I have been eagerly anticipating the launch of Book of Travels for quite some time. Something about its smaller scale, warm sense of community and the promise of an adventure like no other intrigued me. I find myself obsessed with the Japanese concept of “Ichi-go ichi-e” or the idea of treasuring a once in a lifetime moment. And so, from the moment I discovered it to the minute I pressed play, I held on to this beautiful notion of exploring a world that offered a delightful sense of impermanence and chance encounters. Unfortunately, while Book of Travels certainly offers a lot of what I had hoped for, its convoluted mechanics and tendency to be overly cryptic meant I could never truly enjoy my stay in the lands of Braided Shore.
“My sister couldn’t get past the loading screen, and I couldn’t access any menus. We both promptly quit.”
I feel the best way to preface this review is by outlining my initial experiences with Book of Travels. The very first time I played it I did so alone. After awakening in a field of sheep, I ventured forth to a small town that offered me food and clothing. From there I travelled eastwards for almost an hour before realising I was well and truly lost. At that point, I quit only to return a few days later.
The second time I played Book of Travels I did so with my sister. We both created new characters and attempted to meet each other in the starting town. Unfortunately, we had seemingly missed an opportunity to choose our server. As a result, we had to log out and start again. After finally connecting we mulled around attempting to figure out what to do and how to do it. Eventually, we were instructed to go to a temple on an island. So, we slowly meandered toward a dock where we anxiously awaited a ferry.
After waiting an exceptionally long time, and feeling it was seemingly never going to arrive, we ventured off to find someone who could help us. They sold us ferry tickets, so we returned to the dock. After a lot more waiting we finally boarded the ferry and entered a loading screen. My sister couldn’t get past that loading screen. While I did manage to, I found that I and the ferry had disappeared, no buttons would work and I couldn’t access any menus. We both promptly quit.
“Unfortunately, Book of Travels has a tendency to withhold information from the player.”
Of course, this only encapsulates a small portion of our experience with Book of Travels. But it is, unfortunately, what we remember the most. Because while there were certainly plenty of positive moments throughout our playthrough, for the most part, we were left a little baffled by what exactly was going on.
Unfortunately, Book of Travels has a tendency to withhold information from the player. It gives you access to everything from the start but doesn’t introduce you to most of the mechanics until much later on. As there is no real indication of when you’re going to be taught, we were left scratching our heads. It’s hard not to think that it’s something you’ve missed or should already know. In reality, it’s just a poor implementation of these mechanics and thus not friendly to new players.
We both felt after being forced to quit that the minute-to-minute experience within Book of Travels, save for a few moments, were enjoyable or at the very least showed promise. However, the nagging sensation that we didn’t quite understand what was being presented to us obscured our positivity and made us constantly question everything we did.
“Book of Travel’s stunning visuals and soundscapes excel in immersing the player into this astonishingly enchanting world.”
Fortunately, there are a lot of positives to Book of Travels. Namely, its presentation and world are so astoundingly beautiful that they immediately sparked a wondrous sense of adventure within us. Exploring new areas, uncovering delightfully detailed towns filled with exuberantly pottering NPCs, or discovering a huddled group off the beaten path simply never got old. The moment we discovered Crossings and when we first arrived at the docks got an audible gasp from us both.
However, even in Book of Travel’s quieter moments the game shines. Times such as when you wander a bridge alone as the sky slowly shifts in the distance and birds flutter above you or when you walk by a field of golden wheat as farmers quietly tend to their crops are mesmerisingly beautiful. This is all thanks to the game’s stunning visuals and soundscapes which both excel in immersing the player into this astonishingly enchanting world.
Additionally, the meandering speed at which you walk coupled with the laidback atmosphere of Book of Travel’s vibrant watercolour world enraptured me and wrapped me up in a warm embrace. The aimlessness and freedom found in Book of Travels is undeniably soothing. The serenity of wandering allows for blissful moments of reflection which are rarely found in games of a similar nature.
“I’m not willing to spend a lifetime in Book of Travels, and I can’t imagine many others will either.”
It is clear then that there are a plethora of amazing ideas beautifully executed here. Unfortunately, it is that limitless potential found in Book of Travels that made me feel a little deflated. Because for every enrapturing moment of bliss and beauty, there are countless bugs and confounding choices. I put in a decent number of hours into this game and rarely felt like I got enough from it.
Aside from the crashes mentioned earlier, my sister and I also encountered an assortment of other issues. From other players seemingly wandering off into the distance despite being right behind you, to trains disappearing into thin air, Book of Travels feels unfinished at times. However, not only do these bugs ruin the immersion, but so do repeated “random” encounters and one too many perplexing ideas.
Additionally, we never encountered another player. That promise of chance encounters, of encapsulating the delightful concept of “ichi-go ichi-e” within a virtual world, never came to fruition. The world is simply too big with too many offshoots for people to ever really meet. Of course, I understand that the idea of a chance encounter really is that it’ll happen once in a lifetime. But I’m not willing to spend a lifetime in Book of Travels, and I can’t imagine many others will either.
“Alas, it is difficult to score a game like this as I feel simultaneously overjoyed and underwhelmed.”
It’s a shame too, as I know that I will happily venture back into this world to try again. The confusing mechanics, level of realism and lack of direction do appeal to me somewhat and can be intriguing. The beautiful visuals, impressive attention to detail and phenomenal sound design also make it an immersive game worth exploring.
But I fully appreciate that this will not be for everyone. It certainly wasn’t for my sister who swore to never play it again. These unique and one of a kind experiences offer a fantastic time for those willing to put up with them. However, due to its unintuitive gameplay and reliance on figuring it all out by yourself, this is not intended for casual players.
Alas, it is difficult to score a game like this as I feel simultaneously overjoyed and underwhelmed by my overall experience. Fortunately, Book of Travels is in Early Access, and as a result, has plenty of time to improve. But right now, I’m not so sure it is at a stage where it can be fully appreciated. Book of Travels is a stunning experience with a lot of potential. However, as of right now it is too cryptic and broken to recommend.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PC, code was provided by the Publisher.