Content at a glance:
Crude Humor: Some suggestive clothing on some NPCs. Some dialogue is your average childish humor.
Free Realms is the new, Free-to-Play, Massively-Multiplayer Online game (MMO) from Sony Online Entertainment (SOE). One of the few new games to take advantage of in-browser game-play, Free Realms requires only a minimal (>70MB) download to play the game. Targeted at the ten – sixteen-year-old age range, SOE has gone to great lengths to make the experience as engaging, and safe, as possible.
Once you’ve registered on the site (http://freerealms.com) the first thing you do is create your character. You can choose your race (Human or Pixie) and your gender (Male or Female) and then you get to choose your distinguishing features: facial structure, hair type, hair/eye color, starter clothing, and face-paint. The final step is choosing your character’s name. This is where we encounter the first of SOE’s effort to create a safe and enjoyable experience for every age group. When you create your name, one of two things will happen: If you are the age of thirteen or under, it requires you to create a name from three columns of pre-approved words. The first column determines the first name, while the second and third columns combine to create a last name. For example, your name could be “Tyler Solarrune”. If you are over the age of thirteen, you still have to create a temporary name using the same 3-column system, but you then have the option to create your own unique name. If you opt to use a unique name, you’ll have to wait for SOE to approve it. You can still play the game right away, but the temporary name will be used. Your name will change automatically to your unique one once it’s been approved by SOE. In general your name will be approved and you will be notified by email, usually within 24 hours of creation.
Once you’re finished with character creation, you get to launch the game. Pressing “Play Now” brings you to a screen where you can select what server you’d like to play on. After you’ve selected a server (most likely one with a few friends on it) the actual game screen launches in a new window. You’re greeted by a world filled with color and music. And thus begins an in-depth tutorial and the beginning of your adventure!
Gameplay and Content:
Free Realms is unlike most MMOs in that it features much more than just role-playing adventures. Alongside the primary RPG (Role-Playing Game) elements, Free Realms also features an online Trading Card Game (TCG), online Racing/Demolition Derby, as well as multiplayer board games such as Chess and Checkers.
For the RPG aspect of the game the player may choose from one of several “jobs”, otherwise known as “classes” in other MMOs, like Ninja, Chef, Archer, Wizard, Kart Driver, Medic, Postman, Blacksmith, Demolition Derby Driver, Warrior, and Brawler. Note: Jobs in bold are available only to those who have purchased a Membership. (See below for more on Memberships)
An interesting aspect is that, though Free Realms itself is Free-to-Play, you can purchase items with real money by loading your account with Station Cash: the purchasable in-game currency. Using Station Cash, you can buy everything from new items to clothing; even expansion decks for the online TCG. Aside from Station Cash, the only other part of Free Realms that costs real money is Membership. Membership is not required, but does add several features to the game, including five exclusive—member’s only—jobs, more than 400 unique items and quests, as well as extra character slots (Free Realms only allows one character per account at any given time. Purchasing a Membership allows one account to have up to three characters). Membership in Free Realms costs only a fraction of what other MMOs charge: $4.99USD per month, while most other MMOs charge upwards of $14.99USD per month.
Free Realms features a very colourful world with diverse scenery and characters. Most areas are lightly-depicted forest-like areas, with typically fantastical villages. There are some areas, however, that are a bit darker. Areas like Briarwood and Blackspore Swamp feature dark motifs; most notably graveyards and/or spooky bog-like forests. Other than that, the general scenery is your normal fantasy-game type: fun and over-the-top.
Crude Humor: Some Non-Player Characters (NPCs), such as Robgoblin females, wear humorous clothing like coconut-bikini tops and mismatching clothes. Other NPCs walk in suggestive fashions, such as an ogre-like female character that walks like a model down a catwalk.
Dark Arts: Nothing demonic insomuch as invoking spirits/demons to do your bidding, though Wizardry is a playable job (available only to players with paid Memberships) and features magic. Curses appear throughout the game as NPCs “inflicted” with a curse, such as a “Cursed Bear”. Some missions involve defeating NPCs in order to lift the curse from certain NPCs. Several quests involve fighting/freeing “spirits”: ghosts of past NPC explorers who have passed through the region.
Drug Use: There is no use of drugs in the game, but you can “collect” different types of creatures/things such as poisonous mushrooms that are found in “drops” all around the map at random.
Fantasy Magic: There is quite a bit of fantasy magic in the game. As previously mentioned, players can choose Wizardry as a job. Wizards use spells to fight instead of weapons, such as the Brawler and Warrior jobs do.
Violence: Depending on the job a player pursues, some quests may involve defeating/clearing an area of various foes. In such quests, the player is required to eliminate a certain character, or amount of such characters, in order to complete the quest. A player may be a Ninja, Brawler, Warrior, or Wizard and may use weapons such as hammers, swords or magic to accomplish their goals. There is no blood and most of the fighting is comical and minimally depicted.
Free Realms features an excellent chat filter, designed to keep the chat to a PG level. The filter blocks out all the expected language, but it also goes a bit further and blocks out things that may be demeaning such as calling someone a “retard”. Any blocked words, or portions of words, will show up replaced with the pound symbol (#). Even alternate spellings of many words are caught and filtered out. It should also be noted that Free Realms features an extensive emote system. An emote is a preset motion which you can have your character enact. For instance, you can select “Cry” from the emote list, and your physical, in-game, character will go through the motions and look like he/she is crying. Emotes are widely used and are generally a lot of fun, but a few in particular should be noted:
OMG: Your character mouths “Oh My God” and makes motions with his/her hands and arms.
Flirt: Your character, depending on it’s gender, makes a flirtatious gesture.
Insult: Your character makes a motion which is insulting in nature, such as the “You’re Crazy” gesture.
Taunt: Your character makes threatening motions, such as may be seen in a battle.
Your character can also dance and, to some, may seem suggestive, though in general the dances are pretty low-key.
Free Realms features extensive parental controls and was designed to be as safe as possible for players of any age. After your child has signed up for the game, you have the option of setting up the Parental Controls (password-protected) portion of the account. Once you’ve activated the parental controls, you will have complete control over your child’s account and activities; even being able to control when, how often, and how much they can play the game. But that isn’t all that Free Realms does to protect your child; alongside the name approval feature (mandatory use of the 3-column system for those under the age of thirteen), Free Realms also limits chat ability, forum accessibility , and gives parents the ability to report inappropriate events directly to Free Realms staff. It should also be noted that, while many of these protection features are automatic for registered users under the age of thirteen, you may enable Parental Controls at any time, no matter how old the player, meaning you can even control how much your seventeen year-old plays. More information on Parental Controls can be found on Free Realms’ Parent’s Guide.
Overall, Free Realms provides a fun, safe, and engaging environment suitable for everyone age ten and up. It combines the best aspects of social networking, role-playing, and online multiplayer (including TCG!), and has fun doing it!
Note: As of the time of posting for this review, the PlayStation 3 version had not been released. This review covers content and features found in the PC version only. Actual content and features may vary from the PC version to the PlayStation 3 version.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this Spotlight review are those of the reviewer (both ratings and recommendations), and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Eden Communications or the Christian Answers Network.
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