When I first played The Trail three long hours passed by in a breath, after which I awoke near a heap of laundry I was “soon” planning to fold.
Fable developer Peter Molyneux doesn’t have a long history of mobile games, with the underwhelming Godus being his first attempt in the market, but I’m happy to say The Trail feels like a fresh new adventure.
It’s immersive, serene and addictive. I was even surprised to find flashes of that old Lionhead humor present, which incited me to squeeze my phone in excitement. (You don’t “hurl” things which cost more than a car payment.)
A Review of The Trail
AKA Wandering the Frontier and Robbing Catatonic Travelers
The premise of The Trail is straightforward. You’re a wanderer and pioneer. You’ve left behind the small comforts of your former home to strike out into the wilderness, hoping to make your fortune in a new land.
The gameplay consists of your character walking along a well-worn trail. You can’t deviate from the winding road before you, but you can control the speed at which you walk or run.
As you follow the path you’ll find items you can freely gather: feathers, berries, balls of yarn, fur scraps. There are animals you can hunt with a slingshot and tree trunks that can be felled and harvested for wood.
All of the items you accrue are stored in your backpack, which follows the laws of physics (so long as it isn’t glitching). You can stack and rearrange as many goods as you please, but stuff it too full and your treasures will overflow, falling to the ground for less scrupulous travelers to nab.
Like any good wanderer, you must also watch the durability of your clothes and hardiness of your stamina. Should you allow those stats to fall low enough, you’ll end up naked and catatonic on the road, in clear sight of everyone waiting to taunt and steal from you as they pass.
The frontier can be a cruel place.
Home Is Where the Cash Is
At the end of every trail segment you’ll find a campfire with fellow travelers gathered around. Here you can craft new items, from axes to a pair of shoes, and sell goods to others. Should you see something you need, you can use accrued “chits” (the standard currency) to make purchases.
This is also where the “narrative” begins. Every couple of camps you’ll find a mailman who gives you a letter from family back home. You respond using madlibs that can produce hilarious results. Personally, via the letters I’ve determined my adventurer has a crippling fear of raccoons and loathes the “dastardly French.” When my spouse gently asks about funds for sick siblings, I divert with tales of mosquito attacks.
The game can seem a little harsh until you reach “Eden Falls,” the promised land at the end of your initial journey. I passed out several times before making it, but things got easier afterwards. (Thank you to those who didn’t steal my stuff, and to those who did, curse you to a thousand years of itchy sweaters.)
Once there you’ll get a house you can return to at any camp, using it to store goods, buy furniture and work with town members to unlock new bonuses.
Your particular Eden Falls can be any number of user-created towns. When you arrive you’re able to choose between several different professions based on the house you settle in.
Your job isn’t particularly important; if you decide to be a woodcutter you won’t be prevented from creating things made with fabric or stone. It simply changes the look of your property, along with the type of machine (for creating higher level items) within.
Thankfully you can always pop in a neighbor’s house if you need to use their machine to create different materials. The first furniture I recommend you buy is the lockbox, which will allow you to store items inside it. The shelf also offers a place to stash goods, but it allows your neighbors to take things should you want to share the wealth.
Crafting a Community
Towns are very communal, yet it can be tricky to collaborate early on. Gold bars are needed to unlock different buildings in town, and the first way you’re able to earn them (aside from buying them with real cash) is by using the warehouse.
This is an area where town members fill crates with items to earn chits and gold bars. The first item put inside a box determines what everyone else has to contribute until it’s filled, but this is tough to coordinate without a way to chat.
You see, unlocking the town chat also needs to be done with gold bars, but our group elected not to do this first. It was likely a smart move since other buildings provide additional ways to get gold, such as by walking long distances.
I imagine this won’t be such a problem now that more towns are settled, and an update recently allowed players to move between locations to ensure they’re paired with friends. A few buildings are still in the works such as a salon where you can change your appearance (you’re allowed to choose between several pre-selected looks at the start) and a civil building that will allow townies to elect a mayor.
Patience Paves the Way to Success
As in any app, players who pay for goods and gold will progress faster than those who don’t, but I don’t think The Trail pushes a pay-to-win approach. The benefits you receive from town depend on the amount of coordination you can manage between fellow explorers, which will vary based on the amount of time (or yes, money) members can provide.
There are high-end items for purchase with premium currency from a balloon-riding merchant at camps. You’ll eventually be able to craft these pieces yourself with the right blueprints, so you can simply forego buying them in favor of level-appropriate gear.
The only other commercial aspect that leaks into the gameplay is a (dastardly!) French lady who inexplicably decides to run alongside you on the trail, wearing a sign. If you tap her you’ll watch an ad, then get the item displayed on her sign.
It’s honestly not a terrible trade-off since the items she provides are often ones you need to complete crafting blueprints or house upgrades, but you can always ignore her if you’re averse to advertising.
The Trail looks to be a promising direction for Molyneux and his company, 22cans, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys crafting and exploring pretty scenery.
Update: The Trail announced players can get dogs in February 2017! Your pet will walk with you and fetch items while you’re offline, but you must unlock the pet store in your town before one can join you.
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