Free Realms


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Rating: 4.6/5 (48 votes)
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FreeRealms

JoshAnd now for something completely different...Free Realms. Sorta like White Castle or Guinness Beer, you might love it or hate it, with no middle ground to stand on. In fact, it belongs to a genre of games that you'll usually never see here at JIG; the burgeoning market of "massively multiplayer online games" (more widely known as MMOs, provided you haven't spent the last decade living in Antarctica). Generally, MMOs are huge, beastly things that soak up hours and hours of playtime, along with heaps of money—which is why it's one of fastest-growing sectors in PC gaming. It seems about as far away as you can get from "casual" gaming, doesn't it? But there's something fundamentally different about this particular game, which has drawn in over 3 million players since it launched a little over a month ago.

FreeRealmsThe MMO market has been mutating. Every publisher on the block started developing MMOs of all different kinds, some with dreams of becoming the next "World of Warcraft-killer," while others simply tried to cash in on the trend, making a quick buck here and there with micro-transactions. Some ideas worked while others failed; many games enjoyed brief success only to fall apart a few months later. The rubble left behind began to coalesce as developers went back to the drawing board, eventually finding hope in the "free-to-play" business model that Free Realms is built upon. The idea is that instead of charging a monthly fee—as traditional MMOs do—the game is completely free to download and play. Revenue is generated from optional features, which can be anything from additional game content to small, in-game vanity items (like clothes or character-enhancers).

But the question still remains; "What's an MMO doing here at JIG in the first place?" The answer is severalfold, although the most important is that Free Realms is (arguably) the most-accessible MMO ever made. It's often compared to the hugely-popular Club Penguin by the media, although I'd personally make that association in concept only, if you're not familiar with the genre. Developed by Sony Online Entertainment, Free Realms is specifically designed to appeal to the teen and adult demographics almost as much as younger kids, which are its bread and butter. Many of the "MMO norms" have been thrown out the window: there's no cost for the game itself (nor is a subscription required) and SOE has made every effort trying to assure parents it's a family-friendly environment.

As to do with JIG's readers, the entire game is built around the concept of mini-games and casual gameplay (perhaps not in the strictest sense that our readers would define it, but more "casual" than any MMO I've ever played). Free Realms takes place in a persistent, quasi-fantasy-themed world with lots of different vivid and lively environments. Less emphasis is placed on the traditional staples of MMO gaming, such as deeply-rooted lore and the progression toward an endgame of epic battles. Instead, Free Realms offers a digital playground of sorts; a world filled with everything kids are daydreaming about while they're at school—and one which they can actually play in when they get home.

FreeRealmsMany of the usual MMORPG-based elements like character stats and reward-based quests are still woven into the game, but they're designed in an almost-foolproof way, so as not to get in the way of short-term fun. As an example to that extent, you're given a dotted trail to follow that leads you to and from each quest objective, making it almost impossible to get lost (it can be disabled). The idea is that things will never get too complicated or tedious, and that's where the mini-game aspect comes in... Almost everything that's progression-related is accomplished through a bunch of different kinds of mini-games. Instead of picking a character class at the beginning and being stuck with it, you can choose what class—or "job," as the game calls it—you want to play at any given time. Every job has different mini-games that provide "stardust," used to enhance your skills as you level up. However, you're given the ability to jump into almost everything from the get-go, instead of having to grind away before you get to the good stuff.

The progression system is so diverse that you can choose to play entirely without fighting at all. The combat system in Free Realms is no more prominent than any other activity; it just serves as one of the jobs (again, think classes) you can choose. Instead, you can be a Kart Driver, Adventurer, Pet Trainer, Chef, Miner or almost a dozen more (including several of the combat-based jobs like Brawlers or Ninjas). Some of the mini-games used to "level up" your jobs are simple, like Checkers and Bejeweled-type games, while the rest are originally-created mini-games like go-kart racing, demolition derby, training pets with mouse gestures, finding your way through mazes to deliver packages and a lot more. There's even an original trading card game you can play, with a job as a "Card Duelist" attached to it.

FreeRealmsThis whole trend of tearing down conventional MMO barriers and being as accessible as possible reaches beyond just the gameplay. If you can believe it, Free Realms is technically considered a "browser-based" game. It's installed via a browser plug-in, which bridges the game client to the server. You can even run it in windowed mode. All of the world geometry, character models and textures are loaded on-the-fly as you move from one sub-zone to another, a technique used to cut down on client size. It's also optimized to run on lower-end machines; the minimum system requirements aren't as demanding as most modern games. But it also means that most content will be loaded from the server-side, so you'll have to deal with loading screens pretty regularly.

Right about now you're probably wondering what the catch is. "No such thing as a free lunch," right? As I mentioned earlier, most free-to-play MMOs use micro-transactions or optional subscriptions to generate revenue. Free Realms uses both. For $4.99 USD per month, you can become a premium member, unlocking five more jobs, letting you play up to three characters and giving you access to certain quests and game items that you can't get with a free membership. You can also buy "Station Cash" to fund your membership, or use it to buy special in-game items that you can't obtain elsewhere. I was pretty amazed when I found out how far Sony is trying to go to make this Station Cash as ubiquitous as possible; their "Station Cash Cards" are sold in like a bazillion brick-and-mortar US stores (even 7-Eleven).

