Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Tarisland Closed Beta: First Impressions

Oh, boy! Here we go!

I applied for the Closed Beta of Tarisland on a whim. I'd been reading about the title on various news sites since it appeared miraculously, almost full-grown, in the wake of the sudden, unfortunate and largely involuntary withdrawal of World of Warcraft from the Chinese marketplace.

The general opinion seemed to be that Tarisland was a WoW clone. Not in the sense we used to use the term: an expensive but ultimately futile attempt to ride WoW's coat-tails to success by making something roughly similar; no, this was said to be an almost literal remaking; a 1:1 replica, built to replace the actual World of Warcraft in China for the players whose access to the real thing had been so abruptly curtailed.

Screenshots and trailers all appeared to confirm this hypothesis. It sure as hell looked like WoW. After playing the game for a couple of hours this morning, I can confirm it sure as hell plays like WoW, too. And also a bit like FFXIV. And a few other games.

Who wouldn't want to be her?

None of that really surprised me. What did was that I was playing at all. When I applied for the closed beta, I didn't expect to get in. I didn't think I'd even bother completing the paperwork. I assumed it would be a fairly exclusive affair, with an NDA and an application process involving some personal details and some forms to sign and I'd lose interest before I even finished applying.

There was some of that. I seem to remember a few questions about other games I'd played and how old I was and about what kind of spec PC I had. That was a bit of a hurdle. The drop-down menu didn't have a series of graphics cards old enough so I had to tick the lowest I could see. It would have been a decent upgrade, if I'd had one.

But there wasn't an NDA. I didn't sign anything to say I couldn't report on my experience if I was lucky enough to get in. When I received the email a few days ago telling me I'd been invited, I checked again. Nope. Nothing. 

While I was waiting for the velvet rope to be lifted this morning, I asked Bard:

"Does the Closed Beta for Tarisland, starting today, have an NDA?"

And Bard replied:

"No, the closed beta for Tarisland does not have an NDA. This means that players are free to stream, record, and discuss their experiences with the game. The developers have said that they want players to be able to share their feedback and help shape the game as it continues development.

The closed beta for Tarisland started on June 27, 2023. It is available on PC and will run for two weeks. To participate in the beta, players need to sign up for the Tarisland newsletter."

"If you miss this train, there'll never be another one..."
So I guess that confirms it. I mean the AIs never just make stuff up, right? (Actually, it's also in the official FAQ, which for some reason I didn't read until afterwards...)

Anyway, on the assumption that it's allowed, here are my first session impressions of Tarisland, the latest contender for the crown that now sits so unsteadily on WoW's head. The beta lasts a full two weeks and I can already tell I'm going to be playing it a lot more than I have some other betas I've been in so I'm not going to get bogged down in too much detail on this first pass. Time for that later, I'm sure.

The first thing to say is the whole thing feels rock solid. Downloading and installing the client was simple, fast and flawless. I was walking the dog when the exact time for the servers to come up arrived but I was at my desk fifteen minutes later and everything was up and running. 

There's an American server and an Asian server. The UK defaults to America (Quiet at the back!) which was fine by me. Would have been my choice anyway, even if there'd been a European server. 

I was able to log in immediately; no queue, no delay. I watched the intro video (A lot of noise, not much sense.) then I made a character and played for a couple of hours without interruption, lag or latency of any kind. I can't find a minimum recommended spec for PC but my extremely underpowered and very elderly rig had no problem running Tarisland at what the in-game settings describe as "Epic" quality. 

I guess "Movie" is better than "Epic"?
I did get one pop-up telling me my frame rate was low. It happened in the big boss fight that ends the short Tutorial. There was a lot going on and a lot of other players around. Even then, all that happened was the game reset some parameter to fix whatever problem it thought I was having and everything carried on as before. I'm not one to notice frame rate unless things literally turn into a slideshow but it seemed perfectly fine to me, both before and after whatever it was that changed.

So much for infrastructure, connectivity and performance. All boxes ticked. Passed, with distinction. On to Character Creation.

There have been times when I've played a new game and devoted a whole post to Character Creation. I could do that here but if I did it would be one of those socio-philosophical treatises about how times and mores have changed. It certainly wouldn't be one of the "Gosh! What a lot of sliders! Look at all the great looks I made!" posts.

The first thing to say is that classes appear to be both gender- and race-locked. If there were toggles, I missed them and I thought I looked at all the options. If it's true, that's not going to go down well in the West.

