Conan fights four free MMOs

Four MMO games that won't cost a cent (plus Conan!)

Welcome back to PC World's ongoing effort to celebrate sloth. This week, we're monkeying around in one epic, action-heavy online game for which you won't mind paying the monthly fee. First, though, buckle up for a few massively multiplayer online games that won't cost you one red cent. We're talking completely gratis online gaming — no hidden items to buy, no shenanigans.

The free-MMO patrol

Don't feel like parting with your paycheck just to goof off? Here are couple of free online games that I'll probably spend the rest of my weekend playing. Give 'em a try — it's not as if they'll cost you anything.

Darkwind: It doesn't matter whether you've played the old board game Car Wars, watched Mad Max, or just stuck a firecracker in a Hot Wheels toy--if you've done any of those things, you'll like Darkwind, a world where you earn points for driving offensively. Strap on a machine gun or flamethrower to your Ford Pinto, and go crazy in this turn-based strategy MMO.

Gunrox:This indie work-in-progress is another turn-based combat MMO, but here you're in the heat of battle with a squad. So get all tactical, post up on corners, and take potshots at unsuspecting enemies. The obvious inspirations are games such as the classic strategy title X-Com: UFO Defense.

Allegiance: Originally Allegiance released in 2000 to glowing reviews, but went on to be "the greatest game nobody played." It's an online game where you can either pilot ships in a 3D space-fight sim or be a starfleet commander calling the shots...who'd want to play that? Me! And you can as well. Host servers are online, and the game is freely available.

Dungeon Runners: Calling all Diablo fans with a sense of humor — NC Soft has released a game where you technically don't have to pay, but you may be tempted at some point. This title captures all the addictive gameplay of dungeon-crawling classics but tacks on plenty of self-aware jokes. Just last night, I saw someone selling studded baby-seal armor. In case you want to look cute and cuddly while slaying demons, I suppose.

This barbarian life

Then there's the paid-MMO flavor of the week, Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures. The critics seem to dig it (and I concur), but what's the big deal — and why should you consider plunking down cash on this one?

The game has been out only a week, and 400,000 barbaric hopefuls have already signed up to pay the $US15 monthly admission price. I can understand why — this game is visceral, dripping with action and sporting a single-player storyline woven throughout. The latter is something pretty much unheard of in MMOs. Guess it's time for me to dust off my loincloth.

All right, a confession: My original plan was to create a Schwarzenegger look-alike, spouting movie quotes ("Who is your daddy and what does he do?") or campaign promises to sway a new online constituency.

Then it hit me. With nearly a half-million wannabe warrior-kings running around, someone needs to take care of the less-important business. You know, make sure all the slaves are sorted by alphabetical order. Keep count of all the arrows in stock. Have high-level meetings to synergise ways to slaughter villagers. And so began the adventures of Bob the Barbarian, Middle Manager.

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I spent ages birthing this guy. As this game is a poster child for DirectX 10, your avatar will look great — and unique, considering the number of details you can tweak. Once promoted, though, Bob quickly forgot his origins as a humble wage slave. His big contribution for the chained-up peons: Casual Friday. He's still working out the kinks after his last batch complained that being able to eat without getting beaten isn't considered classically "casual."

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Water-cooler talk is a little harder to come by, but at least at night the game revolves around some single-player action. Yep, a story-based lone-wolf experience lurks beneath the MMO surface. It's basically a second game. Go on quests, meet ladies of the night--you know, the usual. Just remember that even among barbarians, sexual harassment is not welcome in the workplace. After all, bar wenches have feelings, too.

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The most important part of any day for Bob: meetings. Really, nothing can get accomplished without locking coworkers in the same room for a couple of hours and debating over the best way to slaughter neighboring nations. It may not sound like fun, but that's how business gets done here in Hyborea. Besides, considering how fluid the combat system is (you're dodging blows and timing combos, unlike in most MMOs), you'll want to streamline your moves.

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Another meeting successfully wraps up, but I still have one small problem. These guys are always forgetting to fill out the correct paperwork. I mean, how many times do I have to tell them that the "Unsanctioned Death and Dismemberment" form must be filled out and signed by a supervisor, with two copies sent to HR? Umm, guys, will you be able to make the 3 p.m. meeting today?

Who says barbarians have all the fun?

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Darren Gladstone

PC World

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