A Tale in the Desert (ATitD), by eGenesis and Pluribus Games, is a sandbox of immense proportions that expand horizons much more due to the game’s deep crafting. Hailed as one of the few true crafting games remaining, as well as an interesting social experiment, ATitD manifests its greatest strength through forming of communities and the interaction to be had with its unique legal system. This game offers a stark difference from what other games hold for players and attempts to break those boundaries through this interesting take on being a multiplayer.
Where’s My Sword!?
First of all, ATitD hides nothing about its absolute lack of combat. Very few games have ever had the courage of breaking the leveling treadmill and opted for other avenues of gameplay glory. Crafting is the name of the game in ATitD, and so is forming relationships with the people and players around you. There are no pre-generated towns or distinct hubs where you play, but only the settlements and living spaces, for both work and play, created by other players. The occassional establishments such as academies and universities, where a player learns crafting skills to make tools and structures, but nothing more than that. It’s a refreshing take on the MMO concept that relies heavily on the cooperation between players; a stark contrast to the normally war-mongering mainstream titles in our midst.
Once you’ve either gotten past the tutorial and the initial tasks to be done, you explore on your own where you’d like to settle, adventuring in every way, shape, and form. As a sandbox game implies, a player can choose what to do, where to go, and when to do those, journeying through the massive world of ancient Egypt. With several specialties of crafting to choose from, and a lot of tests to improve them with, you define yourself through your chosen role in your society, helping others in whatever way you can through your craftsmanship, or to just help yourself if you’d so wish it to be. Whatever you’d choose to do first, it’ll be totally pointless without any human interaction, and that is, as I believe, where ATitD’s strengths truly lie.
People, People, People!
ATitD depends so much on human interaction that there are a lot of ways in which you will need the help of a couple of players. While it is fairly simple to grasp the basics of crafting within the game, such as continuously creating whatever recipes you have strengthens your ability to create them in the future, some are more complicated than that. Research, for example, is a fine way to demonstrate the game’s need for society, as research is generally expensive and takes a group effort to acquire through donations by others to those specific institutions. The game’s own legal system is another matter all together. Tt requires the game’s actual populace to cooperate with one another to pass laws in order to make things better in ATitD, including passing laws to enact specific events or requests, and even voting for the leader of your virtual companions who are known as the Demi-Pharaoh.
It is so amazing to think that each and every single thing that happens within ATitD affects the population in some way. Much like the real world, people’s actions have consequences, and each consequence entails a proper action. Things like pollution can occur and can aversely affect crop growth, thus basically affect the entire economy of an area. Laws can be enacted through signing petitions by the general populace to avoid or prevent problems in the future. If there are any troublemakers within the society, the Demi-Pharaoh even has the power to ban them from even playing that specific character ever again.
While it might seem unfair for newer players as those who have started the game earlier more likely have greater knowledge, better stakes on the land, and just overall have it so well off that newbies might find it hard to penetrate their tightly knit society, ATitD commences on Telling cycles where everything in the world is reset and everyone else starts over. This gives new players a chance to become as great as the veterans and, hopefully, make an impact in ATitD.
The Aesthetics of the Nile
Now that we’re past the depth of ATitD, let’s focus more on the shallower side. This game is old; relatively ancient by technology’s standards. Being an MMO released in 2003, it has outdated graphics, a somewhat clunky interface, and some poor animations overall. Though I believe that it doesn’t truly detract from the actual content of the game, the visuals can sometimes threaten boredom in a player’s psyche, as the land of ancient Egypt should incite excitement when you see it, and not to detest it. ATitD could have updated the game from time to time, like how other titles often do, but again, it was created in a time where these concepts were not as widespread.
As the game aims for the realism of the sense of society and crafting, the game could have done better in having a much more polished set of animations for both avatars and inanimate objects. Sometimes, interaction with the non-sentient world is just so static that I may as well have been playing a much more dated game but still have just as much fun in the sandbox. The user interface, then, becomes intrusive as well as you adventure around Egypt. While the way most of the elements on screen I found very streamlined, like the inventory, some other things like the map and having your avatar as the central point to enable commands makes interacting with the game very tedious at times. I personally like to play third-person games relatively zoomed in, so it makes it difficult to move around the world without accidentally clicking on my character and opening the drop-down menu. Sometimes, it makes it such a chore just to go from point A to point B, that I would just make a new tool or structure on the current spot rather than running back to where I made them at an earlier time.
And while I find crafting to be rather rewarding, gathering, on the other hand, isn’t too enjoyable. Surveying the land for slate or searching for other materials can be quite a tedious task that it sometimes feels to be such a waste of time. The lack of polished animations do not help either, as it makes the grind much more boring that it already is. Sometimes, I feel as if I really am doing the manual labor my avatar is doing. If gathering didn’t feel as much as a chore as it did and felt just as great as it is to craft in ATitD, this shouldn’t even be an issue, but, well, here it is.
What? A Subscription?
ATitD, while an inventive game, and a great one at that when you consider its real focus and purpose, requires a player to subscribe every month past the first 24 hours of free game time. While most games these days have gone the freemium route, ATitD opts for the old model that was much more popular in its era. I find it odd that such a game whose sole purpose is to innovate and experiment would go for subscriptions, or even have payments at all. True, while a game and its company need to sustain itself in some way, the sandbox MMO of this substance and gameplay, despite how deep it actually is, simply cannot justify a recurring subscription model.
These days, ATitD has a very small population and I believe the subscription model only turns off many gamers towards the possibility of calling this game their home. With less people, there would be less of a reason for anyone else to get in a game that is highly dependent on society. Perhaps if they went with other modes of financial sustenance, the game could find far more success and much more recognition in the mainstream media, but as of now, I don’t see that happening until this model is either changed or improved.
Perhaps On Another Telling?
A Tale in the Desert is truly a great game that isn’t normally covered as much as I think it should be. It boasts an indefinite amount of fun experiences to be had through interactions with other players and the bonds that can be grown from them. This game is definitely not for everyone solely for the reason of its complete absence of combat, but I believe it’ll tickle the fancy of those looking for a great sandbox MMO. It may not be the best out in the market right now, but its uniqueness, interesting crafting, and social structures and mechanics, I believe A Tale in the Desert is one of those gems that should have more attention than it should. If it could only re-think its mode of payment, perhaps I would give it more of a chance than I did. Heaven knows I wanted to delve in deeper, but with my 24 hours up, I didn’t find it worth 12 dollars just to continue on my adventures in Egypt. But maybe you’ll find it nice.
I would happily rate it 3.5/5.Related: A Tale in the Desert, Crafting, MMO, Non-Combat, Sandbox