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Free2Play Spotlight: Realm of the Mad God

With the recent rise of the indie gaming scene, free-to-play games have matured somewhat beyond the (often Korean) pay-to-win grindfests and can now be viewed as a genuinely acceptable business model for a respectable game. In this column, I’m going to attempt to experience as many of them as possible to try to separate the wheat from the chaff and hopefully uncover some diamonds in the rough.

First up in the spotlight: Realm of the Mad God

RotMG has been around in a publicly available format for a little over a year at this point with the “official” launch on June 20th 2011 and an open beta prior to that. It very recently debuted on Steam, bringing it to a new audience of millions, myself included. Developed by Wild Shadow Studios and Spry Fox, whose previous notable works include Panda Poet and Triple Town, it brands itself as “the first ever cooperative MMO bullet hell shooter” which I personally think is a pretty good selling point to begin with.

Jumping into the game, the first thing that will strike you is the graphical style. All the player characters are 8x8px sprites with the enemies rarely much bigger. Each pixel is huge, however creating a fairly normal sized sprite with a very low resolution. Overall, it makes for a very unique visual style.

Maybe this will illustrate it a little better

You’ll quickly find yourself in the central hub of the game, the Nexus. From here you can reach a number of different game instances each of them containing a vast world to explore and capable of hosting 85 players at any time. Whether you chose to work with your 84 new friends to overcome hardships or just go it alone is up to you. Jump into whichever one looks most appealing, they’re all much the same and you’ll pop into the world, sometimes with other players, sometimes alone. It is, as described, a bullet hell shooter, so all classes have a basic ranged attack, even ones you’d expect to be melee, like the rogue. You’ll start out with your basic wizard though, who wields a fast firing magic missile spell and a much more powerful bolt with a large area-of effect. Quests are as basic as a map marker telling you where the next big baddie you should kill is. You’ll burn through stuff pretty fast, more so with other players as all xp is given equally to all combatants. You’ll start out basic killing elf magi and giant scorpions and crabs and the like and work your way up to Gods. Whilst in the world you’ll periodically hear the titular Mad God yelling about his lesser gods and guardians and things. At some point around level 15 your quest tracker will point you to one of these. These are significantly tougher to reach, much less kill. From this I can infer the ultimate goal must be to band together, reach the cap of level 20 and take down the Mad God himself, not that I’ve personally reached that stage. Still working on the getting to 20 without getting squished. Oh yes, minor detail, the game features permadeath. If you get in over your head and die, it’s back to square one. No spirit healers, no casting resurrect, no cloning, just thanks for playing, here’s your score and go reroll a new character. Playing a class to a certain level will unlock further and more advanced classes so at least you’re likely to have something interesting to try out when you get dumped back to your blank character select page. Silver linings, and all that.

So all in all, that’s the game. It’s fast paced, unforgiving, quite a lot of fun and definitely very original. There’s one elephant in the room, still though. How do they make their money? Of course there’s the standard alternative in-game currency that you’re never going to get without dropping some real money. 500 coins will set you back $5USD, with bonuses for buying larger quantities. What will that get you, then? A second character slot can be picked up for 600 coins and as you are generously given 100 to start with, that’s easily done for $5. Cosmetic improvements to your character from colour changes to patterns cost up to 200 coins. I can’t say for any certainty how permanent these cosmetic changes are in light of permadeath i.e: if I buy the stripy costume and die will my next character get to keep the stripy costume?

This is important to know

Admittedly there do appear to be a handful of functional items available for real money, however they seem to largely be convenience rather than pay2win gear; bundles of health potions for instance. They’re not going to hand over the Sword of a Thousand Truths to the person with the biggest credit card limit, so balance has been taken into consideration. As with ever increasingly more f2p games, the value of the paid items is pretty much what you make of them yourself. Am I content to buy skins in Super Monday Night Combat or hats in Spiral Knights? Yes. Am I prepared to buy a pattern to put on my pixellated wizard’s head? No, quite frankly. But if you enjoy the game and end up playing long enough you might place more value on it. Each to their own, as it were.

So is it worth playing? Are you nuts? It’s free and it’s a 39MB download. If it sounds anything other than awful to you, you might as well have a look. Fans of MMO’s and Shooters alike should definitely give it a go even if just to see a fun twist on both the genres. The class progression and roguelike permadeath elements definitely give it plenty of replayability too, if you find yourself enjoying it, which I think is pretty likely.

‘Til next time, GLHF


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