There are nine classes of which one isn't available in the beta and another isn't even identified. There's just big question mark. The seven you can choose from are Warrior, Paladin, Barbarian Fighter, Mage, Priest, Ranger and Bard

Only girls, only elves. Mage school rules.

I was very tempted by the Barbarian Fighter for the sole reason that it's also the only non-human race (Elves don't count.) I reiterate, if there's any way to mix and match races and classes, I missed it. It is a beta, though, and I went through Character Creation fast, so that's entirely possible. Don't take my word for anything. Think of me as a slower, less well-programmed AI.

In the end I went for the Ranger because a) she looked badass and so did her pet and b) hunters are OP solo in WoW so I was hoping it would be easy-mode here, too. Also, if it turned out I had to do any grouping, I know how to play a ranger - stand well back and don't get in anyone's way. No-one ever expects the ranger to do anything. In fact, if a ranger somehow gets a group at all, the general feeling usually seems to be the less they do, the better.

I tarted my character up to the limited degree permitted, including some make-up and a facial tattoo, which isn't usually my style. I felt quite pleased with the result. I'm increasingly of the opinion that less is more when it comes to character creation. Then I gave her one of my favorite names that no-one else ever picks and in we went.

Wait... I'm an elf?? How did I miss those ears?!

The tutorial begins at a canter and speeds up to a gallop almost immediately. There's a lot of action and plenty of fighting from the start, which meant I had absolutely no chance to read the tooltips to see what my abilities did. Didn't matter. I only had a couple and anyway, what do you expect with a ranger? Stand back and shoot stuff pretty much covers it.

Later, when I had a chance to mouseover and read the details, I found all my abilities to be unnecessarily complicated. There's a lot of percentages and things that feed or build or amplify other things. I imagine if you want to play properly and have people not yell at you in groups, you'll need to memorize all that crap. I just ignored it and everything seemed to go just fine.

The tutorial only takes a few minutes to cover the absolute basics. It ends with a massive set-piece battle with a dragon (What else?) for which I found myself the only player in a ten-person raid, the other nine being NPCs, I think... Either that or a lot of people gave thetr characters really boring names.

Pretty sure none of those people are real. Except me. Maybe.

Not to give away too much but it's one of those fixed fights you can't win. The dragon blasts everyone with fire and everyone dies. Well, nearly. Not you. Then some confusing message I thought said "Three Days Earlier" popped up and disappeared almost before I could read it and next thing I knew I was in the starting area proper. I need to play through all that again just to figure out what happened.

As I hope I'm conveying, up to that point everything felt hectic and confused and desperate. Developers either seem to want to set every nerve in your body jangling with non-stop action or send you into a coma of boredom with endless detail on how to open a bag or speak to a vendor. Personally, I'd just like to be dumped in the game world and left to get on with it but that's not been an option since about 2002. As these things go, the way Tarisland introduces itself is about par for the course.

From then on, however, things really pick up. The pace settles down to normal quest hub levels. The world is spectacularly beautiful, if you like the kind of cartoonish graphics WoW has been peddling for years, which I do. Everything felt very familiar and for good reason; the starting zone is the Tauren starting zone, give or take. The Ancash Tribe are minotaurs, they speak with a faint but recognizable, Native American inflection... the town is full of totem poles, ffs!

Next stop, Mulgore. Erm, sorry, Ancash Canyon. My mistake!

But forget the aesthetics. For all practical purposes, if you've ever played WoW, you're going to feel right at home here.The UI is the default WoW UI or near enough. Tarisland is a tab-target, hotbar MMORPG from the late noughties.

I fricken' love it! For once I was able to log into a brand new MMORPG and just play! I didn't have to re-learn anything or make any adjustments or fiddle around with stuff endlessly to try and get comfortable. I felt like I knew what I was doing from the get-go. I felt like I was home!

Okay, not "home" but in another house on the same estate. One with the furniture moved around a little and some different wallpaper but all the rooms in the same place. I can't express how good it feels to hit Tab to target and click on icons on a hotbar to fight. I've become so inured to the various kinds of "action" combat in modern MMORPGs I'd almost forgotten how much I prefer the old, non-action combat of yesteryear.

Okay, this time at least some of those people are real.

There is dodging. I ought to mention that. A disembodied voice keeps yelling "Dodge!" when you don't. Nothing tells you how, though, and I never got around to finding out. I just ran out of the way, which mostly worked. Sometimes, when it didn't, all my abilities greyed out and I couldn't do anything but after a while they came back and I carried on. 

I thought at first I'd died but I never woke up anywhere else and it didn't seem to affect the outcome of any fights so maybe I was just stunned. I assume there must be some kind of death mechanic, if not an actual penalty, but so far that's all I've seen.

