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A Review of the Free Realms Virtual World

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

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Free Realms is a virtual world from Sony Online Entertainment. It’s similar in content to the popular world, Runescape, but is designed to be appropriate for a younger audience (ages 10+). It’s a Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG), which means that there are a lot of people co-existing in the online world with you at the same time. You can interact with them as part of the game play. The role playing aspect means that kids take on a “persona” and play as that character while in the game.

Specifications

  • Recommended ages: 10+
  • Cost: Free, with a paid membership option
  • Minimum hardware: Windows XP/Vista, Broadband Internet, 512MB RAM
  • ESRB Rating: E10+ with Crude Humor and Fantasy Violence (rating does not apply to user-generated online content)

Pros

  • Plenty of things to see and do
  • Parental controls for chat and user-submitted content
  • Free membership allows for full game play

Cons

  • Navigating the world can be cumbersome

Getting Started with Free Realms

When starting out, Free Realms asks users to decide between life as a human or a pixie. Users can start out quickly with a randomly designed character (avatar), or can take the time to customize everything from skin, eye and hair color to the type of clothes and facepaint to wear. It’s fun to create your own character, so I’d encourage everyone to set aside the time to do it right.

Next, users create a free account and download the Free Realms software. Keeping some of the software on your local machine makes it faster to travel around the world and access games. Make sure to set aside the time to get everything set up before starting to play.

When the game is loaded and your avatar is ready, it’s time to explore. Free Realms makes this relatively easy by providing a set of tutorials on how to move around the world, interact with other characters, build skills and choose a career. After completing the tutorials, it’s time to set out on your own. I admit that I found the world a bit more overwhelming once I was set free with all of the other players, but there are still plenty of prompts to help you figure out what to do next.

Life in Free Realms

Free membership in Free Realms allows you to pursue a variety of different careers, including Chef, Ninja, Pet Trainer and Demolition Derby Driver. There is a paid membership that allows for additional careers including Warrior, Blacksmith and Wizard. Players can progress in more than one career at a time by taking on quests and playing minigames.

While in Free Realms, players can do whatever they would like… play games, earn virtual coins, take on quests or just chat with other players. There is a lot to explore and do. I spent some time working on building skill in my chosen careers and doing quests for other characters. I also learned how to take care of a virtual pet.

Internet Safety

Safety controls for parents include the ability to restrict chatting/commenting to pre-populated phrases as well as access to forums and other areas with user-submitted content. These controls are automatically activated for children under the age of 13 and are optional for older kids. According to their website, they are also designing a system that will allow parents to specify what hours their kids can be on the site.

Paid Membership in Free Realms

A paid membership in Free Realms includes the following:
  • Access to additional career choices
  • The ability to create up to three different characters
  • Ranking in the game leaderboards
  • Access to additional items and quests
Parents should note that there is also the option to buy (with real money) virtual cash for your kids to shop with in-game.

Bottom Line

Free Realms is a high-quality and fun virtual world experience for tweens, teens, and even adults. I sometimes found the controls to be cumbersome and the occasional in-game crowds to be overwhelming, but these would be less of a concern as you spend more time in the game. Compared to some virtual worlds, the pressure to buy a paid membership is low and I never felt restricted by using the free option. It’s got some nice parental controls and, overall, felt like a safe spot for older kids to hang out.
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