Free-to-play MMOs seem to stream out in a continuous river of mediocrity these days. They tend to follow the same gameplay mechanic mold as well, with most seeing World of Warcraft as the canon for success. Indie developer Three Rings seemed to understand the opportunity to craft something that would engage players in a way that most free-to-play MMOs cannot. From this notion came an absolutely fantastic game entitled Spiral Knights. Using an incredibly colorful palette, engaging combat, and a fresh storyline, Spiral Knights is the perfect combination of elements to keep you coming back to this enthralling world.
In hopes of not leaving out any of the many awesome parts of this title, let's jump right into the plot before covering the intricacies of the gameplay. Each player starts the game as a simply designed character (you can choose from a small range of customization options at the start). Do not fret as you will soon find that there are many an opportunity to craft your character into your own special little warrior through many weapon and armor upgrades. After completing a basic tutorial, you enter the town of Haven. This will be the main hub for all players, and it includes, among other things, an array of merchants for you to interact with.
The premise revolves around a world called Cradle and the many levels of its Clockworks which you will be venturing into. Rather than spending your time on the surface, you enter elevators which bring you deeper and deeper into the Clockworks with each lower level becoming progressively harder. Along with an increased difficulty, each level comes packed with an assortment of enemies and a range of themes such as the ruins of a city or a volcanic landscape.
The deepest part of the world, "The Core", is what all players are striving to reach. Characters throughout the world inform you that at the center of the Clockworks is an immense amount of energy that, if harnessed, can be used to restore power to the crashed main ship that all the players are from. The mystery alone of what awaits you at the core is enough to immerse you into the plot and propel you to build your character to be strong enough to reach it.
Gameplay is extremely easy to grasp, and it will feel very familiar to anyone who is a fan of old Zelda games (and really who isn't?). The camera follows your character from a top-down perspective as you hack, slash, and shoot your way through anything and everything. Your character follows your mouse cursor around the screen while you move either by using the normal WASD or by holding down the left mouse button. The main attack and actions are done by right clicking while the mouse wheel or space is responsible for switching weapons. Special item pickups such as potions that can be used offensively or defensively can either be used with the number keys or by clicking on their respective icons. Three Rings did an absolute tremendous job of making Spiral Knights a game that you can hop right in and thoroughly enjoy. Don't take this as a sign that this is a cake walk though as the depths of the Clockworks can prove to be quite challenging.
After scouring Haven for new gear and recipes, you can enter the Arcade. The Arcade is designated as the area preceding all the lovely hack-and-slash action that Spiral Knights is all about. Along the back wall of the Arcade are different hubs, or elevators, which take you to different section as you descend into the Clockworks. Each one brings you down one level of which you can venture into by yourself or with up to three friends by your side. The setup of going deeper into the world is a very fresh take on advancement in a game, but that's not the best part about the Arcade. Almost everything about Spiral Knights is dynamic. From the gear you can buy at the merchant to the depths of the world you embark into, everything is constantly changing. Levels are literally created by the players!
As you progress through any given level, you come across these crystals called Luminites. By destroying them with your sword, they drop varying sizes of diamonds which you can pickup. These can then be brought to specific hubs in the Arcade which aren't open to exploration yet. After depositing these crystals you can actually see the time left before the gate will open, as well as, the amount of Luminites that have been deposited there by other players. You can also pick and choose which hub you spend these crystals on. The best part is that if you are playing with a group of people, everyone will receive the crystals picked up during that level. This is a nice incentive to group up with other people, along with the fact that the lower levels become quite hectic.
Bosses, strategically placed enemies, traps, and many other surprises make every level towards the Core awesomely dangerous. Sometimes enemies will have a medic with them or a fairy that will heal them that must be killed first in order to halt the regeneration of every enemies health. Little puzzles scattered around and well crafted maps make each level feel new and destroys any repetition you might feel in similar types of games. The progression system of Spiral Knights is also very different from most MMOs,
Rather than level your specific character up, each piece of equipment you have gains "heat" as you complete levels. This in turn levels up your equipment rather than yourself. This forces you to be smart about what equipment you actively use while you play, as well as, what you are willing to give up to upgrade your gear. This is an interesting take on advancement that I for one enjoy immensely.
What else can I say about Spiral Knights other than "wow". Three Rings crafted this title perfectly from the awesome story all the way down to the easy to use interface. Highly customizable controls and the lack of clutter to bog you down makes jumping into this with your friends very simple. Leveling your gear to see how deep you can go into the world is a great feeling, and doing it all with a group of friends by your side is that much more enjoyable. Why are you still reading this? The game is free so please, for your benefit, as a lover of good games, go and try Spiral Knights out. I know you won't be disappointed.
[Spiral Knights] – FREE