Analysis: One of the nice things about Free Realms is that you're not playing a crippled game if you don't spend money. That's a popular racket for a lot of MMOs these days, usually from companies that don't have enough faith (or financial backing) in their own games to believe that players will spend money eventually, if they enjoy the game. Free Realms doesn't take such a heavy-handed approach, allowing free members almost the same level of access as paying members. Although the whole cheery, cartoony setting really isn't my bag, I couldn't help being impressed by the amount of production value that SOE put into this game. Not only is it well-polished and easy to play, it really can be fun for adults, as well as kids.

But if you've never played an MMO before, you might get a little frustrated at the beginning if you're expecting you'll be able to judge whether or not you'll like the game within the first 20 minutes. It'll probably take you at least that long just to finish the tutorial. Normally I'd say you gotta learn to walk before you run, but I have to remember that many of our readers won't initially find the same familiarities in this game as most of the ones we cover. So instead, I'd urge you to be patient, at least for the first hour's worth of playtime or so. Once you get past the "tutorial speed bump" and learn how to interact with the world, you might discover a lot of enjoyment to be had in all the mini-games and "casually-converted" MMO elements. After you get the basics down, it's entirely possible to log on for just 20 or 30 minutes and have some fun.

WindowsWindows:
Play Free Realms
(Note: There's a one-time plugin (approx. 60MB) you'll need to install before you play. Afterwards, it's all browser-based.)

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Try Boot Camp
See this Free Realms on BootCamp guide for help

Psst...hey, a little birdie told me you can check out this fansite to find all the "free item codes" that have been released so far.

31 Comments

Free Realms is totally worth checking out, if only for the included card game, which is one of the best CCGs I've played in ages.

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Zanoushe Author Profile Page June 14, 2009 9:06 PM

Freerealms is great! I just discovered it today and it is really awesome!

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Just to be really clear: no, it does not work on Linux either (hey, there's always hope). It's really irritating because you have to go through the entire registration process to discover this.

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First banner-ads, then Game Informer, now JIG WHAT'S NEXT!?!!?
Actually I found this game quite enjoyable.

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Wait, what?

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Uhhh... Game Informer? Wha?

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Reviews of this game are featured in the aforementioned places.

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The minigames alone would make this worthwhile. The chef and archeology jobs are like Bejeweled, the card game fairly standard but fun enough, and the two kart games are an absolute blast. When I shot through a cobweb filled cave Speed Racer style along the sides with bats around my ears...I was hooked.

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Morigale June 15, 2009 12:49 AM

Eeesh. I have two complaints about this game: Custom names have to be approved, as far as I can tell, manually. I'm currently running around as 'Isabel Jadetalon' because 'Morigale' is CLEARLY FULL OF SWEAR WORDS OH GOD.

Two: THEY CENSOR NUMBERS. That's incredibly insulting and condescending, and belongs in games for eight-year-olds.

And this is a game with TRADING! 'I want to buy *whatever*, offering #####' oh no wait, everyone just says 'Buying *whatever* for won k' and then they sound like idiots.

I'll probably keep playing anyway because the game itself is good. *sigh*

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Finally, a game I've played prior to JIG reviewing it!

Free Realms is great! I prefer the fighting type quests and am mainly working on the "Ninja" job. I also enjoy the mining games.

I wish there were more playable races (other than human and pixie) since they have other races in the game (dwarf, bixie, chugalug, yeti, dryad (you know, the half pixie/half tree looking things like "Eggert the Mad") and robgoblin). I also wish there was a "thief" job, like Donovan and his gang over in Blackspore.

Morigale,
The name approval thing always takes a few days. My character is "Hanzo Hasashi" and it took about 3 days to get approved. How long it takes probably depends on how many new players they are getting requesting names at the same time.

I have also noted the censored number thing. They also seem to ignore spaces in censored words.

I was having an in-game conversation and said, "You can also....". It came out "You c#####so..." because the "an" from "can" and the "al" from "also can be put together to spell a "naughty" word. I just had to laugh. But, then again, it is intended for kids.

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Evilbottom June 15, 2009 3:19 PM

Woah. Ok, my computer is quite modern and can run games like WoW (Which I played for about 2 weeks btw) and Guild Wars at full graphics with little or no lag. I can also play numerous top end games, but I use those games as examples because they are MMO games too.

So I just signed up for this, and its saying my computer cannot run this game...for graphics reasons...???

Seriously. How processor hungry could a browser MMO be? Is anyone else getting this? Is this some werid glitch??

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evilbottom,
I'm having trouble running the game as well, and my computer is probably as fast as yours. Twice now it has completely locked up in-game, forcing me to hard reboot both times. Kind of a deal-breaker at this point.

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Wow, I tried it a third time and the game crashed within the first 15 seconds of logging on. Haven't invested enough time to even care anymore at this point. It seemed like it had some quality production values, but oh well...

