Most MMO players have fond memories of their first encounter with the genre. It’s not unusual to hear them recall a time before Warcraft's decade long market dominance, when they first stepped into the online world of games like Everquest and Ultima. My memories, however, are of the Korean MMO Ragnarok Online. A game that despite, or more likely because of, its labyrinthine game mechanics and a grind that would cause any modern WoW player to commit suicide, boasted a healthy community that was as close knit as it was engaged in constant, embittered warfare. So it is from a place of deep nostalgia that I turned to Tree of Savior, a new game explicitly billed as the spiritual successor to Ragnarok, featuring the same 2D gameplay, an anime art style using a mix of sprites and 3D graphics, considerable grinding, as well as an interesting and unique class system.
Players view the world from a top-down, isometric view, directing their characters through various quests, hordes of enemies and mountains of loot in a style that will be familiar to anyone who has played a Diablo game. The combat is just as simple, with the standard clicking for basic attacks, and using hotkeys for various potions and skills that range from line shots to area attacks to charge attacks and more. It should be noted though that unlike many modern MMOs, leveling isn’t the introduction to the game, it is the entire game. So players should be prepared to spend hours upon hours slaughtering beasts, either solo or in a party, to reach the next milestone.
Visually, Tree of Savior features a blend of highly detailed sprites with nice animations, while the world and larger bosses use 3D models. It all blends seamlessly to create a very appealing art style that’s reminiscent of some of the best JRPGs of years past. And while character customization is very slim when it comes to appearance—in addition to class sprites, the beta only allowed the choice of gender and hair style—customizing what your character can do can quickly become overwhelming.
There’s no hand holding here; this is hardcore RPG territory where players are only given basic descriptions of what things do, then expected to allocate their own stats as they level to create a custom build. New players looking to create a well-focused and extremely optimized character are virtually guaranteed to make some early missteps. In addition, Tree of Savior also features other unfriendly mechanics such as gear upgrades failing and certain items dropping on death, further proving the game’s demand for determined players who are unfazed by setbacks.
Tree of Savior’s class system is what truly sets it apart and deserves notice. The game claims to feature upwards of 80 different classes at launch for players to take on, with each character able to advance through an archetype of classes as they level. To start, players are asked to choose from one of four classes that will represent their archetype: Swordsman, Wizard, Archer, or Cleric. Then, upon leveling up several unique skills and reaching class level 15, the player is given the choice to either stay with their current class and gain access to extra levels of power, or choose to switch into one of two brand new classes, and possibly hidden others, that provide variations on their archetype featuring new skills. Importantly, whichever choice is made here will be permanent, as the player will never have access to these same class choices again. Another 15 class levels later when the player is presented with another choice, the new classes featured will be entirely different from any presented previously. With at least six tiers of classes confirmed for each of the four archetypes, this allows for a truly staggering amount of customization
For example, after choosing Archer and leveling it up a bit, I’m asked to decide whether to level Archer further, choose to become a Ranger in order to specialize in attacking multiple enemies with a bow, or become a Quarrel Shooter, which focuses on defense by using a one-handed crossbow and shield. Whichever is chosen, 15 class levels later a choice is again presented between continuing to level current class, or choosing between the Sapper, which adds skills to lay various traps to your growing repertoire, or the Hunter, who focuses on utilizing animal companions. Between the classes, skills, and attributes that are focused on, by the time you reach a high level you'll have a build that you'll be able to say is truly your own.
Even during my short time with it, Tree of Savior gave me flashback trips to Ragnarok Online that were often as painful as they were nostalgic. And while I haven’t decided after my first few hours with it whether I want to continue to endure it’s punishing grind, I must say I remain intrigued. Its not for everyone, but with its beautiful art style, unique class mechanics, and distinctly old school bent, fans of hardcore RPGs should keep a close eye on Tree of Savior as it gears up for release on Steam.