MMO Cartographer: Exploring ‘tiny MMO’ Book of Travels


On its website, Might and Delight describes Book of Travels as a “Tiny Multiplayer Online Role-playing Game,” but that is an inadequate description of this quirky little early access title. I have been struggling with how to give a concise explanation of what it is, and I think the best I have so far is that it is a point-and-click roleplaying adventure game with a side of charades.

Yes. Charades.

When you do encounter another player, you communicate through a panel of emotes and symbols. I played for over an hour with a random person I encountered, and it is amazing how much you can do with combinations of a limited number of glyphs. I can understand why some people might hate that, but I enjoyed it, at least in the short run. In the long run, it may just be an obstacle to making friends and forming social bonds, which may be counterproductive in a multiplayer game. Of course, this aspect of the game can be sidestepped by playing with friends using your favorite method of voice chat.

When I purchased the game on a whim (read: during a Steam sale), I had only the vaguest notion of what I was getting into. Character creation tipped me off that I was about to experience something unique. It is a process that is heavy on narrative framing and light on graphical customization. Coming into it cold, the way I do with almost every game I write about, I found it took me longer to create my character than I had anticipated, and I didn’t even put anything in the optional biography boxes. I think it must have been all the reading and trying to determine what each class was and which would be best to start with. (I chose poorly, but we’ll get to that in a moment.) There were also choices to be made about my character’s background, strengths and weaknesses, their eye color, their name, and their starting gear.

When I was done, I was awarded a Steam achievement for surviving character creation, which was a fun surprise that I have now spoiled for you.

The graphics are lovely if you like a less realistic, more painterly style of art. I think it is a beautiful world full of interesting things to look at and click on. But most people don’t buy a game just to look at it. You buy games to play them, and I was eager to get in, make a character, and see what Book of Travels is all about.

Each class has two skill types that allow you to do different kinds of interactions in the world. My first character had social and spiritual abilities. This allowed her to interact with shrines around the world to get buffs but did not allow her to open locked boxes, locked doors, or pull up plants that appear to be hiding items.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed walking around, talking to NPCs, and looking at things to put together some bits and pieces to get more immersed in the world and a better feel for its inhabitants. This seems like as good a time as any to mention that there is no in-game log to help you keep track of clues and NPC requests. Time to break out the old notepad and do all that the old school way.

Since I was mainly running around solo at that point, the lack of mechanical or physical abilities was a problem. When I encountered a locked door I couldn’t get into, I decided to go back to the drawing board and picked a class with mechanical skill. The second character had a lot more solo utility and had much better luck at acquiring higher-value trade goods that allowed her to trade for skills from NPCs during her travels. She encountered a traveling merchant who sold her a language skill that allowed her to read signs and knotted cord notes that she encountered, which deepened the sense of discovery for me.

Finding and trading up valuable trade items is vital, but she still didn’t trade for weapons or weapons skills, which turned into a regret once she returned to the door that had frustrated me with Character Number One. It turns out the underground passage beyond the door was where you go to get ambushed and die.

I didn’t encounter a huge amount of combat, which is good, since the combination of my lack of fighting ability and my confusion around combat mechanics meant that I didn’t do well during those encounters. The tutorial is in the form of old-fashioned pop-up boxes, which is a convention that should be thrown into a dumpster and set on fire in the 21st century in favor of practical demonstration of systems. This is early access, so the release version could end up being quite different, though. That’s the nature of playing an unfinished game.

Last month, Might and Delight announced it’s going to work on fixing bugs and polishing the game rather than adding content for now. Since that news is following on the heels of layoffs, you could reasonably conclude that the game is in trouble. I sincerely hope that it benefits from additional incubation time and comes out stronger. This is one of the perils of early access for a developer; you get some sales, but you are selling an unfinished product, and that can bite you on the butt when it comes to public perception of what you’ve got to offer.

One thing that might inhibit the success of the game in the long run, aside from the aforementioned lack of robust social systems, would be the fact that each server holds only seven players at a time. This is a plus if you are playing it with a group of friends, but it limits your encounters with other players if you’re just wandering alone in the wild.

Book of Travels is a beautiful and intriguing world to explore, with more to come if it survives its rough start in early access. I wish that bigger studios had even half the artistic vision that Might and Delight has shown with its world-building in this game. But if wishes were fishes, we’d all swim in riches.

Every other weekend, Massively OP’s Mia DeSanzo opens up her satchel of maps and decides where to go next in MMO Cartographer, Massively OP’s journey through MMO worlds, be they old or new, ordinary or unusual, or well-loved or long-forgotten. Expect the eclectic!
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