We love MMOs, but we have to admit they're not for everyone. They're not for people who can't afford subscription fees, people who don't like other people, and people who don't necessarily want to spend 36 straight hours clicking on a complex series of buff spells only for the entire party to get wiped, moments before the Troll King gives up his sweet fungal booty. Thank God, then, for the massively single-player online RPG, a genre that exists solely for the benefit of the cheap, the creepy, and the time-poor.
MSORPGs are essentially browser-based, single-player games with a large community element that's external to the game's storyline. Because they're played in a web browser, you don't even need a PC to play them, so Wii, PS3, PSP and Mac users can all join in. Heavily text-based with minimal graphics, MSORPGs live or die on the quality of the writing, and most of them have a humorous slant. They're free to play (though donations are usually solicited in exchange for perks), but your game time per day is restricted, making them perfect for a quick lunchtime burst (wait, that sounds wrong).
Kingdom of Loathing
Of the MSORPGs, Kingdom of Loathing is the oldest, and probably the best. It's been going since 2003, and has a keen following. You play an adventurer who has been tasked by the Council of Loathing with finding the missing King Ralph, but as they cheerily inform you later, there's no real rush. Armed with little more than an accordion and a certain amount of moxie (at least if you're an Accordion Thief - other classes include Pastamancer, Disco Bandit and Turtle Tamer) you set off on your quest.
Each region of the black and white hand-drawn map (and hand-drawn by a child, at that - don't expect any fancy manga graphics here) is divided into several sections. Some sections are guarded by characters who give you quests (although you'll need a hermit-permit to visit the hermit), while other areas are questing areas, where you'll earn "meat" (the game's currency) by killing mummies, vampires and lemons in boxes. Entering a questing area costs you an adventuring point. You get 40 points a day, although they can be boosted by eating and drinking - as long as you don't get too drunk.
The script is stuffed with gags and pop culture references: some obvious (Tron and the Goonies in just the opening few paragraphs), and some more obscure (Vampire Hunter: D, anyone?). Seemingly basic, the game is in fact incredibly well designed, and there's a huge amount of content, as you'd expect for a game that's been developed for 5 years.
There's also a well maintained community, with an obsession for correct use of grammar; indeed, to use the chat function, you must first pass a test in which you have to deploy "their", "they're" and "there" in their correct usages, which should at least fox 90 per cent of WOW players. Once you're in, you'll be able to trade puns, knowledge and haiku with the other players, most of whom seem friendly and intelligent. Don't be misled by the title: Kingdom of Loathing is the gentlest, deepest and funniest MSORPG out there.
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