Tobold's Blog
Sunday, August 08, 2010
A Tale in the Desert V

A Tale in the Desert is one of the most unusual MMORPGs out there. And one of these unusual features is the fact that it resets about every 2 years. Yesterday the "5th telling" of ATitD started, with several new features, and everybody starting from scratch. So now is a good time to try out this game, especially since you can just download and play it, landing automatically in the free trial.

As I hadn't played this for a while, I created a new character and started building stuff. A Tale in the Desert is a rather peaceful game, there is no combat. Instead this game is mostly about crafting and social interaction. And for a crafter this is heaven: There are lots and lots of different things to build, starting from the simplest mud brick to building a pyramid, plus various farming activities. And every crafting or farming activity is different, with some being quite elaborate mini-games.

The first thing I did was using the "random starting spot" teleport a couple of times until I found a nice place in the lakelands of Sterope, not too far from the Nile. There I first had to do a list of tasks labeled "welcome to Egypt", which introduce the player to the basics of the game of how to build things and learn skills, and end in with you being declared citizen of Egypt. Good intro, but after that I felt a bit lost. A Tale in the Desert gives a whole new meaning to the term "sandbox", the game and the options what you could do is huge, even bigger than EVE. And unlike EVE, ATitD actually *has* sand. Lots of it. :)

Following advice from friendly other players in regional chat I proceeded to build my own house (compound) and am now busy building the various tools for turning flax into linen. I also learned pottery, but didn't get very far with that, lacking various materials to build a pottery wheel. But I must say A Tale in the Desert somewhat improved in guiding new players through the game, having introduced "levels", each of which unlocks certain skills, and thus gives you an idea which activities are appropriate for your current level of development.

Solo players can quite happily get busy building their own little settlement somewhere in the huge game world of Egypt. But if you get more involved in the game it is better to join a guild and basically build a city together. While many things theoretically *can* be done solo, the huge amount of work needed for the larger stuff is best done in cooperation. The social interaction between players is an important core part of the game, with players later able to propose laws that change the game rules, and even the election of one player to Demi-Pharaoh, with the power to ban up to 7 other characters. A Tale in the Desert is as much a big social experiment as it is a game.

The main reason of why you should try A Tale in the Desert is that it will expand your mind. It is obviously a MMORPG, but does not have most of the features you might think are fundamental for a MMORPG. By being such an outlier, it vastly expands the possibility space of what MMORPGs can be, giving hope that in the future there will be other virtual worlds which go beyond elves and orcs grinding quests to the level cap.
I actually heard about this game before and it intrigued me. If not for SC2 I might have given it a try!
Sometimes it just takes non-sensationalist mention by a reasonable and respected blogger to tip me towards trying a new game. Between Tobold, RPS, and Fidgit, I've been nudged in good directions many times. I don't want to make the time for this kind of game right now (Race for the Galaxy and Machinarium have my attention), but it is at the top of my list if I did.
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