I am poor. This is a fact that is immutable that I am stating for the record, and also so maybe you’ll understand just a little bit about why I play the games that I do. Shelling out $60 for a game that will inevitably drop in price and be available for a fraction of that cost just seems silly. Games under $6 have become a favorite of mine, mostly out of sheer penny-pinching force of will. Some of these games end up being infinitely fun, and others… well, most of the time, Elrood ends up laughing at how it seems that all I play these days are “terrible games.”
I like to think I’m not the only gamer with a tight fist kept on his budget, however, so over the past few months I’ve been trying to review cheaper games for all. Realm of the Mad God, which popped on Steam not too long ago, hit all the right boxes. One: Retro Nintendo-style graphics. Two: FREE TO PLAY. FREE I TELL YOU. FREE.
Maybe it’s not exactly… a great game. So what? IT’S FREE YEAAAH!!
Realm of the Mad God is developed by Wild Shadow Studio, which describes the game as the “only cooperative MMO Hell shooter.” I guess that’s pretty accurate. The game has a simple premise: The Mad God Oryx is a bad dude, who must be murdered at all costs. The tutorial level has you navigating your poor mage through Oryx’s dungeon, zapping and magicking your way through waves of minions in a desperate bid for freedom. Eventually, however, you get sucked through a portal and taken into Oryx’s world, where you must gain strength, equipment and allies if you ever want to see the light of day again.
All that’s left to do is for you to hitch a ride on board the murder wagon and get to work. The further you move away from the beaches, the harder your foes will become. By gaining enough levels in one class, you can unlock another one, which you can try out when your poor mage inevitably kicks the bucket. Death is permanent. There’s no coming back once you’ve shuffled off the mortal coil.
All heroes have a basic attack, which is directed and dispatched by the mouse, and a special attack which costs mana and can be used by mashing the space bar. That’s really it. Along the way you’ll gain new weapons, such as a better staff for your mage or cleric which will help boost your damage and change your magic bolts to a different color, and new items for upgraded versions of your special abilities, but don’t expect to be able to use a wide variety of skills.
Actually, personalizing your hero is damn near impossible. When I booted up Realm of the Mad God for the first time, it told me my name was Rayr, and I’ve seen no way in-game to go about changing it. When you’re playing as one of the initial, easy to unlock first five classes, you’ll look just like anyone else. You can, however, spend your gold to purchase items for your character to change your robe or accessory color, but gold is part of the free-to-play payment scam that is presumably how Wild Shadow Studio makes money off this game. I’m not about to drop real, actual dollars for in-game gold to personalize a hero who is more than likely going to die a horrible death in fifteen minutes.
Still, there’s something about the simple arcade shoot-em formula that makes Mad God entirely too addictive for its own good. To be fair, a lot of my interest in the game was in unlocking the rest of the ten classes so I can see what other abilities I have at my disposal. I’m not sure how much interest I’d have for this once I’d finished that. The rest of the game is pretty basic.
You’re given the bare minimum of quests in the game. Namely, a box with an arrow will pop up with a monster or bad guy in it, informing you that a horrible hobbit mage needs ruptured (that’s what it looks like happens to them, at least. Just about everything explodes into pixels upon death). The higher in levels you are, the more dangerous the quest monsters. Eventually, you’ll be facing the baddies that Oryx himself spawns, while shouting at you like a 1970s monologuing bond villain. Sometimes these monsters will drop “caves” which lead to little self-contained dungeons. Some times, if a player manages to kill one of the super baddies, you’ll be transported to Oryx’s castle directly so everyone on the server can be murdered in a neat little team building exercise.
The theory here is since death is permanent, people will be understandably upset when their heroes die. The current level cap is 30, and if you find a server that has a nice “XP train” going, you can get half of those in short order. Finding players is pretty simple. You can lock on to them, and then teleport them via a convenient menu in the lower right of the screen. However, since enemies crap out decent items at a good rate, even if you do die its pretty easy to regain lost ground.
The other problem I had with the game was the lag. I’ve never seen a game with atari-era graphics as laggy as Mad God. At times, my hero will just wander off, following orders on a delay and shooting at targets I was aiming at ten seconds ago. It makes it difficult to stay alive in big battles, and even harder for me to care about keeping the next hero alive longer than to just unlock the next class. With 85 people on each server, things get a bit chaotic. Also, confusing and laggy.
But hey! Mad God is free! I’ve spent four hours in the game, which I’ve played off and on over the course of a week. That’s about enough of this one for me, since Mad God’s underlying issues have caused it to wane from my attention. But since this game was free to begin with, I’d say I got my money’s worth out of it. Being poor is all about the little victories, because buddy, you can’t afford the big ones.
Besides, there is just a bit of nostalgia about this game. If Mad God had been released 25 years ago, I’m sure gamers would still be talking about it in hushed whispers even today. “Yeah, well once, in 1988, I actually made it to Oryx’s Castle,” someone would say as their friends sipped their Mountain Dews thoughtfully. “He killed forty people in my group, but man… we got him.”
Then, of course, they’d probably have a long and intelligent conversation on whether Mario could beat up Sonic in a fight.