Retro MMO Charm on PS4
Bright, brash, and full of 8-bit charm, Trove has launched on PlayStation 4. Part open-world adventure-fest, part sandbox-builder, Trion’s latest free-to-play port hopes to muscle its way on to our consoles. But is it worth the download and (more importantly) that precious drive space?
In broad terms, it depends, as Trove has turned out to be something of an oddity. A sparse storyline and minimal social tools make it an awkward MMO, as if you’re part of an anonymous horde rampaging across a cuboid landscape. But the dazzling colors, frequent loot drops, open sandbox and engaging combat counter those omissions, making it compellingly entertaining in short bursts.
As a result, once you’ve mastered the basics of Trove, the experience is much like a gaming appetiser; log in, do some daily challenges and build some progress for an hour or so before logging out again. While that might be ideal for some gamers, it’s likely to be a light snack for those in search of more fulfilling experiences.
Entering the Voxel Valley
The first thing that hits you on entering Trove is an eerily familiar extreme cubism, as if you’re expecting to mine some resources and craft tools or weapons. Straight out of the gate, however, the experience is completely different, starting a combat-based adventure that has you hopping between worlds. It’s an experience that has more in common with Diablo 3, partly due to the limited number of combat abilities and RPG feel, and partly due to the constant deluge of loot.
Searching for adventure starts out in the Hub World, a central location bristling with portals. However, instead of providing transport to different continents, each gateway opens out onto a procedurally generated mish-mash world, just at a range of different level brackets. Step through one, and there’s the same range of zones butting up against each other like a badly arranged Lego store. One moment you’re running through a gloomy forest haunted with Shades and Death Knights, and another you’re battling ginger bread men on a candy mountain, or swashbuckling with pirate-parrots atop an island fortress.
Throughout each zone are numerous open-world dungeons, each in keeping with the surroundings: an eldritch tower, a dragon’s lair, a giant layer cake, and so on. Each contains one or more bosses to dispatch, with loot chests and XP as a reward for doing so, and that’s on top of everything that drops from mobs. However, due to the open-world nature, these dungeons aren’t repeatable – once a world gets cleared out, it’s back to the Hub World and then back through the portal to a freshly-generated landscape full of new dungeons.
Even so, just getting around is entertaining. Although gear comes with a bunch of stats to improve combat effectiveness, it’s also possible to boost your Jump. This doesn’t result in higher jumps, but turns double-jumps into multi-jumps, allowing me to prance around the map like a lightly-armoured kangaroo while waving to the mobs below. After getting enough height, I could then kick in the glider and slowly descend to the ground, before repeating the process as I searched for the next dungeon.
Building the Progression Ladder
While it sounds a little rinse-and-repeat, Trove has a few interesting techniques that are surprisingly effective at making the experience significantly more interesting. A big one is offering a whopping 14 different character classes, the flipside being that most are unlocked through the item store. That said, once unlocked, each class can be swapped to at any time, although they each have their own XP progression and level up independently.
I started out by focusing on the Knight – a close-quarters melee class with some sweeping AOE and a nifty shield, which helped me chew through much of my early play without slowdown. From there, I tried out the Dracolyte, with more of a mid-range flamethrower and the ability to temporarily transform into a dragon. Then there’s the Boomeranger – a bomb-wielding archer that’s built for strafing and kiting. All are fun in their own way, but there’s something about charging in to a crowd of mobs that made the Knight very satisfying.
Being able to hop between classes is useful for challenges, which are one of the key ways to earn Dragon Coins for endgame content. At the top of each hour, a zone and two classes are nominated, with heroes sent forth to clear dungeons and earn points. Play one of the nominated classes during a challenge, and get a hefty boost to those points, which means more coins. Then there are weekly Leaderboard Contests, throwing up even more rewards for chewing through content, levelling up classes, and so on. The great thing about those contests is that, while the top few spots get hefty rewards, almost everyone participating gets something worthwhile.
Although most MMOs opt for a single progression ladder, Trove uses three to measure how wide and deep you’ve explored the voxel world. There’s your standard class level, using the familiar XP bar that we know and love and with each unlocked class being tracked separately. On top of that, there’s the Power Rank, which is a representation of the potency of the gear you have equipped. Then there’s Mastery Rank, where points are earned for completing achievements, and which gives modifiers to overall power. As a result, it’s worth pushing onwards in all three to get a well-rounded character.
By far the biggest distraction from the daily grind is switching over to build mode, allowing you to build and customise your own lair with everything from crafting benches to cosmetic trophies. And there’s no fear about finding a good spot in the world either, as your building can be spawned wherever you find a vacant cornerstone plot. It’s a neat system that gives an opportunity to show off wacky constructions, but also helps to make the whole gather-haul-craft loop as painless as possible.
