The RPG Scrollbars: The Mys-Tree of Savior

Steam Charts can be fascinating things. They’re usually pretty predictable. The latest big thing, except for Battleborn, apparently. A few sad spoors of games that never made it, like the sight of Evolve’s player still looking for a new game or hope that it’s finally about to take off. Dota 2, because I’m pretty sure that there’s a prophecy that the world will end if it doesn’t have at least half a million active players.

And then just occasionally, something a little unexpected. Like Tree of Savior, as in either “What the hell is Tree of Savior?”, or to the tens of thousands of people playing at the time of writing this, “You know, the successor to Ragnarok Online.” Amusingly, it’s jockeying for position with Dark Souls 3 at the moment, and two more different genres it’s hard to imagine – the land of ‘git gud’ next to the realm of ‘git yur credit crd’.

Korean MMOs stand as an interesting reminder that while most of the world plays games, the how and why can be very different. In Japan for instance, consoles very quickly took over the games market, with the PC largely relegated to porn. In Korea, the growth of heavily grind-driven RPGs rather than the more plot-based and pacey Western games is largely the result of them not being intended to be played at home, but at the ‘PC bangs’ – cybercafes, where players can buy time on a machine. Competitive games like Starcraft obviously took off as well, but the appeal of many of these RPGs is that sense of interactive wallpaper – something to click-click-click away at while chatting with friends or having a snack. Even with the trusty Skinner box set-up of the average MMO, that’s a pretty different set-up to sitting alone in an empty room, maybe while watching a documentary on the history of wool production in the 19th century. Or YouTubers explain in detail why they don’t want to see Ghostbusters.

But times do change, and of late we’ve seen plenty of games try to offer something else. Black Desert Online for instance, with its dynamic questing systems, plot, parkour, resource management and more, all served up in what we apparently now have to call the buy-to-play model. Would Tree of Savior be a similarly interesting game out of nowhere, captivating the hearts and minds of the world with more than just the standard issue gorgeous graphics associated with Korean MMOs?

Well, it might, but it didn’t strike much of a chord with me. It’s more ARPG than most, with direct player-control and attacks. The first thing I noticed though wasn’t the lovely hand-drawn style, but the bar across the top of the screen selling all kinds of random crap. After that though, yes, the genuinely lovely art immediately kicked in. It’s a 3D game with 2D sprites, and an immediate sense of silliness if not comedy. A magical teacher casually called Alistair Crowley. Lots of new players running around with onions on their heads – sentient onions being one of the early enemies to whip like flies. Then when you talk to many of the main characters you get decently drawn close-up portraits that help fill you in on some of the subtleties of this world. Specifically, that it’s very big on corsets, and any children you see will be very well fed.

But you can see why it’s popular as a time-killer, even facing enemies who couldn’t hurt you if you gave them your weapon and a hundred free shots. It’s got that satisfying thump as sword hits monster, the jangling of gems being swept up afterwards, and a decent sense of pathing to the next bunch of monsters that need smacking. Where something like Grim Dawn works best when it’s cranked up to the tension of you versus impossible odds, this is the satisfaction of a dopamine drip. Early on, at least. Reading the forums it looks like it gets a lot more complicated later on, with custom character builds, a lot of gold sinks and players already trading (shudder) ‘git gud’s about the possibility of doing things like getting to Level 75, realising that you’ve ballsed everything up, and going back to the start to hopefully get it right this time. That’s not my idea of a particularly good time, though it is still arguably a better use of most player’s time than, say, learning Esperanto – the language that could have stopped at “Do you speak Esperanto?” “Yes!” and some kind of vocalised high-five.

How long will Tree of Savior last in the charts? Tough to say, and the top slots tend not to move around that much. Just beating the likes of Rust and Stellaris and Doom on the Steam lists a pretty good start for any game though, even if ARK: Survival Evolved currently holds the MMO top-slot. Of course, Steam is just a tiny fraction of the audience for most F2P games (and not often a good one to look for, given how many it just handles the launcher for rather than the actual game). Tree of Saviour’s predecessor Ragnarok Online for instance boasted 25 million subscribers at its height, even if the definition of ‘subscriber’ wasn’t the same as Blizzard’s ‘people who are literally giving us £8 a month to play’, with free to play games often having total sign-up audiences clocking in over a hundred million. Some of them not even just bots programmed to spam gold trades in all the chat channels! (Presumably)

Anyway. While I can’t say that this one jumped out as one of those great surprises like Undertale or Final Fantasy XIV, it’s certainly built up something of a following. If you want to give it a try, it’s also free. Though very much the kind of free where you can see it holding a hand out later, for progress if not for direct benefit against other players, and with players already referring to ‘f2p scrubs’ and the like. Check it on Steam, and if you see any other interesting looking MMOs coming as if out of nowhere, holler. Even if ‘nowhere’ does technically mean a super-popular MMO that simply doesn’t get mentioned much around the likes of World of Warcraft and its Western ilk.

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25 Comments

  1. MugiMugi says:

    Would be nice if you could actually did write about the game, tbh I didn’t learn anything about the game except it the quote you quoted at top about being like Ragnarok online, the rest of the article however had almost nothing to do with the game.

