While there's inevitably more chaff than wheat to be found in the fields of browser-based free MMORPGs, there are occasional rare treasures to be unearthed. Armed only with an addiction to anything vaguely resembling a Skinner-box, John Bedford set out to explore the world of free online gaming and unearth the best and worst of this indie gaming scene.
There's a startling amount of depth in the presentation of Dark Orbit that isn't apparent in any of the other games I reviewed for this article – that certainly helps to explain the developer's claim of over 44 million registered users, an impressive number even for a free-to-play offering.
The main interface is polished and easy on the eye with 3D animated units and ships. The game being a mixture of combat and resource collection, these activities take place in a separate, 2D shoot-'em-up-style environment window. Here you can either set about completing quests or simply gathering raw materials for refinement or sale.
Further down the line, opportunities exist to form clans and take on the game's harder content, but it's the option to play and grind as much as you wish that sets the game apart from the other featured titles, avoiding artificial daily barriers to progress.
What is a terrible shame is that the high level of presentation and content has been paired with such a horrifically awful, monotone soundtrack. You will not suffer this synthetic drone beyond a handful of repetitions before scrambling for the settings to kill it and savour a moment of silence. This problem aside, once muted, Dark Orbit may well steal a little bit of your life if you let it.
On that note, a word of caution. As a newcomer to the game I was delighted with the scope to grind and take as much play time out of Dark Orbit as I cared for – plus, what items-for-cash there are for me at this point seem quite unnecessary and superficial. Long-term players, however, warn of eventual character development costs running into the hundreds of dollars if you wish to fully flesh them out.
But as a player with no intention of handing over any money, Dark Orbit simply has content galore, an extraordinary interface given the business model, and there's certainly an active community to work alongside.