Free for All: Everything I know I learned from Iris Online

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Free for All: Everything I know I learned from Iris Online
OK, so the title is a little overly dramatic, and I should clarify. I meant to say: Everything I know about how I currently feel about the different types of MMOs coalesced once I downloaded and played Iris Online. I will admit to being extra-excited at first, since I had a great conversation with Tara from gPotato about the game, but my excitement has carried through so far. Iris Online comes from the same people that published Flyff and Rappelz all those years ago, so I was eager to see how similar games have evolved since that time. After all, everything in the industry has changed since even a few years ago, so why would imported "grinders" be any different? I would have to spend some time revisiting old games and downloading new ones.

I had no idea that playing Iris would set off a chain reaction of realizations that I previously thought I already had. The game simply lit the spark under my foot and set me off on an even deeper exploration of this classically styled type of game.

I want to be clear about what type of game I am talking about. Generally, these games are cartoony, bright, colorful and noisy as all get out. It only takes me a few minutes of being surrounded by fellow players to realize that these games practically yell at you for attention. Grinding is also often part of the package, but I tire of explaining that grinding can be a part of any game's package -- even in these wonderful days of development. Honestly, though, the grind is often the only thing to do in many of these plastic bubble-headed worlds, but that seems to be changing. Even basic games (and by basic, I mean very small and simple games) now have several neat systems rolled into their experiences, several more than World of Warcraft or other blockbusters. I am now finding games that have more cool little things to do than ever before -- something is happening in the industry.

I imagine that it is a simple matter of better technology and adjusting markets. People love to grind (why else do so many of them talk about doing it so much?) but they are wanting new things to grind on. Pet collections, achievements, bonus items, fluff items -- these are goals that players will often rush after as fast as any dungeon boss or elite sword. I would even wager that, for many people, the grind fits more comfortably into their lifestyles. After all, they grind away at work or at school, and their lives are a non-stop series of repeated events -- so why should their gaming be any different?

"Forget you, Final Fantasy XI -- you're a great game wrapped in a horrible, hard, longer-than-the-DMV-line grind."

Even then, the grind is changing. It's not so... grindy. Killing 40 or 50 rats, and taking an hour or four to do it, has been replaced in many cases by killing 10 rats -- and taking five minutes to do it. Alongside that massive slaughter you might find neat little treasures or collections, perhaps housing or skill sets to learn. Iris Online is a perfect example of a deeper-than-a-grind grind. Yes, I need to go out and kill monsters and bring back the loot. Yes, I need to do it again. Yes, I need to do it again. But it doesn't feel like a bad time to me, the guy who could never stand to grind. While others were off "rep-grinding" in popular games, I was off exploring or roleplaying. I can never, and will never, be one of those players who justifies a grind and treats it as some kind of badge. Forget you, Final Fantasy XI -- you're a great game wrapped in a horrible, hard, longer-than-the-DMV-line grind. Same goes for you, Ryzom -- I will never have a high-level in you. That's fine, though, in both cases, since both worlds are filled with beautiful sights and nice people.

So how would I ever find myself playing and enjoying games that seem to step back to the old days of 999 levels and killing 999 rats? Because the games have changed. They no longer feature one thing and one thing only to do. The art has improved by light years. The worlds have gotten bigger. They now have Facebook integration and optional Twitter alerts built in. You can log in and stab away an hour or two and come out of it with full bags of loot, a new level or three, and several new friends.

Let's not forget that you might be smiling the entire time. Yes, smiling -- as in enjoying yourself and perhaps laughing. I know that real gamers spend more time scratching their chins and stat-crunching than smiling, but I just don't have the stomach for that anymore. While my tastes have changed because of my job and schedule, I still have to appease them. Games like Iris Online fill in a wonderful gap in my gaming life. They give me an entire world to play in, social tools to communicate with, and tons of new content and art to experience. All of it -- completely free. To be honest, I never really worried too much about the game's graphics. Now, however, I treasure the compact, chubby little worlds of games like Iris. For some reason, playing games feels more natural when I am, you know, playing. Lately I have found myself being almost paralyzed by the beautiful, too-realistic worlds of Vanguard or Lord of the Rings Online. When I am in those worlds, I want to stand there and enjoy myself. The last thing I would want to do is go off and get myself killed. It's hard to explain, but I feel more legitimately like a gamer when I am playing in an MMO that looks like a game, not the opposite. We even chatted about realistic versus stylized graphics on the Massively Speaking podcast recently.

Like I said, even this most basic of gaming ideas -- the grind -- has changed. It's no longer something that I dread. It's not hard to experience. There's almost something hypnotic about it: grab a quest, kill the monster, grab a quest, kill the monster. We can argue as to whether this or good or bad for the industry, but no one can deny that it exists in some form or another in almost any game you can name. Games like Iris have admitted to the tactic, albeit it in a lesser form. The grind has been toned down while the worlds, lore, and "extra-curricular" activities have been amped way up. The pay off seems to be bigger and better; the road, not so long.

It should be noted that, despite what you think about cartoony, bright, big-eyed, funny-sounding grinders, the definition doesn't depend on a juxtaposition with "real" games, or "AAA" games. These games are not really asking for our opinion -- they are doing their own thing and have been for years.

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!
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