I still miss The Matrix Online, my favorite massive multiplayer online game ever. It wasn’t perfect- it was far from it and suffered from serious mismanagement, hence why it was shuttered 2 years ago- but it was the type of online game that I enjoyed. First off, I’m a huge fan of The Matrix trilogy (yes, I am one of the apparent few who enjoyed the last two films) and the core concept of the game- you’re in the Matrix, playing as an operative of one of 3 factions- was very appealing. It was also a science fiction MMO, in a world glutted with fantasy-based ones. I had zero interest in playing the perennial World of Warcraft, and in fact the only other MMO I had played was the ancient (and thankfully no longer with us) Ultima Online. I participated in the beta for The Matrix Online and maintained my membership on-and-off  until its demise.

After the Matrix went offline, I looked at other online games. I had played Star Wars Galaxies for a bit, leveling up to 56 but then lost interest fast. I tried Everquest 2, but it was the same deal- got to level 28, and one day, while standing on the shore of the virtual world, asked myself, “why am I here?” I even tried World of Warcraft (got to level 5 and bailed, because I just wasn’t that into it) and Vanguard: Saga of Heroes (lasted even less time). For a while I played 9 Dragons on and off, and loved the setting and martial arts but hated the grinding aspect (as most Asian MMOs are susceptible to).  The closest I got to sticking with a new MMO was Star Trek Online. I participated in the beta, even ordered the full version- but then realized that the game’s flaws (at the time, they may have since been addressed) weren’t worth the investment, and I obtained a refund.

And that’s part of my problem with MMOs. $15 may not be a lot (and it really isn’t), but it is an ongoing investment in a game. Then there’s the time sink aspect (5+ hour raids in World of Warcraft? No thanks. That’s not a game, that’s a part-time job). There’s the transient nature of MMOs, where you spend a lot of time building up and investing in your online persona and then, when they cancel the game, you lose it all.  None of it seems practical anymore.

And yes, kids, get off of my lawn.

So a while passed and I didn’t have much of a desire to play an MMO. I have a Playstation 3 and in the times when I am able to play, I get along fine with the occasional RPG or adventure game. But the itch to play an MMO returned. I did another round of research. I like playing monk / marital arts types of  characters. Not a lot of those around in the big MMOs, but apparently you can do that in Dungeons and Dragons Online, which also happens to be free to play.

Free is good.

So I download the client, created an account, and logged in. Only to find that the Monk class is something you have to pay for, as it’s not included in the basic “free” package. No big deal, I thought, it’s not like I’m paying a monthly fee. Throwing a little cash at the game should be fine.

Except when I tried to add the required points to purchase the Monk class via the in-game store, it would crash the entire game client when I was going through the Paypal checkout. After trying this a few times, and even attempting a few of the fixes on their forum with the same end results, I uninstalled the game. Their loss.

So, I was back at square one and pretty much deciding that I was giving up on the latest round of MMO hunting when a friend recommended Runescape, a game her son plays. I checked it out. Apparently, it is the most popular free-to-play online game, with 10+ million people. The game didn’t have classes, but rather skills that your character could train in and develop, so you were not locked in to particular style of play. Runescape is browser-based, using a Java client, and features 3D graphics that are okay but not resource intensive. Since it was free to try, I took Runescape for a spin.

After a few hours of gameplay, I have decent impressions of Runescape. First off, it’s no graphical beast. Combat is painfully basic, with animations that belong in the late 90’s. Questing is a simple affair, as the game provides you with a task window and you can accomplish the provided quests in a breadcrumb style. The controls are clunky; you simply point and click where you want your character to go (simple enough) but to rotate the camera you need to use the arrow keys on your keyboard (and not,as I was accustomed to in other games, using the scroll wheel on my mouse).

The introductory quests are the standard fare; talk to this person, perform that action, mine for that item. Thus far it has avoided the “Kill 10 wolves and come back” variety of quests, but the standard ones don’t appeal to me either. I can understand the introductory quests being tasked with introducing you to the game world, its mechanics, and various aspects such as the marketplace, smithing, etc., but I personally have zero desire to do any kind of crafting in a game. I know there are people who live for that kind of gaming experience, and more power to them, but I simply have no desire to spend my time in a virtual world creating pottery and selling it. That is, again, not a game, but a job. If you’re spending time in a virtual environment and buying into the fictional aspect of the game, why wouldn’t you just adventure and explore? Why sit in your virtual hut with your virtual clay and and fire up some pottery in your virtual kiln?  But different strokes for different folks, and Runescape fills a niche there.

The servers were very active; there were a number of people playing and running around, but oddly there was not a lot of interaction. A couple of questions I asked went unanswered (granted, they were probably noob questions, but you would think odds are someone would have answered). Still, there were people teaming up and running around, so there may be hope down the road.

Runescape offers limited content for free play, and once you become a paying member you have a lot more available to you. At least being a member starts at $5.95 a month, which sounds about right for what you’re getting. It won’t bust your wallet and your commitment isn’t extensive.

So I’ll be sticking with Runescape, at least for a month. It seems like a casual MMO that has more upside than down, but there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of story, which concerns me. Then again, I have barely scratched the surface of the game. At the very least, it’ll be holdover until next MMO catches my eye. Not that I have any idea what that would be. Honest.