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Sunday, July 22, 2018

Tale of Toast - An Acquired Taste - MMOMG


Back in May, my viewers and I lamented the mess that was SoulWorker and decided to find something else to play. We settled on the sandbox MMORPG Tale of Toast. While I stuck with it for the rest of the month, Toast isn't a game I can readily recommend to just anyone. Note that I'm not saying the game is terrible - in fact, Toast has a lot of positives - but I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start with the formal introduction and go from there...



What Is Tale of Toast?

If you haven't been diligently scouring the internet for MMORPGs recently, it's possible that you've never even heard of this title until now. There hasn't been a lot of coverage on the game, and it's kind of buried by all the larger MMOs available on Steam. Tale of Toast is very much an indie game - it has a tiny development team of only two members - but as we've seen with titles like Project: Gorgon, just a handful of developers can assemble something fairly impressive (even by MMO standards).

Tale of Toast is a free-to-play sandbox MMORPG with skill-based character progression and a focus on crafting and gathering. It features an open world setting to explore and allows for world PvP in a way that becomes more prevalent as you progress. Toast is designed with old-school MMORPGs as its inspiration (as noted in the interview here), which it downright nails. With very little hand-holding and only several starter quests, players are left to figure things out for themselves.

Tailor of Toast

It doesn't take long to realize that crafting is integral to Tale of Toast, as resources are strewn about the landscape and even some mobs drop crafting materials. Though equipment can be found by killing enemies, most of the early game drops aren't better than what can be crafted. Additionally, the actions of harvesting and crafting provide substantial character experience. The game doesn't say you have to craft, but there's a real incentive for doing so.

All it takes to harvest or craft is the proper tools, skill level and requisite materials, so players aren't restricted in what skills they want to work on. Leveling every crafting skill is impractical and time-consuming, so you'll probably want to focus on those that compliment your particular character's strengths. That said, solo players will likely take up mining, smithing, woodcutting and carpentry as those are required for making better tools (though solo play isn't recommended as you get deeper into the game). If you're teaming up with friends and/or joining a guild early, you might get away with just having one dedicated "tool maker" as long as they play regularly and keep everyone outfitted.

The crafting system itself follows the simple "recipe" system found in many other games, but includes a few extra steps and optional features. When refining basic materials (such as wood into lumber), you can choose to do so individually or in a batch. Crafting each piece one at a time is much slower, but provides you with more experience (as well as an option to attempt upgrading the material). Batch crafting provides very little XP, but takes only a fraction of the time.

Crafting usable items like weapons and armor are always done individually and require you to make several successful checks from a limited number of attempts. During this process, you can optionally try to upgrade the item (imbuing it with a random buff depending on the item crafted), though doing so requires even more successes than before. The higher your requisite crafting level, the easier it is for you to create and upgrade items you craft, though there's always a possibility of failure (thus losing all materials in the process). With most materials readily available (at least early on), crafting failures are more of an annoyance than a real setback.

NeverQuest

As I mentioned earlier, Tale of Toast only has a handful of quests. More are planned, but don't expect to see too many added in the near future. Since players can level by crafting and combat, things like skills and combat balancing (to name but a few) take higher priority. Quests often take a backseat in sandbox style games, so the lack of them in Toast really isn't a problem. If you live to quest however, Tale of Toast is not the game for you.

Character Progression - Abilities and Combat Skills

Leveling up gives you a number of ability and skill points to spend. Ability points can be spent on your character's base stats however you see fit. Skill points are spent to purchase or upgrade combat-related skills. These skills are divided into three categories - Melee, Ranged and Magic - with each category having its own tiered skill list. You can assign points to any skills you meet the requirements for, meaning you can sink all your points into one category or create a hybrid character that draws from two (or even all three) categories.

This system is fairly simple, but is prone to min/maxing. Just overhearing conversations between players with high-level characters, it's fairly obvious that some skills are way better than others. Spells that slow down enemies are useful in both PvE and PvP, and since Melee doesn't have a gap closer, PvP-focused players are wise to avoid it. Each category has some questionable skills, however. There's a Tier 4 skill in the Ranged category called Swift Step that originally had a 2-second cast time that slightly increased your move speed for 2 seconds, with a 35 second cooldown. Give that a moment to sink in and realize how utterly worthless that is. Granted, Swift Step has been improved slightly since (it's now a 0.5 second cast time), but it still sounds fairly negligible even maxed out.

Combat... and Other Questionable Design Decisions

As if some seriously sub-par skills weren't enough, combat itself is probably best described as clunky, especially when multiple parties are involved. All combat seems to have a noticeable delay between your use of actions and their effect that feels really off-putting.

In PvE, melee characters can reasonably tank as long as they initiate combat. Unfortunately, that's not often the case unless your group really coordinates attacks. Even then, melee characters are going to be hard pressed to aggro enemies from multiple directions as they have no gap closer (yes, it bears repeating).

PvP can be even more of a mess. I think I'll let the Official Tale of Toast Wiki speak for itself:

I have exactly zero understanding as to why melee combat would be singled out this way when it's already at a disadvantage.

As the majority of mobs are melee-only, it's fairly easy to avoid PvE combat altogether - you just keep running! One day a viewer and I explored the entirety of the world (full PvP areas included) with our relatively low level characters. Regardless of the mobs' levels, I never died because I never let them get close. I'm not sure if it's intended for low levels to explore the whole map, but it's not difficult to do!

