I am no die-hard gamer - I generally just want to kill a few hours when I'm too tired to do anything useful. These reviews, therefore, will focus on what I enjoy when playing games - which is mostly the graphics, a degree of randomness, and character creation (if an MMORPG). (Updated 2011)
An MMORPG where you can play several different races, including human, elfin and small and fuzzy, kind of like the ewoks. The last race come as three characters in one. Character creation is quite fun (even if the females all seem to look dreamy and say "ahhh" all the time), but you have to choose sides when you sign up and then you can only create the races on that side under that account. So to explore the full game you need two accounts. It starts of great, in my opinion, where the tutorial is also a kick start placing you smack in the middle of an assassination and the following chaos. I didn't play it for very long, though, and after seeing the game advertised with the all-too-common "butts and boobs" with innuendos ("come play with me") I don't feel much like playing it again. I mean, I can understand it if a bad game would stoop to that level of advertising - they have nothing else to brag about. But good games shouldn't need to revert to such silly measures. Not to mention, I feel that the ads all aim at a male audience even though there are plenty of female gamers out there.
Amaranth is a game production company that have produced some of my favourite games. I first came across the free game Ahriman's Prophecy and have subsequently played Aveyond 1 and 2. Pretty soon I'm bound to buy Aveyond 3 as well (it comes in 3 chapters and I've bought the first). It's your usual RPG in the sense that you run around bashing monsters over the head, leveling up and saving your money for better equipment. But in the Amaranth games I enjoy the graphics and exploration as much as the game story itself. They've also released a cute game called Grimm's Hatchery where you raise fantasy pets and protect them against monsters, with the aim of making enough money from your business to be able to buy back your family castle. Some of the fantasy pets from this game reappear as monsters in the Aveyond games which I find a little amusing.
Big Fish Games
Another site for multiple games, some of which can be tried online for free, while others can be downloaded and played for an hour. I don't care much for most of the games, especially in the online section, but occasionally something quite enjoyable comes along. (Many of the Amaranth games are sold through Big Fish.) Many of the games here lack the randomness I enjoy. Personally I don't feel like paying for a game that's only fun once. But the graphics are generally good (except on many of the online games). If you like hidden object games you'll find a lot of them here. I find the site useful for killing time now and then. (Note: when you buy or download trials from Big Fish, you also download their game manager, which, in my opinion, is a pain in the... lower backside. And you have to pay a tax on the games so they're not as cheap as they first seem.)
Not an online/download game at all but I enjoy it so I'm putting it up here. It's a city-building game where you have to keep an eye on employment and happiness, remember to please the gods, produce enough resources to keep both the city and your emperor happy, and so on. Sometimes you'll have to defend your city against raiders and other enemies. You play a series of challenges and on almost every level you can choose whether you want a more peaceful or more military challenge. With my habit of periodic game playing the game lasted for years before I reached the final challenge. What I lack in this game is an option to get random maps. I think you can make them yourself (but that kinda removes any element of surprise) and you can access more scenarios online, but I'd like to see randomly generated maps as well. Also, once I won the final challenge the game stopped functioning and just froze if I tried to play... Not sure why that was?
A "Massively Multiplayer Online Real Time Strategy game" (MMORTS) played in your browser. No hour-long downloads. I felt the urge to try this game for somewhat conflicting reasons. They advertise the game on Elfwood, and usually with a beautiful image another Elfwood member painted. This and it being a strategy city-building game was on the plus side. The other ads, mostly featuring women in lingerie and encouraging you to play secretly at work, was grating on my nerves enough for me to check out the main site. Basically I wanted to find a place to post a complaint! Instead I tried the game, and now I know why they tell you to play at work. City development is so slow, that unless you have something else to occupy yourself with while playing, you'll die of boredom. Two mysteries remain unsolved: what does boobs and bras have to do with the game? And why is there a Capricorn symbol on the so called Aries amulets?
