Because I’m stupid, I hadn’t noticed that my Mortal Online trial account expired last Tuesday. Which, incidentally, was also the day I was planning on playing MO for the last time, in order to write the last diary entry in the series. Unlike the last time this happened, I won’t be making another trial account, because I feel like I’ve pretty much accomplished everything I’ve set out to do in the game. The series do feel a bit incomplete (although “Screw you game, I’m not your play toy.” kinda fits as the closing sentence), which I regret, but in the rare case that you enjoyed the series and hoped for more, I can tell you that more shall be coming. Just not in the form of Mortal Online diaries. Today though, I’ll be completing my journey with a look at the game that I’ve been playing for a good 20 hours. A sort of final verdict.
I find it a bit hard to write about Mortal Online because of the ambiguity of its value as a game. I’m in a dilemma. On one hand, you have an MMO that is incredibly crude. It’s lacking most of the tools the genre has developed in order to accommodate the players, such as world map, a minimap, quests, third person view (to better see what’s going on), mob drops, area or server-wide chat channels, addons, recipe-based crafting, auction houses, magical omnipresent all-encompassing mailboxes, etc… In addition, it’s incredibly hostile to any newbies and extremely punishing because of its PvP anywhere and full loot design.
But on the other hand, it’s clear that the game is intentionally designed to award experienced players instead of experienced in-game characters. Which is a design feature the new generation of MMOs have all but abandoned in favour of increased accessibility. And it seems that the decision to not implement a world map, an auction house, etc. serves a distinct purpose.
The dilemma is, how am I supposed to evaluate the game? On the terms of modern MMOs, where the absence of most of the new MMO features would mean that the game is complete and utter shit, and that the developers put very little time and thought into the design. Or evaluate it as a part of a new breed, an experiment in-game design, where it could be argued that MO was intentionally and carefully designed to re-invent the MMO concept, instead of dumbing it down, and intentionally incorporates elements of ye olde MMOs that the new themepark stars have forgotten or have degenerated into something else.
It’s probably evident from the previous paragraph which route I think is the better one. It’s quite clear to me that the decision to abandon the standard “dumbed-down” MMO design in favour of features like full loot, first person perspective, no map or quests is a calculated one. Because while Star Vault risk making the game appear inaccessible and dated (old-fashioned, if you will), Mortal Online gains what most modern MMOs are lacking – immersion.
Because this unique design aspect is what sets MO apart from the other MMOs, I’ll be obsessing quite a bit about it. This is where I’ll discuss (not in great detail) everything else.
The sound and music are quite unremarkable. I mean they have their moments, but most of the time, they are simply there.
The graphics are quite a sight though. The game is running on Unreal Engine 3 and it really shows. It may not show on my screenshots because I was playing at lower graphical settings, but even so, the game looks really, really good. And it’s all very realistic too. The wood, stone, grass textures look genuine and the lightning affecting them makes them seem very real. I was shocked when I first saw a boar up close, the level of the detail on its hide was enormous and I caught myself searching for fleas and flies among its bristles.
The community seems to be very tightly knit and mostly revolves around the official game forums and the in-game chat and banter. I imagine guild rivalries are quite strong as I saw a couple of skirmishes (which seemed to be guild vs. guild). The community in general is quite small, which usually isn’t a bad thing. There aren’t many blogs out there and the wiki is extremely strange in the way that it’s lacking really useful information, or so it appeared to me as a newbie. I guess the community aspect isn’t over developed, but I’m sure that’s only because the community is quite small and seems to focus on quality over quantity.
As for further development, it’s probably safe to say that the game is going to only get better. Star Vault are a small developer, but they really seem to be listening to their players and doing their best to take the game into the direction the playerbase wants it to go. There is a free expansion for the game on the way, which will introduce a gene system to mounts (which will make the mount handler a true profession), cooking, new graveyard areas, a mail system and surprisingly, a tutorial for newcomers. All of this sounds very exciting.
As for the pricing, the game has the rather standard 30€ digital download (45€ for the boxed edition) pricing and the 15€ monthly fee. Which might seem a lot for a niche MMO, but it’s all going directly to the developer to fund the game. Plus all of the released content so far is free for all subscribed members. Sounds like a fair deal to me.
Everything I’ve talked about in the introductory paragraphs is true. The game does appear to be somewhat unrefined and extremely punishing. Some would call it hardcore, I call it niche. Yes, Mortal Online fills a small niche in the MMO market and does it well. It’s developed for a certain type of player. A player who:
- Wants to experience a big, mysterious world. There’s no telling what’s behind that mountain, in that forest or in that cave. There’s no map to guide you, just your trusty compass and your mind. You can only have knowledge of the areas you’ve visited before, and only if you’ve remembered them well enough (or potentially sketched them on a piece of paper). Do you want to know where to the best horses roam? Well, you’ll need to either explore the world or get that knowledge from someone else. And believe me, anyone who finds such a place will guard that secret as if his life depends on it (and potentially capitalise on it).
