Free for All: The still-satisfying world of action MMOs

Vindictus screenshot

Look, I'm a red-blooded American gamer. I even call it 'Merica. So it should be no surprise when I feel like getting down with a melee-based chop-'em-up or have the desire to leap, jump and bounce my way through countless levels. In other words, action. We 'Mericans love our action games. I have my particular favorites, for sure, and within that list are my favorites of favorites that get the nod for different reasons. Honestly I'm not into action-based games just for the challenge. I don't need to make repeated attempts at downing a boss to have fun. I enjoy the immediate response that an action game gives me. I love to click the mouse button and see my character's sword swing or gun fire. It's satisfying.

Of course, action games can have their drawbacks. Not only do they tend to produce a euphoric haze that can only be described as "stoner glare" and an open-mouthed state of hypnosis, but they can take a toll on delicate, drum-beaten wrists like mine as well. I take the good with the bad, I guess. Click past the cut and I'll let you know my favorite F2P action MMOs.

Milmo screenshot

My top favorite has got to be Milmo. What the heck is a Milmo? you might ask. Well, it's a game created by Junebud AB, a developer all the way from sunny, blonde Sweden. The game can be described as a platforming MMO, one that tasks players with finding clues, solving puzzles like those you would see in a Mario Brothers game, and collecting items. It runs in a browser window or in a pop-up and was created in Unity. That means that the game looks fantastic. No, it doesn't look realistic, and it does not require a super-computer to run, but it's so charming it will make your teeth hurt. I can literally sit for an hour straight, jumping and pouncing throughout bright, easy-to-understand levels. Don't take my earlier statement too literally; I love the challenges that Milmo presents. Perhaps it's how smoothly and quietly the challenges are presented that draws me in. While some bosses and puzzles require several tries, I can skip to another puzzle island and try something new if things become frustrating. The housing is downright adorable, and the character customization is beyond fun. I could play Milmo all day if it weren't for this darned writing I have to do!

Spiral Knights screenshot

I'd have to put Spiral Knights next. This 8bit MMO is set in a world of tiny, robotic refugees. The lore is sort of complex, but essentially players take on the role of a pack of knights who have crashed on a distant planet. To get back, they need to go underground, defeat monsters, and collect crystals that, in theory, will help repair the mothership and get everyone back home. I'm barely scraping the surface of the story, but suffice it to say that the game serves up some complex lore along with its repetitive (in a good way) combat. I can't wait to see where this one will be in another year. Will my character get off the planet? Will I face even more hideous boss monsters? Will the developers add housing? I can't wait.

Dragon Nest screenshot

Up next are a few from Nexon. Dragon Nest was a favorite of mine from E3 last year, and once I got my hands on it, I fell in love even more. Even though I don't have the time to dedicate to the game that I would like, I can jump in and finish a dungeon in a short session. The action in this game is just a bit toned down and tightened up, but there are enough moves and effects to keep things chaotic. Graphically it's a bit like the baby brother to Vindictus, and those lower system requirements are nice.

VIndictus screenshot

Speaking of Vindictus, I enjoy looking back on the date when I first really talked about the game. I thought that it would "officially break the stereotype of the boring, grindy, cartoony free-to-play import," and I really think it has. Sure, it's easy enough to concentrate on some of the controversies of the title like the gender-locking, dungeon coin silliness, and the peer-to-peer connections that cause groups to lag often, but when you sit back and just watch some of the action on the screen, it blows you away. Vindictus was the first game I had ever experienced that made combat not only responsive but emotionally satisfying. To this day, I will often grit my teeth or grunt while fighting. The game just feels tough. With every new boss I come across, I am a bit amazed at how lifelike they are as they move and act. Some bosses are actually scary. One of them carries a massive hammer, and as he swings it and it smashes on the ground, you can almost feel the impact. It's mesmerizing.

Dungeon Fighter Online screenshot

I took a look at Dungeon Fighter Online a while ago and enjoyed it, but I would still love to see at least a few more in-game resolutions offered. The window is so, so tiny that it's actually hard to concentrate on the game, but when the game is played in a fullscreen on a smaller device, the action is pretty tight. It plays like an '80s side-scroller with a modern wink. The movements on the screen are smoother then the games I remember, thanks to better graphics and decades of computing improvements. The effect is that players are confronted with a game that looks older but feels brand-new. The combat is pretty repetitive at first, but soon after the world opens up a bit as you are introduced to towns and public areas. I was a bit shocked at how many players there were in game.

Rusty Hearts screenshot

I couldn't close this article out without pointing a finger at Rusty Hearts. It was also one of my favorites at E3, and it still remains a great title. One of the best features is the ability to play the game with your keyboard. Having the option saved me from a lot of pain due to all that clicking. While all players start out as a generic character who looks like all of the other characters of the same class, customization is pretty crazy and adds a lot of variety to the title.

I can hear the comments right now: "What about the shooters?" Yes, there are a lot of great MMOFPS titles out there, and many of them are absolutely free. Luckily for you, we have it covered. Jef Reahard writes up the latest in MMOFPS happenings every week in The Firing Line column, so join him there. I love a good MMOFPS like Global Agenda, but fantasy is a bit more attractive and melee combat is satisfying in deeper ways.

The genre of action-based MMOs is pretty vast at this point. There are titles for all challenge levels and tastes. I tend to go with the ones that offer me the smoothest gameplay and the least clicking. I love to swing a sword, but not that much.

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!