As a computer gaming enthusiast, I have played and still continue to play a variety of games in different genres in my leisure time, such as first person shooters (FPS) and real-time strategy games (RTS). I have also played online games, multiplayer games, and role-playing games (RPG), but I must confess I haven't really played a game which combines the latter three catergories, that is, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG).
MMORPGs have been steadily increasing in popularity since the introduction of the internet, and with the increasing widespread availability of broadband internet access, have started to really hit their stride.
Despite its growing prevalence however, I haven't really gotten into it.
Well, that is, until now. Until I discovered this game. And the funny thing is, it was my son who introduced this game to me.
He told me all about this MMORPG he had been playing, called RAN Online. I didn't really take heed at first, thinking it was probably some sort of cartoony game that charged for online play, like Ragnarok. As it turned out, on both counts I was wrong. The game is not at all that cartoony in the same vein as Ragnarok, and the game, and online play, are both free. Yep, you heard me right. Absolutely free. And for something the costs zip, it's actually pretty good.
Here's the premise:
18 years ago, a devastating meteor shower led waste to the continent of Asia and isolated it from the rest of the world.
From the ashes of Asia's destroyed civilizations out came a mysterious organization known as the Sacred Financial Group which founded four unique schools on the continent, Sacred Gate, Mystic Peak, Phoenix, and Leonair Campus. The schools taught their students as a means of defense deadly combat skills and martial arts, and the use of ancient weapons and magical scrolls, in response to a dimensional rift which ensued after the meteor storm which corrupted and possessed both the living and the dead.
During this time only the schools were safe havens from the effects of this dimensional rift, protected by special force fields. The force fields of the eastern school of Leonair Campus unfortunately failed, and it's entire student population decimated by some unknown force.
The remaining three schools ponder their fate, wondering what dangers lie outside its walls, and if it would be the next to fall.
Piqued your interest yet?
Your personalized character start off as a freshman student in any of the three surviving schools in a specific class of your choosing. You may opt to be a brawler (fights with bare hands), a swordsman (uses swords), an archer (uses bows and arrows), or a shaman (uses spells and magic). Gameplay is pretty much hackenslash, ala Diablo. Your character works its way up through the various levels through quests and through killing monsters. And you gain access to new areas, weapons and clothing as you level up.
I've been playing the game for only about a week or so, and it can be entertainingly addictive as you strive to level up your character as fast as possible.
I'd tell you how the thing ends, but it would seems that I myself am still a long ways from going through the entire thing.
In your quest to see the game towards the end, as an MMORPG, you need not be alone. You can form parties, gangs, clubs, guilds, and even fight other parties, gangs, clubs or guilds for campus supremacy. You can even fight against those from other schools. You can also engage other players in friendly duels (your character doesn't really die) or fight to the death in player killing sprees outside the campus premises. Conversely you can shun all the violence and just walk around, chatting up whomever strikes your fancy, but it won't be as much fun. It's a pretty wide community, and I myself have already made some friends through the game.
Aside from the normal MMORPG fare, what I find astonishing and amusing is the thriving market economy within the game itself, as special weapons, clothing, or other items are sold and traded freely between players. If you wish, you can even open a store (you have to buy the privilege using real money though) of your own. As can be expected in a simulated market driven environment, there will be poor players and rich players, and don't be surprised by newbies (and some con artists masquerading as newbies) going around begging for handouts.
It so closely mimics real world dynamics that cons, scams, and thievery can also take place, so beware.
If you're into MMORPGs, I recommend you give this game a whirl. It's free, so you really don't have anything to lose. If you're in the Philippines, you can download the game client here. If you're somewhere else, look up RAN Online on Google. There are local RAN Online communities in other countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Hongkong, India, the United States and Europe, so find the community closest to you and download the client from there.
It doesn't have much in the way of system requirements, so if you have anything more than a 500 MHz Pentium III, 128 MB of RAM, a 16 MB NVIDIA GeForce2 MX, 400 MB of hard disk space and an internet connection (dial-up or broadband) you're in the clear. If you have higher-end hardware like video cards with pixel shaders or surround sound setups, the game will take advantage of it as well.
Considering the varied environments and rich gameplay, one wonders how a free game like this can actually make money. Actually it earns money at least via two ways, one is through the selling of e-Points, which can be used to purchase various in-game items such as weapons, power-ups, costumes, accessories, and various other items to customize your on-screen persona. While it may seem like a shallow market, you'd be surprised how many players would be willing to shell out real money just for the privilege of making their character look different from the rest.
Another, is in-game advertising. Take a look at these screen shots:
All in all, RAN Online represents a pretty satisfying online multiplayer RPG romp at a price that can't be beat (hey it's free).
Now excuse me while I try to level up my character. Look me up at the Mystic Peak campus. I'm a swordsman with the handle nemesis922. :-)