RIFT screenshot
I think there are some pretty basic but complicated concepts going on behind MMO gaming. There always have been. There's some sort of driving force that makes many of us want to reach that max level or grab every last achievement or (in my case) get to a comfortable level and stay there. I did it in Vanguard: Saga of Heroes: I reached level 32, cast a spell to stop my character from gaining anymore experience, and continued playing and exploring the game. Not only was I tired of leveling, but I knew that if I continued to level, I would probably continue to try to level. Like I said, it's a basic driving force. We all have them inspiring us to play in different ways.

I don't want to reach max level. Not really, anyway. I want to have a unique character, one who is fragile in some ways and strong in others. When I do reach higher levels, I start to feel generic and a bit too powerful. I want to have some force stop my character, to give him his own maximum level while others reach the true maximum level.

Unlimited free trials have shown me just how fun it is to have a sort-of-max-level character within a game filled with other max levels. It's like playing a different race or class, something unique.

Ryzom screenshot
See, I used to enjoy games like World of Warcraft and RIFT. I used to love going out into the world and getting lost, using rules of immersion to force myself to, well, become immersed in the game. It worked... for the most part. I've read some about people who have faced real-life scary situations -- pilots, doctors, and the like. They all seem to utilize some version of the same trick: If you pretend you are calm, your body can be semi-tricked into calming down.

If I force my character to play by certain rules, I actually start to feel as though those rules were placed there by the developers. I would walk through town in Ryzom or force my Ranger in Vanguard to take a break and eat every few hours. It worked, and I felt great. Then I discovered that if I stopped leveling (in the games that allowed some version of that), then I felt even better. I felt as if the rest of the world were indeed very dangerous and powerful, and that no matter how hard I tried, there would be areas of the world that I just could not defeat or explore. I didn't want to play a character who knew that he could defeat the most powerful creatures in the land if he just did enough questing.

The new swath of unlimited trials for games like RIFT, WoW, and Ryzom has given me that brick wall I love. No matter what I do, I cannot break a certain level in these games (from what I understand, anyway; I haven't reached those levels yet) without paying a monthly fee. That's fine by me. Just as my forced immersion rules made my character feel wonderfully flawed, a forced stopping point makes these formerly been-there-done-that games into something wonderful. Again I acknowledge that this is some sort of strange way to trick myself into enjoying these games, but it works. Many of you might have similar tricks.

World of Warcraft screenshot
Another fantastic benefit of the invisible level wall is that it instantly takes away any pressure of time. Players say things like, "Since it went free-to-play, I don't feel the pressure to play so much every week." It's the same concept behind a freemium title like World of Warcraft. Now, I can jump into the game, explore for 30 minutes, finish a few quests, and not log in for another week or so. I can make a new character in RIFT, take my time to explore that beautiful game while ignoring the glaringly linear questlines, and move on to something else. I tend to level at a glacial pace in games anyway simply because I have so many titles I want to explore. Freemium, "AAA" titles give me the chance to level and explore without feeling the need to join a guild, finish any certain questline, or become powerful. My character is an ordinary character, just someone who is looking to survive and maybe make a buck in these extraordinary worlds.

I'll be honest: I've really missed World of Warcraft lately. All of the browser-based and indie games I cover occasionally leave a little something to be desired. Sometimes, a huge, open world with beautiful clouds and enormous monsters is a heckuva lot of fun. I played until level 70 on my Hunter but found no real reason to log back in to check him out. I had no one to quest with who would move at the pace I did, reading quest text and cranking up the music.


"I found myself rolling a Human Warrior... two things I would never, ever, roll even if my life depended on it (for the Horde!)."

So this week, I found myself rolling a Human Warrior... two things I would never, ever, roll even if my life depended on it (for the Horde!). I am enjoying the alien landscapes, the obviously destroyed areas (thanks to the Cataclysm expansion), and the ease of play that WoW is known for. I did a few quests the other night, hit something like level 5, and logged out. I'll probably try out as many races as the trial allows and see whether I can explore places I haven't gone before.

Unlimited free trials are fantastic things, but how would they make money off of someone like me? Simple: Provide a cool item or two in a cash shop and I'll pay. I haven't even begun to look at anything that would resemble a cash shop in some of the titles, and some of them do not even host one. In Ryzom, for example, I will occasionally pay for a month's service, but secretly I wish they would just sell me a mount or cool appearance armor instead. As a point of reference, I played Ryzom for years and never broke level 135. In the trial, I can play up to level 125 in any skill. That's a lot of skills and a lot of time to play for free. I think I should pay something at least some of the time.

Anyway, I think I'll go log into WoW for a bit and see whether I can solve a few riddles. I rode my first griffon mount while playing a Human character the other night, and I honestly felt some of the same thrill I did when I first rode a flight path mount all those years ago. WoW was definitely not my first MMO (I started with Ultima Online in '99), but as it does for many players, it holds a special place in my heart. It's nice to have a chance to explore it some more without any pressure.

Now, if we could only convince Mythic Entertainment to give us an unlimited free trial for Dark Age of Camelot, I'd be in hog heaven.

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to beau@massively.com!

This article was originally published on Massively.
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