A Township Tale Review
MMOs are immensely popular among gamers because, at their best, they offer the chance to truly inhabit another world with other real people, and create your own stories together. The sense of scale, authenticity, and just plain wonder they conjure can be truly magical when all the elements coalesce.
That kind of grand gaming experience has, so far, eluded the VR platform despite a few notable attempts. A Township Tale, now on Oculus, has the potential to be that experience; it’s got a great core concept, an amazing player community, and some really cool and unique gameplay elements. But at the moment, there are some major design issues that are keeping A Township Tale from a happy ending.
The concept of A Township Tale will be familiar to anyone who has played an MMO before. You explore the world, which is centered on a medieval-style town but includes hinterlands like mountains and mines, and gather the usual resources, eat food, and craft items. Recipes are learned, structures are built and upgraded and you gradually build your little civilization in a cycle of progress.
A Bit Too Open-Ended
These days, we’re used to seeing MMOs with open-ended gameplay. Sure, the lack of structure is a bit daunting but it gives us the freedom to learn by ourselves, to overcome adversity, and feel proud when we do. But in the case of A Township Tale, this lack of structure is taken to the extreme, and the minimalism is problematic especially when you’re just starting out. Something as simple as just picking an avatar is made difficult by the lack of any instruction whatsoever.
Even the so-called “Tutorial” doesn’t really teach you how to play; it just assigns you a checklist of objectives you must complete to graduate to the main game. With essentially no guidance, you’ll have to master the basics of harvesting materials, crafting, and mining. Necessity is indeed an effective teacher and you do eventually “figure things out” but all the unnecessary frustration could be avoided with literally a few helpful signs.
Overall there is just a rough and basic feel about A Township Tale, a sort of unfriendliness to newcomers that some might find to be off-putting. Things aren’t explained, and sometimes even design choices had me scratching my head. The way you choose a server, for instance, is by turning a clunky, heavy wooden wheel. It often spins too quickly or slowly and you have to really fight with it to just to make a choice. For even simple actions like this to be cumbersome makes A Township Tale an unnecessarily-frustrating game to get used to.
But don’t worry, it gets better. Usually, you’ll be playing on a server with up to seven other players, and this is where the magic of A Township Tale shows itself. In my experience, other players were extremely helpful and friendly, willing to stop and teach newbies like myself the basics that the game doesn’t teach. I’ve played on servers where everyone worked together, each playing roles as a community, and the experience was honestly among the most fun I’ve ever had as a gamer. The experienced players offered leadership and guidance, everyone freely shared necessities like food, and it felt like we were all part of a village straight out of a fantasy RPG.
Once you have others to help you and teach you what the heck it is you do in A Township Tale, it turns out this game is actually really fun. The crafting mechanic makes excellent and intuitive use of VR, as you physically put flint onto a stick to make a primitive axe, throw copper ore into a smelter to make an ingot, blow the bellows of the furnace, or hammer a red-hot knife blade on an anvil. Unlike most MMOs you’ve played, there’s no instant “poof” to turn raw materials into a finished product; in A Township Tale you’ll play the role of a real blacksmith or carpenter or any number of other professions in one of the most immersive role-playing experiences I’ve been a part of.
The same goes with mining: using your pickaxe or other mining tool, you literally swing at a boulder until it crumbles into copper, or gold, or even something exotic like mythril. Like many other VR games, it’s actually quite a workout, and it is fun in a way that mining and crafting usually aren’t in other games — most of the time. Crouching down and pulling grass out of the ground (which you’ll have to do often) becomes very tedious and even physically tiring after a while, and in general, the game needs a way to auto-collect resources to reduce such instances of repetitive movement.
You’ll eventually learn and make progress in A Township Tale, and you’ll have some really enjoyable times working with your fellow human players — you might even take on a regular profession and truly master it. You can be a woodcutter, a warrior (there are monsters in the forest and mountains), a cook, a carpenter — whatever appeals to you. There’s potential in A Township Tale’s regular roles and emergent social connections to make this a VR MMO you’ll happily get lost in, and invest in for many many hours.
I say potential because there a couple of things missing before it gets to that level. The most prominent element missing is the lack of an “endgame” or long-term set of goals or missions to drive you forward and keep you hooked. There’s no story to A Township Tale — no quests, no wars to fight, and no overarching mystery to uncover. This wouldn’t be a problem if the open world was more massive; but A Township Tale’s world is limited and even opportunities for exploration dry up after a while. This is a game that, for the moment anyway, has the resource gathering/crafting cycle as its only real gameplay element, and that will eventually grow boring no matter how great your fellow players are.
But there are lots of reasons to be hopeful that A Township Tale will grow, and improve, and eventually fulfill its potential to be a truly great MMO in VR. Developers Alta have been great about responding to player feedback and updating the game regularly, and I am sure that quests and events and maybe even new areas will be added in the future. Until then, A Township Tale is a decent, if flawed, VR game that you will love even as you sometimes curse it under your Oculus headset.
** An Oculus Quest 2 code was provided by the publisher **
Helpful, friendly community
Fun crafting in VR
Lots to do and learn
Steep learning curve
No quests or long-term goals