Resources are found out in the open world but, much like dungeons, get cleared out over time, making it more efficient to hop back to the Hub and into a freshly spawned world rather than searching for a scrap of remaining ore. And, if it’s needed, there’s a marketplace to exchange what you’ve got with what you need from other players.
From Keyboard to Controller
In one form or another, Trove has been out on PC for some time, gradually building an army of pixel-focused fans. Translating that experience across to console hasn’t been a simple lift-and-shift, with several subtle tweaks sneaking into the PS4 version. Even so, the experience is largely the same, although players on the two systems don’t mix, and there’s no cross-platform play.
Compared to the PC version, Trove on PlayStation 4 has a lot going for it, including a clearer tutorial that explains more concepts before stepping back. The biggest game-changer for me though is combat, as I much prefer mashing buttons on a controller instead of tapping on a keyboard if the action set supports it. That said, the control scheme isn’t perfect – holding down the sticks mid-combat is easy to do, popping up configuration menus that you really don’t want to see during a boss fight.
There is a flipside to this console port, however, and it’s that common complaint of glitches and performance issues. Whether I’m playing remotely or directly on console, I’m met with frequent framerate drops, particularly in underground cave systems and during dungeon combat. I’d be able to understand it if the world was teeming with other players, but Trove’s heavy instancing caps the population jumping in to each one. Other annoying issues include the occasional server disconnect, some graphical rendering errors, and even a few complete crashes that dropped me out of the game completely.
Building the Clubhouse
Like many ported console MMOs, Trove struggles with mastering the social experience. There’s a chat box, but the very nature of tapping out text on a gamepad means that it’s seldom used unless you’re playing remotely on PC or Mac (and you’d probably want to play the Windows version if that’s the case). However, by pulling the flexible group features in Trion stablemate RIFT, Trove ensures that anyone in proximity of a dungeon or involved in combat gets relevant rewards.
Yes, there are guilds – or ‘clubs’ – and you can join more than one. What makes them more interesting, however, is building out a Club World in a similar way to building a house. Expanding it out, adding decorations and features all give an alternative to grinding out a few more dungeons.
Speaking of dungeons, the Shadow Tower is a group PVE challenge that tests to test a team of 8 against multiple waves of monsters. There’s loot for clearing each floor, but significant kudos for clearing the challenge and getting your name on the leaderboard. PvP is also included in the form of a 5v5 capture-the-flag battle arena, although it’s more of an entertaining diversion than a serious pursuit.
Another Brick in the Wallet
Yes, Trove has an item shop, although it’s tied into the platform’s backend and payment processing on the PlayStation 4. Strictly speaking, it’s not pay-to-win either, with most of the real-money storefront being focused on cosmetics and class unlocks. That said, there are a mix of boosters, including an optional Patron subscription, that can speed up progression and improve the quality of loot from monsters. It’s possible to play Trove without spending a dime, but there are some significant advantages if the game grabs you.
Not everything requires opening the wallet, though, as many items are available for Cubits – Trove’s ‘earn through play’ currency. It’s also possible to trade some items on the Marketplace, providing further alternatives to splashing the cash. Ultimately though, if you do decide to spend money, prices are just a smidge higher than their PC-based counterparts.
But is it even worth downloading and trying out, never mind spending money on? From my own experience, the light-hearted experience is worth investigating, as an escape from MMOs that take themselves too seriously if nothing else. There’s a lot of good-natured fun to be found, wrapped with some clever systems that facilitate rather than get in the way. Even some of the loot names are enough to make me smile, featuring player-made contributions from the PC-based workshop.
That said, it may be worth waiting for the performance and stability issues to get ironed out before going full-tilt and investing heavily in either time or money, as there’s no reason for the sub-par slowdowns or system crashes. Likewise, if you’re looking for an MMO that leans heavily on the social side, or an RPG with stacks of lore to discover, then Trove on PlayStation 4 probably isn’t what you’re looking for.
Yes, there are things to do, and there’s an elder game. On the one hand, there’s a grindy gear treadmill, but on the other there’s a creative side to building your own home and going big with the Club World experience. But wide and long doesn’t necessarily mean deep, it means you’ve just got a freeway of commuting experiences. Great to travel on for short bursts, but you wouldn’t want to do it for hours on hours.
And that’s where Trove fits in. Great in short bursts, maybe an hour, as you can have fun and make a little progress, complete a challenge, and see your experience progress. Maybe two at a push to run some Shadow Tower, or work on the Club World. But those meaty, satisfying online experiences need a heavyweight MMO to deliver them and, for all its colourful charm, Trove just isn’t it.