Monday, June 20, 2011

Spiral Knights

Recently a bunch of Free to Play games got released on Steam, and after seeing some peer pressure via my friends list, I tried out Spiral Knights.

First off, Free to Play games generally have very little content, limit gameplay in random and arbitrary ways, and then charge you real-world money if you want to exceed those limits.  Spiral Knights is certainly no exception.  You have an energy bar on your screen that maxes out at 100, and goes down with nearly everything you do.  When it reaches zero, you can't play anymore unless you buy more energy, or wait for it to slowly recharge on its own.  This would be okay if you could get a satisfying amount of gameplay in with that 100 energy, but it lasts maybe an hour.

Now, let's actually talk about the game itself.  It's written in Java, so hello massive resource usage.  The graphics look pretty decent though.  Being an MMO, there's a bunch of different equipment to get and a few different places to go, and everything looked pretty good.

When you start the game for the first time, it kicks you straight into the tutorial, which covers all the basics like movement, attacking, defense, and various gameplay things like explosive blocks that you might not want to destroy at melee range.  This tutorial is fairly short and to the point, and then you reach a small town.

Really all you can do in this town is talk to NPCs and then progress further through the next area.  Once you leave this town, you can't get back to it.  Ever.  Once you progress through the next area, which is easy enough, you'll be in the main town of the game.  Congratulations, you're at the end of the game.  All that's available to do is grind the same dungeon over and over for money to buy better equipment and repeat.

Well, there's also the Advanced Training Arena.  This provides you with a refresher course in various gameplay mechanics, and covers some stuff that the tutorial didn't.  Surprisingly, it's more fun to run around and play in here than it is to grind the dungeon.  While you're in here, other random players will come in and leave, so it's essentially just an extension of the town that you're in.

As for actually grinding that dungeon, it works fairly well.  You can manually put together a party if you want to grind with friends, or if you don't really care, you can just hit the big blue button and get put in with a random party.  Combat is fairly intuitive and fluid, and can be pretty challenging at times.  The game supports voice chat, but with a few caveats: there's no push-to-talk, and there's no sensitivity adjustment.  No matter what I do, I can't get my microphone to stop transmitting.  My only recourse is to mute it with the switch on my headset, or by clicking the microphone icon in-game.

To make your gameplay experience seem like it's worth it, there's a load of achievements to get.  Most are pretty easy, and some are unavoidable.  One of them unlocks an item in Team Fortress 2, which I gather is the reason a lot of people pick up the game ever so briefly.  It's about the third or fourth achievement you have the opportunity to get, and it can be obtained easily within an hour.  I have no clue what it unlocks as I don't have Team Fortress 2.

The game, for what it's worth, is a fun experience until you realize that once you're in the main town you can't go anywhere else.  One of the things people expect of MMOs is being able to explore and reach new towns and stuff, which this game completely lacks.  If it was fleshed out with a lot more content, it might be worth paying a small monthly subscription fee to play, but as it is, it's not really worth trying to get extra energy to continue playing the game, even though you can buy energy from other players with in-game money rather than using real-world money.

Just to reiterate, paying real-world money to continue playing a game with very little content is incredibly stupid, and I question the judgment of anyone who has done so.

The verdict: Avoid, as with all other Free to Play games.

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