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Trove will rejuvenate MMO worlds by blowing them up


I'll confess that even after having chatted with Trion Worlds CEO Scott Hartsman about this new Trove project and reading Shawn's very early impressions piece, I was still having difficulty understanding what, exactly, this game was about. Was it just some sort of kiddy LEGO hack-and-slasher with a nod to housing thrown in? How was Trion going to make good on its promise to continually provide a sense of new adventures? And was Trove just a blatant ripoff of Cube World, as some have claimed?

Because Trove isn't quite a typical MMO, I needed another phone session with Trion to get a clearer picture of this game. Creative Lead Andrew Krausnick spent an hour with me patiently answering any and all of my questions. The big one had to be asked from the get go.

Were you really going to be blowing up the world all the time?

Krausnick confirmed that yes, Trion will be doing exactly that. More than that, he said that it would be the factor that would set Trove apart from all of the other games out there right now.

Blowing up planets for fun and profit

Although the current alpha isn't quite to the point where world destruction (what Trion's calling "world cycling") has happened, it will be patched in soon. The idea is that at any given point, new worlds are being created all over the place in Trove. Each world will be flat with fixed boundaries, with each boasting a specific biome, treasures, dungeons, and monsters. You, along with 40 or so other players, will jump into a new one and get to exploring, killing, and building.

During your adventures on that world, you have the choice of going at it alone or hanging out with friends and strangers. You can claim an empty plot to summon your cornerstone (more on that later), explore another players' cornerstone, blast your way into a cave, build a staircase up a tower, or take on one of the game's procedurally generated dungeons. But the world will have an extinction point, and that's when you and a majority of the other players there get together to take on the world boss. Once it's killed, the world will be destroyed and you'll move on elsewhere to start anew.

Trove has a different attitude toward traditional MMO classes, too. The designers are drawing inspiration from the job system of classic Final Fantasy games, allowing you to swap out classes and level them up independently. Each class is pretty simplistic, boasting one passive and three active abilities as well as a basic weapon attack. Once you max out a class (and no, the devs haven't decided on a level cap yet), you'll be able to take some aspect of that class over to the other ones you play, creating a mix-and-match build. Currently the game has just one class, the Knight, but the devs are putting the finishing touches on the pistol-happy Gunslinger for an upcoming patch.

Now here's the strange thing: Levels won't be the be-all, end-all of power and progression. The idea is that levels will persist as you travel between worlds but your gear will not. So those who start a new world at a higher level will be sort of like a twinked character with somewhat better stats, but the quick acquisition of procedurally generated gear that takes place in each world will rapidly catch everyone else up. Thus, one of your priorities in a new world is to grab that world-specific gear and make sure you're bulked up for the inevitable final encounter.

Through this setup, the team says that players of disparate levels will be able to play just fine together while retaining a measure of progression. In fact, Trion's biggest focus isn't on strict balance but a sense of fun and enjoyment. The team's taken lessons from RIFT's public group content to make a system that rewards everyone for participation and encourages players to just have a good time together.

Speaking of fun, your cornerstone sounds pretty neat. Anyone can go into someone else's cornerstone to check it out, but only the owner can modify it. Cornerstones aren't just a trophy case for your special acquisitions (although that is part of it), but also a showcase for your designing skills and a location that you can use for crafting. The more worlds you beat, the more recipes you'll be able to unlock for crafting, although there will be so many of them that the team severely doubts anyone will be able to collect them all.

You'll also be able to collect and use fun mounts (such as the raptor or the recliner -- yes, recliner -- mount) and little vanity pets. These pets can't fight for you, but they do contribute some stat buffs and make you feel adored. The team's also working on ways for you to put your pets into your cornerstones, like for example if you just want your pooch to hang on your porch instead of following you around.

One of the trophies that you can get for your cornerstone is a golden torch. This drops off of golden beetles, of which there is only one per world. The rarity should make it a joyous find for those who discover it first.

Trove's business model and testing timeline

We talked at length about the specifics of Trove's free-to-play model. Again taking a cue from RIFT, the Trove team is striving to make a game that is as generous as possible with free players while tempting loyal players to drop a few bucks here and there.

There are two types of currency in the game, credits and source. Credits are a copy of RIFT's credits and are purchased with real money, whereas source is a special currency that you can only get by accomplishing major tasks or killing world bosses. Some items can be purchased with both, while other items are available only via one type of currency. For example, right now recipe unlocks are purchased with source while cosmetic options for faces are credits-only. However, you can use either currency to unlock classes.

Krausnick did want to make clear that the team wasn't interested in selling power advantages through credits. He also wanted to point out that the game's crowdsourcing program will be giving those who "pre-order" the game bonus credits and items for jumping in before the end of alpha testing.

While Krausnick didn't want to commit to a strict timeline for when the alpha will end and the beta will begin, he seemed pretty sure that it was something that would happen next year. The beta program for Trove looks to be somewhat of a soft launch, since the team will not be wiping characters once it begins.

Cube World and other questions

All right, let's get to the big criticism that commenters seem to have about Trove, which is its similar appearance to Cube World. Is Trove a case of a big, bad company swooping down to steal an indie game's concept and laughing its way to the bank?

Krausnick was fine discussing this. He said that while the team played and enjoyed Cube World, as they didn't live in an isolated bubble, most of the inspiration for Trove came from Minecraft and Terraria. Krausnick and his partners thought that the combination of Trion's experience with MMO structure and persistence could be married to the sandbox nature of those games, and they simply liked the 8-bit aesthetic. He said that the comparison to Cube World is very superficial and doesn't hold up once people get into the game, which is why Trion continues to expand the alpha on a weekly basis.

I pressed him about the alpha program population, which he said was somewhere in the thousands. However, the team is letting more people in as they expand the servers and look for fresh sets of eyes with each patch. While the world keeps getting wiped with each patch, players are getting to experience new content as the game updates about twice a week.

I shared my concern that starting a non-NDA alpha at this stage might hurt Trove in the long run, as players develop strong first impressions that might never be changed. Was it worth it to let the world see and hear about a game in such an early and unfinished state? Krausnick acknowledged that it is a risk, but the team feels like it's a worthwhile risk because it's helping them make a better game faster. Even those who have poked their heads in and left will still get regular newsletter updates about the game's development, and all will be welcome back when the game does transition into beta and a full release.

"The sooner you get players into the game to see how they play together, the better," he said.

Krausnick said that unlike Trion's other games, Trove is getting virtually no marketing right now but instead is relying on word-of-mouth for interest and support.

Coming in the new year, Trion will be releasing tools and parameters for weapon creation so that the public can take a swing at making their own unique swords and guns for the game. This has been going on internally for a while now, but Krausnick is excited to see what the community will come up with. If a player makes a particularly cool item and posts it on reddit, it might be included in the game itself. And if this weapon creation experiment goes well, Trion might open it up to more parts of the game.

So what's Krausnick's favorite mob? The treasure chest mimic, which drops better loot in exchange for the annoyance of having to kill it. Will there be a death penalty? Probably, but that will be one of the last things the team will be addressing. Who is doing the soundtrack? It's being composed by Yannis Brown, who also did part of the RIFT score.

How will Trion handle possible copyright infringement or obscenity with player creations? There will be a reporting tool, and since everything in the game is destroyable, it will be a small matter for the CMs to demolish the offending structure.

At the end of our conversation, I was definitely enthusiastic about seeing if Trove could make good on these ideas versus being merely intrigued from earlier reports. No, it won't be the most in-depth, lore-rich, super-serious game when it comes out. But if it's genuinely fun and keeps the joy of discovery alive, I'll be completely fine with that.

Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?

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