Free to play MMOs are free to play, but they generally want you to spend some cash on upgrades and power ups for your little adventurer too. That's completely true of the "free" MMO beta I've been zooming around in this afternoon: Pirate Galaxy. Despite my credit card staying firmly sheathed in my wallet, this is pretty pro for a free click 'n' grind, and the browser-play means I've been I've been able to keep it open in a window while gossiping on IM with John, and poking the layabouts in the Steam group chat room. These thoughts continue below.
Pirate Galaxy is rather simplistic: a stripped down WoW-like with a space-craft instead of a dwarf, but it's actually rather well produced. The explosions glitter and the interface does some smart stuff, like allowing you to open the map and keep control of your craft. It doesn't have quite enough pop ups to explain everything, and I spent a few minutes flailing about on the tutorial planet's surface before I figured out how to get into orbit (it's at the top of the UI) and begin the game proper. Once up there you float about with a bunch of other players to team up for missions, or go off and do your own thing. It's a neat idea, like adventurers hanging out the tavern before they head off to slay the local troll. It seems to shine a light on the lack of a game-pausing "orbit" function in space games, which would just allow you to meander around a celestial object while you go and make a cup of team.
Anyway, once you start doing missions it becomes oddly demanding for a game that is clearly intended to be ultra-casual: there's a time-limit for standard enemy bashing, and you have to worry about "energy", which means pootling off to find energy orbs and re-arming your ship. Annoying. Then it just becomes confusing: why aren't all these ships registering as part of my mission? Why is it only 36% complete if I've killed twice as many baddies as I need? Bugged? Too obscure? It's hard to tell. I'm getting a bit pissed off with the controls by this point, too, and could do with heading downstairs to rummage in the kitchen for a biscuit.
What's clear is that I'm unlikely to be jettisoning my five year Eve Online career for this little fancy. It might have blueprints dropped by NPCs and manufacturing of items, and it even has hangars in space stations, but that nevertheless fails tantalise when the moment-to-moment mission running becomes this much of a chore. What's most interesting, perhaps, is that the game boasts a PvP aspect, complete with a conquest-level game, clans and all that MMO making-friends-and-killing-people jazz. All of that means that when the game launches proper this will eat the leisure time of someone out there, and I bet they'll get a huge kick out of it. But that person won't be me.