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A review by a long-time player
My credentials: I've been playing AQW since Beta (October 2008) and have purchased a total of 18 months' membership, which has now expired. I've seen nearly every weekly release since April 2009.

AQW is clearly aimed at a younger audience. The cartoony, 2D style, dialogue and storylines are all quite simple, and it can be very off-putting for someone who is used to complex storylines and immersive worlds. If these are what you're after, then AQW is not for you. Sure, there are some bits which are very well-written, but the Hurricane Of Puns often detracts from any drama created, which can be seen as either something awesome or horrible. There are some parts which are aimed at an older audience, but this pales in comparison to the light-hearted, quirky and more straightforward side of the game.

The And Your Reward Is Clothes trope is essentially the selling point of AQW. All the weapons (yes, from the Infinity Plus One Sword to Starter Equipment) basically do identical damage if they're 'enhanced' at the same level. Helmets and capes follow a similar principal. The biggest offenders, however, are armors and pets, which (with a few exceptions) do nothing except alter you character's appearance. Some of the rarest and/or impossibly hard to get items in the game are purely cosmetic, though obviously they look pretty nice (albeit in 2D) and earn you a lot of respect as a player.

Like almost all RPGs, AQW also has a vast amount of "classes", including staple ones such as Warrior and Mage, many unique ones such as Dragonlord and the odd joke class. All classes have 6 skills which can all be acquired very easily; actually obtaining the class is often by far the hardest part. Again, if you're thinking this is simple, it is - some skills use quite complex damage formulas, but it's far from necessary to delve into them, and overall it's very straightforward.

Concerning finances, AQW is free to play, but unlike many "free" RPGs you get loads of value with no catch. If you are an astute player, you can get some of the rarest equipment in the game and hit for a truckload of damage if you know the right methods without paying a cent. Membership is absolutely awesome, and I definitely recommend it if you're going to play frequently, but it's not essential.

Overall? A simple, cartoony, punny, cosmetic-orientated and great value MMORPG.
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