Spiral Knights was released for Steam in June of 2011 by Three Rings Design and published by SEGA. It plays as an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game), but it’s not at all like other MMOs such as World of WarCraft. First of all, it is free to play, requiring no monthly fee. Second, even though it is a multiplayer game, players can choose to progress as far as possible playing by themselves as much as that strategy allows. There will be times when allying with other players becomes necessary, for a total of 4 party members. The best way to describe Spiral Knights would probably be a “dungeon crawler” — but more on that later.
The general premise of Spiral Knights that you, the player, are among an order of space-traveling knights who have crash-landed on a distant planet called Cradle inhabited by an enigmatic race known only as Strangers. A hospitable people, the Strangers are not warriors, instead specializing in mercantilism. Your “home base” known as Haven is a safe area where players can buy, sell, trade, forge, and upgrade their equipment.
When a knight is created, he/she will have access to the only the most basic gear. Equipment consists of armor, helmet, swords, shields, firearms, and bombs. As the player progresses, they will gain be able to buy or eventually create themselves some very powerful items. And the varying weapons allow players to choose their desired playstyle. They can choose to be up front with a sword and shield, behind firing their guns into the mobs of enemies, or mining the general area with bombs that inflict damage and debilitating status effects like crippling poison or burning flames. The choice is yours and you can easily change your strategy as needed on the fly.
The “dungeon crawler” aspect of Spiral Knights is a bit misleading. The area in which you will be exploring, gaining experience, and items is called The Clockworks – an ever-shifting, ever-changing series of “chambers” in which you and up to 3 other players navigate through a type of underground tower using an elevator to descend downwards. Each “floor” of the Clockworks is a labyrinth-type of area. And each floor has its share of obstacles and dangers. From mechanized wooden golems to blobs of slime, the monsters in Spiral Knights are truly imaginative, colorful, and not to be taken lightly. Each type of creature also has its own strengths and weaknesses requiring the player to constantly carry several types of equipment to deal with situations as they come.
There are 4 types of damage in Spiral Knights: Neutral (basic damage), Elemental (fire, electricity, poison, holy), Shadow (darkness), and Piercing (damage that will go through armor and defenses). Each weapon has a specific type of damage it deals, and that type can change depending on the level of the weapon. And it is important to note that unlike other RPGs, the player does not gain experience and level-up in the conventional manner. Instead as you progress through the Clockworks, you will gain what is called “heat.” Every piece of equipment has 5 levels, displayed by 5 stars. As you gain heat, the level of your gear increases, making it stronger. Armor and shields gains more defensive while weapons gain more offensive power and possibly damage type bonuses. One great thing about this game is that if for some reason you don’t like the look of your current armor but you like its qualities, you can wear other armor as a “costume” but still keep the stats of your original gear.
One other and very new aspect to this game is the inclusion of Battle Sprites. These pet-like creatures will become your companions and fight by your side. There are 3 types of sprites: damage, support, and sneaking. The Drakon pet deals fire damage and is great for front-line knights who prefer a straight fight. The Seraphynx pet will protect from damage and aid ailing and damaged players. And the Maskeraith pet excels in dealing poison and other debilitating status ailments on enemies. But choose wisely, because once you pick a sprite, it’s yours for life.
Now, even though it’s been said that Spiral Knights IS free-to-play, there is one major requirement that every knight will need in order to progress. The main resource of the game is called “crystal energy.” (CE) It is the lifeblood of Cradle. There are two ways to obtain energy. One is to trade your crowns (in-game monetary unit) for energy. The “going-rate” for energy is constantly fluctuating depending on the demand in-game. However, it is usually the case the several thousand crowns are needed for only a few hundred energy. The other is to spend real money for packages of energy that come is designated amounts. An example being 750 energy for $2.45 or 45,000 energy for $99.95. So while Spiral Knights is indeed free, in order to craft the best gear or revive one’s self when they die, it is often the case that a great deal of energy is needed.
In summary, for an MMO Spiral Knights is fun and addicting. Customization of characters is well done. The clockworks are always changing, so no two areas are ever the same. Weapons are varied enough to offer a unique playstyle depending on the player. It is a great place to interact socially and co-operatively with fellow players. Guilds can be formed to run through content. And the Auction House is a great way to acquire the materials you will need to craft your supplies. Unfortunately, the economics of the game are a bit of a drawback, often requiring large amounts of crowns and/or energy to progress to the furthest points. So, while there is no monthly fee, some players will find themselves spending real money to buy energy to use in-game.
Spiral Knights can be downloaded from your Steam client and it is available for both Mac and PC.
Overall rating: 7.5/10