If you figure it out, let me know.
If Tarisland looks like WoW and fights like WoW, I ought to mention that it doesn't handle XP exactly like WoW. There's a server XP cap, as is common in non-Western MMORPGs, and mobs don't seem to give any XP at all. It's been a while since they gave much meaningful XP in WoW, either, but at least they give a little. And drop loot. In Tarisland they do neither. (Well, I guess they might drop loot very rarely... I didn't see any, though, so I'm saying they don't, until I get evidence to the contrary.)

All the XP and gear I got came from quests. All the quests I did were straightforward and simple. And fun. I have to say it - I really enjoy doing simple quests. Been doing them for twenty years; not bored yet. It's the long, complicated ones that tick me off.

It also helped a lot that I found the storyline quite engaging. I'm not going to say it's original. It very much is not. But, like the tab-targetting and the hotkey combat, it's the kind of narrative I know and enjoy. It's cosy, if poison, possession, betrayal and spiders can be cosy.

The translation is varied. By the standards of imported games it's better than decent. I had no trouble following the plot (Well, not once the tutorial was out of the way, at least.). Quite often the lengthy passages of text that came with every quest read no more awkwardly than those you'd find in WoW itself. Sometimes better, actually. (That's not necessarily an endorsement, by the way. My opinion of Blizzard's in-house prose style is not high.)

Someone skipped school the day we did personal pronouns, eh, Jeya?

The problem, as usual, comes with idiom. Even in some Western MMORPGs I find the writing over-formal and unnatural. It's much worse in translations, where it seems impossible for the developers to find (Or afford.) anyone who can write demotic, colloquial English. It's one reason I like EverQuest II's quest writing better than most - often as not, the NPCs there say things you can imagine an actual person saying, rather than something that sounds like it came from a high school improv drama class.

The voice acting is better than decent. I wouldn't go as far as to say it's good but it's more than acceptable. It's one of many games where the voice actors don't appear to be working from the same script as whoever did the subtitles, though. There are frequent small variations from the words on the screen. 

I've seen this so often, in so many MMORPGs, it's almost the norm. I certainly wouldn't mark any game down for it, providing it doesn't get in the way of understanding; the only time it matters is if the two versions diverge in meaning. That didn't happen here so it's all good.

Almost but not quite. Still as good as WoW, all the same.

One thing that did irk me about the voiceover had nothing to do with the writing or the performance. Neither was it anything I hadn't seen - or heard - before. It's another annoying little quirk of many games I've played, where the scene changes before the actor has finished speaking and the end of the line gets cut off. It doesn't materially affect anything but it breaks immersion and always grates on the ear a little.

These are small complaints. And it is beta, although I very much doubt anyone's going to be re-recording dialog or re-writing quest text before launch. They might sort out the sync issues at least.

Other than that, I had a very good time. I nearly wrote "a surprisingly good time" but actually I wasn't all that surprised. As I said, I'd been following the promotional hype for Tarisland and it seemed to me that the main thing people didn't like about it was that it looked too much like WoW. That was the appeal for me. 

Any prog bands out there need an album cover?

I've sworn off  Blizzard at least until the Microsoft deal goes through, which looks like it might never happen. I'm not a huge WoW player but I do like to drop in now and again and after a couple of years I'm kinda missing it. I'm in the market for a good alternative, especially if it's free. I do realize that the people behind Tarisland probably aren't any nicer than the people running Blizzard but until the behind-the-scenes stories start to leak I can at least live in blissful ignorance.  

The beta lasts a full two weeks. I got to Level 10 in a couple of hours today. We'll see how long my interest lasts and how much further I get. 

I'm certainly not likely to run out of things to write about. Topics I didn't cover today include vistas, teleports, map travel, murloc analogs, forced grouping, similarities with FFXIV, reputation, exploration, achievements and riding side-saddle. 

And that's just the beginning...


  1. I got the email for the beta, but at one point it seemed to be listing countries other than the US, which was a bit confusing. I won't have a chance to poke my nose in until the weekend hits because I have to travel this week. But I am keen to give it a look.

    I am interested in how much it really is like WoW or whatever, in part because MOP seemed to be going completely overboard at one point on how much this was a direct copy in response to WoW leaving China, as though NetEase could magically conjure up a full MMORPG in a couple of months.

