Two weeks prior to its early access, Tree of Life had quickly popped up on my radar. Sandbox games and MMORPGs can be technically difficult to create. Combining them together requires a developer to cater to essentially 2 audiences.
When researching if Tree of Life would be a game for my tastes, I had trouble finding any concrete facts on what this game would actually entail. The Steam Early Access trailer really sold me on what would be possible when all the tools are pieced together. Gathering, check, Crafting, check, Combat, check. Enable those basic core features of gameplay, then let the players run with it; essentially what the developers at OddOne Games accomplished right out of the gate.
So without any conclusive drive to play, other than the sandbox design, and the Runescape-like vibe, I started up on day one. No tutorial, no quests, no story but the one that you will inevitably get to “write” with your friends and strangers across each ~1000 player server. The key is to group up early if you want to progress the quickest. Gathering enough resources to build a settlement is much easier when you can task out each other on the fly. Need some wood and copper ore sculptues at the same time? Split up, gather, and come back ready to build to your heart’s content. If you end up becoming the village lumberjack, you will gain specific stats when cutting wood, that may be drastically different than any other skill. Although, there are many overlapping skill stats, and the skill system is still heavy in development, with many skills not yet featured in the game.
Durability is a factor in the game, and recently the devs have applied durability across all equipped items. Before this patch, only weapons and other hand-equipped items could degrade over usage. The Tree of Life folks are still adjusting this as I speak, and will continue to adjust this feature as the economy between the players becomes more apparent. I’ve had no quarrels with weapon durability, but degradation of a let’s say, a backpack seems a bit excessive.
As you figure out your way in the world, you will soon need to find a safe spot to call your home. You may want to be isolated in the mountains, or become a major trade town in a bustling area with many other players and guilds. Deciding what to produce and craft is a major part of this decision as not all areas share the same resources. Animals, forests, and stone quarries will be your primary cues to an efficient base of operations. If you decide to wall off your town early, a nearby forest will be crucial to your survival. And if you are looking forward to working with a master carpenter, large stone blocks from the quarry must be slowly dragged to your base and crafted into many buildings that will make up your town.
The whole process of gathering resources and crafting your town from scratch can be very rewarding. In early builds, monsters that spawn at night would even spawn inside your town walls for no reason. Since monsters are aggressive to friendly players and structures, they could completely decimate a town, especially in offline hours, since everything in the world is persistent, except your character when you logout. Certain areas of each map, specifically mountain ranges would not spawn monsters. Early on, many players and small guilds not requiring a ton of real estate flocked to these locations.
Since these early struggles, many of these issues have been fixed by updated features and bug fixes. As long as you have a Guild Hall and a wall encapsulating your base, all is well as it will convert it to your personal territory, free of monster spawns! The only other concern you may have next is from any criminal neighbors. Most of the players I’ve run across have been very friendly and helpful. Like any open-world PvP landscape, you must be careful at all times from enemy players.
Fortunately, if you don’t want to participate in PvP, you won’t be flagged, and will not suffer much penalties on death. On the other hand, criminals are heavily punished, leading to loss of mastery experience and many items from your inventory on death. This progressively gets worse the more criminal acts you commit, and will extend the duration in which you are flagged. Those looking for a fair guild vs. guild system will have to wait for future updates.
Combat and targeting is probably the two biggest aspects of Tree of Life that requires the most attention. And for this game to grow as a viable PvP/PvE experience, it is a must to focus on what’s currently being offered. The idea is pretty simple, walk up to said structure, player, or resource, and hack and slash it until it runs out of health. The problem lies in the fact that the targeting system does not allow true real-time combat. You must first aim at a target in a awkwardly specific way until it has a green highlighted outline. Only then can you proceed to actually hit the object with your weapon. In PvE, things are manageable, but in PvP, it’s a mess when strategically lining up shots on an enemy. Whether or not this is a major priority for OddOne Games, has yet to be seen, but enough players have been vocal about for it to gain some recognition on the community forums.
The concerns moving ahead is how communicable the developers are willing to be with their U.S., Asian, and European server audiences. Should OddOne Games listen to every complaint being made? Or should they do what they have done so far, continue to update the game according to their vision, balancing features along the way? My guess is more so on getting their intended features into the game, letting the community play with them, and then making any corrections to the formula after much analysis.
With those things said, the launch of Tree of Life has accomplished many things early indie MMOs and Survival games would be very envious of. The game for the most part has just simply worked without much hitches or maintenance downtime. With a low budget (prompting the entry to Steam’s Early Access), and a development crew of around 6 Koreans working on their project for 3 years, the results are fairly impressive. Future iterations and funding for this game has the potential to make this a standout title. As an Early Access game it has definitely earned my $20 entry fee, as well as my many invested hours of entertainment.