I admit that it can be kind of hard to process Tarisland without immediately comparing it to a certain title. I’ve had no emotional or mental link to anything that’s come out of Blizzard for a very, very long time, so when I arrived to Tarisland, I was doing so as a generally blank slate, freed from what I assume is a bias that would paint my presumptions about the game one way or the other.
That’s not to suggest I’m wholly ignorant of what this MMORPG is trying to do – I did my time in those salt mines like most genre fans – nor am I suggesting that my impressions are somehow more pure than others. I’m mostly pointing out that I’m not really one to answer whether Tencent is trying to steal the big boy’s lunch money, though I suspect you can guess my answer.
No, what I’m doing instead is focusing on Tarisland from the angle of someone about as far removed from those links as I can possibly manage. And even with that big long caveat, I can safely say that this game has some strong ideas on how its house should be built but needs a sturdier foundation.
I’ll get the unimpressive things out of the way first: The game’s story is shoddy at the best of times. I kind of remember the characters of its NPCs, which is something I consider a mark in its favor, but the story beats that I’ve experienced through several hours and about 23 levels to this point have not impressed. This is mostly down to a pacing problem, as Tarisland kind of zips through some loosely interlinked catastrophes that right now don’t really seem to fit together. Unless there’s some larger big bad that’s set to unveil itself later, of course.
Another thing that definitely makes things feel off-putting is the game’s localization. This feels about as rushed and machine translated as most of the dialogue out of Black Desert, though it’s only slightly better than what I experienced in Perfect New World. Neither of those is a point to Tarisland’s benefit, by the way, and honestly this extremely slapdash attempt to present this game in English is probably one of the biggest hits to the story issues that I have overall; I wouldn’t necessarily believe this game’s main story would suddenly be great with an actual localization team handling things, but it at least would be a bit more palatable.
As big as those two problems are, however, they actually ended up not being the biggest deterrent to my enjoyment that I had worried they would be. That’s because despite the rush job sensation of this game, the actual gameplay itself feels extremely solid – dare I say even fun.
When I refer to the gameplay, I of course don’t necessarily mean the content of the story quests so much as the combat itself. I rolled a Phantom Necro class and overall found it to be a solid and surprisingly mobile caster class that can dish out some pretty tasty damage. It was all done with a distinct sense of style that, for once, didn’t look like anything out of the Blizzard playbook. It’s a testament to some of the possible originality that Tarisland is capable of.
That originality can also be generally felt in some of the locations that I visited over the course of my leveling journey. Sure, there are plenty of parallels that can be drawn in terms of some of the character and race designs, but for the most part things were pretty and enjoyable to look at. This also extended to the couple of dungeons that I’ve plumbed as well, especially the library dungeon.
On the subject of dungeons, those are solid and fun as well. They’re hardly what one would call mind-blowing in terms of their mechanical requirements, but they were far more engaging and active than I would have supposed opening dungeons for an MMORPG would be. There’s the usual standing out of the fire dance moves and targeted mob phases out of certain boss fights, but then there would be moments where we would, for example, turn into sheep and bounce away from hungry wolves or focus on breaking ammo crates or diverting bomb-laden mine carts off of a train track. Again, hardly remarkable – but entertaining.
Progression had enough hooks for me to care as well, with the twin spec trees opening up some fun interplay that I could get into when doing group content. Unlocking the healer spec for my Phantom Necro meant that I would have to spend points for both healer tree and DPS tree, but improving skill levels for the class did so for both spec’s abilities, and having the open flexibility to queue in as a healer or as a DPS (or both!) at will was handy.
Finally, there’s the other little things that can be done outside of main questing and dungeon runs, like the reputation events that can be clicked to move to and the individual boss challenge tower. It all ultimately feels like it’s geared towards fun first. At least for the activities I cared to do; I never touched a PvP instance and I found the very bare taste of crafting and gathering to be stupendously boring and forgettable.
Of course, there are still some potholes in the road of Tarisland. My time within the so-called “elite” difficulty library dungeon didn’t really ramp up the challenge so much as inflate boss HP pools to absurd levels and force my team to pause what we were doing to purchase MP potions from a pop-up marketplace. On the one hand, being able to do this with the basic silver currency meant we weren’t being forced to open our wallets to win, but on the other hand, it’s a frankly weird place to put a currency faucet. I’d rather that these elite dungeons be tuned towards more interesting mechanical tweaks.
I also have to point out that I hadn’t really engaged with Tarisland’s cash shop in any way, so I can’t really answer much about what its offerings do to player trust; the few times I was aimed in its direction there was cosmetics being presented, and I don’t care enough about crafting or gathering to be bothered by the apparent player dust-up related to energy costs (though I also appreciate the complaint folks have too). Honestly, I was playing the game more than worrying about the cash shop, which kind of lends itself to the opinion that. Tarisland isn’t hungrily eyeing my wallet.
As effusive as this all might read, I have to kind of temper that by saying that, while I’m having fun in this MMORPG, I’m also not really ravenous to hop back in either. It doesn’t feel like a home game, and as I mentioned before, I can’t really call this a welcome embrace for a jaded Blizzard salt because I don’t bear that baggage; others who are smarter and better at explaining that feeling than I will have to put in their two cents.
It’s not going to blow minds or blaze trails. But still, for what it is attempting, it does so with reasonable levels of competency. It just needs many of those bigger wrinkles to be ironed out, as well as better PC performance: I kept getting lots of fatal errors, there’s no vsync option on PC, and honestly the graphical options on PC are all direct-to-mobile porting functions and not ones that take advantage of hardware.
I’ll basically call Tarisland middling but a solid and fun game regardless in its current beta state. It’s vanilla. French vanilla. But like a really nice vanilla flavor.