I've been playing a couple of MMORPGs lately. Now, that's not usually my thing, but sometimes one needs to try something out of the daily routine. And since we're talking free-to-play, it was only going to cost me time. What I find interesting is that both games appeal to me considerably, despite being not just very different, but polar opposites in some regards. So I decided to try and review both side by side, and see if that turns out any useful insights.
Runes of Magic
To start with the most ordinary of the two, Runes of Magic is an unapologetic World of Warcraft clone, but a very good clone. It tries to fix some annoyances with its source of inspiration, and succeeds very well in my opinion. It is also extremely easy to get into. Maybe it becomes more difficult as it progresses (I haven't played far), but you don't need a big pile of strategy guides just to choose a race/class combination and play it well.
Not that the game has many races. The first thing I noticed was that the only choice you get is between humans and elves. A good thing, as that means fewer starting areas for the developers to polish. Class choice could be trickier, with six to pick from, but thanks to the dual-class system a poor choice at the start doesn't have to mean scrapping a character.
The second thing I've noticed was that the setting is designed to feel like a believable, living fantasy world, as opposed to a theme park. Everything from the art direction, through the general storyline and down to individual quests, supports that realism. To give just one example, I can readily accept that a little old lady would send me, a brave young warrior, to hunt some bears for her. As opposed to some local hero giving me a quest that they could easily accomplish alone. The low-key, down-to-earth beginning of the story also helps.
Difficulty-wise, Runes of Magic poses about as much of a challenge as watching TV, which makes it easy to lose track of the time. It is also very generous with loot: since I started, I never had to buy anything in-game. As for microtransactions, only one NPC ever asked me about diamonds (the in-game proof that you paid real-world money), so it's possible that paying customers don't get game-breaking advantages.
For reasons beyond the scope of this article, I had to stop playing just before getting my second class at level 10, so there must be lots of things I've missed. Can't wait to play further, though, and there aren't many computer games I can say that about.
Now, Pardus is a very different beast. Imagine a cross between Elite and Nethack, running in a Web browser. You're navigating a 2D, cartoonish, tile-based spacescape, trading, running missions, and yes, fighting cheesy space monsters. The game is not easy; you need to play a lengthy tutorial first (and believe me, you don't want to skip it), and once in the game you really need to pay attention and think. There is no way to opt out of PvP — not that I've been attacked by another player so far — and since most of the economy is player-run, you don't want to make any enemies. On the plus side, the game being a challenge means I'm having plenty of fun soloing, at least for now.
At first I felt restricted about the action point system. You only get a limited number a day, and once you've used them up all you can do is log off and return later. But that means I can advance just as fast as some schoolkid with too much time on his hands, and yes, as fast as a paying player. Speaking of that, Pardus is supported by optional paid accounts, but subscribers don't get any weapons, ships, buildings or other unfair advantages; what they do get is an extra server just for them, an extra region of space on the other servers, and access to a bunch of features that make play more comfortable, such as the action point cap (but not the refresh rate) being 10% higher.
Did I mention the buildings? They are a big part of production and trade in Pardus, and since it is players who build them, the game has an important economic simulation component, not to mention a tactical one, as buildings can be conquered and destroyed; starbases are even large enough that small fleets can enter them and fight inside. Add to that the complex RPG features, with factions, alliances, ranks, competency levels, skills, reputations, and an dizzying array of ships, weapons, etc., and you'll get a very rich experience; there is something in Pardus for everyone.
After writing the two reviews above, I racked my brains trying to figure out what these two games have in common that they would appeal to me so much, but couldn't find anything. The cost is about the only place where they meet. But, as Nightwrath pointed out, I can enjoy, say Star Wars and A Scene at the Sea equally much, and they are completely different movies. Maybe there's a lesson in here: quality can take many shapes, and it is quality that matters in the end.