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Spiral Knights

Developer: Three Rings Design
Publisher: SEGA
Genre: MMO/Dungeon Crawler
Release Date: PC, Linux, MAC
April 4, 2011
Rating: None
MSRP: Free To Play, with paid features

Spiral Knights takes the typical MMO, takes out leveling, and adds in heavy reliance upon teamwork. Add in cute characters that look like the Heartless people from Kingdom Hearts, a ton of dungeon crawling, and a system that utilizes real cash transactions wisely, and a new breed of MMO is born.

Albeit small, there is some back story to Spiral Knights. The knights have crash landed on an alien planet, Cradle, and are trying to ban together to stay alive. Using the resources from the monsters and planet, each knight must explore the Clockworks, an underground civilization of such that is home to many hostile creatures, including mutant jellies. The objective? To reach the core of the planet to see what this strange new planet has in store for the knights!

The worlds themselves are based off of real time, so going down in the morning will not be the same as going down during the evening. This adds a bit of a random element to the typical monotony of dungeon crawling. There is also a very easy party crafting system that really does all the work in the back-office. There is really no touching it unless there is a specific knight that the player wants to add in themselves. Leaving a party open allows anyone to join, and joining a party is as simple as going to the world and clicking join. It is very easy and intuitive.

All of the areas are instanced, meaning that the player and their party are in their zone alone. No one can steal that party’s loot or currency (labeled crowns in this game), and the party is free to roam at their own pace. The game is heavily based around party play, so there is little effect when trying to go it alone. I can give you many stories of the ill fate my character has found trying to solo beyond a certain floor. The floors themselves are broken out into tiers, where a gate stops a character from going further down without having the proper equipment. This is also good, as being under equipped will find a knight being pummeled much earlier than he or she wanted.

Dungeon crawling costs a knight Mist Energy (ME). Each day, the servers provide 100 ME for each knight to adventure on, that is gradually regenerated (I believe it is one energy every 15 minutes). To go down on an elevator costs 10 ME. Once all of the ME has been expended, the player must wait until they have enough energy to perform actions again. This energy is also used for crafting weapons armors, and items, as explained below. This is all the free portion of the game, and can be used to fully enjoy the game’s features. There is also the option to purchase Crystal Energy (CE) which can be done in one of two ways. The first way is by actual funds. The cheapest amount is $0.75USD, while the most is $49.99. The most expensive nets the knight 20,000 CE, which is a whole lot of adventuring and crafting. I personally was able to make 5,000 CE units last for about two and a half weeks, and that was with making errors and spending my energy unwisely. It can deplete faster, and it can deplete slower. It is all dependent upon the gamer’s play style.

There is also a feature to use crowns (in-game currency) to purchase mist energy from players. It is usually pretty expensive, but is driven entirely by a market system. Therefore, supply and demand of said energy is solely the determining factor on how much one must pay to receive 100 units. The energy is only sold in 100 unit increments. This is a more friendly way to purchase more energy without having a credit card handy. The best part about this game is that it does not rely on money to allow a player to enjoy the game. Granted, that player may not advance as fast as someone who is using money, but the dependence is non-existent.

There are vendors who sell equipment and recipes, but there is sort of a ratio to it all. Equipment from vendors is expensive as sin, cannot be made over and over but is relatively accessible. Recipes from vendors allow for crafting of that equipment at any time, usually at a lower cost for both the recipe and the weapon, but also use crystal/mist energy to craft anything, thus cutting down play time if no extra energy is purchased. The final way is via another player, who usually sells either the weapon or recipe at a premium, but makes it much easier to obtain as they have all ready done all of the work. Once obtained, the pros and cons stated above still apply. One thing I do not like is the difficulty to achieve the latter equipment pieces. It can take a player upwards of weeks to find one piece of armor or helmet that is needed to move further.

Death in a party is carried out very differently in Spiral Knights, as there are no experience points distributed, there is no real way of penalizing the player for dying and reviving themselves. Therefore, they have made the feature cost ME/CE. It starts out at a very low amount, and gradually increases each time the feature is used. I have seen it go upwards of 300+ CE to revive, which can start to get costly if the player continues to do it. The other way of revival is if a player comes to revive the downed knight, however it is at the cost of half of their health bar. I will admit, about 90% of the community is good with teamwork, but there have been the select few that simply do not understand the concept and will not revive anyone.

The final aspect that the player should be aware of is the mineral system. I do not have full mastery over it, however the Spiral Knights Wiki should be able to provide the necessary information needed to understand it. Throughout the levels there are mineral deposits that the knights can carry on their back. The mineral deposits are shared, so if one knight picks up a blue mineral worth six units, then the entire party receives that six units. Therefore, it behooves the players to seek out the biggest gems they can find. These minerals are used to construct the stages that the knights can play on, and alter what they see within the worlds. For example, if a knight places in so many of one mineral, then the overall element that the enemies may end up carrying is fire (allowing them to set you on fire with each attack). It is a complex system, but incredibly worth seeking out the solutions if finishing the levels are the player’s ultimate goal.

As it is an MMO, I feel the need to make mention of the community and the community driven aspects of the game. The game places a lot of emphasis on teamwork both in and out of the dungeon, so when exploring the dungeons has been completed for the day, there is much trading to be done. As far as I could see, the people were generally friendly. I had no real issues. There are plenty of servers, and none of them carried any real lag issues worse than the others. Overall, I was pretty satisfied with what I was playing with.

Graphically, the game does not give any real wow factor behind it. My system was powerful, so I was able to render the graphics at the highest setting, and really, it looked no better than an early PS2 title. The polygons were smooth, and there were no over the top glitching with sprites falling outside of where they should be, but there will be no one playing this game simply for the visual aspect of it. The coloring and shading are perfect for this style of game, however.

All in all, the game was an exceptionally fun game, with new twists and game elements that made it fresh and new. There are not many MMO’s like it, if any at all, and if you are confined to playing a game with no credit card, I would definitely recommend this one. Spiral Knights is an entertaining game that breathes life into the free MMO’s by offering gamers a new and challenging MMO, with little reliance on outside currency. The game also requires no real install, which is useful if the computer being used is not allowed to have games installed on it. Despite both the pros and cons, I would tell those who appreciate a good MMO to give it a shot, because I do feel it is worth playing, but I assure you that you are not missing anything dire if you do not. If you fall into it as I have, I can assure you that it is insanely addictive.

Overall: 7.0 / 10.0

+New Style of MMO
+FREE to play
+Cute and quirky characters

-Later equipment becomes harder to acquire
-Payments are needed to advance quickly/play for longer periods
-Mineral system is difficult to understand

~Dungeon crawling made easy with a quick build party system
~Mineral system determines what worlds will be like
~Worlds change based on current time