Picture a world where there%26rsquo;s no death, no fighting (unless you ask politely) and nothing unpleasant like swears, elves with big breasts or Apprentice contestants. Welcome to fantasy MMO Free Realms, brought to you by the makers of EverQuest. It%26rsquo;s designed with tiny people in mind, and, most importantly for cash-strapped gamers, you can play for free.
You%26rsquo;re a human or a fairy, and if you want to fit in you%26rsquo;ll go for face paint and fluorescent pink hair. It%26rsquo;s the standard MMO setup: a big open world full of quest-givers and missions that include everything from fetching towels to battling giant bees. Some are specific to the different careers on offer, such as kart driver, treasure hunter and miner (you can swap between them all at any time) and a lot of the quests tie in with those classes.
To be a good chef, for example, you need to collect ingredients in a Bejeweled-style challenge, and then prepare them properly, chopping them, stirring, all against the clock. It means masses of variety, and you burn up happy hours just wandering around trying out minigames.
Violence is optional, but an essential part of the Brawler career path. Everything from the wolves to the yetis is very polite, and waits to be asked before trying to knock you unconscious. That%26rsquo;s right: this place is so family friendly, the D word is never even mentioned. You can team up with friends for quests and chat, but there are strict restrictions for the under-13s.
If you want to pay there are two ways. A $4.99 per month membership will grant you access to up to three different characters, leaderboards, new items and quests, plus five members-only careers to follow, such as the wizard. Hear that strange wail on the wind? It%26rsquo;s the cash-hungry cries of young Harry Potter fans. If you just want to purchase a glow-in-the-dark sword or some really fancy clothing you can fill your wallet with Station Cash. Real trading cards that link to virtual objects are also on sale.
You can play for days without having to put your hand in your pocket, you can%26rsquo;t turn around without finding a new quest, and the world feels massive and populated. It%26rsquo;s only as you progress further through the game that life as a fairy freeloader can start to feel a bit stifling, because the items that help you advance are for members only. Just bear in mind as you skip merrily through the flowers that behind every pretty fairy selling trousers is a wizened old businessman, rubbing his clammy hands with glee at the thought of your credit card details.
Jun 17, 2009