Free for All: The best-looking games in free-to-play

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Free for All: The best-looking games in free-to-play
Eden Eternal screenshot
Of all of the wacky arguments I have heard over the last few years, the "are video games art?" one has got to take the prize for most ridiculous. Sure, you can argue either side of anything, but to ask whether or not games are art just seems to be an attempt to assuage some boredom. We can also ask whether this life is really real, just in case we hadn't already been put to sleep. Art is what the artist says it is, period.

Art is also in the eye of the beholder. Our games are spread across a wide spectrum of styles, and many of us have very strong feelings about what we like and will not tolerate. I have seen people turn down great games simply because of the way a screenshot looked. Heck, I've done it myself. With as many games as I look at every week, occasionally it is smart (and fun) to organize them into lists. This week I am taking stock of my game list and figuring out the games that I feel look the best. Of course, you might not think so.

I decided to leave off games that are in testing or not available for the public yet. Click past the cut and see if you agree with me!

Clone Wars Adventures ascreenshot
Clone Wars Adventures

I absolutely adore the look of Clone Wars Adventures. It's about as close to a perfect-looking game as you can get. It's stylized but not over-the-top. It has color but is never gawdy. All of the different set pieces flow together and maintain the same style. While Free Realms uses the same engine and looks superb in its own way, I prefer the space-themed Clone Wars. Take a moment and watch the lightsaber battle minigame. Not only are the animations fantastic, but the lighting effects and backgrounds are beautiful and sometimes eerie. Galactic Forces, a sort of tower defense and tabletop gaming mixture, is so fun to watch that I will often forget to make new troops because I am busy watching the fighting. There is just so much that I love about how Sony Online Entertainment has packaged and built Clone Wars that it would be easier for you to log in and see.

Eden Eternal screenshot
Eden Eternal

I keep saying that I am new to the world of Anime, but I'm really not. I have been playing Anime-style games since Flyff and Rappelz, and that probably started six years ago. I think it would be more accurate to say that I am just now realizing how much I love certain styles of Anime, many thanks to games like Eden Eternal. There is a very fine balance between cartoony and cartoony-that-takes-itself-seriously. I am referring to art made by artists of any type who own a style and seem proud of it. Eden Eternal shows off its Anime roots, of course, but it does so in a unique way. Sure, you have your bulbous critters and outrageous, exaggerated locations, but it's still pretty. On top of all that, the developers recently released the Zumi race, mouse-like beings who are probably the coolest critters alive. If the larger NPC bear race is released as playable soon, I'll have a heart attack.

Faxion Online screenshot
Faxion Online

When Faxion was first released, I would not have said that it was a good-looking game. Granted, the engine doesn't seem to have been changed in any dramatic way, but massive improvements to performance have allowed eager players like myself to turn all the graphical bells and whistles on. I haven't liked character models like this since The Chronicles of Spellborn. To say that the world is stylized is an understatement. It's humorous-looking, but alongside the humor you will find disgusting monsters and locations. Each outside area is themed after one of the deadly sins, so you will often come across some new, beautiful, and disgusting stuff every time you wander around.

Dragon Nest screenshot
Dragon Nest

What can I say about Dragon Nest? It has one of the most unique takes on stylized, Anime artwork that I have ever seen. The NPCs, with their odd, formless faces, feel amost like animated cave drawings. Yet the characters that we play are so animated and quick that they stand out against everything. While we've seen the type of monsters in Dragon Nest before, we haven't seen them done in this way before: chunky and compact but still agile. Blurring is used to give the world depth and realism. Even with all of options that Dragon Nest offers graphically, the game still runs beautifully. I hate to say this, but Vindictus has been pushed off of my action-game favorites list, replaced easily by Dragon Nest. I always prefer a more stylized game, especially one that does not have the lag issues that Vindictus does.

Milmo screenshot

When I first discovered Milmo, I didn't think the game would become more than a childish platformer to me. I figured I would jump in once in a while when updates were released or perhaps when I was bored and looking for a game to play on the laptop. Instead I have found myself admiring how the entire game has been changing and morphing over the last year into a fully realized world, complete with lore and characters. Granted, I still don't understand half of it, but I'm on my way. The developers have also introduced the cutest housing in the world (though it's a little cramped) and an awesome cash shop that gives you clothing and useful items that are actually worth their cost. On top of that, an option for standard MMO controls was recently added, saving my poor wrists from more trips to a sink filled with ice. Milmo utilizes the Unity engine beautifully.

Runescape screenshot

I decided to put RuneScape at the end of the list because I knew that as soon as some readers saw it, they would skip the rest of the column to rush to the comments section to make fun of me. But when you seriously take a look at what RuneScape has done over the years, all in the confines of a browser, you will admire it as much as I do. The best way to describe how RuneScape looks is that it's like stop-motion animation or claymation. The trees and walls look like some kind of styrofoam backdrops, and certain pieces of armor look just like the tiny plastic parts of a model. Perhaps all of my years collecting toys and playing tabletop games have caught up to me, but I almost think that RuneScape is one of the best-looking games out there, browser or not. Sure, if you take a 20-gig client and a powerful gaming rig to run your game, you just might have a "realistic"-looking world, but try making an entire non-instanced world that works inside someone's browser and you just might find the same amount of success that RuneScape has.

So what do you think? Don't tell me... you disagree with every game I put on the list, huh? The beauty of art is that we each take what we want from it, and the artist can put whatever he wants into it. Games are art and can be beautiful, haunting, or hilarious. I have found that my tastes have changed over the years and that I prefer stylized over realistic. I'd rather have an original-looking game that is cartoony and silly than a realistic game that features the same monster design and locations we've seen before.

What's on your list?

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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