    1. Also, Blogger did it again. I told it to use my Google account, but then it put me in as anonymous.

    2. Blogger/Google is terrible for comments right now. It's my blog but even when I'm logged into it I still can't just comment and have it come as me, like i used to. i have to select "Google Account" from the drop-down and even tghen mostly it doesn't work. I just did it now and had to refresh the page and do it again before it took. My only consolation is that I have similar or even worse issues commenting on WP blogs with my WP account and anywhere at all using Disqus or that other one I forget the name of. They all suck and they're all getting worse.

      On the substantive topic, the beta does last a whole two weeks so there's plenty of time. I spent so long writing the blog post I haven't even had a chance to play again but I very much want to, which is a good sign. First impressions are that it is indeed very similar to WoW, especially visually, but it's also quite like a number of other successful, Western MMORPGs. It's unabashedly "classic" in its approach, which suits me very well. I wonder how big the market for that is these days, though. I read about some pushback by beta testers of another title recently because it used tab targeting instead of action combat. I guess we'll find out when it launches.

  2. I'm mildly puzzled by people who are boycotting things like Blizzard or Harry Potter games then turning around and happily supporting games from China, given the country's horrific human rights record. Like, even if the game devs aren't committing the crimes themselves, they're still paying taxes to the government that does.

    I guess we're all just so inured to everything being made in China it doesn't seem to matter anymore? I will admit to a certain hypocrisy myself here -- I've been trying to avoid Chinese games, but I undoubtedly support China's economy in countless other ways.

    1. I was kind of thinking of how disingenuous we are about this, unless people expect that sort of behavior out of China whereas they expect better out of Blizzard and the Potter franchise. I'm not sure whether that's more dissing China or overinflated expectations for the other two, but either way nobody comes out in a good light nowadays. And of course, even ol' Chairman Pooh Bear (Xi supposedly hates that name in the same way that Bobby Kotick hates devil horns) is trying crack down on video games over there, so it could be seen as a form of (very mild) resistance. But yeah, I'm not buying it overall. We're giving Chinese companies too much slack for bad behavior.

    2. The whole China issue is waaaaaay to big to address in a comment on a blog post but I will mention that if the city I live in were to collectively boycott China and all that's connected to it, we'd be bankrupt in a month. Okay, not really, but Chinese tourism contributes significantly to most businesses here and presumably to the city authorities, too.

      If you go back to when I moved here in the early '90s, the tourist cliches of the time were Americans and Japanese. Now you hardly see any Americans at all and the once-familiar Japanese tour groups, moving in an orderly column, taking snapshots of everything that moved or stayed still, haven't been a feature of the city center for a couple of decades. Instead we have a plethora of Europeans from all over the continent and a very great number of Chinese students and families, either studying or just visiting the country.

      I think because seeing and talking to Chinese citizens has become such a normal part of life, I don't think of China as a particularly different country from any other. And if it comes to aligning the policies of the authorities of a country with my buying decisions, I'd be struggling. I certainly wouldn't be able to buy anything British- or American-made, that's for sure.

      In the end, as I've discussed before, it comes down to what I feel personally comfortable (or uncomfortable) with. As must be obvious by now, I make most of my descisions of all kinds based on emotion rather than logic, so I just follow my gut. If it makes me feel queasy, I don't do it. Blizzard makes me feel queasy. Tencent doesn't - yet.

  3. Pretty sure Roger Dean would be proud of that pic on an album cover.

    It just feels weird seeing another WoW clone out there after all these years. You're right about the gender and race locked nature of things being anathema to Western sensibilities, but I have to wonder whether we're just a secondary market to them.

    Maybe China is the primary focus?

    1. I nearly named Roger Dean in that caption! Really does look like his work.

      Yeah, I imagine the home market was always the focus here but they have taken the trouble to do a full English translation so they must be serious about the US/global market, too. Most big companies looking westward also retrofit things like gender and appearance to suit Western expectations, so it's a little surprising they haven't bothered. Assuming I haven't just missed the toggles, that is.

  4. Looking at those screenshots it's kind of astounding to me just how closely these guys copied WoW's style without doing a literal copy and paste. It's kind of like an art in itself.

    For example the ranger with the white tiger and the elf mage both remind me strongly of related WoW art. I'm pretty sure those shoulder pads with the feathers exist in nearly identical form in WoW. And of course that big dragon with the square jaw is basically Deathwing.

    1. It is incredibly close. Then again, WoW is incredibly generic as are most fantasy video games. I'd be willing to bet all of this Western Fantasy Art looks pretty much identical to anyone who isn't much of a fan, just like all heavy metal or country music sounds the same to people who don't like it. You have to be deep inside the silo to see the differences - and the similarities.


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