In my last column I took a look at the Facebook vampire MMO, City of Eternals. One of the commenters on the piece turned me on to another Facebook MMO, the free-to-play, browser-based Faunasphere. This game is more like Free Realms than traditional combat-oriented MMOs. It is generally aimed at a younger demographic, one that wants to collect cute animal avatars and customize their virtual living spaces with an endless array of decorations and themes. Using both in-game cash and real-life money, players can create an oasis for their animal avatars to live in.
There is no combat or PvP, no raids or skirmishes. The goals of this game is to clean up a toxic world with your animal avatar and transform it into an oasis for all life. If that's your cup of MMO-steeped tea, read on!
In this game, you are terraforming a new world, purifying the toxic environment and gene-splicing together new species. You can also participate in community projects, create your own private floating island and battle toxic creatures. You can also make friends, visit their private islands and craft items to sell in the extensive virtual economy of the game.
First you must create your avatar, a cute, colored animal. Then you get to run through a tutorial that explains the basics: how to clean up toxic waste, build out your personal island and travel between floating landmasses. There are quest-giving machines in each landmass that amount to the usual quests: collect a certain number of drops from mobs (or, in this case, from zapping toxic creatures); find another quest npc; go to another island.
The principal activity in the game, zapping pollution, results in quest drops, crafting component drops and the in-game currency, Lux. It also fills your Egg Meter. When the meter hits maximum, you can hatch another Fauna avatar with random physical attributes. The free-to-play accounts are only allowed three Fauna avatars, so you will have to discard your least favorite if you wish to see what your next egg holds for you. Each Fauna species has different gathering skills which is important later on. You can switch between Fauna as your main avatar any time you are on your home island.
You are then granted a teleport pad which will take you off your home island to the first quest zone, Rock Island. You are directed to the Goal Station for you first quest which is, surprise, to buy something from a vendor station. While completing activities in the game grant you the in-game currency, Lux, many of the buyable items in the game require Bux, which you need to buy with real money.
After that, you are cut loose to pick up more missions from the Goal Station, collect more items to customize your home island, explore more zones, make new friends and learn about the community projects.
As mentioned above, the primary goal in the game is to clean up pollution in different zones for drops that can be used to finish quests and customize your personal island aka your Faunasphere. Some of the harder zones require more than one person to complete the objectives, so you will have to invite friends to play or make friends within the game. And sometimes you come across hostile pollution monsters, which can be exciting, except you can never really die. You just run out of Energy and need to sleep for 10 or so seconds.
Customizing your Faunasphere can be quite complex. A wide variety of plants, trees, ground cover and more can be bought with both Lux and Bux. You can build forests, swamps, waterfalls, rock gardens and glacial environments for your creations to romp around in. Seasonal themes can also be set up with special items only purchasable during certain times of the year.
Customizing your animal avatar is another popular in-game activity. What traits they are hatched with is out of your control, but there are vendor stations around the world that allow to change your Fauna's species, color, patterns, eyes, tail and more. Many of these customizations require real money to purchase. But the right combination of physical attributes will make your avatar stand out among the sea of players only using the basic models.
The tutorial and in-game context help bubbles are very good overall. I caught on quickly learning how to get around the world and accomplish my goals. Also, the quest logs show the next step in your missions and the in-game map are great tools. The only thing I didn't understand was how to get back to my home island. Another player kindly explained about the radial menu that pops up when you click on your avatar. It should have been obvious to me, but wasn't.
There is quite a robust player economy. Player-made goods such as new eggs, Faunasphere decorations and avatar customization items fill the vendor lists. Players can charge in either Lux or Bux, and filters allow you to sort by item, quantity or, most importantly, price.
I found very few road bumps on the way to enjoying this game. The only thing that makes me uneasy is the grindy feel to some of the game mechanics, which is inevitable in quest-driven MMOs. The kid-friendly atmosphere and non-combat gameplay may be a turn-off for some, but for short bursts of gaming goodness while at work or at home, this constantly updated game is a good choice for the casual player or someone who wants to play MMOs with his kids.
If any of you faithful readers want to recommend other Facebook MMOs for me to try, mention them in the comments section or email me at the address below. In two weeks I will be at E3 and will bring back an extensive report of what your favorite MMO is doing to integrate into Facebook, plus report on any new Facebook MMOs I can get my hands on.
Dan O'Halloran covers the emerging fields of mobile and Facebook MMOs for Massively. For suggestions or tips, send an email to dano at massively dot com.