- Wants to play a game based on realism. Every MMO can claim that it’s loosely based on the real world, but most will cut corners and not feature things that they deem to be boring or common. And while MO is a fantasy MMO and cuts corners as well, it has a lot of features that other games have lost in their evolution, features that originate from real world experiences. You can only carry as much as your body allows you to. You cannot handle an animal unless you are experienced in handling them. There are no copper coins or axes inside boar carcasses. You cannot grab a sword and expect to cut down anything standing in your way. When you die, you enter the “mystical fairy world of deaduns”, but you can’t take anything with you, you’ll need to go back for all you were carrying. How much damage you do with your attacks is based on what parts of the creature you hit. Those are just a few examples.
- Wants to experience the social aspect of an MMO. Interacting with other players is of vital importance in MO, unless you want to play very poorly made single player game. Characters are limited to mastering only a few skills, including fighting or casting, which means that there are no “jacks of all trades”. Furthermore, in a dog-eat-dog PvP world you need the help other players can provide in manpower, resources and knowledge to survive and truly play the game. Going Rambo doesn’t work.
- Wants to experience the thrill of anytime, anywhere skill-based PvP. You can’t simply click on something, go afk and come back to it being dead. You need to actually aim and swing or fire to do damage. While not revolutionary, that’s something players do crave for.
- Wants to have a crack at an in-depth crafting system, where crafters don’t only get good with skill levels, but with experience as well. Simply looking at a weapon you bought doesn’t tell you anything apart from its weight and durability (obviously). Only the crafter knows how good the weapon will perform, which means that you need to trust the crafter to not scam you. And it behooves of him to not do that in order to remain a trusted craftsman and sell more stuff.
Now obviously, the above points all sell the game, but they do have drawbacks. As I’ve said so many times, the game appears to be, and perhaps is from a modern MMO player’s perspective, very crude. The whole routine of looking for a quest giver, clicking the accept quest button, running to the marked area on the map, mindlessly slaughtering everything targetable near it, returning to the quest giver and turning in the quest will crumble as soon as you enter the game. “There are no exclamation marks! Where are all my skills?! How do I open the map?! OMG WHERE DID MY CHAR GO?!1” is the usual thought process a new player that is used to modern MMOs will go through. And you can’t really fault them.
There is a fair argument to be made about the evolution of modern MMOs. They have evolved this way in order to reach a bigger playerbase and cater to the busy, ADHD mass of the new generation gamer. Gone are the times of sitting around campfires telling stories in an online game, gone are the times of getting married in an online game and gone are the times when you could count on your fellow player to gank the crap out of you when you took his favourite mountain goat hunting spot. Roleplayers are a dying breed and so are gamers who still remember the times when an MMO would be able to immerse you into a world by means of atmosphere, experiences and emotions, instead of loot chasing and addictive gameplay, and would beat the shit out of you when you made a mistake, instead of patting you on your back saying: “There, there, even though you just got killed by a penguin, you’re still a hero for me. You’ll get him this time for sure!”
Maybe forgetting the lessons the past has taught the genre is a mistake. Maybe not having a world map and click-to-move in an MMO is like pissing against the wind and wishing that the velocity with which the piss is expelled at is greater than the velocity of the wind. Maybe the genre can’t be reinvented and there aren’t enough people wanting to experience a different breed of games to make such a venture profitable. But Star Vault seem to be doing well enough and the playerbase, while not the million army of Asians the Blizzard can claim, seems to be able to sustain the game. It certainly has A playerbase. But I guess that, in the end, it all boils down to fun. For some Mortal Online is heaps of fun, probably the same people who also found the first Ultimas and Everquest fun. I’m fairly sure though, that the vast majority of WoW players wouldn’t enjoy MO.
Personally, I’ll say I enjoyed my trials. I had fun goofing around and being the utter noob that I am. If I found a guild and some people to hang with, I could see myself actively playing MO. I don’t know for how long, since I don’t know how well the endgame could hold me, but I would say a few months at least, with the possibility of returning with major content updates. A large part of my playtime would probably be devoted to PvP, because the unique game design makes it highly skill based and wildly exciting. But unfortunately, I won’t be investing my time into this game because I really don’t fancy finding a new guild to play with (I’m a bit of an introvert) and because I can see the game sucking away a lot of my time. Or maybe I’m more like the MMO kids of the new generation, rather than the MMO Methuselah’s of old. Who knows.
As for me recommending the game, I’d have to ask you to have a go at the trial yourself. I have to warn you though, that you will need to get rid of any previously gathered knowledge and experience on the MMO field, keep an open mind and find some people to play with.