    • trashbarge says:

      this isn’t a review tho. the middle bit says enough to let you know that this is a bog-standard grindy ARPG, the actual interesting part to talk about is why it might be so popular

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      It’s about the game in the sense that a lot of people who don’t know often ask things like ‘why are these so popular?’, ‘what’s the point?’, ‘how do people find these fun?’ and so on. The specific game doesn’t really matter, it’s just the latest example and a very quick look at why. Which is not to try and dismiss it or any success it has.

  2. Zankman says:

    The game has so much sex appeal crammed in, even with the little character sprites… Too much for my taste, too much for no real reason (not like it is a story-driven game).

    • Ragnar says:

      Well, it is a Korean MMO. That’s sort of their thing. I mean, look at Tera.

    • Unclepauly says:

      Yeah, eeewwwww, sex, so uncivilized.

      • Zankman says:

        More like: Tasteless.

        Such high amounts of sexual content are suited for erotica/pornography; Cramming them into “normal” games just feels utterly tasteless and pandering.

  3. 0positivo says:

    Weirdly enough, the game despite being 99% about grind… that grind doesn’t bother me (and I’ve never liked it in the past)

    I think it’s because rather than being a grind to get somewhere, it’s literally the entire point of the game. Kind of like what GuildWars 2 did: instead of the leveling process being an instrument to get to the end where “the fun starts”, you’re spreading the entirety of the “fun” all through the levels

  4. Wisq says:

    cybercafes, where players can buy time on a machine […] something to click-click-click away at while chatting with friends or having a snack

    Oh, this makes a bit more sense now. I could never really understand why Korean MMOs were so incredibly grindy and time-consuming — or why they would clock so many hours in RTS games like Starcraft — when they were also expected to pay by the hour to play them at cybercafes. It seemed like some sort of dystopia where the cafes and the game makers were colluding to extract the maximum amount of money out of people.

    But yeah, having them be more like a backdrop to a social get-together … that at least makes some sense.

    • Rizlar says:

      Yeah, interesting. A game demanding too much attention in that context would be a major drawback.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Generally the cafes pay for the game licenses.

    • baseless_drivel says:

      Someone on the internet actually came to a better understanding of the world via foreign culture, and knowledge in general.

      This happens so infrequently, especially on the internet and with gamers, that I am legitimately, and significantly surprised.

      Something Amazing has happened today.

  5. ArchRylen says:

    Given that the “first thing [you] noticed” was the sales bar across the top, why isn’t it in any of the screenshots?

    Good review. I like hearing about the larger context.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      For the same reason that we don’t generally start WITs with a picture of the game’s main menu :-)

      • ArchRylen says:

        But this isn’t a bit of infrastructure you deal with briefly and move on. The impression I get, and it’s important enough that you flagged it, is that this is both ever present and intrusive. Hence the suggestion that we should see what you are talking about.

  6. Durgendorf says:

    Wouldn’t an ARPG be less appropriate to play in the background though? I can’t imagine playing this and trying to defend Ghostbusters at the same time I mean it looks funny why are we so angry?!

  7. Chaoslord AJ says:

    I’d love some fresh asian input with crazy concepts away from the low-fantasy orcs vs elves western style but as a single-player those MMOs bore me to death.

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      At least I now know why some random guy won’t watch the next ghostbusters. :p

  8. khalilravanna says:

    Haven’t dove into this just yet but I was a huge fan of Ragnarok Online and hope to check it out in the near future. I’m especially a huge fan of the OST for RO and Tree of Savior seems to be no different in terms of awesome tunes.

    • Hidden Thousand says:

      Well, I’ve only got the chance to try beta, but from what I’ve seen (and read on Tree of Savior forums) this game lacks what made RO interesting.
      I have fond memories of how in RO you could go pretty much everywhere from the very beginning, and how, of course, you would inevitably face high-level monsters and get your butt kicked (or run away screaming). Tree of Savior tends to give main quest, leading players through locations peppered with secondary quests, which is, on one hand, is fast-paced and exciting, but, on the other, void of that sense of discovery and freedom. Oh, and I, for one, having run through a location chasing that main quest, didn’t feel like going back.
      Monsters move in swarms, or tides, which is also very comfortable for certain classes to AOE. Yet you have to try hard to get overwhelmed.
      I understand that the people behind ToS did not want to create another RO. But it saddens me to see that they did not bring that which made RO interesting into this MMO.

  9. Enso says:

    Tried to play it. Constant screen juddering. makes my brain bleed.

    • baseless_drivel says:

      Not sure what you mean by juddering, but if you’re talking about the screen shake effect every time something gets hit, you can turn that off.

      If you mean the inconsistent framerate, there’s unfortunately less you can do about that.

  10. Themadcow says:

    “Specifically, that it’s very big on corsets, and any children you see will be very well fed”

    Actually it’s often harder for large bosom women to feed their children.

  11. bill says:

    I would assume that anime girls with cleavage and corsets is about 60% of why it’s doing well in the steam charts…. my lord.