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I'm annoyed that I did all the installations, created my character, and it won't load. The screen pops up, the load bar just sits, and I can't even exit the full screen window unless I force restart the computer. My computer DEFINITELY has the hardware to run it. I'm running it on XP. Anybody know what's wrong?

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tenkuchima Author Profile Page June 16, 2009 12:13 AM

maybe its just because I play WoW, but I just cant find anything worth doing in this game. there doesn't seam to be any type of greater objective, just a bunch of trivial mini games, and it makes it really hard to become immersed in the world in any way. even in terms of a browser MMO the game seams to be lacking any type of depth. I suppose it has its audiance, but it certainty isn't with conventional mmo players.

[Edit: I think you're missing the point of why it's featured here: it's casual. WoW is definitely not casual, which is why we haven't featured it here at JIG. -Jay]

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Heather June 16, 2009 5:24 PM

I really like this game and have been playing for a couple of weeks and I was hoping you might do a review. I Finally bit the bullet and actually became a member (at 4.99 a month it's a pretty small bullet). I love the fact that I can just go along at my own pace, jump from task to task and place to place like I have ADHD, and not interact with any other players if I don't want to. The casual game play is exactly what is so attractive to me.

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Heather June 16, 2009 5:27 PM

For the people having trouble with freezing/crashing: I had a really hard time if I was using Google Chrome. Works fine in Firefox for me and my computer is about 3 years old.

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delzoup Author Profile Page June 16, 2009 7:10 PM

Not that different, Jayisgames has reviewed MMOs on occasion, like Puzzle Pirates or Kingdome of Loathing. I have seen Free Realms ads on TV though, so I it feels less indie to me than most of the games featured here.

[Edit: Both of those are decidedly "casual". -Jay]

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I love this game :) We play as a family and get together in game to to do various tasks. Big thumbs up Free Realms!!!

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I have played the game for a week now and have to say it is quite fun and addictive, I love the mini-games and running around exploring everything, and all this from someone who does play WoW and Final Fantasy. I love the inbuilt card game, it reminds me of a more simpler version of The VRs TCG system created by Topps(who BTW I believe is publishing its Real World Cards).

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Just curious..where is the third screen shot from? I've never seen this in the game.

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Christina June 27, 2009 3:06 AM

Just a note for those of you who are having trouble running the game. We found out the hard way that it runs MUCH MUCH better in full screen mode as opposed to window mode. When we switched we have not had any problems loading or with getting kicked off. Just thought I would let you all know because it is worth a try to see if this is your issue. It's simple to fix; it's part of the options at the very top right hand corner! Hope this helps because this game is AWESOME! I look forward to the time at night when I can play. A wonderful way to unwind from the day and relax and be and work on what you want to and that's that.

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dodgers67 July 2, 2009 6:17 PM

Free Realms is celebrating the 4th of July with plenty of spirit! These fun features include:

-Seaside Summer Splash with a treasure hunt that rewards players with Seaside Stickers that can be redeemed for fireworks and other prizes. Also, a TCG scenario that rewards card duelists with the exclusive Star Shot Candle item
-The Summer Sparkler Bundle is available now for Members only! Members must log in and claim this blue and green sparkler

Find out more about these cool features here: http://www.freerealms.com/article/detail.action?articleId=136

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This game is awesome :) However, would anyone happen to know if the membership billing is recurring?

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Yeah, I'm having trouble loading the game as well. It sounds as if I'm having the exact same problem as gmpilot. I have a good computer with a fast internet connection, but the game won't load and whenever I try to send in a question to customer support it won't submit.

The site is jacked up or something :/

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Ashley56 July 23, 2009 7:37 PM

Hey guys! If you're in town for Comic Con '09 in San Diego this weekend, you should stop by the Sony block party on Saturday where you can meet Chatty and other characters, enter contests, and enjoy some food with other fans of Free Realms. Find out more info here: http://twitter.com/freerealms

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how come when I try to play it tells me the game is running, but it's not showing up. and i dont know how to get to it?

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I don't know if it's still applicable, but I was in Best Buy and found the SC cards with a free 50SC card--like, $0.00. I didn't get it, but if you're interested it might be worth a looksie.
FR's pretty fun, and I'm especially attached to the browser-based aspect of it (I don't like downloading for 2 hours only to find I need to buy stuff or grind for days in order to get anywhere). Good for short spurts. :)

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Alchemerist June 8, 2010 8:04 PM

This. Is. Awesome!!! How could you not get in depth with this game. For you people whining about this game being shallow, look at the world's history in memorial caves (Sanctuary). Then go to Singing Crystal mines. If you're a member, you'll be starting on the most awesome quest ever. You need patience, though, due to the fact that it takes a little while before you're immersed in royal conspiracies. Also, you'll need to keep talking and doing quests for certain characters.

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I did not think i would like free realms but it is amazing! 24 hour parties, fights, and finally an avatar that looks good! Cant get enough. (look for layla mistymeadow)

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emily79965 Author Profile Page February 17, 2013 7:28 PM

I used to really like this game but now you have to pay to do a lot of stuff in the game.

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