Sometimes you just need a place where you can chill out, jump on the back of your favorite four-legged friend, and go off on an adventure. During my week's revisit to Star Stable, I've simultaneously been researching zombie MMOs for an upcoming article, and after the third post-apocalyptic game filled with cursing juveniles, I had to cleanse myself by jumping back into the friendly, non-competitive world of Star Stable.
It's a world in which you'll play a young girl who is loaned a horse. It's your job to work your way through a series of linear, story-based quests until you pay the horse off, save the town from evil corporations, help build a bridge to a new area of the map, explore, make friends, join clubs, and take care of your horse. And fashion. Let's not forget fashion. It's hard for me to find fault in the game, at all. Seriously. That's because I'm playing the game exactly as it's meant to be played.
Star Stable is charming enough to get away with non-realistic, stylized graphics. All of the female riders look basically the same, but there is some customization when you make your character and even more customization when you add in fashion items and horse accessories. Your horse is as important as your character, if not more so. The mount you choose will steer you across the world, sometimes at a very quick pace. The horse controls feel almost perfectly balanced between realism and accessibility. Sure, you can run him into a wall or go the wrong way up a slope, but he doesn't fall over or get hurt. Instead, he neighs and raises up on his back legs, which is warning enough.
If you don't take care of the horse, he gets hungry and needs cleaning as well. He won't die on you but will perform at weakened levels until you get him back to the level of care he deserves.
The horses are wonderfully drawn and animated. I can only wish that other, more "realistic" MMOs would use a similar model for their mounts and other game features. Too often MMOs attempt some sort of realism while forgetting that the process of playing a game almost immediately does away with any feeling of realism. The best an MMO can wish for is to impress upon the player what the character on the screen feels. Immersion happens when a player stops thinking about the fact that he or she is pushing keys on a keyboard. This happens a lot in Star Stable. There are moments in the game when I am quite sucked into the nice music as my horse races down a dirt lane. That's pretty impressive for a linear "kid's game" that is so very stylized.
Watch live video from Massivelytv on TwitchTV The game sets you to tasks in a very linear way. There are literal road blocks to travel when you haven't unlocked new areas, but that's sort of the point of the game. You won't hear players of a linear dungeon-grinder complain because the entire game isn't unlocked from the beginning. No, this is just how a game like Star Stable works. It's based on a 10-year-old IP from Sweden about a little girl and her horse. That explains why you can choose only a female avatar in the MMO version, but during my livestream with Community Liason Malin, I learned that there is a slight possibility of a glimmer of a chance that one day players will be able to play as male characters. It doesn't strike me as sexist because the MMO version is a literal interpretation of a single-player game. The multiplayer element is just a benefit, not a feature. Still, male characters might help expand the playerbase.
I really enjoyed most of the game's quests. I was sent to stop the bulldozers of a corrupt corporation (led by men) and to gather materials for a blacksmith to make goods with. Most of the quests took no time at all, although some are repeatable daily or need to be spread out over a few days. I am a bit concerned that the very linear nature of the game, combined with the ease of play, results in a bored, higher-level crowd. Luckily the developers update the game every single week; even if it's a smaller update, it gives the long-term players something new to see.
I also have to consider that to a tween or younger player, the content might be plenty challenging already. Socializing is a massive part of this game. I saw players "roleplay" as family members and even witnessed some of the drama that happens when groups of young players get together in a game that is all about socializing and a contest of "who has the coolest horse?"
Other than the occasional technical glitch and the fact that the game is forced into windowed mode, I cannot say enough good things about Star Stable. I recommend it to anyone who has younger gamers in the house -- of any gender and age -- because it's simply a fun game that's well made, inviting, good for exploration, and strong on story. It's just a nice game that doesn't try too hard to prove itself. It is what it is, a story-based MMO that involves a little girl and her horse.
Plus, the company was smart enough to hire a community representative who actually loves horses. It was part of the job description, she told me. She's owned two herself.
Try it out -- it's free with an optional "Star Rider" subscription that gives access to certain areas, abilities like horse jumps and even cool items.
Next week I will be looking back on Pandora Saga, a game that I was not too fond of the first time around. This time around I will be hosting a developer to help me understand just how the game works. Join us on Monday the 11th at 4:00 p.m. EST, right here on our livestream channel!
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!