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Realm of the Mad God
Posted On 2/20/2012
Realm of the Mad God takes the compulsion loop of a conventional MMO and boils it down to its essential nutrient broth, eschewing all the frippery and getting down to what such games are all about: Kill, loot, level-up, kill some more.
With NES-level pixellated graphics, frenetic top-down shooter play with WASD movement, and permadeath, it feels like a game from another era, yet informed by the tropes and techniques we've come to expected in dikuMUD-likes; games from another era are not, obviously, browser-games and massively multiplayer. It's a game that might have been developed in 1985, if we had an Internet in 1985.
The choice of permadeath is an interesting one, since the conventional wisdom among the MMO-chattering classes is that permadeath is a bad idea. If you spend months levelling up only to die, it's a rage-quit moment. In RotMG, though, death feels more as it does in a Rogue-like; oh well, restart. Unless very good or very cautious, you're unlikely to live for more than a few hours, and there's a level 20 cap, which you'll hit in a few evenings of play, most likely; the character-investment is not as dire, in other words. And in any event, some things persist with death. For one thing, at start, you can play only a Wizard; but once you hit level 5 as a Wizard, you unlock the Priest class; and once you reach level 5 as a Priest, you unlock the Archer; and so on. Unlocking the final class (Sorceror) requires you to level both an Assassin and a Necromancer to 20; thus, there's a sense of grind-progress despite your many deaths.
Another unusual (but clever) choice is realm-reset; when all "realm bosses" are killed, the Mad God Oryx summons all characters in the realm to his lair, and if he is defeated, the realm is reset -- with a new, algorithmically generated map. Needless to say, this final boss battle is pretty darn epic.
This produces a sense that the game is not as static as a typical MMO, with players consuming content and getting bored waiting for the next expansion release; the game is refreshed from time to time.
The business model is FTP (free to play), with real money required to do such things as increase the number of inventory slots in your vault, have a second character slot, or purchase dyes, pets or other hard-currency items that are nice but not essential to play. If you don't mind this, however, it's a extremely nice time-waster, and the minimal approach is a refreshing change from the pomposity of games like World of Warcraft.
Realm of the Mad God is a 2012 IGF Nominee in the Technical Excellence category.