Realm of the Mad God

"With almost no downtime, a true sense of cooperation, and constant challenge, RMG is an MMO that never grows stale."

The ever-expanding free-to-play/microtransaction market claims another victim as Wild Shadows Studios' Realm of the Mad God (RMG) continues to grow and consume our time. Fast-paced, hectic action keeps players' eyes dry as even the slightest hesitation could mean "permanent death." Looters, pew-pewers, and co-op enthusiasts look no further, because Realm of the Mad God is sure to satiate and infuriate.

This minimalist, indie MMORPG offers huge, top-down worlds for players to jump into and spam varying ranges of attacks. The Nexus is the home, shop, and bartering haven for players. Players spend little time at this pit-stop, however, instead moving on to one of 85 player servers to explore. The only difference between these servers is the map – the enemies within are largely the same. Upon entering a world, weak enemies threaten your survival almost immediately, demanding your constant attention. Of course, the scorpion and pirate flooded beaches aren't all that challenging with their ample potions and players' low experience requirements to level up. Venturing inward yields more challenging foes, their types dependent on the terrain. Players quickly learn that caution must be exercised to ensure survival, because once a character dies, all levels, equipment, and beats of their pixely heart transform into a cold, gray slab of rock I like to call a "tombstone." There's no, "Nathaniel, may I be so bold as to ask you to go grab my Sword of the Ker-Chunk?" or, "Why, Ferguson, would you be so kind as to retrieve my knickknacks, tidbits, and what-have-yous?" No, once a medusa bathes in your juicy, rectangular blood, that's that.

Don't stop reading yet. This game isn't just for the frustration platformer fans out there – the Super Meat Boy, I Wanna Be The Guy, and Tower of Heaven fanatics among us. No, when a character dies, depending on conditions met, other classes unlock and fame is accrued. Sporting 13 total classes at the time of this splendid review, variety in gameplay is available, though the balance between classes is debatable. A quick glance at the leaderboard reveals that a few key classes hog all the fame, while other classes struggle to break even a thousand. Aside from tracking progress throughout one's life, fame is free currency that can buy – very little. Of course, one appeal of free-to-play games is free updates, and the developers promise eventually to include more items for purchase. However, gold can be bought with real money to buy aesthetic improvements, such as patterned robes and pets. The only "useful" application of gold is extra character or vault slots, which come at a relatively steep price.

Team play is a premium of RMG. Typically, the more players, the better for everyone. Meeting the level 20 cap is easy depending on one's methods, but new players shouldn't be shy about expecting higher level players to carry them back up to their former glory. Experience remains constant no matter how many people join the fray, and helping others level up yields fame bonuses upon death. Truly, the developers want to emphasize team play. This is further exemplified in that certain gods – the toughest enemies that offer the biggest bonuses – can only be defeated or even unlocked by the efforts of several players. To make cooperative play even easier, a teleport function allows players to zip around the map to a friend with the click of a button of a left sort of nature.

Enemies occasionally drop dungeon entrances, which take any who enter to an area full of unique enemies and bosses. The chief purpose of entering these portals is to beat the boss and enjoy specialty rewards. Not only are rare drops more common in these areas, but some of the best equipment in the game can only be found there. However, traversing most of the dungeons alone isn't recommended.

The only other goal-oriented aspect of the game is fighting greater gods, who also drop rare items. Unfortunately, drops seem to go to the strongest characters who deal the highest percentage of damage, leaving support characters wanting. Once all of the greater gods are defeated on a server, Oryx the Mad God sends everyone in that realm to his castle, dividing up to 85 players into four separate areas, where they meet in the middle, defeat a guard, and then challenge Oryx himself. Echoing the aforementioned woes, this area seems to favor the strongest players, making for a boring experience upon the tenth or so excursion – these occurrences aren't uncommon. Fortunately, players can "Nexus out" anytime they want, no matter the situation or status ailment. This means that death is almost entirely the player's fault, because if enemies begin to crowd and outnumber a party, escaping is just a hotkey away. This would be the case, of course, assuming lag wasn't such an issue.

The most unforgivable and unfortunate drawback of RMG is the server lag. Technophiles can say what they like about Flash, servers, and whatever else contributes to lag. Others can claim that "you get what you pay for," but there are those who pay to play – people who help fund the project and keep the developers sheltered from the elements of – you know – the outside. Pros and cons were weighed before designing this game, and the team at Wild Shadow Studios made a decision about platform, costs, and other annoyances. So, I have to unapologetically lambaste this otherwise entertaining timesink for its horrible playing conditions. If a game is designed around the concept of permanent death, then the developers should do everything in their power to place the blame entirely on the player. This is why games like Super Meat Boy are forgivably difficult – the controls, physics, and hit detection are so solid that there really is no one else to blame. However, in RMG, lag spikes and hiccups are so common that hours of work can be lost in an instant for no good reason. The developers may fix this issue in a month, and, dear reader, you may wonder what I'm talking about, but the lack of a timely fix or response to the situation do not reflect well on the team.

Though, here I am, having spent over fifty hours on this game. Why? I could easily spend my time on anything else. Hell, RMG doesn't even have a story – another problem that could be fixed easily. Truth is that the game caters to that visceral sense of "fun" that so many other action games try to tap into. With almost no downtime, a true sense of cooperation, and constant challenge, RMG is an MMO that never grows stale. Sure, the game gets repetitive, but never easy or exploitable.

The controls in the game are fantastic, as they need to be in this cutthroat style of game. Movement is tight, hit detection is spot on, and obstacles clearly function as they should. Throughout my entire experience with the game, I never wondered why an enemy didn't die when I was hitting him, or why a priest's healing spell somehow didn't reach me. One might even say that everything in the game is pixel-perfect.

At this point, we have to start wondering if the idea of retro graphics is just an easy out for lazy development. Instead of complex artwork or creative graphics, developers are free to use blocky, pixelated graphics and claim, "Uh, yeah, look how nostalgic our game is!" All commentary aside, the game's graphics suit the theme: a simple yet engrossing approach. In this way, the visuals parallel the gameplay, and they certainly don't detract from the experience. The sound and music could be a little better, however. Some enemies share the exact same sounds as other non-related foes. Why not just make some slightly altered or – this is really ambitious – completely new sound? I honestly have no idea how long making a new sound for an enemy takes, but it can't take more than a day, right? Then again, if the developers are spending the majority of their time trying to fix the lag issues, then by all means adhere to your priorities.

Lag was an acceptable issue in games up until five or so years ago. At this point, most high-quality online experiences are relatively lag free. That's why I have to say that RMG is not a high-quality experience, but not just because of lag; Realm of the Mad God suffers in its simplicity. While I have every confidence that the developers will tactfully add complex features that somehow won't detract from its simplistic appeal, the game currently feels a little bare-bones. Though, again, I can't really complain, because this budding game has effortlessly devoured far too much of my time already.

© 2010-12 Spry Fox, Wild Shadows Studios. All rights reserved.

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