The PlayStation 4 saw a good number of free-to-play games of different genres in 2019. Many, like the PS4-exclusive MOBA Genesis, attempt to attract players by not requiring a PS Plus membership to play online. Instead, they go for that microtransaction money. Following this trend is Caravan Stories, a game that's hard to pin down into one description. Marketing describes it as an anime-inspired MMO. It's that, but also it's a monster taming game, a free-to-play gacha, a base-builder with crafting elements, and more.
Caravan Stories: The Auto MMO
At its core, Caravan Stories is an MMORPG. You pick from your typical fantasy races (Humans, Dwarves, Elves, and Orks) and one original race (Gessy, like tiny rabbit people). You customize your character with relatively limited options, choose a Japanese voice-over, and start adventuring. I picked an Elf, and my story went like this: one day, while doing tutorial things with my Elf friends, a thing appeared in the sky and spewed out monsters. A magic tree tasked us with stopping it and gifted us with a Caravan. A Caravan is a combination robot ally/house/airship that allows us to travel the world. And that's how my, and I imagine everyone's, Caravan story began.
The presentation is the best part. It's all rendered in this lovely anime style, only instead of cel-shading, it's got more of a watercolor vibe. The effect gives the world a very chill tone, which is aided by the calm soundtrack. These small touches set it apart from the typically bombastic look and sound of most anime-inspired games. While that is appreciated, it also removes a lot of the action and urgency of the story. This is an MMO, after all, and you're meant to take your time as you explore and grind through the world around you.
Some players love the grind. They play specifically for a mindless experience after a hard day. However, Caravan Stories' mobile roots add extra elements to the grind that may put off fans of traditional MMOs. For one, rewards are dispersed frequently via mini-quests. That means that rather than saving up for one amazing armor, currency and materials are thrown at you every minute. Secondly, you can auto through pretty much everything. One command will make your character walk to the next quest point, everyone auto attacks in battle, and materials farm themselves back at base. On top of it all is a way to skip through progression at a rapid pace: paid currency.
Caravan Stories: The Mobile Game
This isn't the part where I shake my fist at the developers while typing, "Microtransactions!" They're not that offensive. You can field up to six characters in battle. Two companions of your race are with you from the start. Along the way, you'll encounter other heroes who join you after you resolve their sidequests. And you can tame wandering monsters to bolster your ranks. There was never any point where I felt my party was weak because I wasn't paying.
Microtransactions mainly exist to speed up several processes. That's where it got to be a little much for me. Again, Caravan Stories got its start as a mobile game before launching on PS4. Nothing seems to have changed during the jump, so the game still has every form of mobile temptation available. There are loot boxes that reward rare gear. There are machines in your Caravan that farm gold and crystals which you can speed up by using paid currency. You can also just use paid currency to level faster. All of these elements packed into one game, and the ability to just pay to skip them felt overwhelming.
There's not even room to cover how building up the Caravan works, or why this game supports 3D for some reason. It's just a lot. None of it is particularly bad, it's actually a nice chill time. There's just so much going on that nothing really shines.
Caravan Stories is free-to-play, but the developer provided TheGamer currency to speed up progress. Caravan Stories is available now on PS4.