Wandering into the Book of Travels
Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
The seeds of this column were planted long before the newspaper came about. I conceived of it, came up with the name, and bought the domain, latetothegames.com, more than a year before we started the newspaper. The idea was to focus on games that were not new – hence Late to the Game(s) – but that you also might not have played before. The focus was supposed to be the games you always meant to play but never got around to, or the cult classics you’d only heard of in the letter columns of Nintendo Power magazine. I also wanted to focus on updates of classic franchises and – as a way to sneak in brand new content – new games that were developed in an old-school style.
“Retro! Reissued! Remastered! Oh my!” was the subtitle. (If any literary device ever leads to my downfall, it will be my unrepentant love for alliteration.) But it quickly, at least as a web domain, became a repository for whatever I wanted to write about.
It’s become a bit of that here too, though I mostly try to stick to the gaming script.
It’s also granted me the opportunity to focus on new games more than I imagined I would. (Darned alliterative trap! I’ve no one to blame but myself.)
This week, we’re doing one of those new game stories. Technically we’re still late on this one because though the game hasn’t released, we’re a couple of years too late to back the Kickstarter and get in on the ground floor.
That said, we’re right on time to still be interested in playing Book of Travels when it’s expected to release, sometime later this year.
The game is a different take on the multiplayer online role playing game genre, in more ways than one.
For one, instead of being based on different fighting or support classes, character creation is focused on personal background and character traits. Fighting skills or magic and professional classes are learned separately, through experiences in the world. Spells are casts by tying knots, for quick magic, and brewing teas, for longer term effects. Fishing is learned by finding a fisherman and requesting instruction, then following it.
So far, not typical but nothing particularly earth shattering. The character creation is novel, but variations on the rest of it fit neatly within standard fantasy game tropes.
But Book of Travels wants to do more than just reinvent the intro, and dump that over standard gameplay. The game really wants to change the way you engage with online role playing games. Where most MMORPGs (massive multiplayer online role playing games) really focus on that “massive” part, with huge raids, giant parties, cooperative events, guild systems, organization, and inevitably all the drama that comes with any organization, Book of Travels pegs itself as a TMORPG – a tiny multiplayer online rpg. Interactions with other players will be random, uncoordinated, and temporary, with players deciding how long to spend together and when to part.
There will be none of that pressure to show up to raid at 7 p.m. every Thursday, and make sure you respec to handle heals before raid time. In fact fighting of any sort will be much less common than in other games, though not completely absent. Your decisions will determine how likely you are to encounter danger, just like the real world. Go too far off the marked path, you are more likely to run into the dangers of the wilds, just like in real life. Also just like in real life, it’s there that you’ll find things to eat, the valuable ingredients you need to brew teas, and raw materials for crafting. So, the choice is yours.
The world also foregoes the standard linear storylines of a lot of MMORPGs and action rpgs. Instead companions who fall in together can work together on whatever they want upon reaching a new location. This doesn’t mean there isn’t lore in the game. The developers claim it’s there for those willing to look for it. It just isn’t necessary to enjoy the game, and players can be as scholarly or as cavalier in their studies as they please.
Roving gambler. Travelling scholar. Spiritual pilgrim. Whatever vagabond style suits you, that’s how developers Might and Delight want you to be able to play. This isn’t just a pretty sandbox with some hidden lore and towns, though. There might not be a linear storyline and quest series, but the world is still dynamic and choices will have an impact on the world and how others within the world interact with you. It’s still an RPG, after all. It’s just a different kind of one.
It’s also gorgeous. All that has been released so far are game play videos and production stills, but the game art is amazing, a dynamic, layered 2D perspective that looks like a combination of pop-up book and medieval fairy tale illustration.
The developers have a long term plan to support the game for years to come, describing their strategy as “like a DM” in a traditional tabletop rpg, who changes the world based on player feedback and different actions taken during gameplay. In this way they hope to keep the world fresh, but in a more organic way than the regular content updates and expansions seen in most MMORPGs.
Their game is a TMORPG, after all. A smaller experience. More intimate. With more meaningful decisions and outcomes. A game for those who want to stop and smell the digital roses. Who don’t want their down time to turn into the stress of a second job.
I can’t speak for you, but for me, it’s exactly the online experience I didn’t know I was missing until I heard about it. Now that I have, I’m chomping at the bit for Book of Travels to drop. Gaming, after all, should be fun. It should be something you can drop in and out of. Shouldn’t be dominated by scheduled events. There is no reason it can’t be a relaxing stroll across a meadow – with only a moderate chance of attack by beasts or highwaymen. I’m looking forward to seeing how well they pull it all off, and hopeful it lives up to the expectations that have been set. If it even comes close, Book of Travels is going to be a visual masterpiece, and a lot of fun to play.
I’m already thinking of what kind of traveller I’ll make.
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