An online MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game). I like the graphics (fairly cute) and the music. I wish there were a lot more options for character creations, though (you have four classes, two of them with elf ears and two with human ears, I think, and three purple-blue-green shades of hair colour with three haircuts per gender, and that's all the customisation you get - unless you pay real money of course). My old computer couldn't handle the game when I got further into it and there's a lot of other players around. Especially places where they gather to set up shops bogged me terribly. The weapons enhancement system (and graphics with glowy items being more powerful) is nice and the skills system too, although I booched on my first try. One has to choose two skills out of six or eight. And one has to choose both at the same time. I chose only one thinking I could add one later... (ended up deleting the character and starting again). The "bank" is shared by all characters on the same server, so you can divide up the skills and then have them make and gather items for each other.
An online multiplayer game where you customize cute little pirates and explore a cute little world. I do love the graphics here, but there are not too many games to play to make money (rumble, poker, drinking, bilging etc) and I've not yet gotten to where I feel comfortable joining other players to pillage or trade or whatever it is one needs to do to make enough money to afford buying anything else than an empty crate and some rags... I mostly play the bilging game because it's the only one I don't suck at, which means I get bored fairly easily. I still enjoy in now and again though. (And need I point out that I enjoy the character creation?) Update: I have now spent actual money on this game, which helps your pirate along a bit. However, I invested in a stall (shop) and it beats me how you'll ever make the money back from that - it's hard enough to break even.
Runes of Magic
Another online MMORPG with, in my opinion, wonderful graphics. There are many options for character creation, which I (as usual) enjoy more than just about all the rest. I miss the option for more skin tones though. They have a whole range from pale to dark on the palette, but when applied to the character they only change a shade. So far I like most of the quests (I dislike the need to team up to complete some quests - I prefer being a lone player), I enjoy the environments and I have made at least one character of each class just to try their different skills. Production systems are (fairly) logical if tedious (originally you had to make a million things before getting to what you needed - I think it's been changed but to advance your skill level you still have to make plenty you have no need for). There are frequent in-game events which help make the sometimes needed "grinding" a little more fun or profitable. And sometimes it just makes your backpack fill up faster...
Yet another MMORPG where you run around hitting things on the head. You can also choose to improve other skills such as crafting, cooking or fishing. Improving skills takes quite a while and I feel there's a lot of running around involved, since your backpack is also rather limited. You can't run for very long (although this has recently been improved) which means that moving about gets rather tedious. The graphics aren't as nice as Runes of Magic or Fiesta, but they're not bad. Characters can be fairly highly customized. If you die, remember to get back to the scene as quick as you can and you might regain some of the items and gold you lost when dying! And keep most of your gold and valuables in the bank.
In this MMO you're a young wizard student just arrived at a school of magic. You have to choose which type of magic you wish to learn, but you will be able to learn some spells from other "schools" as well. It's aimed at younger players, and is cute and colourful, but that doesn't stop it from being enjoyable. The game starts in Wizard City and will subsequently take you to several other worlds but only the first is free to play and even there, some areas are off limits if you don't pay. You can either subcribe monthly and have access to all areas, or buy in game crowns and pay for the areas and items you do wish to access. (I don't know if subscribers need to buy additional crowns to buy items, as I opted for the pay by area method.) There are pets and crafting systems as in most MMO's these days. The fighting is based on spellcards, though, which is at least unusal to me... One gripe is that many effects use pure white for light, so no matter how much you try to darken the screen, some effects will still be painfully blinding. Also, the spell animations may be fun the first time but when repeated over and over they do get a bit tedious. Oh, and I HATE the "blood bat" (I call it the barfing bat, for reasons I think you can guess) and the Gobblers who burp and fart when they fight. Ew!
Finally (and very surprisingly), another MMORPG. In this game, with cutesy graphics, you have survived a shipwreck and ended up on a primitive island. There's a mix of primitive and advanced items (the same is true, though with an even greater anachronistic feel, in the game Angels Online by the same company) which bothers me a bit. The compounding system (making items) is seemingly very random. I know there are recipies, but every recipy can become several different things or something else entirely. You can also manufacture lots of tools which in turn can be used to make more items or tools. That part is quite well developed, but perhaps a bit over complicated as well. My biggest gripe about the game however, is that I get bored if I have to kill hundreds (and I'm not exaggerating now) of monsters to level up one level. It makes levelling up in some parts of the game VERY slow. (Sure you can move straight on to the tougher monsters but if you do, or maybe that is if you're like me, that'll only make you dead.) On the good side of this game, though, is that you can actually capture the monsters you fight and then they can be sold, ridden or used as team members to help you in battle.