FreeRealms: Preview

SOE has grown to be one of the biggest sources of traditional AAA MMORPGs, but with the upcoming FreeRealms, they’re trying something new. It’s a browser-based, casual MMORPG aimed not only at young people, but at young girls.

Along with their turn towards a crowd to whom they’ve traditionally not offered games, SOE has gone out of their way to make sure FreeRealms is as accessible as possible. The browser-based client can be emailed and the game itself is free to play. Non-subscribers see advertisements in their UI. For example, in one loading screen, a trailer for a Sony film played. There are also subscription options planned, as well as microtransactions.

The game’s accessibility extends to its gameplay. One thing SOE wanted to avoid was the tedium of travel, and so they’ve made it easy for players to just teleport around the world to anywhere they like. They want players to get together and play with their friends without barriers, and long horse rides are not exactly conducive to that.

Combat is a part of FreeRealms, but in a cute, kid-friendly way that is completely unnecessary for advancement. Players can enjoy the aspects of the game they wish without the need to kill things if they do not want to do so. For example, the game overflows with mini-games, some take place in the 3D world, while other are old-arcade style games in the game’s UI. Players can even get involved in a soccer match. Other staples of popular children’s games and activities, such as Tamagotchi, playing house and even social-networking find homes inside FreeRealms.

FreeRealms also includes an extensive pet system, full of features such as customization, feeding, petting, etc. In our demonstration, the girl had a cat that she could put down whenever she wanted to play with it.

Each character also has a house to call her own which ties into the collection aspects of the game. The houses can be decorated and such, but are also used to store harvests. The little girl in the demonstration was growing flowers in her garden in an effort to collect all the different kinds available. In some ways, the game’s collection aspects are similar to trading card games; players try to get their hands on entire collections and sets, earning them either through the game or trading with others.

As this game works through popular web browsers, it also made sense to make a Facebook-esque network so players could show off their collections, customization and information. These are not sites for the player, but definitely the character. It’s no fun to collect if people cannot brag, and the overarching site lets people do just that.

They also made customization a major theme of the game. Despite the fact it’s in a browser, the game is fully 3D and has as many character customization options as one would expect from a traditional MMORPG. Players can be humans or fairies, for the initial launch. Each race has an impressive array of options, and an even more impressive number of clothing options.

The game’s emphasis on collection adds to the customization option. In our demonstration, a human female character was asked to help the local mail-penguin with deliveries. In most games, that’s the classic FedEx quest and while the mechanics were not altogether different, the presentation was. In this instance, our character instantly got into her mail delivery outfit for the job.

This children’s MMO is set in a whimsical world. The characters have a definite cartoon feel and the world is full of wondrous and hilarious sites. Penguins toddled over snow-banks, wearing hats with flippers a flutter. There were animals, varied environments and a consistent, cute theme that looked like it was straight out of a Pixar film.

FreeRealms remains in development and is likely to launch first as a PC title. Eventually, the game should also find its way onto the Playstation 3, like most of SOE’s next generation of titles.

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