Browser game represent some of the coolest technological innovations in the MMO niche. They also, often, represent the very worst in predatory monetization schemes and "pay-to-win" exploitation.
Spiral Knights does both. And it does both well.
Cuddly robots and a strange alien world
The first thing you need to know about Spiral Knights is that it is exceptionally charming. When you sit down to make your pint-sized robot fighter, you'll quickly see that there is no combination of helm, armor color. and body type that don't leave you with the cutest little MMO character that ever did live. Spiral Knights was developed by Three Rings -- the same company behind Puzzle Pirates -- so it's no surprise that the aesthetic leans toward cute and cuddly.
In the early moments of the game, you'll be treated to some in-the-moment tutorials that help you understand how to explore the environment and make use of your abilities. Every Spiral Knight has two attacks: one primary attack with a melee weapon and one special attack. You start with a gun but can later gain access to bombs, and your arsenal is constantly changing as you defeat new enemies and learn to manufacture new weapons. Combat in Spiral Knights is simple but rewarding. In most cases, you'll run up to a bad guy, smack him in the face with a sword, and call it a day.
A beautiful, ever-changing universe
One of Spiral Knights' greatest strengths is its art direction. Enemies are somehow a combination of threatening and adorable, armor upgrades make your Knight look both tough and huggable, and every environment you visit has tons of cool elements that make it interesting and distinct from the others in the game. In an industry where "gritty realism" is often the gold standard, playing a game based so heavily on bright colors and family-friendly action is an incredible relief.
There's more to this world than meets the eye. Underneath Haven lies a cavernous network of world fragments known as the Clockworks. These fragments are the Spiral Knights version of dungeons and can range from open, grassy fields to cold steel mazes. What is most interesting, however, is that the fragments move around the Clockworks in real-time. As the week stretches on, pieces of the Clockworks move and rotate, changing which missions and areas are available to players.
Assuming you have the money.
The Energy trap
Spiral Knights is a wonderful game. It is beautifully designed and fun to play and offers hours of interesting combat in a variety of environments. As far as browser games go, it's one of the best I've ever played. The game offers top-notch production value and near endless fun. But there's one enormous catch: You absolutely have to pay real-life money to play Spiral Knights if you plan to play it for more than an hour at a time.
There are layers to the Energy mechanic. The Energy you get free each day is known as "Mist" Energy; you can have only 100 Mist Energy at a time, and it takes about 22 hours for your tank to refill. There is also "Crystal" Energy, which serves the same purposes as Mist Energy but can be stored in higher quantities and is available only via the cash shop. The exchange rate is currently $9.95 for 3,500 Crystal Energy. Not highway robbery, to be sure, but a little bit of a bummer for a game that is clearly designed to sap players of their actual dollars or force them to quit playing.
Overall, Spiral Knights is a fun, engaging, pretty game that is hampered by its own restrictive payment model. While it offers one of the smoothest and most attractive browser-based experiences in the MMO niche, it also falls into some of the most common and most hated free-to-play traps. It's a great game with horrible monetization -- something with which we MMO gamers are all too familiar.
Spiral Knights is a game you will enjoy. It is colorful and enjoyable. Just don't expect to enjoy it for more than an hour without raiding your wallet.
MMOs are constantly changing, and our opinions can change with them. That's why we're here to give some beloved (or not) games a second (or third) look. Has that game that was a wreck at launch finally pulled itself together? How do the hits of yesteryear hold up today? That's what we're here to find out as Massively gets its Second Wind!