Where the heck did this awesome game come from?! Volzerk: Monsters and Lands Unknown is a free-to-play action-RPG that is...so much better than ninety-nine percent of free-to-play games out there. It's sort of like a free version of Monster Hunter Stories, and it deserves your attention!
I took on the role of Fina, a monster-obsessed young woman who has just joined the Research Commission. As part of her job, she must fight, tame, and train tons of monsters—called Mou-Mon—which range from adorable to ferocious. The main goal is to determine what happened to Volzerk, a massive dragon who once guarded the island of Fort Lemuria but mysteriously vanished when Fina was a child.
I think that's more than I've talked about the plot in almost any free-to-play game, and there's a reason: It's actually kind of...good? I mean this is generic anime RPG stuff, but it's presented in a really fun way, and the English translation is so much better than what I've come to expect from this type of game. Fina has a ton of goofy charm, and the other members of the Research Commission slowly build character as well.
The actual gameplay is fairly by-the-books hack-n-slashing, but it takes place in gorgeous 3D environments, which are in turn boosted by excellent Japanese voice acting and a solidly above average soundtrack. I was able to modify my attacks by taming and riding different monsters and training them in different skills. The monster-taming systems in this game are deep too. You can breed monsters to try to perfect stats, or even crossbreed two different types of monsters to create something entirely new!
As I was playing Volzerk, I kept wondering what the catch is. How can a game this good be totally free? Well, there are microtransactions in the form of new characters. Curiously, though—and I think this is a VERY good call!—that's only for human characters, the people who are riding on the monsters and swinging their weapons. The actual monsters, as far as I've been able to tell so far, are all earned via taking on quests and taming them.
Around a third of the heroes in the game are purchasable with in-game gold, but the rest have to be bought either piecemeal or in bundles with real money. Since these riders can help determine how stats develop for your monsters, there is an in-game power reason to spend money, but if there's a time when it's required to progress, I have yet to see it.
Each of the riders you summon also comes with their own questline, plus group questlines for pulling in several related riders. In that sense, the microtransactions almost feel more like DLC to me. If I hit the current end of the story and really want more, maybe I'll spend money to pick up some new riders and unlock a few questlines. But judging by how much content Volzerk appears to have right now, that's not something I'm going to have to worry about for a long time.