Book of Travels EA Review: A Road Worth Taking

Book of Travels is a unique take on the MMO formula and one of the most absorbing and fascinating games I've encountered in ages.

I woke up wet in a sheep field, the result of choices whose effects I could barely fathom at the time. The only reason I know it was a sheep field is because some of the more curious wooly beasts were nuzzling my face and making sheep-sounds.

Otherwise, it was far too dark to make out my surroundings or even if I was safe, though my wanderer’s instinct — and an ounce of common sense — told me assassins and bandits usually don’t hide among farm animals in the middle of nowhere.

Fortunately, a friendly shepherd approached and pointed me in the right direction, so off I went on yet another journey. Or rather, off Bahvet the wanderer went, on just one of countless adventures in Might and Delight’s Book of Travels.

I had a chance to spend several hours in the TMORPG (tiny multiplayer online RPG) ahead of its Early Access launch on Steam, and I can say without hesitation that Book of Travels is unlike anything I’ve experienced before in the best of ways.

Book of Travels EA Review: A Road Worth Taking

Book of Travels skill menu.

Your time in Braided Shore begins similar to many other deep RPGs. The game master tasks you with picking a character, an origin story — you can even create your own — and some unique characteristics. I expected something like Divinity: Original Sin 2, an interesting backstory that shapes your early hours, plus some skills that sometimes influence your conversations and not much more. 

I was so wrong.

I opted for the archetypal wanderer, a seasoned traveler who’s always restless and prides himself on being a good judge of character. It’s romantic and absolutely pointless when you wake up drenched and sick in a sheep pen.

Needless to say, I didn’t linger there long. With just my clothes — gross clothes, according to the in-game description — to my name, I set off toward the Crossroads settlement in search of something or nothing at all. 

That wasn’t just a roleplaying decision, either. Book of Travels is one of the most open-ended experiences I’ve ever encountered. The smart thing to do was finding Crossroads, but I could have gone in the opposite direction or even just picked a fight with another traveler (which I did anyway, and lost).

Book of Travels encounter.

BoT gradually told me enough about the world to get me started with brief explanations of Knots — a kind of magic — the all-important tea rituals and teahouses, and how to get what I needed along the way through bartering.

The fields I journeyed through were dark and empty because time passes normally in Braided Shore. People resumed their travels once the sun rose, but I was content on my own with just the brief glimpses of starlight flickering through the trees and the glimmer of torches telling me I was headed in the right direction. 

The occasional person I did meet was always up for a short chat, which gave me a welcome experience boost I could eventually put toward learning new skills. I could gush endlessly about how much I love the way Book of Travels handles skills and experiences. It’s one of the most organic and intuitive in any game I’ve played.

Your memory capacity determines how many skills you can hold at any given time. Using a skill helps perfect it, but if you don’t use it often, it gradually grows weaker and eventually could get replaced. Experience comes from anything, whether it’s completing tasks or just talking to people, and it’s illustrative of Book of Travels’ intelligent approach to design in general.

Like any multiplayer RPG, you can party up with others if you want to, and you’ll sometimes need an extra hand to deal with certain tasks. As it’s just entering Early Access on October 11, the number of other players I encountered was naturally slim, and I was pleased to see it had little effect on what my hapless wanderer could accomplish if he wanted to.

There's always another road to take or task to accomplish, even if companions are nowhere to be seen.

The party-up process is quick and organic as well. I encountered a fellow traveler named Kirk at the railway station, and we exchanged friendly emotes before deciding to join forces. I had a ferry to catch, though, and while the fellowship of two didn’t last long, I suspect Bahvet preferred it that way.

Book of Travels character creation.

Some might find the open-ended approach off-putting, and you do wind up at a loose end fairly often, especially in some of the large, empty areas. It's worth it, though. There are few other joys in gaming like seeing your choices pay off in unexpected ways or picking up on a subtle clue about what you could do next and stumbling onto a new adventure in the process.

I’ve never felt as invested in the actual roleplaying experience as I do in Book of Travels. Bahvet’s journey feels like a true adventure, where I’m learning about the world and what I can do in it at the same rate he is. I’m curious to see what big events there might be further down the way, but I’m also perfectly content with the myriad small moments that have marked my time so far.

Like with any good journey, these moments define the experience more than any massive setpiece could — losing to a duelist by the railroad, missing my ferry and getting lost in conversation with the dockhands instead, being passed up for naval recruitment because I clearly had the look of a landlubber. I’ve barely scratched the surface, and Book of Travels is already unforgettable.

The best part is that it feels like my journey more than I can say for most similar RPGs. I know others who picked different skills had a wildly different first few hours, especially those who prioritized the mystical side of the skill tree. Hints of your choices’ effects dot the landscape as well, from monuments you don’t know how to interact with to machinery that’s way out of your league until later.

Book of Travels is a genuinely magical adventure so far. In a landscape crowded with big games shouting their expansive content at you, it’s a quiet voice offering something different and meaningful, an experience that’s equal part traveling simulator and laid back RPG.

There’s nothing else like it. I don’t know what’s ahead for Bahvet and where his journey might take him, but that’s okay. Whatever it is, we’ll get there eventually.

[Note: Might and Delight provided the copy of Book of Travels used for this Early Access review.]

Contributor

Josh Broadwell started gaming in the early '90s. But it wasn't until 2017 he started writing about them, after finishing two history degrees and deciding a career in academia just wasn't the best way forward. You'll usually find him playing RPGs, strategy games, or platformers, but he's up for almost anything that seems interesting.

Published Oct. 12th 2021

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