First Impressions: Tarisland’s interesting gameplay isn’t enough to surmount shoddy temport quality

    
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When we issued our 2024 predictions for the MMORPG genre during our annual year-end articles, I said that Tarisland would be a sleeper hit, mostly because I’m stupid and bad at these kinds of questions, but also because I was sort of hoping that would be a little bit true. I wasn’t expecting the game to blow the doors off of the genre or blaze new trails – anyone with eyes could see how hard it was copying WoW’s homework, no matter how hard Tencent wanted to say that wasn’t the case – but I was also hoping that it would be a bit more fun and polished.

After several hours’ worth of play and nearly 30 levels’ worth of advancement, I can pretty confidently say that there’s some of the former, but so little of the latter that whatever good things Tarisland does can be easily forgotten or brushed aside in the face of glaringly bad release decisions.

Now I should point out that none of my complaints are from a technical side of things. In fact, Tarisland’s global launch as I experienced it was absolutely problem-free for me, with no server disconnects or hiccups and no other SNAFUs that usually accompany MMORPG releases at scale. One could certainly argue that’s because there aren’t a lot of people playing, but every activity I did and every zone I wandered in was very active, so I’m not really sure that’s as true as some will likely presume.

No, my issue with Tarisland is purely from a quality standpoint. Visually it looks all right, though animations can seem a little bit stilted. The story that I’ve experienced is largely forgettable and paced with all of the nuance of someone scribbling madly on a piece of paper. What really takes it all out from me is the slipshod localization and treatment of the western playerbase.

If this were a smaller indie studio handling Tarisland, I might look past some of the bad localization for the most part, but this is a Tencent-run game. It’s either the height of arrogance or the height of laziness to think that it could get away with such crappily translated, poorly written, terribly voice-acted dreck. The dialogue in the story, both spoken and written, was so horribly put together that it got to a point where I was just glossing over the quest text to find the most salient points and just move along with what I needed to do. I was even actively avoiding doing questing in favor of other activities. It’s that bad.

What makes this all the more infuriating for me is that we all know that Tencent has money enough that this didn’t need to happen whatsoever. We know that it can more than afford a competent and high-quality localization team. But it chose not to, which leaves me to assume some of the worst out of the studio – specifically, that it doesn’t really care at all about giving western fans of MMORPGs a quality experience that’s tailored to their most basic understanding. Not needs, not wants; just some simple damn legible English. Trust me, I’ve seen bad translations. I played Chimerland, for Pete’s sake.

So if I ignore the questing stuff that leads me through Tarisland and towards more levels and activities, that leaves the gameplay to prop up the game. It’s not terrible, but there is literally nothing about this game that will impress veteran MMO players, particularly those who don’t like limited action bars. Combat is serviceable but routine, fights are fine, and the Ghost Necro class that I elected to go with dishes out some pretty good damage as well as some nice heals.

While basic combat may falter, encounters can actually shine. Some of the basic questing boss fights had a couple of interesting things going on, but when I started heading into instanced content such as dungeons, the one raid fight I took on, and the single-player Universal Hall challenge activity, I was being exposed to some unique mechanics.

I’ve written previously about how one of the first dungeons has a portion of a boss fight where you turn into a lamb and have to keep away from wolves chasing you, but there was also some pretty active fire dodging in almost all boss encounters, a Universal Hall fight where I had to actually determine where danger walls go in the battle arena in such a way that my movement wouldn’t be restricted, and stern healer checks. The game didn’t really roll me over, but it did engage me enough to pay attention.

But then, of course, Tarisland has to try to ruin a good thing with some avoidable and crappy design choices here too – most notably, a party UI that looks like a direct ripoff of WoW’s ElvUI, complete with uninspired and stupendously boring healthbars, plus constant voice instructions that told me when fight mechanics were happening, which I’ve also seen in other WoW addons. I personally hate both of these design choices: ElvUI is freaking hideously ugly, and I would rather learn fights by doing them, not being told by the game when something is happening. It’s lazy at best and insulting at worst.

The cash shop is not really a walled garden so much as a hedge maze. A crappy, crappy hedge maze.
As for the cash shop, I don’t think there’s anything offensive here so much as labyrinthine. There’s the usual cash shop currency stuff, but then there are also items you can get with crystals that can be earned by exchanging gold, a lootbox portion along with a related store that has cosmetics bought with currency you get for having repeat lootbox pulls, and some equipment that’s gained by earning medals from PvE or PvP. It’s not really a walled garden so much as a hedge maze. A crappy, crappy hedge maze.

There are other complaints on top that I have to point out as well that just sort of piled on to deter any fun I might have been having. Reputation actually unlocks unskippable auto-pathing to quest objectives (as if rep grinding needed even more incentive to not engage with it), the game’s visuals don’t care about PC specs with extremely basic visual options and no vsync (I can’t begin to tell you how much I hate screen tearing), and the game does that annoying mobile game thing where it tosses currencies at you for doing the most rudimentary of activities (as if I need a head pat every time I turn on a light switch or something).

These combined grievances would be easy to simply brush aside if Tarisland were just a third-rate, under-designed, basic MMORPG title, but that isn’t entirely the case. There is some actually good gameplay stuff going on here; the boss encounters and dungeons have some creative things, I really enjoy Phantom Necro healing, and I even managed to harvest a bit of fun out of the one PvP match I took on. Clearly there was some thought and design and attempt made in the MMORPG itself, which arguably makes the temport-feeling nature of Tarisland’s general quality that much more glaring.

This game was never going to unseat the 100-pound gorilla it was hoping to swing at, but its rushed nature in so many aspects make the attempt feel even more meager than before. This is barely an alternative to the juggernauts of our genre; it’s an overseas knockoff with all of the pitiful quality that comparison brings to mind.

Massively Overpowered skips scored reviews; they’re outdated in a genre whose games evolve daily. Instead, our veteran reporters immerse themselves in MMOs to present their experiences as hands-on articles, impressions pieces, and previews of games yet to come. First impressions matter, but MMOs change, so why shouldn’t our opinions?
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