Cozy. It's a word that seems more at home in a Martha Stewart magazine than in the column for a website about MMORPGs. Cozy can mean quite a few things, but I love the way that the word can instantly make sense to almost anyone. Think about it -- think about what cozy might mean to you. It means a place that makes you feel warm or safe, a place that begs you to stay for a while. The reason I am so attracted to cozier spots in MMOs is because they can be few and far between these days, or they exist but the content pushes you through so fast that you forget to stop and relax for a while.
That speedy content, in my opinion, has helped bring roleplay to its knees. I remember when it was more common to be roleplaying instead of the opposite. These special, inviting spots slow us down and help us remember that we're playing multiplayer games, games with other real people who are experiencing the same places we are at the same time.
So, here is a small list of five of the most coziest places in free-to-play. In my opinion, of course. Feel free to add your own.
For a long time, I helped grow a small city in the farthest corner of Wurm Online. Before we founded the Massively village on that distant island, we took a first try at it on the free server. It grew pretty large, and I even remember when we first figured out how to start a fire. That fire, we soon realized, was nothing short of a life saver. If you got lost in the pitch black (Wurm can become very dark at night), you would look for that fire, burning brightly. I can't tell you how good it felt to find it. I would use fires as beacons, and we could wander off into the woods and always find our way home if we had that fire in our view. There is something so inviting about the fires in Wurm. They crackle with energy and can help you cook food or craft items. There was no thrill like finding a fire burning, its light peeking through the trees, leading you home.
Yes, I know: Free Realms is a "kid's game." I have to be honest, I hate hearing players say that. It's not as though attacking dragons or blowing up space ships in any title is some sort of thing that only adults could care about, and it's not as though an adult can have no sense of wonder. Free Realms is still under-appreciated, I think, for all of its fantastic little areas tucked away behind buildings or along the edge of the woods. My favorite spot is up on the beach, up behind one of the buildings on a hill. There is a tiny pond with fish in it and an even smaller dock. It is just inviting players to sit down, take off their shoes, and let their feet dip into the water.
The Chronicles of Spellborn, one of my favorite MMOs of all time, just wasn't given the chance it deserved. It had some performance issues, true, and even rougher development cycles. It was one of those games that had troubles from the start, but I think the lack of mounts, the huge areas, and the grindy quests might have hurt the immersion factor. Personally, I could walk around for an evening just taking screenshots and getting lost. One of the best places to hang out was really any inn in any town. The lighting effects -- heavy on the glow -- gave the places such warmth that you felt as though the fire were coming through your screen. I remember wishing that players would stop their grinding long enough to come hang out in the taverns for some roleplaying. The places were just that inviting. Here's hoping that, one day, this game will get some sort of wake-up call. I doubt it, but I can dream, can't I?
Glitch is an odd browser-based game, but the entirety of the world and lands of Ur are generally cozy. They tend to make you feel as though you are walking literally through the giant's imagination, but an especially cozy area is my home street. I can decorate it how I want, and it even comes with accompanying music. I've gone for a slightly darker forest look and extended my street into a much larger area. It feels as if my home is large and built out in the middle of some magical woods. Sure, it's a bit like a scene from the movie Legend, but we all know that's a classic, so I'm OK with that comparison.
The planet Atys is still one of the most original worlds I have ever virtually visited. Everything is organic and weather-beaten. Rainstorms come frequently and even have an effect on gameplay. If you walk around long enough, you discover little nooks and crannies that are just begging for a fire and a camp. In the video above, you will see what I found one night while I was exploring in the lands of the Zorai, one of the races in the game. It was the first time I had discovered these strange, floating eyes, and I was immediately transfixed. Atys has a special place in my heart for sure. There are definitely certain buildings and areas that are particularly cozy, but the experience of playing Ryzom, especially if you slow down and enjoy yourself, is one of the most inviting and unique out there. To this day, it does not get the credit it deserves.
So, what are some of your ideas? Do you ever come across a place in a virtual world and just think, "I need to stop here, at least for a while"?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org!