Sometimes reviews come too late. Deep Realms was a Facebook exclusive Social RPG that is now no longer available to play. The game has vanished and even the official Facebook page has been taken down. It’s a crying shame too because for a while there this was the pinnacle of RPGs on that medium.
It may be hard to believe it now, but for a while there games on social networks were a joke. Snake and Bejeweled clones were rife and the occasional puzzle game but nothing that a gamer could really sink his or her teeth into. Early attempts at RPGs on sites like Facebook were pretty bad and largely interactive fiction or lessons in number crunching rather than games. Then something changed and almost overnight titles like Restaurant City, Farmville and Deep Realms started to appear.
Visually Deep Realms evokes a western animated style and a standard western fantasy setting. Characters are rounded and proportionate but have a cartoony nature, with the player being responsible in part for their overall look by editing face, skin colour, sex and hair choices. All armour and weaponry currently equipped to a character also shows up on their avatar, with some of the pieces being unimaginative but also occasionally showing real dramatic flair for rare items. Locations are varied and interesting, with a cell-shaded 2D style that looks hand drawn. Largely areas are split across multiple pathways and setup on a grid to facilitate the way the game works, which can lead to some blocky architecture. Monsters show imagination and a greater understanding of genre tropes. Rats and spiders are replaced with a race of rat-men of varying types and specialisms to serve as early enemies and generally each encounter looks like the enemies can flatten you rather than relying on an overabundance of cuteness to sell them. Animation is fluid, although it is apparent when you see the game in action that some characters are made up of multiple parts that move independent from one another. Sadly the games UI is a little intrusive, with large chunks of the screen being taken up by energy counters and social features.
Sound effects seemed to be original and varied from the norm a little, but ultimately are forgettable and lack that sense of weight that comes with a successful attack in other titles. Menus pop and click as you browse them, with may cause some concern for people playing in the presence of others. Musical elements are limited and short, looping or fading out almost as soon as they have started in order to save your bandwidth.
The title is surprisingly not as story-light as one would expect from a Facebook social RPG. You begin the game as a farmer along with your older brother, who disappears after venturing into a local cavern, causing you to go looking for him. Throughout the title it is hinted at that he is trying to save you from something and has headed out on the same quest that you have with the intention of quelling a greater evil your father once battled before it can rise to claim you. Catching up with him some time later leads to a battle, throughout which it is made apparent that he has been consumed by this evil and the story changes to one of redeeming your sibling. Along the way you make new friends and encounter some of the allies who worked with your father back in the day. Nothing ever feels too heavy but ultimately the game is fun and it does just enough to keep you invested throughout its course. Sub quests such as quelling an undead rising and battling a Rat King also derail the story as fun interludes and optional content.
In pure gameplay terms the world is a series of locations that you can select to visit as long as you have unlocked them through the campaign. Inside locations are dungeons that are made up of squares leading eventually to a boss battle. You as the player have HP and Energy bars, if either drops to zero you can’t play and can choose to pay real money to refill them or let them naturally regenerate over time. Clicking each square moves you there and costs 1 point of energy. Under each square could be an item, experience, gold, trap, nothing or an encounter. Encounters are turn based and allow you to being three weapons you have equipped along with three skills (passive or powerful attacks) into the battle with you. You’ll usually faceoff between 1 to 3 enemies or a powerful boss who can take multiple combats to finally kill. This ropes in the games social elements as you can enlist them to take turns pounding these bosses for you too to save you time. You can also PVP other players (or at least their current builds controlled by an AI) in the arena for rewards and cash. Items dropped throughout the game fall into categories for healing, equipping or for crafting with you being able to turn in complete ‘sets’ of items dropped in certain areas for special rewards like rare equipment. The game has a warrior, wizard or archer class system with each having their own skill tree to unlock through gaining levels. Wearing a complete matching set of armour (helm, gloves, tunic, etc) also serves to unlock some bonus stats as a reward and currency can always be spent in the in-game shop to buy new types of weapons and armour with differing effects. The games main draw is that a lot of locations that aren’t a strict part of the narrative open up as you make your way through the game, encouraging you to double back and play them when grinding.
Overall it’s a shame that Deep Realms is no longer around. It’s a title that managed to raise the bar for RPGs on Facebook and never felt like it was trying to force you into paying out real money for a social title. Playdom went on to launch the highly successful Avengers Alliance title on Facebook shortly after shutting down Deep Realms and it seems like the decision was largely centered around pushing players over to the more lucrative fields found there. Personally I’d like to see them revisit this title as an app one day in the future, as I’m sure many of those who experienced it would agree.