A pretty fun little MMO with quite a few innovations
Spiral Knights is an action-RPG that takes place in an MMO world. While the dungeons are instanced, with characters groups limited to 4, the trade area allows for about a hundred players to actively trade and talk with each other. That being said, this game can be played completely single-player if you wish; the dungeons scale monster HP to accommodate player count, and I find this mode is actually preferable to running around with noobs who get themselves killed.
The most notable aspect of the game is the Energy system. Your character gains 1 energy every 11 minutes (~109 per day, capped at 100) online or offline, and he can allocate this energy to either running dungeons or crafting equipment (and other miscellaneous uses). Both dungeons and crafting require energy to participate, so a character can only do these so often per day. The end result of this system is that this game is less about grinding and more about efficiently using your energy. This is a huge improvement over the traditional MMO system; even though it limits your amount of fun per day to about an hour, it cuts out the really boring excess that plagues MMO's. Plus, it incentivizes min-maxing your character even when doing easy things so as to maximize your exp/money per dungeon trip.
Of course, this game is free-to-play, so there's a catch. Players can buy more energy with real money. This sounds like it would ruin the system, but it's really not as bad as it sounds. Whether or not characters spend real money, they are still going to be playing in the same energy-conversation way in order to get as geared as possible. True, some players will be able to get far ahead of their peers due monetary advantages, but this game is not a competition in any way, so there is no disadvantage to playing more slowly than your peers. In fact, dungeons can scale to weaker-geared players very efficiently, so friends don't have to worry about growing too distant in power.
If you do buy energy, expect it to last a loooong time. I bought $20 worth of energy when I started (there was a deal going on), and I have gotten so much playtime from it that my /played is far too embarrassing to post... and through auction house/crafting I've managed to conserve more than half of it. Energy can also be bought with coins, so it's fairly easy to convert crafted goods back into energy, often at a profit.
You'll gain exp, money, and crafting materials through doing dungeons. These are about 75% monster-stomping and 20% puzzles. The puzzles are easy but surprisingly fun. The combat however can be quite challenging and is what makes the game engaging. Your character has 5 to 6 abilities: Sword swing, charged sword swing, shield, gun attack, and a charged gun attack, plus an optional bomb attack. Learning which moves counter which enemies well is a big deal, since hp is not easily recovered past the early levels. If you manage to lose all your hp, you can revive for an energy cost, which starts very low but increases after each revive, resetting only at the major checkpoints. This game is a lot like an arcade machine: conserving health will conserve energy (quarters), giving a HUGE ADVANTAGE to those who play the game well. While gear is very important, a pro could potentially beat the hardest level with all 0 star equipment (don't plan on doing this though, haha).
The dungeons are kept fresh through a random dungeon generator. It creates a new dungeon every 2 days, each of which lasts a week. Players can analyze each dungeon externally and pick the one most favorable to their gear/strategy, though the floors still randomize a bit just for fun.
The dungeons are divided into 3 tiers. The top tier is easiest, bottom is hardest. The exp and money for each tier is about equivalent, but the bottom tier will drop far better crafting materials (all of which can be bought from the Auction House, so no one is obliged to do a specific tier). Gear which is far too powerful for the easier tiers is scaled down, but there are a few advantages to doing weaker tiers every once in awhile even for maxed out characters.
The RPG Elements
The player plays as a spiral knight. He has no character level, but instead has gear of various tiers represented by stars.The lowest tier is 0 stars, the highest is 5 stars. A player's primary goal is to get all 5 star equipment. Each gear piece also gains experience, leveling from level 1 to level 10. This will boost the primary stats of the gear. For tiers 0 through 2, levels aren't really necessary since you'd rather just get a higher tier piece. However, at tier 3 and 4, upgrading your gear to the next tier requires certain experience levels, so both tier and level become important. Different pieces of gear at the same tier can be remarkable different. One sword may swing wide while another will be slow and hard hitting, while a third sets things on fire... there's a ton of choices, and very few bad ones.
Crafting is also done very well in this game. Basically, you can buy/sell crafted equipment of up to 3 stars, but 4 and 5 star equipment must be upgraded from gear you have personally used and cannot be traded (with very few exceptions). So players can alternatively earn money through crafting instead of running dungeons for most of the game (choices! woot!), but they'll still need significant exp from dungeons to get top-leveled 5 star equipment. There's a fully functional Auction House so trade is fairly simple.
- If your connection has significant amounts of lag, it will severely hurt you in the dungeons. Bullets that hit won't count, your hitbox will seem way larger... it's not good.
- You are kind of compelled to log in every day or end up wasting energy.
- There are no outside areas. Only dungeons and trade areas.
- Since your limited energy limits how many coins you can earn per day, there are a ton of beggars. Ugh.
- Trading is practically required, so expect to use the Auction House even though it can be boring.
This game rewards playing smart, and it rewards being skilled in combat, which is quite rare in the MMO genre. It also makes playing in turns quite an enjoyable alternative to playing indefinitely. This game isn't for everyone. But if you like arcade style combat, and you like being efficient in games, this game could be for you.