Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

Bookmark and Share

About IGMS / Staff
Write to Us

Digits & Dragons
  by Greg Allen
December 2007

The Best Games in Life Usually Aren't Free

It's a sad fact of gaming - the best games are going to cost you some cash. With so many fantastic games for all platforms released in the last couple of months, there isn't any shortage of fantastic titles that you could shell out for. From Mass Effect to Mario, Halo to Half Life, Bioshock to Rock Band, it's been a good year for gamers.

But what if you're burned out on these or simply don't have the budget to shell out the cash required for these games and the systems to play them?  Well, thanks to the beauty of "free" you can still get your game on without paying a dime. Many of these games are done for the love of the game and, while they may not be the best thing around, they certainly are worth a try.

Whack a Skeleton

Last month I was playing Tabula Rasa, a pretty fun massively multiplayer game but one that also costs $15 a month.  If you still want a persistent character to play with friends and don't mind missing out on some extras (graphics, story, immersion, or depth) then Dungeon Runners is a free PC online game you might enjoy. If you've played any of the Diablo games you will immediately feel at home with Dungeon Runners, which in many ways feels like an online recreation of Diablo. The similarities between the games are obvious; many of the dungeons are randomly generated and the cool loot you get is variations of quality, enchantments, and uniqueness that make up fearsome names like the Slothful Rusty Sword of Rat Slaying.

Die rodents, die!

While the game isn't terribly deep, it acknowledges that and plays to its strengths - it is fast, it is action-packed, and it is free. The time from character creation to monster slaying is next to nothing and it is easy to master all of the basic skills. Of course, if you want to get access to the best items in the game you do have to pay a monthly fee, but the free version is enough to provide a fun online dungeon crawl.

Civil Service

If whacking beasts in dungeons isn't your thing, perhaps a Civilization remake is. Freeciv is an open-source recreation of the original Civilization that adds some new features and misses on others.

The basic gameplay of Freeciv is everything you remember from Civilization: you build cities, shape production, drive to new technology, and ultimately conquer the world, reach space, or die trying. The technologies and units are for the most part pretty similar to the original, as are many of the formulas used to calculate all of the battles, resource production, and so on. 

In addition to recreating the basics, Freeciv goes further and adds some cool new features, like a more goal-oriented technology tree.  If you know your goal is automobiles and you are still working on writing, you can select automobiles and let your scientists work on all of the relevant pieces to progress up to that desired tech.

Beyond a clearer tech tree, the developers of Freeciv have also added the option to play online against other players, and players can take their turns simultaneously. I haven't had a chance to try the multiplayer but it is definitely a cool addition and finally provides the chance for you to find out which of your friends would make the greatest leader of the known universe. If those two features weren't enough, there is also a governor feature that lets cities manage their production and happiness themselves based on a couple of parameters you define. If your empire is getting too unwieldy then this is a good way to set aside some of the more menial tasks that come from wearing the crown.

My first playthrough of Freeciv was against the computer AI and only lasted a couple of hours. If you've played Civilization you know this is way too short. I don't know if the AI is always this relaxed and dumb, but I was able to hang out on an Antarctica-like continent and tech up to the space age while they were barely making caravels and knights. Getting off to Alpha Centauri was a breeze but it just didn't feel right.

Why play around with sticks when you advance to thermonuclear war?

Although the new features are cool and all of the gameplay of the original is included, I just didn't feel like the game captured the feel of Civilization. I don't know if it was the great Civilization music, the funny-looking advisor, the palace-building option or any one thing, but while Freeciv plays like Civilization, it definitely isn't a replacement for the original empire-building game.

In addition to Freeciv, there is another, independent project to recreate Sid Meier's Colonization, a game I actually enjoyed more than Civilization. I haven't tried FreeCol, but it is out there and if it is anything like the original it should be a lot of fun.

Swords and Strategy

There is an interesting gaming genre that combines turn-based tactical combat with the character development and storyline of an RPG. These tactical fantasy games have been around for ages, including the Shining Force series for the Sega Genesis and other consoles as well as Final Fantasy Tactics.  These games never seem to be mega hits, but they give a slower pace compared to real-time strategy and it is fun to develop your characters over many levels.

On the subject of free, one turn-based tactical RPG stands out - The Battle for Wesnoth, an open source, freely available game built for Windows, various Unix operating systems and even Macs! And, since the source code is freely available and additions are encouraged, you can even make your own additions to the game.

The main download of the game comes with a number of campaigns as well as a tutorial to help get you started with this kind of game. The basics are pretty simple - kind of like an elaborate (and more random) game of fast-moving chess. After a little bit of storyline background and setup, you are placed into battle with your army squaring off against your enemies. 

As I mentioned earlier, all of the combat is turned based. Each turn, all of your characters can move, attack, or move then attack.  Rather than your attacks just being a free hit for your guys, you have to choose whether to attack with your melee weapon or with a ranged weapon. If the enemy you are attacking also has a weapon of that type, they can fight back.  This means that archers attacking wolves with their bow never need to worry about taking return punishment, but if you end up sword-to-sword against an ogre, you better watch out. 

Along with just deciding which enemies to attack when, there are also strategic points around the map that you must hold on to. The most crucial of these points are villages, which not only add gold to your recruiting pool each turn but also heal whatever unit is standing on them. Terrain and time of day also play a factor in determining how likely you are to score a hit on your foes.

The best place for an elf is taking cover in the forest

Between the exciting tactical decisions and the predictable but fun stories, Wesnoth is a lot better than I would have expected and is a game I could easily see people paying money for.  That it is continually evolving and is totally free makes this a great game to try out.

Following the Leader

Perhaps when you were younger, you enjoyed the game of Lemmings - saving those mindless green-haired little guys from certain doom, while sometimes accidentally letting one or two more than necessary explode with that satisfying "pop"! Well, if you still wax nostalgic over that title then you can satisfy your creature management urge with a fun open source title, Pingus.

Like Lemmings, Pingus is all about making some kind of order out of a bunch of mindless drones. Each level has a starting hatch that penguins fall from and an ending doorway that you must guide them to.  Along the way are perilous drops, water traps, and of course the most dangerous feature of all - you. Yes, the sad fact remains that not every tux-wearing bird will make it to the end; sometimes you have to explode a couple to make way for the others. 

Pingus began as, and still is in its heart, a Lemmings clone, but it has also added some new features. The most obvious of these features is the addition of an overarching story and an accompanying world map. The story (global warming threatening penguin extinction) isn't that interesting but it does strike a nice balance between not distracting from the real fun (the puzzles) and giving at least some context to what you are doing. In addition to the story, there is at least one additional action available to you as you guide penguins along their way.

It's up to you to bash, climb, and jump these guys to safety

At its core, Pingus is a problem-solving puzzle game and is great for those that like games with this peppy, Nintendoesque feel. It's easy to pick up and is a good fix if you still have fond memories of Lemmings.

Free is awesome and some free games are really fun. Just like anything, price isn't necessarily an indication of quality. On the whole you are probably going to have more fun playing a AAA title than something you randomly download. This isn't always the case, though. Among the store shelves there are certainly many worthless games, and sometimes you can find fabulous games done for reasons other than profit.

Strangely, a lot of free games are recreations or new takes on old games and don't show a whole lot of creativity. With many of them, like FreeCiv, the mechanics are all in place but the game just hasn't been fleshed out with all of the small touches you come to expect.  Still, the price is right and there is a lot of fun out there to be had without having to spend your holiday bonus.

Home | About IGMS
        Copyright © 2024 Hatrack River Enterprises   Web Site Hosted and Designed by WebBoulevard.com