As a gamer who loves RPGs way too much for her own good, I am always looking for a fresh new story and world to explore. A tale that grabs my attention immediately and sucks me so deep into the experience that I don’t want to put it down. Caravan Stories teased me with tweets featuring lush locales and kawaii characters. This nudged the game up a few more notches on my fall/winter playlist and with a few days to kill before Borderlands 3 (which I also reviewed), I figured it was worth taking for a spin.
After initial delays, the game finally released for North American players on September 10th and I jumped right on in. Well, I tried. For a large chunk of launch day, Caravan Stories was offline for maintenance. Already things are not off to a great start for me. When I do manage to get the game going the next morning, everything seems to be in working order. Character creation offers very familiar race options with limited customization. I chose to start my adventure as a Dwarf and away we go.
The story immediately disappoints me. And not just because of the awkward translation and misspelled words. It starts out as most stories do, with a simple task that sets my character (who I named Midori for the green hair I gave her) on a task to discover what is wrong with the town’s pipes. We get our tutorial portion of the game as we run to the target location and fight the boss. Everything is routine and not particularly exciting or surprising.
Not only is the story dull, the game plays more like one of those absent-minded mobile games than any MMO I’ve ever seen. The fact that you can actually auto-play everything in the game does not help. Sure, the auto function comes in handy for traveling from Point A to B in certain situations, but doing so kills off the personal discovery of filling out the map and finding hidden nuggets. Not like I’ve found any neat little secrets yet. The one time I have actually found Auto being useful is unfortunately glitched; I picked up a story quest in to kick off getting a new character for my party, only to discover that where his home is located is somehow blocked off to my team. I tried using the auto-function in hopes of finding another way to get there, but every time it takes me the same way and an invisible wall keeps me from getting to my destination.
Yes, you can manually control the members of your party to activate their special abilities. But there’s really no need to. You’re more likely to fail if you’re trying to handle six various characters during these active battles. In tougher battles I will pay attention to how it’s going and maybe force my healer to use their ability if the cooldown is over. More often than not, I can initiate a battle, walk away for a minute to get a drink or check other work stuff and come back to a Victory screen (which you can also Auto through).
When you aren’t battling or running fetch quests, you’ll be upgrading your Caravan. Nearly everything can be done from your roaming home. It generates gold and the crystals needed to create and upgrade your various stations, and houses all of your crafting and expanded storage stations. The exterior can be altered with cannons and defenses for battle.
You will also head into your Caravan in order to do pretty much anything with your party members. As you install new facilities, you will open up crafting and upgrading of weapons and skills. If you have EXP Orbs in your inventory, you can use those to Level Up your favorite party members and recruited animal companions. Once they have reached the max level listed, head over to the Evolve screen to rank them up. You guessed it. This will make them stronger and unlock new skills.
Caravan Stories is a free-to-play game. What does that mean for you, the PS4 player? First off, you do in fact need a PlayStation Plus account in order to play the game (despite many free-to-play games not requiring the online service). Without one, don’t waste your time and data downloading it. The game offers login bonuses, giving you things like crystals and gold and Anima for certain characters (who may or may not be in your party). You can also spend real money to buy Phantasm Gems, the special in-game currency, to open the game’s various loot “packs.”
While the first week of releases seemed plagued with glitches like menu options not displaying and getting stuck on screens, Caravan Stories has gotten better. I think that may be thanks to a patch that downloaded when I wasn’t looking. Unfortunately, the patch doesn’t make the game “better.” It also does not help that every time I load into and out of a battle there is a load screen. Other games have seamlessly mastered the transition without a jarring screen that removes all sense of this being an immersive experience.
In the end it all boils down to whether or not you are a fan of mobile games that offer you a virtually hands-off sort of experience. There are limited time events where you can earn unique items and encounter different enemies. However, I think the individual character arcs in Caravan Stories are lacking, just as the overarching story is slow, and I have no sense of urgency. Why spend time in a lackluster world when I have a stack of other wonderful games waiting for me? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Caravan Stories is a free-to-play game available on the PlayStation Store. Reviewed on a PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.