Glade under attack!
First off, there are several parts to this in-game event that take place in Shrouded Glade, which has been overtaken by darkness and destruction. The Druids are working to restore the Glade to normalcy, and they suspect that the newly arrived Dwarves are the reason for the chaos. But there's more to it, as several large stones have sprung up around the Glade and waves of Gloam invaders have made their way into the Glade, causing the residents to flee (and causing a temporary interruption of the normal questlines offered in the zone). Players have to choose whether to help the Druids or the Dwarves, and there are multi-step questlines for each side. (Don't worry; you can do the quests for both sides!)
The quest storyline culminates in a fun event in which players rally and make a final charge up the steps to the main tower in order to save the Druid princess. Because the event is repeatable, there are dozens of players stampeding through waves of Gloam invaders and a very sparkly final battle against the Gloam boss at the end. The fight itself even has a little plot twist to it, and while I won't spoil it here, I can say that it ties up the loose ends between the Druids and the Dwarves nicely. (If only we could accomplish that in all of our fantasy MMOs!) It's nice to see the zone so busy, and players have been working together more than ever to fight back against the Gloam.
The fun begins as you cross the bridge into the Glade; it's nothing short of uncontrolled chaos. The area has become overrun with snakes, aggressive avians, corrupted Druids, and lots of Gloam invaders. The respawn rate is so quick that players never run out of things to fight, and in fact, it's almost impossible not to be under attack from something at any given moment once you leave the safety of the main road and cross the bridge. It's the first time that open-world combat has been added to Free Realms. Traditionally, all of the combat has been safely tucked away in instances, under the premise that because this is a kids' game, the world should be a safe place and danger should be something you have to opt into. There's a nice balance with this event because while there's now open-world combat, it's limited to only a part of Shrouded Glade, and there are always enough players nearby that if you get into a pickle, you're close enough to get some help.
Train to zone!
And that's where old school gaming enters the picture. During one gaming session, I saw one player announce in zone, "I love trains!" and a little later, my daughter proudly told the story of how she helped some guy kill a huge group of monsters that were about to finish him off. I explained to her all about trains and told her that she had just successfully derailed one, which was an impressive gaming feat. At that point, I half expected her to ask why she didn't get a message saying "achievement unlocked," but fortunately, she didn't.
In one sense, it's really neat to see a glimmer of the old school in a kids MMO, but it isn't exactly the same as it used to be. It's interesting to watch the tug of war between players wanting to help one another and the laser-beam focus on completing their own quests and reaping their own rewards. As much as this event brings back a little of the old days, the Genie might be so far out of the bottle and MMOs might be so solo-friendly that it's impossible to get back into the mindset of needing others in order to get stuff done.
Danger + Rickroll = fun
The other thing about Free Realms
is that it's always been about fun, so even in Shrouded Glade, with danger and chaos everywhere, there are plenty of light moments. Thanks to player jukeboxes and party machines, there are always flashmob-style congregations of players collectively dancing to pop tunes and sporting all sorts of illusions of notable holiday monsters. It's hard to get too frustrated about being chased by a train of mobs when a player masked by a Giant Cake Monster illusion crawls over to lend a helping hand. My favorite, though, is when dozens of us stormed the steps to take on the Gloam boss in Rick Astley illusions, dancing to Never Gonna Give you Up. I'm not sure whether we were the ones being Rickrolled or we were Rickrolling the mob, but it was a pretty funny sight nonetheless.
This event is a fun way to usher in the upcoming launch of Sunstone Valley, and I hope SOE
includes more activities that blend combat and social interaction because there's been a shift away from that lately in favor of non-combat activities like farming. I'm happy to see overland combat in Free Realms
because kids can handle a little danger here and there in their games. I hope we see more of that in family MMOs. While instanced combat is fine, it's much more exciting (and social!) to have players square off against the bad guys out in the open.
The MMO Family column is devoted to common issues with families and gaming. Every other week, Karen looks at current trends and ways to balance family life and play. She also shares her impressions of MMO titles to highlight which ones are child-friendly and which ones offer great gaming experiences for young and old alike. You are welcome to send feedback or Wonka Bars to email@example.com.