Does It Deliver the Goods?
Stash is the name of a Kickstarter funded, new turn-based, isometric, free-to-play PC based MMO game from developer Frogdice. Stash is the graphical successor to Frogdice’s Threshold RPG, which is their text based, role play required MUD still in operation after twenty some years (since June 1996). Stash prides itself with having a tabletop pen-and-pencil design and an old-school charm interwoven into a unique RPG and community gaming experience. The question is, with a suggestive name like “Stash” does this game really deliver the “goods”? This is our review of Stash for the PC.
Stash starts out like any other MMO with a character creation process. The artwork is more on the cartoonish side with plenty of solid, vibrant colors. Race selection choices are varied where you can choose anything from human, Trulloc (think DAoC Troll), upright wolf or upright cat folk. There are a basic number of character style attributes you can play with to customize your avatar, e.g. skin color, eye color, detailed face customization, etc. You’ll also decide on being one of the four basic class types as well, i.e. Elementalist, Healer, Hunter, and Warrior. Then things get a bit different as you’re asked to pick a pose and a “peg base decor”. What’s a peg? Well you see in this game your in-game avatar is represented by a table-top like figurine where the “peg” is your base (think D&D figures, HeroClix, etc.). The figure represents your current avatar, including selected pose, armor, etc. You can earn more poses and peg base decors in game even.
World screen movement and gameplay in this game takes place on a grid layout. Movement is point-click and your “figurine” slides horizontally, vertically or diagonally along the game world grid to where you clicked. Your viewpoint is from an isometric view where the camera can be used to swing a room/dungeon around for a better view. The mouse scroll allows you to pan out for a close to full top down view as well.
The first thing that took me aback is that your character starts with one inventory bag of only 24 slots. After that bags must be bought with the in-game currency, called “triads” and medallions, bought with real-world transaction coin, or presumably crafted. Currently a single medallion goes for about 12 cents USD. So, a twelve-slot bag will set you back roughly $3.00 USD. You can also purchase up to nine more bag slots using triads or medallions. In medallions that’ll cost you 3,000 (approximately $4.20 USD). For a game toting the name “Stash” and promising lots of loot, 24 initial slots seemed to be a bit underwhelming at best. There is also a shared bank, for use amongst your alts, but initially it’s only one slot.
Gameplay is set in an open world and is somewhat slower paced than other MMOs. You move your figurine around the world board to get on top of a mob or resource node (crafting) peg, so you can enter the associated “encounter”, i.e. single room dungeon, grid encounter or resource grid to reap the spoils. Encounters / mobs are represented by their own pegs. Hovering your mouse cursor over a mob peg shows its “con” via the popular MMO con color set. Once you enter a mob encounter the battle takes place on a grid with one or several mobs and usually several environmental obstacles for defensive positioning. Battles take place in a “timed” turn-based faction. During your turn you can perform your “action”, i.e. physical move along the grid, or use a skill, item or pick-up/harvest an adjacent square. Of course, you can flee, end your turn, or place yourself into a defensive stance. The interesting thing about the grid play is you need to watch for tactical advantages. For instance, you or your enemy can be “flanked” (you and an ally are on opposite sides of an opponent), “surrounded” or “pinned” (e.g. you have an enemy cornered or blocked by an obstacle). There are different offensive penalties or bonuses to each circumstance which adds another layer of strategy to the game. Starting at level 5 there is an “XP debt” accrued when you die. After being revived, half your combat XP goes to paying off that XP debt until your debt is paid.
Encounters also come in the form of World Dungeons where these can be suitable for solo play or group play. Group play is the fastest way to XP but alas there is no modern-day LFG tool. You must form parties the old fashion way, through global chat. There is supposed to be optional group and solo PvP but I did not have a chance to partake in it.
I had to discover the intricacies of crafting through the game’s help system. You must buy crafting machines, tools and gathering tools from merchants. You need to place crafting machines, e.g. a stove, in what’s called your “BOO”, your own base of operations (housing), but it needs to be indoors which doesn’t happen until your BOO is level 2. BOOs start out as a pitched tent and a wagon and a chest. BOOs can be decorated and upgraded, and they hold your global stash box as well, so you can unload your inventory.
Regions have capital cities, or hubs, where you’ll find merchants, vendors and various NPCs offering services, e.g. a taskmaster who will give you tasks if the brevity of playing in an open world becomes too much for you and you need some occasional direction. There is also an in-game merchant player store whereby players setup a “merchant stall” in the main towns. Through these merchant stalls, and loot drops, you’ll need to acquire recipes for whatever craft you choose to take up, if any. Unlike most MMOs, Cooking (i.e. Chef) is not a staple skill but is rather one of the available selectable trade skills versus being a skill everyone has. Gathering initially seemed a bit cumbersome as I though once you get to a node square, it required a toolbar button push and then a mouse click to harvest once on that node. Later I found out by random luck that right-clicking on the node square does the same thing. Many nodes have several resources making it quite tedious to click 3-4 times on a square.
If you haven’t already noticed from my previous comments there is the dreaded in-game cash shop, i.e. Medallion Shop. Stash’s shop consists of Adventuring Services, e.g. blank pages for your recipe book, so you can learn more recipes, decorations for your BOO, XP boosts, convenience items, cosmetics, costumes, mounts, pets, customization (e.g. add character slot, add another combat bar, add a crafting skill slot) and of course storage add-ons. If you want to add things like an alternate combat bar, you can have up to 10 maximum, but it’s going to cost you $5 a bar.
Other sub-systems covered are clan (a.k.a. guild) support, leaderboards, a newspaper interface (advertisements for selling goods through your merchant stall), tasks, mounts for increased movement speed, and costumes, to name a few.
Essential points, there is plenty of MMO goodness and activities to keep you busy in Stash. The gameplay might be a bit slow paced for some folks. While the game can be played with keyboard, point-and-click felt best and because of that it might deemed too “clicky” overall. Group play seemed like the best way to advance so continued community involvement is a strong need going forward. If you are a tabletop pen and paper fan, then this fantasy-based game should make you feel right at home with plenty to do all packed in with an old-school charm.