2016 has me kind of bummed when it comes to the F2P MMORPG. A lot of great looking games kind of fell flat or simply failed to deliver, while others got pushed off to 2017. The two notables for myself were Black Desert and Blade and Soul, neither of which really lived up to the hype. Don’t get me wrong—Both were beautiful games and had their good points, but you could tell straight away that neither would have staying power beyond a year, maybe two at most.
Things were looking bleak until a title that I had written off for 2017 miraculously found its way into a 2016 release: Tree of Savior developed by IMC and published by… Nexon. That last name didn’t exactly inspire me to confidence, but the game looked beautiful if the pre-release trailers were any judge—Hand drawn sprite based graphics combined with 3D elements and backdrops as if the SNES Chrono Trigger or Legend of Zelda titles had been overhauled for an MMO release.
The moment it dropped on Steam, I was in.
At first glance, Tree of Savior has a lot of moving parts and its fair share of rough edges. Not everybody is going to be in for a dose of sprite based anime nostalgia, and while the game does an admirable job of hand walking the player through some aspects of its execution, it absolutely bleeds to death explaining others. In this review, I’ll attempt to point the more obvious pitfalls in order to make your first steps as painless as possible.
Character generation is straightforward and your ability to customize your avatar is limited. Extremely limited. Whereas games like Black Desert and Blade and Soul lavish players with customization, Tree of Savior allows you to choose your gender and hair style. That’s it. Some appearance options can be modified later in the game, but rolling your character up is disappointingly simplistic. Character classes are just as straight forward, featuring the Swordsman, Wizard, Archer and Cleric. They do exactly what you would expect them to do, more or less, but how they evolve is entirely up to you. From there you choose your character name and “team” name. The team name remains constant regardless of which character you play as, so misbehaving behind an alt will be next to impossible. It also conveniently provides a revenue stream for the cash shop if you wish to change it.
Here’s where we’ll take a step back with a few tips--
You can choose one of two cities to start from as of the writing of this review: Orsha and Klaipeda. Choose Klaipedia. DO IT. Not only does it represent a vastly more coherent leveling experience, but it’s a more profitable one as well. Drops are plentiful and by playing through the Klaipedia quest line, you should never want for gear or spots to simply grind up to level 40. Orsha, conversely, was added as later content and doesn’t offer nearly the same experience for whatever reason. That said, there’s no reason you can’t do both. In fact, I recommend it since there is a leveling deficit between the end of the introduction quest line and the first dungeon. Teleport scrolls back and forth are available in both cities for purchase, so run one cities quests, then the other.
The other thing I would recommend in starting out is to plan your character in advance. This is one area where Tree of Savior falls down in a bad way, unfortunately, and leaves it up to the internets to set things right. Almost nothing concerning your advancement is explained aside from the fact that you have points and you should use them. The stat points are self-explanatory. They get divided up between strength, constitution, dexterity, intelligence and spirit. Skill points, on the other hand, get kicked to the curb in terms of the tutorial.
The long and short of it is this: Most jobs have three levels of specialization, otherwise known as circles. Each circle gets 15 points to distribute, also represented by that particular circle’s level. Once you reach 15 points, it’s time to choose a new specialization. From there, you can either continue to specialize or choose a new path. None of this is explained by the game. The reason why you plan it all out well in advance is because Savior is an absolute miser when it comes to skill resets, encouraging you to spend hard money to do so. Finally, once your circle reaches level 15, stop what you’re doing. Your skill XP gets capped and no amount of grinding will budge it until you start a new circle.
With that out of the way, let’s look at combat. Tree of Savior manages to successfully merge a 2/3rds top-down perspective with click to cast mechanics as the preferred method to execution. Once you either get used to the default keyboard layout or change it, the setup is very intuitive; especially if you’ve played any SNES game ever. Tree of Savior is, after all, the spiritual successor to Ragnarok Online. One simply walks up to a mob and smacks it with a sword or blasts it from afar. Easy-peesy.
Looking back at the skill system, you’ll find that your class rapidly expands in scope, branching out to become anything from a shield and spear wielding tank to an undead summoning magic user. Sometimes the choices are obvious and sometimes not so, depending on how you want to build your character and the loose translations from Korean to English involved therein. As of this writing, you can fill up to eight circles. In some ways, it’s a combination of Asia’s obsession with the job advancement system with a passing resemblance Archage’s skill advancement… Just not as suicidally boring. Still, it’s not World of Warcraft either, which completely avoids the problem of the terminally bad build by providing advancement with every other level and point specialization.
Crafting is another topic thrown to the wayside by the game, but is fortunately more straight forward than the skill system. One simply buys or scavenges a receipt and crafts the piece once all the required items is obtained. Near as I can tell, no formal declaration of specialty is required and some crafting even come part in parcel to the skill circles described above. Overall, it’s a very approachable system, if not overly deep.
Questing actually surprised me insofar that there was actually a fair amount of variety to it. Where a game like Blade and Soul subsisted exclusively on Kill X of Y content, ToS did its best to incorporate its questing into the story with escort missions, rudimentary puzzles, fedex runs, scavenger hunts, timed quests, etcetera, etcetera. Bosses are liberally sprinkled throughout your journey, but you have more of a chance dying to mob spam than you do to most of these. My cleric, for example, simply parks next to the bosses, raises shields, drops a tile of death and applies heal as necessary. These fights rarely last more than a minute, making them little more than an XP piñata than actual challenge. Even so, it’s light years better than either of the titles I mentioned at the top of the review.
If I had to level one major complaint against the game, it’s that Tree of Savior is a very solitary and lonely experience. There’s next to no incentive to party up beyond small team-based PvP, and you can partially thank cash shop greed for it. The infamous megaphone makes its appearance and instancing is capped at two runs per day for free players, undercutting the one place where communication and socialization would almost have to occur. Secondly, I have not yet to encounter content that required a party or even help outside an instance. Nobody talks and the other players might as well be bots.
Speaking of which, yeah, they’re there. My rule of thumb is that if it’s an archer farming, it’s probably a bot. Channel spam in the capital cities is an issue, but less than what I would expect since they get stepped on pretty quickly. Outside the capital, however, ToS seems to take more of an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach. You’ll routinely find the same bots camping spots that quickly regenerate mobs, nuking them for silver and items. They really only become unbearable when camping vital quest spawn points, though.
So what’s the call? Play it or skip it? Honestly, you could do worse. A lot worse. The art is so well done and nostalgic that you could download it for that alone, but the gameplay is fortunately solid as well. That’s not saying Tree of Savior is perfect with its rough edges and all, but again, this particular reviewer likes to keep things in perspective. The cash shop isn’t overly intrusive and much of the game can be accessed with only minor limits to one’s quality of life.
…But I’m getting bored. When it’s all said and done, Tree of Savior might as well be a single player game. You’ll burn through level 75 inside a week of casual gaming, which represents about 3 professions. There’s no socialization and one can only run instances two times a day globally, and that represents almost the sum total of your multiplayer experience since there is zero incentive to party otherwise. Once you get a handle on circles and their professions, there's almost no side depth to the game either.
But hey, that might be your thing. It’s certainly worth the bandwidth to find out, if nothing else.