Each week Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. Some of the games will be far out of your gaming comfort zone, and some will pleasantly surprise you. We will meet each Tuesday and Friday night at 8 PM Central time, followed by this column the Sunday after. I welcome any suggestions for games, either in the comments or at email@example.com.
Making games for younger players has to be a very difficult undertaking. Think about today's informed youth, especially compared to my generation. When I was 13, I made forts and had BB gun fights, but modern 13-year-olds carry cell phones in their pockets and have constant access to the internet. Gaming is winning out, though, by being provided with a massive (and growing) audience of willing players.
When you are making a game for this savvy audience, you had better have all your digital ducks in a row. AdventureQuest Worlds is designed well enough to satisfy a large range of age groups and levels of experience, and for that, Artix Entertainment should be proud. Still, there is plenty that could be changed about the game to make it even more friendly.
First, building a game in Flash, especially when the game will be frequented by thousands of players at once, is a cause for concern. Yes, this takes away any need for a significant download, but Steve Jobs was right: it is resource heavy. I have a desktop PC with 6 gigs of ram, an NVIDIA 9800, a robust sound card and a quad-core processor. I should have no issues running almost any modern MMORPG, but I was nevertheless faced with laggy performance more often than not while playing AdventureQuest Worlds. Once several players were on the screen, performance became even choppier.
Next, my policy of letting the game teach me everything bit me in the butt somewhat, being that the game hides a lot of the needed information in odd spots. How would I ever know that the friends list is accessible by typing /friends? How would I ever find out that, in order to join a new area that was mentioned in a quest, I needed to type the name of the area inside my chat window? Granted, once I found this out, the rest fell into place, but remember the target audience for the game and how easy it would be for them to log out to play something else.
Once we did organize a group, we ran into issues with actually getting together, eventually realizing that the easiest thing would be to teleport around the map until we found an empty area, and then having the group members teleport to the leader. Again, you could see how a young player might become frustrated very quickly within this system. I know I did.
This basic information, while simple in hindsight, is of the type that EVE players and others refer to as a "learning curve." For me, it is a case of poor design. Within the first few minutes of the game, the player must be taught these basics or at least given the choice, or the game must do away with the need for the explanations. Having to discover how to get together in game and how to find some of the areas to go to should not be a case of hidden information, otherwise known as a "learning curve."
Still, once you learn these basics you can easily fall under the spell of the game. The developers are constantly releasing new content, and humorous cut-scenes fill your screen enough to break up any grindy monotony. Luckily, I was joined by a player who seemed to know quite a bit more than I did, and he showed me how to start from the beginning of the story. Within an evening, my friends and I were completing chapters of the main storyline and got to see our characters interacting with important NPCs from the lore. It was quite a bit of fun.
It's surprising how much depth the game has, despite the fact that it is so 2-D. Combat is fun and mobs are balanced, and customization seems to be deep enough that I rarely saw two players who looked alike. The confusing enhancement system prevented me from really trying out any new weapons, but I really didn't see the need to anyway. My starter armor and sword murdered enemies with ease the entire time.
The skill system is pretty basic; it automatically assigns pre-sorted spells and skills to your character. While this was a little disappointing, it was not too surprising considering just how much Artix Entertainment has crammed into the game. I think that the purpose is to gather a group of the standard classes for an evening of pushing through story chapters. Young players form solid online groups just like adults do, so they probably would not notice the lack of spell variety. After all, when everyone in your group looks and performs uniquely, everyone feels special.
So, will I return to AdventureQuest Worlds? Probably, but not often. The storyline is appealing and fun, though, so I know I will check back to finish chapters. It's a great game for younger players, and parents or guardians can rest easy knowing that the chat filter in place is as solid as a rock. While performance might be an issue for some lower-end PCs or netbooks, adjusting the graphical quality did help.
Next week we will be trying out Mytheon, a free-to-play game that is still in open beta. Keeping this in mind, we will meet up during the week to see how we do against cyclopes and minotaurs! My character is named BeauHind and I am on the Helios server.