Monday, July 18, 2011

Review: Realm of the Mad God

'Ello there!

It's been awhile. Yes it has indeed. But I've come out from hiding (yes, that's exactly what I have been doing) to talk about Realm of the Mad God, which is maddeningly good. Maddening because you'll hate it. And good because you'll love it.

Yes that makes a lot of sense. Read on for more of this maddening writing (and game)!


Realm of the Mad God is at its simplest an MMORPG. You traverse an 8-bit world as one of a whole slew of classes pounding the hurt on various monsters, collecting lots of loot, upgrading your character and then taking on the big overlord boss of the entire realm in an epic fashion: that is, the entire cohort of gamers on the server at one time gets transported to this big boss Oryx and everyone works together to take him down.

Here's where it gets interesting:

1. Realm of the Mad God is free to play in your browser (with non-compulsory micro-transactions). So maybe you were doing research for a thesis paper, or at work sending some emails, and feel like a little break. So jump straight into the game. Very convenient. Until you realize you've been playing for 5 hours straight OMFGWHEREHASMYTIMEGONESHITMUSTPLAYSOMEMORE

2. It's persistent, it's an RPG so you get to save your character. Your very own little being in this great big dangerous world that levels up the more you play, and the more loot you bestow on it.

3. Heck there's a lot of lewt. Every other monster is dropping this or that thing and shit, your inventory space is only 8 boxes big, so you can only carry 8 things. And the crazy thing is, in just a short 20 minutes, you'd have come across some of the game's best items and your inventory will be crammed with all sorts of goodies. And more keep pouring out! Aaargh not enough inventory space what do I do!??! Do I drop behind this top-tier staff for this other top-tier shield even though I don't play this class? But I don't want the asshole tagging along behind me to pick it up! I want it all!!!!

4. And that's not even the end of your worries. The game is crazy fast-paced, more akin to a twin stick bullet hell game than your classic dungeon-crawling RPG. Bullets are flying left right centre, and you're actually dodging it at a neck-breaking speed while dealing your own pew pews of death. Maybe you're level 19, about to hit 20 and carrying all this good gear, looking forward to taking on the big boss of doom when suddenly, a stray bullet hits you and your screen fades to black.

5. Oh no! WTF you died! And guess what, your entire character wipes. Yessiree, it's hardcore mode from Diablo 2. All that lewt, all that great treasures of the realm you hoard all gone. Your hard work getting to level 20 all gone! RAAAAAARGHHHHHHHHHHH mega-rage, and then you play again.

Then a realization hits you, that Realm of the Mad God is a truly maddening and sadistic game. There's a reason why there is only so much inventory and stash box space. You just won't have enough space to collect all the l33t gear (unless you pay for more space and I'm trying very hard to fight the temptation because heck, the convenience would really help). And on top of that, death is always just around the corner. Get your guard down just so you can lewt that poor sod who died before you and some monster's going to breathe down your neck and kill you. Think you're invincible with high level gear? Some monster better than you is going to kill you all the same. Want to play this top-tier class? You're going to have to get several lower level classes to 20 before you can. So you keep playing.

It's the classic RPG at its most distilled. There are no NPCs in this world, no shops to buy anything from. Everything you'll need, everything you'll want can either be gained from killing monsters or found when other players with too little inventory space drop stuff. Half the game is spent running around Nexus (the safe zone in the game), jammed to the rafters with other players, picking up dropped lewt bags left by other people who couldn't carry anymore. And the other half of the game is spent killing monsters for no real narrative reason at all.

Then combat is the simplest thing. You can press T and have your character continually fire a stream of bullets at the enemy, all you have to do is point your cursor at the enemy till its dead. And press space bar on occasion to use your class' special ability. The problem of course is that there'll be plenty more monsters pointing their bullets right back at you.

And in typical MMO fashion, XP is equally shared across all people fighting the same monsters. You don't even need to be in the same party; so long as you teleport to a group of players fighting high level monsters, you don't have to lift a finger to level up continually. It's brilliant, and sometimes you'll see these massive trains of players just wiping a realm clean. All these green numbers denoting the amount of XP you're gaining just continually climbing. Also means you don't have to play the game 24/7 in order to get to the highest level. In just 30 minutes or so, you should reach level 20 - if you haven't died yet.

Death is the worst though. It's the absolute worst. All your hard work leveling your character to 20, all your careful lewt collecting, all that wiped completely clean in an instant because you were careless with a stray bullet or failed to defend yourself from a huge swarm of high level monsters. It's sickening because there is nothing else to do in the game other than keep fighting (or grinding, for the cynical) so when you die, you start straight from level 1 and get right back out there. Only to die again.

In fact, the only way you can survive the meta-game of Realm of the Mad God is to not let it get to you. Not let it make you feel the most utter hatred for the game developers, not let it get to you that they sucked your life and soul for a measly little browser MMO that is somehow also seemingly one of the most compulsively brilliant games of the year. Damn... because after awhile, you'll know that all you're doing is the same thing over and over with little reprieve or enlightenment. There is no enlightenment, this is the role-playing gamer's personal hell and heck, they love it. I love it.

It certainly trains you to realize the transient nature of every RPG game, of loot-hoarding compulsions, of the pointlessness of fighting. It really all doesn't matter. But you keep coming back for more anyway.

Nice one Oryx. Well played. Sure, we can kill you over and over and keep farming your nice lewt. As long as you're keeping us in the realm forever, you win.


  1. Unlike most MMOs, XP is not split among players. Instead everyone gets the full XP. For example if a monster is worth 100XP and there are 5 players nearby, in a normal MMO, each person gets 100÷5 = 20. In RotMG, each person gets the full 100. The goal was that there should never be a time when another person joining your group makes you worse off (it's not completely true but that's one of the guiding principles).

  2. Thank you for making that clearer dude!