As many of you probably know by now, it’s family month here at MMOGames and we’ve been taking a look at many MMORPGs targeted towards children. However, many gamer parents might have realized that the quality of games out there for kids isn’t that great. Most consist of simple browser games full of microtransactions that are only trying to get at your wallet.
There appear to be a couple of major exceptions to that rule in the form of two games developed by KingsIsle Entertainment: Pirate101 and Wizard101. Both offer a high-quality MMORPG experience, even on par with some adult games, at a fairly reasonable price.
Until recently, I had only heard of each game in passing and never actually dove into either. Although I am clearly not the target audience and have extensive experience with even the most complex MMORPGs, I did find Pirate101 and Wizard101 to be a little refreshing. While simplistic, neither game really waters down the true MMORPG experience. There are definitely a lot of helpful tips and forced tutorials, which will be very useful to newcomers of the genre.
Even though they have the same developer, each game has a few significant difference. Whether you’re choosing an MMORPG for yourself or a child, it’s a good idea to know what you’re getting into. We’re going to look at what makes Pirate101 and Wizard101 in addition to why you might want to choose one over the other.
Gameplay – Wizard101
When you think about combat in an MMORPG the first thing that generally comes to mind is a health bar, mana bar, and action bar. However, neither Pirate101 nor Wizard101 uses a traditionally MMORPG combat system. Pirate101 is a turn-based tactical RPG, similar to games like Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem. Players will control a handful of party members and can seamlessly team up with other players. Even though the combat is turn-based, it’s not instanced. Other players can see your team battling enemies and either join in or avoid you altogether. There are also a wide variety of companions that learn new skills as they level up.
On the other hand, Wizard101 uses a hybrid TCG and RPG play style. Players will select a school of magic to specialize in, but they can receive all types of cards from any of the disciplines. As players progress they will earn new equipment, which will increase attributes such as mana or health, and cards that can be added to a deck. Combat is similar to Pirate101, where other players can join you, but instead each character will take turns casting spells. Most of the cards consists of things like direct damage, defensive spells, healing, or debuffs.
Which game is better in this aspect mostly comes down to a personal preference. I tend to enjoy the added depth of deck buildings over the battlefield strategy found in Pirate101. A player’s deck can constantly shift and can be built around a specific strategy, but tactical RPGs tend to become fairly stale if the same formula is repeated for too long. That being said, my time with both games was enjoyable and this category will really be determined by what genre you happen to lean towards.
Innovation – Wizard101
Due to the fact that Wizard101 came first, it’s the clear winner of this category, but what exactly did it do that was innovative? The combat is definitely not new here; there are tons of online card games and turn-based RPGs. However, it really seems to be the first, truly immersive MMORPG experience aimed at children.
When I was growing up the only choices we had were games like Ultima Online, EverQuest, RuneScape and eventually World of Warcraft. These were perfectly good games at the time, but they were definitely not a nurturing environment. Younger players were often in competition with the adults that played with them and toxic environments were rampant.
What Wizard101 did was create a safe space for children and also a fun game at the same time. With proper tools for parents, innovative chat and name systems, and a story that’s about building the player up, Wizard101 provides an environment where parents should feel safe leaving their children in.
Graphics – Pirate101
The years haven’t necessarily been kind to Wizard101. Even with the high-resolution texture packages, the characters and buildings are still rather blocky. Pirate101 had almost 4 years to improve on the original game’s graphics and it looks quite a bit better. Textures are definitely smoother and animations look a lot crisper. If aesthetics are high priority on your list then Pirate101 might be the better route to go here.
Community – Wizard101
One thing I immediately noticed about both games was a distinct lack of toxic chat. Normally, it’s expected to see all kinds of spam in the starter areas of a game, but most other players were either just going on about their business or were relatively friendly. During more difficult encounters, other players would join me to help out and seemed to be appreciative more often than not. Pirate101 and Wizard101 utilize the same restrictions and chat system, but the Wizard101 community definitely seemed to be a lot more robust. I did manage to run into a few other players during my time with Pirate101, but there were people everywhere in Wizard101.
Value – Wizard101
As free-to-play games, Pirate101 and Wizard101 do have restrictions if you don’t want to spend any money. However, each does offer a decent amount of content for no cost at all, which generally includes most of the first in-game world. Players can unlock new sections of the game permanently by paying with premium currency (Crowns) or they can pay a monthly fee. A positive aspect of KingsIsle games is that the more accounts in the same household the cheaper they are. Normally, a premium membership is $9.95 each month, but it’s decreased to $6.95 if there are multiple accounts, which makes it a bargain for families that play together.
While both games require about the same financial commitment, it really comes down to which offers the best value. Although I didn’t reach the end game in either, I did find feedback from the community about the current state of each game. Wizard101 recently released an entire new area (Polaris) in November, added new cards, and increased the level cap to 110. Unfortunately, Pirate101 hasn’t received the same attention and it’s been a significant amount of time since the last major update. Due to this issue, any money would be better invested into Wizard101, which is probably going to have a longer lifespan.
Victor – Wizard101
Even with all of the similarities, it wasn’t hard to come to the conclusion that Wizard101 is simply the better game. It is a little dated in the graphics department, but it’s still receiving constant love from the developers and has an excellent community.