There are so many issues and subjects to cover this week, thanks to the limited time I spent in Mortal Online, a free-for-all PvP sandbox by Star Vault. I've played my share of MMOs that are similar to Mortal Online, games like EVE Online, Darkfall, Ultima Online, Wurm Online, Salem, and others. Essentially the idea is to set players loose in a massive, open world that is closer to "realistic" than standard themepark MMOs. Players might spend time farming or fishing or hunting down other players or mobs. It's generally a good idea to prepare yourself for a lot of running around, hiding, and slowly figuring out what to do when playing a FFA PvP sandbox.
Games like Mortal Online provoke questions like "Why is nudity an option at all?" and "Why is there stamina (and other realistic features) alongside magic and no permanent death?" I've learned to forget those questions and just take each specific FFA MMO as it is. Mortal Online stands alone in many ways. Unfortunately, being known as a buggy mess is one of those. I've played many buggy MMOs in my time but have enjoyed myself immensely in some of them (remember, I hosted an early Vanguard: Saga of Heroes podcast!), so I wasn't scared of jumping into an MMO that was supposed to be rough to say the least.
What did I find? Well, I found a ton -- and I mean a ton -- of bugs. But I also found a pretty cool community (yes, I just said that) and some grand adventure. Let me break it down.
Before I start listing off bug after bug after bug, I want to point out that Star Vault is obviously a very small developer. My wife works for an indie developer, and I know a lot of people who make a living in the indie world, so I am very sympathetic to the plight of the indie MMO dev. I feel badly for them, but it's important to note that the mistakes made by one are the same mistakes made by all. Star Vault makes a lot of common mistakes with social media, customer service, and seemingly, organization.
Mob AI, for example, is so wacky sometimes that I ended up too frustrated to try to kill things. It shouldn't be surprising that gaining combat skills by killing mobs is a pretty common activity, but I simply had to put it to the side before I pulled my hair out. Pigs or deer would run off, come back to fight me, or just walk away without ever responding to my hits. Often the mobs would fade into the ground or would disappear, only to appear yards away, bucking and going through combat animations. It was more than frustrating and fell into the "pathetic" category at times. I'd even go so far as to say that half of my time spent in combat was spent attempting to fight a bugged-out mob.
There are environmental errors like missing sounds and buggy water. Friendly NPC AI was just plain silly. Pretty much every guard or moving NPC I came across would suddenly start to run, then stop and finally turn around to do it all again. Fishing was a hair-pulling experience. The fishing UI informed me that bait is "optional," as did a fishing video walkthrough, but the damn thing wouldn't work without bait. I gave up. My chat window would forget its settings every time I logged in, causing me to have to reset it each time, and the friendly help channel was helpful only about a quarter of the time simply because no one was in it. I couldn't sign up for the forums because my verification email never arrived (and still hasn't, even after the developers set me up with a forum account), and there was no response from the official Twitter. I finally secured some help via Facebook... nearly four days after I posted my request.
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I could honestly go on and on, probably filling this entire column, with nothing but bugs and issues with communication. But I won't. This is no exaggeration; almost any MMO will have a long list of bugs at any time, but I don't want to suggest that Mortal Online is unplayable or completely unfriendly to new players.
I often introduce myself on the forums of indie games because I want to give them a chance to help me out. Indie developers cannot always afford to feature amazing tutorials and a full staff of in-game helpers, so I try to give the community a chance to show me stuff I would never see otherwise.
The community was like any other: a few jerks but mostly really cool. Were they on their best behavior because of my upcoming report? Of course, but I also think that PvP-centric games are mostly filled with decent people. In fact, pretty much every MMO I have ever played is filled with mostly good people. The problem with FFA PvP is that the community is only as good as the nastiest player. Still, the members I encountered were helpful and friendly. A few of them attempted to talk tough or to threaten my character, but this is expected in almost any game, especially one that features hardcore death.
The developers who eventually did get in contact with me were very nice and communicative. I was given a press account and received a very long, hard-to-read private message explaining how the game is often poo-pooed by people who have experienced only games like World of Warcraft and who do not understand the complexities of a FFA world like Mortal Online. (The developer also told me that the team is hard at work on bugs and other issues. I don't doubt it.)
But the truth is that Mortal Online is no more complex or deep than other MMOs. I wish people would stop bragging about how complicated or hardcore FFA MMOs are. They aren't, nor are they only for boys or for people willing to act like jerks. The truth is that Mortal Online and games like it simply focus on different, more realistic systems.
Instead of providing a crafting system with easy-to-obtain ore or other bits, Mortal Online gives the players supposedly millions of choices in different recipes. I believe the number, even though I barely touched crafting. I read up on the system, and it truly seems complex. Combat isn't a target-and-press-hotbar-buttons type; it's the pull-out-your-sword-and-swing type you'd find in Skyrim. Players can suffer from fatigue, injuries, and eventually, death. It's not permanent death, but it's still fun getting there.
"The point is that an MMO like Mortal Online is attempting to release players into a world. Yes, there are many issues with the game, but none that I found will absolutely ruin your night."
I do regret missing out on large group combat, building my own house from a very unique and varied selection, taming more animals other than a tiny rabbit, crafting, raising my thieving skill like the skill my new friend Cop had, sneaking around in the absolutely realistic and pitch-black darkness (one of my favorite parts of the game), and exploring the other parts of the world like the "beautiful" jungle. Luckily I have time left in my subscription.
The point is that an MMO like Mortal Online is attempting to release players into a world. Yes, there are many issues with the game, but none that I found will absolutely ruin your night. The game is built roughly, but the attempt is noble; there is world-building going on here, a brave and very ambitious activity, especially for a tiny team. Does the game need to be free-to-play, or does the developer team deserve to ask 15 dollars a month for the game? I hate those questions. The question should be, "Do I enjoy myself, and if I do, should I put a little cash into the developer's pocket?" Yes, you should if you are playing the game during the trial and want to continue. Fifteen bucks a month is a tiny amount, even for Mortal Online.
For the record, I think the game should be free-to-play, but not because it sucks or is poorly developed. I think all MMOs should be free-to-play because the plan offers players the most choices. I'd love to see the game offer free access with an optional "premium" account, basically a freemium model. It might help retain players and tempt in new ones. I'd also like to see the developers stop development on any sort of expansion to fix the very basic systems in the game, but I am not stupid. In many indie communities, the playerbase is filled with long-time players, and new development is often required to keep those players satisfied.
The game has a long, long way to go. It is playable, however? Yes, easily. Is it frustrating? Much of the time, but not enough to take away from the sometimes beautiful landscapes and realistic features. Is the game for everybody? I don't know, but you should try it before you judge it based on something you have "heard."
Mortal Online is an immersive, independently developed MMO. It's going for a "world" feeling, sort of like a Skyrim Online. I was never ganked, I never saw anyone be ganked, and I spent a lot of time running around, talking to people, and hanging out in a guild-created town. I wasn't attacked by a single stranger. The point is, don't believe internet rumors. The game is fun. Just don't forget that making worlds sometimes takes a long, long time. I wish the developers luck.
Next week I will be at GDC Online in Austin, so there will be no Rise and Shiny. See you after that!
Each week on Rise and Shiny, Beau chooses a different free-to-play, indie, or browser-based game and jumps in head-first. It might be amazing or it might be a dud, but either way, he'll deliver his new-player impressions to you. Drop him an email, comment, or tweet!