Online RPGs don’t have to eat up time and money

wen Sound Sun Times (On)

Saturday, September 1, 2007

I’ve never played World of Warcraft. I’ve been consciously avoiding it.

WoW is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. The core of the game is running around as a character you create and going on quests. Most of the people you encounter in the game are real people sitting at a computer somewhere and you can talk to them (if they’re on your site).

By avoiding WoW I seem to be avoiding the biggest development in video games in years; a huge interactive world, constantly updated with new content, millions of other players to game with, great art design.

WoW has caught on like no online game before it, and I’m giving it a pass. Why? The cost and the time commitment.

The game costs 15$ per month to play. (It’s fairly cheap to buy at $20 with one month subscription included) I don’t object to the monthly fee, there’s a lot of maintenance involved in an online game. A lot of the content has to be stored on the company’s servers and they continuously update the game so people won’t run out of things to do. Servers cost money to run and the game doesn’t update itself. What I object to, and it’s purely personal, is the time commitment coupled with the cost.

WoW has a lot you can do. You progress through a role-playing part of the game that consists of doing quests for gold and experience points like other RPGs. Afterwards you can join or form a guild and access content exclusive to players who have “completed” the game.

While paying $15 per month for the game I would feel compelled to get my money’s worth, so I’d feel compelled to play a lot. I can’t speak for their logic, but I have some friends that have played WoW a lot and I don’t have the time to commit to the game the way they have nor do I particularly want to.

So, what if you want an experience like WoW but don’t want to pay. What if you just want to dabble in MMOs? I present to you three games alternatives to WoW. Bear in mind that if WoW is the game these won’t replace it. They’re different experiences.

Free Korean MMO games: For some reason there are countless free Korean-made online RPGs. For the most part they look and play very similar from one to the next. A popular one is Fly For Fun. (FLYFF)

They are fairly standard in their layout; make a character, run around and battle. Some have unique mechanics like flying, or being able to build cars and ships. In my experience none of them are great, but almost none of them are bad either.

Often when they first come out they have bad translations into English, but kinks like that are usually ironed out. I’ve played FLYFF a bit and its fun. I’ve also played R.O.S.E. Online, but it’s no longer free.

These Korean games are good bets to start out with. They usually have pretty good graphics but don’t be surprised if they start to get repetitive and you get bored after a few weeks.

Guild Wars is a great bet as a WoW alternative. It is everything WoW isn’t. It’s easy to jump in and out of and great for short bursts. I’ve played it extensively. It’s not free, but it has no subscription. You buy it just like any other PC game and you only pay for it once. The RPG part of the game is pretty standard – leveling up, killing stuff, quests. But it’s well-balanced and it’s fun. The big difference between WoW and Guild Wars is that in WoW you encounter other players all the time, but in Guild Wars you only encounter other players in cities, not on quests. This lessens the load on servers and eliminates the monthly fee. The appeal in Guild Wars is player vs. player. You can even jump into it without playing the RPG part. The PVP portion of the game is arena style where teams compete against each other in different types of combat. It’s clearly the focus of the game, but the RPG part is fun too. The game’s longevity definitely comes from the PVP, but if you’re looking for a good online experience different than WoW’s and don’t mind the one-time investment Guild Wars is great fun. It’s also got great graphics, which is never a bad thing if the game is good.

Made by the same company as Guild Wars, Dungeon Runners is more of a WoW replacement than Guild Wars. I just started playing Dungeon Runners, based on PC Gamer magazine rating it 89 per cent in their review. It strives to be an actual MMO game, where you encounter other people all the time. It’s free, but for $5 per month you can access advanced features such as voice chat. Again, I’ve just started playing it, but it looks promising. The graphics are good, the interface is pretty standard for RPGs and it’s getting pretty good press reviews. This one gets my top recommendation as it can be completely free, and is the most WoW-like if that’s what you’re going for.

There are some options for free online gaming on the cheap. Any questions, comment, requests for information about free games that aren’t RPGs, etc, e- mail me.

Calen Henry is a fourth-year student of Japanese Studies and Multimedia at McMaster University. He grew up in Owen Sound, has been a gamer since childhood and is also interested in music and film.

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