Apps, apps, apps. All we talk about is apps, it seems. Week and week out, I try to throw out a list of five different applications--usually themed around some particular scenario--that give you untold access to your system in new and exciting ways. Well, mostly exciting. Let's face it. Sometimes, an app is just an app. It's a useful, free utility, but nothing to throw a party or write home about.
So, that in mind, how about some games?
There's nothing more fun--and more detrimental to one's professional life--than sinking hours after countless hours of playtime into a persistent digital world. That's right, I'm talking about MMOs. The problem, however, is that there are simply too many free MMOs to choose from. If you're intending on spending a significant amount of your personal life in some digital dungeon or what-have-you, you don't want to do it for a crappy game that nobody is playing. You want an awesome game.
I have taken it upon myself to find five free MMOs with such a characteristic--awesome--and am happy to announce the results of my findings below. I wish you the best as you go forth in the grand tradition of surrendering your social life to slay digital... well, everything. Digital everythings. Right.
Ahh, the alpha and omega of roleplaying comes forth in its digital incarnation. It's not quite the Dungeons and Dragons you're probably used to, however, this now-free-to-play MMO delivers a ton of fun without all the unnecessary thinking and imagination that its pen-and-paper cousin demands. The catch is that the "free" version of DDO is a wee limited versus its paid-for counterpart. You won't get fancy classes like the Monk or races like the Drow or Warforged, and can only have two free character slots. But these changes, and others, are a small price to pay for a full-fledged game that costs you nothing to play.
Second verse, same as the first. The epic MMO that follows the adventures of a young hobbit looking to chuck some jewelry into a really hot oven is going free-to-play as well, presumably with the same conditions as its partner-in-arms, Dungeons and Dragons Online. The catch? LOTR is testing out its free functionality in a beta test right now, which means that you can't actually download a client and just jump right in as of this article's writing. However, were this game not that great, I wouldn't bother including it on today's list. Keep this one on your radar or, if you're lucky, roll the dice and get into the free beta test!
"But wait," you ask! Heroes of Might and Magic is a turn-based strategy game that incorporates awesome elements like city building, army generation, and sending-thousands-and-thousands-of-units-to-bother-someone gameplay. How could that possibly be an MMO?
Answer: It just is. Seriously. This is as close to a massively multiplayer game of Heroes of Might and Magic that you're going to find, as it's a fairly faithful replication of the best elements of the normally single-player title. Control armies, built up your city, fight in turn-based army combat... it's all there! And did I mention it was free?
I suppose it makes sense that there exists a massively multiplayer soccer game. But, that begs the question--aside from just kicking a ball around on a virtual field, what is there to really do in an MMO soccer universe? You can't really go on soccer raids, per se, nor would a trading system really make sense. Crafting soccer balls and selling them to other gamers doesn't seem like a very fun use of one's time.
Well, FIFA Online builds in a ton of managerial options in addition to the straight-up, "kick the ball" aspect of the game. You can watch your players grow in strength and experience throughout your matches, control decisions like play formations during games, and equip your superstars with equipment that you, er, "loot" by playing more matches or purchase from the "vendors," or store.
All we need now is one huge dragon to buzz the stadium during a game and I think we'll have the best sports MMO ever.
Remember that game called Auto Assault? You know, that vehicle-based MMO that lasted about as long as your average World of Warcraft heroic dungeon run? Yeah. Well don't despair, because that's hardly the last time anyone has made (or will try to make) the ol' racing MMO. Drift City is one example of such and, go figure, it's actually pretty fun.
Perhaps my favorite part of the game is its art direction--it's not quite as realistic looking as, say, Crackdown, but the cool cell-shaded effect really brings out a special vibrancy for when you're driving around and delivering things/hitting people/racing others. This game is straight-up driving, by the way, so don't expect that you'll be able to strap a huge gun to the top of your call all Twisted Metal-style. Bummer, I know.
David Murphy (@ Acererak) is a technology journalist and former Maximum PC editor. He writes weekly columns about the wide world of open-source as well as weekly roundups of awesome, freebie software. Befriend him on Twitter, especially if you have an awesome app or game you're dying to recommend!