Graphically the game is reminiscent of Everquest 2, with all its glowy-edged oddness and its harsh environments. It's one of those games that can be amazing looking in one area only to be followed up by an area that looks semi-unfinished. That could very well be the case, being that the game is actually in closed beta and this is a "First Impression." Still, overall it takes free-to-play game graphics up one more notch.
Now don't get me wrong, I understand the free-to-play stereotypes that exist for a reason. And inside Tales of Fantasy you will find some of those stereotypes. You will find a grind, you will find crazy mobs with broken translations, and you will find a cash shop that does sell very powerful convenience items. There is no denying that. But we have to ask if most of these stereotypes exist only in free-to-play games. Let's look at a few options the game offers.
Yes, your character will level up mainly by killing 10 rats. You will burn through tons of flesh, and will cause a lot of pain to many NPCs. This happens in most games you will come across, regardless of country of origin. The grind is ever-present, and is needed in some ways to represent the growth of your superhuman character. If anything, avoiding a lot of killing would be unrealistic. Tales of Fantasy breaks the grind up with neat little bits of lore and loot, and throws in levels fast enough to keep you from becoming bored. It takes no time at all to gain new abilities and equipment and to move further down the map. The game does funnel you through the land by assigning you tasks conveniently up the road, but the land is pretty and distances are easily overcame thanks to your first free mount. While the variety of foes to dispatch is lacking, the things you gain along the way keep it interesting. Occasionally you will even find named mobs, even in lower level areas.
The website for this game kept telling me about the special mounts to enjoy, but so far I have only the one. Granted, in alpha the developers were nice enough to outfit me with a one-of-a-kind (or close to it) mount that made other players constantly ask me if I was a GM, but so far everyone is driving the same early level mount. The guards and the occasional higher level player have shown me some variety, and I am impressed with that. I look forward to leveling some more in the hopes of getting new mounts, or putting some money into the cash shop to buy one.
There is a lot to do with your character once you figure it out. Do yourself a favor and do not skip the chats you have with NPCs, especially the ones that will explain a new process to you. Weapons and armor are upgradeable, but your character is as well. At level 10 you get your first "fusion" meaning that you can sacrifice pretty much every piece of equipment you are wearing in exchange for higher stats. It's a cool idea and after the process I had a naked, yet more powerful, character. Not to worry, within minutes I bought some new armor from the local armor NPC. You add your standard points to some of your standard abilities as you level, but there is opportunity for a second job or second set of abilities to keep it variable. While many of the players are blending in together, I have seen quite a few unusual abilities being shot out from them. There are ways to imbue your weapons with higher stats as well by using gems and slots.
So is the game fun? Isn't that the most important question? Will this game make you want to log in, or will you log in simply because you are someone that cannot afford a box and subscription? Is this a game that you will tolerate instead of enjoy?
I'd say that it starts out a bit amazing. At first, you are amazed that it looks good (remember, see Everquest 2) and are amazed at the fact that you can wield a sword at age 6 (if you choose that race). Then, you start to see some familiar free-to-play cliches popping up like the horrible font (that is supposed to be getting fixed) or the usual Naruto discussions in chat. So then you become a little down.
But if you stick it out a few levels you start to have a blast. The concept of leveling is simple and in a way very honest. Go out, kill things, come back. It's like a typical reputation or gear grind in many subscription based games, minus the amazing amounts of time. And along the way you start to see details of the world and of the game's systems emerging. I only wish that the game made these systems clearer and explained them better. I would love to see a tighter interface and response time, and would love to see better tutorials and less errors in the text. But, it is in beta. Closed beta, supposedly. It's actually more remarkable that it is in such good shape for being in closed beta.
So go check it out. I know I am looking forward to gaining more levels and knowledge as I go along. While I wish the game would not hide its good parts as well as it does sometimes, I am enjoying the pursuit.