Book of Travels

This is not a review of Book of Travels, the Tiny Multiplayer Online RPG from publisher Might and Delight. I haven’t played nearly enough of it to sing its praises or rage against its multiplayer machine. 

No, this is a tale of the Havsts and the Hovnats.

It begins as most RPGs begin in our modern era of video gaming: with the character creator. Without having a sense of the world yet or how my character might fit into it, I decided to stick to a classic archetypal character: the Sexy Farmboy. A Goodward Asken of the Eastern Winds, this physically adept stablehand was soft in the wool but built like a bull.  

When it came time to pick a few strengths and weaknesses for my rural bachelor, the game was quick to note that most of these adjectives (Observant, Practical, e.g.) did not yet have game mechanics attached to them. It wasn’t until I’d scrolled to Empathic and Forgiving that I saw something that slightly resembled ‘synergy.’ Loop in Self-Sacrificing as my weakness, and suddenly I had built what felt like a classic RPG Cleric, buffing and healing other members of my Party. 

“Surely I’ll find a Party to join!” I promised myself wistfully. When I rolled for starting equipment and found myself with a pair of cheesy buns, I knew my Sexy Farmboy was practically complete. Only a randomly generated name to go.

Thus, we begin the Book of Havst Shems, the Farmboy.

Book of Travels

Havst woke from a deep sleep in a field of sheep. No better storybook start could I have imagined as Havst hugged sheep and pigs alike, uncovered some fancy leaves, wrestled a foreign object from the throat Ogul the Bull, and took his first trip to the big city to drink some tea.

“You might want to head to Bat Saha,” the tea woman told Havst after giving him a clean shirt. I agreed. After all, this was the mildly linear tutorial framework I’ve come to expect from gaming, even from games with open-ended paths to follow. Bat Saha would probably become a main hub of sorts, a place where I might have my first combat encounter, where Havst might befriend an important NPC, where together we might form our first party with other players online — you know, the works.

Havst traded a fancy leaf and one of his steamy buns for a sturdy cane and set off for the ferry to Bat Saha. Oh poor, simple Havst.

Book of Travels

Ferry ticket in hand, Havst waited at the docks as I waited in real time for the ferry to arrive. To pass the time, Havst discovered an infinite-XP glitch talking to the Dockhand, as one does. When the ferry finally arrived, he happily boarded and sailed into the loading screen where, together, we waited again. And waited.

And waited.

So the game had crashed, but no matter. I rebooted Havst to find him significantly less experienced than I’d left him (in his defense, most of that was from farming conversations with the Dockhand). Havst would certainly have it back in no time flat. He boarded again and the game promptly crashed again.

A mild scratch in Havst’s Empathic and Forgiving demeanor, we rebooted again and decided it was best to take the long way round. Naturally, Havst developed teleportation abilities during the second crash and we quickly navigated our way into another grassland before promptly glitching off the game screen and into oblivion. No matter, I thought.  Havst will be waiting for me again. 

But to my dismay, Havst was no more. The file had simply vanished on third reboot, nowhere to be seen — only the faint memory of thick, cheesy buns to fill the void.

Still, presumed death is just one of many travels we all probably must take. So I soldiered through my mourning and rolled up essentially the same character, trying to recreate as much of Havst as I could. But there was something missing, some bit of randomly generated code I couldn’t replace.

Thus, we begin the Book of Hovnat Haro, the Cruelly Aptly Named. At least he rolled for a pair of sweet buns in his inventory.

Book of Travels

Hovnat was ripped forcefully from his home and thrust onto a ship bound for unknown lands. A tad more brutal than I was expecting, but in the game’s defense I did elect to try something a little different this time and start on water instead of land. The starting prompts really don’t get much more specific than that, but boy howdy do they have wildly different implications.

Hovnat started at a dock surrounded by similarly confused travelers. No playful pigs, no obstinate bulls, no fancy leaves, but one woman kindly informed me of my horrid wounds and suggested I find a tea shop in a nearby town.  Not quite the same privileged start, but there was my familiar tutorial opening.

No clean shirt from the tea lady this time, but there it was again, “Bat Saha.” No directions to the ferry this time though. So Hovnat wandered. He wandered through desolate fields without a single fancy leaf in sight. He found traders, but had nothing worthwhile to trade for a cane. He met some weird children talking about a ghost ship. That sounded cool, but Hovnat probably didn’t have the means to find it.

These wanderings took Hovnat into the company of another player, Sylvan. Finally, a party! This was the stroke of luck that would turn Havnot’s fruitless stumblings into meaningful quests. I sent the stranger a heart to show I cared, that this simple Farmboy would use his Empathic, Forgiving, and Self-Sacrificing ways to do something… useful, maybe? Who knows? It wasn’t super clear. It didn’t matter — Hovnat and Sylvan, compatriots in arms! This was the beginning of a friendship to last an 8-hour game sesh.

Book of Travels

Sylvan promptly left the party.

Fortunately, Hovnat had accidentally wandered into the general vicinity of the ferry surface that had atomized his distant cousin Havst. What more had he to lose? Literally nothing; it’s in his name. And so he boarded after a few Dockhand XP exploits, fully expecting to vanish into the narrative ether; another victim of another loading screen of doom.

“Bat Saha,” the game supertitled over my screen. The holy land was here, it was ours at last. Teeming with PCs and NPCs alike, this promised country would lead us to fetch quests, side quests, parties, group tasks, and — dare I hope — combat. The tutorial was over, the game had begun in earnest, and Hovnat and I together would ensure those first three and a half hours would not have been spent in vain.

Book of Travels

Then all prompts failed to trigger and Hovnat sputtered impotently in circles until I decided that maybe three and a half hours had, in fact, been in vain.

I’d really love to enjoy Book of Travels. Its stories are self-weaving, its vistas gorgeously hand-painted, its score positively serene. My first few hours were agonizing and frustrating, but the game has plenty to pull me back into after, oh, maybe a week or two of debugging from the developers. 

So if I’ve learned anything rickety foray into the lives of my two traveling friends, it is to always Havst hope even if I Hovnt much to show for it.

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