Friday, July 9, 2010

Real Life review

Real Life (RL) is a rather controversial game, many people love it, but others can't stop complaining about it. So what I'll try in this post is to give a balanced review of Real Life for the average MMORPG player, some of which don't seem to be too familiar with it.

On the technical side, Real Life is astounding. Super-high resolution 3D graphics, more than photorealistic, and complete with full surround sound. Servers are up 24/7, and all maintenance is localized, thus Real Life never stops. But while the technology of Real Life is as modern as it could be, the game design is a bit old-fashioned and behind the curve: Ultra-harsh death penalty with permadeath, possible loss of equipment, and no quest system except for quests and errands you might receive from other players. Real Life is an ultra-hardcore sandbox game, and we all know the problems that this sort of game has.

While certainly realistic, the harsh death penalty makes players think twice before trying anything adventurous. Risk avoidance then leads to long stretches of the game where nothing much happens, which can be a bit boring. As a consequence Real Life is one of the few games where the crafting and tradeskill part of the game is more popular than the combat part of the game. Well, truth be told, combat in Real Life isn't much fun anyway. But in consequence many players spend a lot of time in RL doing player-given errands and quests, and that often involves grinding the same stuff over and over.

Real Life has no level system, instead your character progresses by learning skills and collecting gold and gear. The skill learning system has diminishing returns, so while learning new stuff early on is relatively easy, it takes more and more effort to advance further once your skill is already high. There are no classes either, although people have a habit of using their best skill as descriptor, so a guy who is good at the baking tradeskill might call himself a baker. While the system gives players the maximum freedom, it is somewhat unbalanced by the random starting conditions: Players start with a random selection of traits, talents, and heirloom items, and those who got lucky from the start have an advantage over those who started under less favorable conditions. Nevertheless, as Real Life is a full sandbox game, there are means to overcome even bad starting conditions given enough determination.

As there are no levels nor caps on the skills and gear you can accumulate in Real Life, there is some discussion about what the goal of RL actually is. There doesn't appear to be any end game in the classical sense. A lot of players think that getting their skills high, getting a lot of currency and gear, and ultimately taking part in the player housing system is the goal, and then follow that up by mentoring new players along the same path. Others are opting out of that system, and pursue different goal. As always in MMORPGs, that leads to players accusing each other of "playing it wrong", and complaining about the n00bs who should learn2play.

In spite of these flaws, I will spend the next three weeks concentrating on Real Life, and in consequence won't be able to play World of Warcraft. Even blogging will become extremely sporadic while I'll be playing RL, as I am taking part in a special holiday event which involves exploration of different zones. I recommend trying out Real Life, especially at this time of the year.

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