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If you play a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game and no one else joins in, can it still be called a MMORPG?

More an experiment in community interaction than an actual videogame, “A Tale in the Desert” is unlike any game currently on the market, and the most apt assessment of it is also the most clichéd: Players will either love it or hate it.

Though classified as a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG), it’s unfair to lump “Tale” in with “Everquest” and all the rest. To begin with, the game takes place on Earth (in Egypt, at the time of the Pharaohs), contains no magic or supernatural elements of any kind, leveling up takes the form of learning new crafts and discovering new technologies, and there is no combat. The point of the game is to better yourself as a citizen, which in turn helps to improve the society as a whole. At first you’ll learn to make bricks, which you can then use to construct a building, and soon enough a city will form around you. The gameplay itself is so open-ended, you can decide for yourself how to spend your time in the game, either by becoming an architect, a farmer, an explorer, or something else.

After downloading the game and creating an account, you’re placed in a relatively populated area close to a potential mentor. Your mentor will teach you the basic skills you’ll need and help you to acclimate yourself to the game world. That’s how it works in theory, anyway. But I had to reposition my starting point a half-dozen times before I found somebody who’d even reply to me, let alone agree to become my mentor. Once things clicked with my mentor, I was well on my way to becoming a citizen and an active participant in the society of the game’s Egyptian civilization. As a citizen, I was able to build structures for towns, farm, create works of art that became permanent parts of the landscape, propose and vote on various laws and billsÉand almost everything else you can do in any other MMORPG and a lot more (except for killing, which is completely absent in this game).

If you’re a loner, you’re also permitted to eschew the mentors in favor of learning and doing things on your own. It’s possible to be an island in the middle of Egypt, but the game won’t be very easy or much fun if you decide on that route. The fun is very much centered on the social aspect, and that’s both a blessing and a curse. The amount of social interaction and player customization is unparalleled fors the genre, but there are relatively few players, most of whom have been with the game since beta. There are guilds set up for newbies, but they are small and underpopulated, and most attempts at exploration lead to the discovery of one abandoned ghost town after another.

Ater playing this game for a month, I’m still not sure if I love it or hate it. The graphics are mediocre, the game moves at a snail’s pace, and the time spent there can be lonely as hell. But the people you do meet are friendly and enthusiastic about the game, the interface and gameplay is intuitive and well thought out, and the whole thing is incredibly addictive. I commend Egenesis for their originality and obvious design skills, but “A Tale in the Desert” is just a promise of things to come. I probably won’t come back to this game, but I can’t wait to see what these developers do next.

The game isn’t for everybody, but the free download and 24-hour trial is definitely worth the time investment. Chances are good you’ll come away as frustrated but impressed as I was.

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