Realm of the Mad God is about living. It’s a free-to-play MMO shooter where death is final. You grind higher, you collate ever-more useful baubles and you surround yourself with fabulous people – but once you push your luck too far you’re finished. All that’s left is your name on a leaderboard crowded with countless other fallen heroes: your achievements celebrated but, ultimately, utterly insignificant. Mortality, huh? What a ballache.
It’s the ever-present threat of disaster that pulls your every cutesy, retro action in Realm of the Mad God into sharp focus. You run around hectic servers – top down frenzies of wizards and archers using zaps and super zaps on self-perpetuating social quests versus the local 8-bit flora and fauna. The higher you level the more classes are opened up once you’ve taken a tumble from your mortal coil, but you still lose items and progress – if not friends and fame.
It’s an ultra-social open-plan Gauntlet, then, and simultaneously an MMO with a clear disdain for the usual procedure. This is a game where time matters (it’ll soon turn out you’ve got a limited supply after all) so all the delays and cross-map trudges you’d usually be punished with in an online RPG have been excised. You can instantly warp to fight alongside any player on the map, instantly return to the safety and shopping of the Nexus and all the inane chit-chat you’d usually go through when making friends is rendered unnecessary by automation. You just set out on your adventure to kill, and eventually get killed, again.
As a shooter, too, Realm of the Mad God is mildly hypnotic – aided and abetted by a pulsating sound-track to serenade your endless discharges at crabs, pirates and rabid pizza slices. The threat of losing it all, however, ensures that your attention doesn’t waver.
Of late, death in games has lost its sting. Friendly autosaves and kindly difficulty curves have streamlined our progress through gaming worlds – simultaneously shearing off the upper limits of agony and achievement while we play. Indie gaming, presumed free of the threat of your mother picking up a gamepad and asking what the buttons do, is increasingly one of the only places where you can find pleasure in punishment.
The chequered Health and Safety record of the Realm of the Mad God makes it a fascinating place to whittle away the precious hours you have left on Planet Earth. Just don’t go expecting a respawn…
Realm of the Mad God can be played for free on its website at http://www.realmofthemadgod.com, while it has recently also appeared as a free-to-play game on Steam. Fill your boots.