many of you out there have been paying attention, but several free-to-play games launched on Steam this month. Four games launched in one chunk, with Champions Online, Spiral Knights, Global Agenda and Forsaken World taking the stage first, and Valve’s ever-popular Team Fortress 2 joining in shortly after. The first chunk of games is interesting in that all four of them are MMOs of varying sizes and shapes, offering worlds of content, endless quests and character progression for Steam’s community. Now, as many of you may know, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with MMOs, forged deep in the murky bowels of the underbelly of World of Warcraft. So why the eff would I pick up four new MMOs? Simple.
THEY ARE FREE.
For the sake of this article I’m going to eliminate two games from review purposes. Team Fortress 2, because at this point everyone knows about TF2 and there’s not much I can say about it that hasn’t been said, and Forsaken World, because I actually didn’t download that due to extreme apathy. Still, the free to play games are largely a mixed lot, and if you are one of the many compelled to pick them up, you need to keep several things in mind.
Game developers want your money.
I know this is the case. Developing a game with no intent to pull a profit off of it is a terrible way to run a business. But you can’t go into a free-to-play game without expecting to be besieged by offers, deals, hooks, barbs and shenanigans, asking you to reach deep in your wallet and come up with some cold hard cash. The games are completely playable without spending an additional dime, mind you, but just know there are… things you might miss.
We’ll start with Champions online. This is the only MMO from Steam’s free-to-play release I’ve spent considerable time with, though most of that is because of the fact that Enosh and Otherfriend (crap forgot to ask him a suitably silly name for Faceplant) have been plugging along with it alongside me. Champions is one of the buggiest MMOs I have ever had the misfortune to play. From bugged out doors that drop players into oblivion, magical Christmas presents that materialize around town that ONLY I CAN SEE and the fact that every time we exit an instance or change zones, the game puts us in different servers, it seems like the biggest problems we face are game glitches. And the targeting system. Champions has a TERRIBLE targeting system.
But it’s free! And despite the terrible voice acting, the game comes complete with over 700 steam achievements and perks, which actually makes you feel like you’re accomplishing something even though all you’re doing is clearing out sewers of purple shirted gang members for the four hundredth time.
But not everything is free, is the thing. There are several default classes of powers you can select, but the really badass ones will cost you a few extra coins. This logic also applies to costume pieces (though there is an overwhelming number of options even without spending extra money), travel powers, character slots, bank and inventory bag slots, and probably some high-end adventure packs.
I’m okay with this method, though. Champions is addictive, despite its flaws, and zipping around Millennium City with super speed is way more fun than something logically has a reason to be. Plus, once you unlock a power or costume piece, it is then unlocked for every future character on your account. I’d feel okay dropping a few bucks for Champions because it has been entertaining, but every bug and horrible glitch and repeated quest I find make me think twice. Plus, all purchases are made with Atari tokens, and the exchange rate on those? Not so hot. You can access the real life store at any time while playing champions. Just in case you suddenly find yourself rich in the ducats.
Spiral Knights has also absorbed a lot of my time. It is obsessively addicting dungeon crawling monster bashing at its finest. The plot, and yes there is one, is that you are a knight who crash landed on some strange world. You need to get to the center of the planet (for some reason) and must brave level after level of the world beneath the surface, called the Clockworks. Along the way you need to upgrade your gear to get access to the second and third tier, smashing baddies and punching puppies as you go.
The major problem with Spiral Knights is that I’m terrified to play it by myself. This is because the game punishes you for taking that kind of initiative.
Each player is given 100 energy to spend, which recharges slowly back to 100 over the course of a 24 hour period. Energy is needed for EVERYTHING. Descending levels in the clockworks is 10 energy a pop. Crafting items takes energy. Buying certain items costs energy. Activating abandoned machines in the clockworks or opening certain doors costs energy. And if you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself without a single point of energy to spend when your friends finally log on.
You can, of course, buy an absurd amount of energy for an absurd amount of real life money. But the only items I’d really want are the items to expand trinket and weapon slots. And those expire after 30 days. If I’m going to drop money for Spiral Knights, I’d want access to the whole game, permanent weapon slots, and the ability to craft items WITHOUT draining my ability to play the actual game.
It should be noted, however, that you can buy the energy off of other players in-game for a massive amount of in-game currency. The problem with this, however, is that the energy market has been steadily on the increase, to the point where you’ll spend all the money you made through your last dungeon trawl in order to buy more play time. Basically, you’re sacrificing your ability to progress with your desire to run through the first levels of the dungeon again, pointless grinding of enemies for the same content you’ve been playing. It wears a little thin after a while.
Last, and most definitely least of these three games, was Global Agenda. This game filled me with great sadness, not because of plot or meaningful characters or anything dumb like that, oh no. This game was depressing because of what it could have been.
Global Agenda starts with you in a tube, always a solid opening. Some explosion happen and it is established that the people who put you in a tube are bad and that you need to blow them up, with bullets. what follows is a rather interesting MMO introduction stage, wherein you slowly obtain weapons, a jetpack and armor and zip between buildings in your escape attempt. This game is a third person shooter MMO! Something that sounds legitimately different and fun and neat.
But, unfortunately Global Agenda botches it up pretty bad. You have different classes, including a standard tanky class, a healy class, a super stealth specialist, a warlock I mean explosive guy, you get the picture. It’s the same formula used by every MMO ever, which is strange because Global Agenda doesn’t really play like most MMOs. Abilities are more along the lines of items and weapons, you can pick foes off across the room with chain guns, and zip hither and yon with your jetpack. But once the intro is over, Global Agenda also stops being fun to play.
I’m not sure what kind of services you can buy for real money in Global Agenda. I was doing the first quest out of the intro level, wherein I had to go to a scrap yard and murder robots. This caused my computer to suddenly and inexplicably reboot. I thought about giving it another shot later, but the game had completely failed to draw me in. Neat premise, but in execution it was so sub par it was actually painful to see.
That’s free to play for you. Incomplete entertainment, and if you’re not careful, aggravation. I’ve played a few free to play games over the years, and there are a few things to keep in mind: always play with friends, be prepared to be fleeced for money regularly, and be aware that free-to-play MMOs are a pretty convenient gateway drug to one with an actual subscription fee.
But for free? You can’t beat that price. I wish more MMOs offered free to play services to see if you’d want to pay for them before you dropped money each month on them. I doubt this will happen in the long run, though. Dev team has to eat too.
You’re not gonna find the best MMO ever, because I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exist yet. They’ve all got problems, issues, bad voice acting, repeatable quests and downright tedium, number crunching and terrible anonymous people playing them. But at least with free-to-play you have a better chance of finding one that will irritate you the least.