One thing that really bothers me about Tale of Toast's exploration and character movement is the amount of edges with invisible walls and pathing. The world has varied terrain, complete with steep slopes and even some small vertical drop-offs... except you can't drop off. I can only assume this has been done in an effort to negate the need for fall damage, but it leads to frustration when navigating rocky areas as some places look passable but aren't (and vice-versa). There are already a variety of games that ignore fall damage altogether (some of which don't even address it with a lore reason), thus entirely avoiding the terrain issues found here.

It's a PvP Game, Really!

During my time in Tale of Toast, not once did I get to participate in PvP. While I avoided the scheduled arenas (which were populated by much higher characters), I simply wasn't attacked by other players while out in the world - even in No Man's Land. I think the main reason for this is the recent addition of PvP restrictions that were implemented to discourage (and in most cases outright prevent) griefing of low level characters.

As someone that fondly remembers Warhammer Online's RvR and got to experience both sides of chicken-chasing, I support Tale of Toast's decision to enforce sportsmanship when it comes to PvP. Larger games can often rely on its community to handle things themselves, but small games don't have that luxury.  While imposing arbitrary restrictions may not seem the most elegant, the alternatives are even uglier. You either split the already meager playerbase into PvP and PvE servers or let a handful of griefers kill your players (and ultimately your game).

Restrictions do lessen in higher level zones, with some endgame areas being entire free-for-alls, allowing guilds to zerg rush any lone wolf players. This makes a lot of sense as anyone spending significant time in these zones has been playing quite a while and should've joined a guild by now.

Family-Friendly Hardcore Gaming?

If you're frothing at the prospect of jumping into Tale of Toast to pwn noobs and make remarks about their mothers, you might be in for a bit of a surprise. The game takes a firm stance on player harassment, complete with a fairly large chat filter and regular reminders of how to report abuse.

Toxic behavior (regardless of victory or defeat) has been plaguing online gaming for years, and I'm frankly surprised the issue has only recently been receiving attention (see Ubisoft's newest insta-bans for slurs and hate speech in Rainbow Six Siege as an example). It seems that Tale of Toast is looking to curb toxicity, which can be a daunting task for a competitive PvP title. While I see this as mostly positive, I am sometimes baffled by what the chat filter decides is problematic. Get used to retyping sentences with replacement words so people can actually read what you write.

Perhaps more surprising than an extensive chat filter is Tale of Toast's art style, which features cutesy, cartoonish structures and chibi-esque characters. Many animals are adorable little blobs that look like they stepped out of an Angry Birds title. Likewise, sounds in the game are... whimsical to the point of being childlike. The developers have stated the style was chosen because they like the cute look and it's easier to create assets for. Still, it's so odd for a PvP-focused title to look so cutesy that a lot of people are confused when they first see Tale of Toast, thinking it's for children. I found the look a bit unusual at first, but it didn't really wow or bother me after a while. Art being subjective, your mileage may vary when it comes to Toast's aesthetics, though I suspect the look alone may be a deal-breaker for some.

My Progress

After a little over three weeks (about 45 hours) of play, my character was level 15, with my trade skills somewhere between levels 15 to 20. I was speccing as a tank, choosing abilities from the Melee category, but was so bored with combat that I preferred to grind trade skills.

SUMMARY

Pros


  • Characters have access to all trade skills and you can choose what to focus on.
  • Crafting is easy to understand, yet offers some customization options.
  • Devs are attempting to balance open world PvP via gradual lifting of restrictions by zone level.
  • Devs are trying to curb toxic behavior and chat in an open world PvP setting.
  • Players are encouraged to offer suggestions and ideas for the game.

Cons


  • Melee combat is a clunky, turn-based affair that doesn't really mesh with magic and ranged combat all that well.
  • Combat skills are nowhere near equal, so cookiecutter min/max builds are going to dominate.
  • There's very little quests currently in-game, with content updates few and far between.
  • It doesn't have any features that really set it apart from similar titles.

Other


  • It's faithful to classic sandbox MMORPGs, maybe to a fault.
  • The art style is an odd choice that won't appeal to everyone.
  • Lone wolf play isn't an option at endgame (which should be expected in a PvP title).


Overall Impression - Toast Is An Acquired Taste

At the start of this post I said I can't readily recommend Tale of Toast to just anyone. Sandbox MMORPGs don't appeal to everyone as is, and some of the clunkier aspects of Toast doesn't help in this regard. Add in its "Early Access" status with content updates being few and far between, and all you're really left with is skill grinding, a couple of daily events and maybe a handful of dungeons. If you're looking for a polished game with loads of content and a massive playerbase, you should look elsewhere.

However, you could look at Tale of Toast's status in a positive light. The developers listen to their community, meaning your input could help shape the game's direction. A smaller community is typically more personal, making your presence feel impactful rather than just another number on a server. What I've called clunky, you may find fascinating and unique. If your interest is piqued by any of these statements, you might want to give Tale of Toast a try for yourself.

Looking Ahead

As I'm quite a bit behind at writing these posts, I can assure you I'll be covering two more titles in the future. I spent a brief stint in Worlds Adrift and I'm currently playing Defiance 2050, which you can watch via my livestreams, Sundays through Wednesdays starting at 9pm ET (links can be found in the sidebar).

Feel free to share this post with friends! Follow me on Twitter or join my Discord server to stay updated on streams, posts, giveaways and more! If you'd like to support my work, check out my Etsy shop or Patreon for cool rewards and merchandise. Thanks so much for reading, and as always, take care guys!

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