Terrain of Magical Expertise or TOME for short deserves a place alongside Tom Clancy’s High Altitude Warfare eXperimental squadron (HAWX) or First Encounter Assault Recon (FEAR) on the list of painful acronyms that were clearly determined backwards from the cool thing the acronym was supposed to spell. Sure, there is some terrain in the game but, as you’d probably expect, it’s the characters that have some magical expertise, not the terrain. Although, for reasons we’ll get onto later, shifting that magical expertise 6 feet under the terrain might be a good move for the enjoyability of game. The only saving grace for this appalling naming convention is that the game is named after the game you play in the game and that game in turn is named after the web series that inspired the game. So it’s the creators of the original series you have to blame for the name, not the fictional TOME developers or the developers of TOME. Clear? Good.
In TOME you play as White Hat, a hacker who has been hired to play the fictional MMO RPG of TOME (that’s a lot of acronyms). TOME is under threat from hackers who are using exploits and other hacking terms that I’m familiar with and know how to use to gain an immoral advantage in the game and spoil the fun for everyone else. As White Hat your job is to play your way through the game and take down the hackers, giving them a taste of their own medicine by combining your hacking skills with mastery of the mechanics of the game to take out the elite hacker trash, swinging a ban-hammer like Rockstar cleaning up a GTA Online server.
As fascinating as playing as a hacker sounds – the idea of being almost all-powerful thanks to your access to abilities beyond the scope of the game and well beyond those of your enemies – the execution of playing as a hacker doesn’t quite live up to those expectations. When you start the game you only really have access to one hack: the ability to stop an enemy from taking their turn. Unfortunately, playing a hack takes up your turn so you’re not benefitting much from stopping the enemy’s turn. If it’s a 2v2 fight you’re essentially removing a combatant from each side of the fight, leaving you with an equally challenging 1v1 fight to win.
More hacks get unlocked through the game but whether you can stomach playing far enough to unlock them is a big question. I chose the magic class because I’m not an idiot. Magic always has more interesting abilities – I’d take an Eldritch Blast over a bag full of ball bearings anyday. I’m not sure if it’s choosing the magic class that screwed me over and the game isn’t quite built for it, like how in Dark Souls choosing the magic class leaves you underpowered. But as your hacks are pretty impotent and magic isn’t much of a backup, the fights are hard. On your turn, you can do a melee attack for one damage or your main attack (magic in my case) for more significant damage. However, doing magic attacks takes mana which recharges unbelievably slowly. This means you’re left able to do a couple of magic attacks at the start of a fight and then waiting for several turns where you can only do your 1 damage melee attack while you wait for your mana to recharge.
I’m sure these complaints are early game issues and as you play more, unlock more and become more powerful they become less of an issue but that isn’t enough encouragement to push through it for me. As it stands, I have no motivation to progress that far because the early game is a difficult, frustrating and boring slog.
It would be a lie to say I enjoyed my time with TOME. There is an excellent idea buried somewhere deep in the design brief for the game but there is barely a vestige of that idea demonstrated in the final product. If you play for long enough you might be able to find something great in TOME but I don’t see much in the game to compel you to get that far.