World of Warcraft just isn’t deep enough, Lord of the Rings Online just doesn’t cut the Middle-Earth mustard, and Warhammer Online – well the less said the better. We, the loyal minions of the MMORPG genre are engulfed in a civil war: on one side are those waving the banner of accessibility, progression, and the ability to juggle virtual and physical social life – lining opposite on the battle field are the hardened old-school boys and girls; pockets full of useless loot, mouths dripping with attractive promises of immersive game-play, and the faraway look of someone who has spent too much time in Norrath - unsure whether they are man or Erudite.
Thumping its chest and cursing loudly at the infidels on the other side, Star Vault’s Mortal Online clearly puts its cards on the table and identifies its allies. This is an old-school sandbox experience that only requires a little imagination and the desire for freedom. Taking clear influence from Ultima Online and (Pre-NGE) Star Wars Galaxies, this may well be the free-roaming life-sapper we have all been waiting for.
The Elephant in the Room
Taking heed of the screaming, disgruntled customers in the corner, I feel we must first address the biggest issue regarding Mortal Online. While this is a game with masses of potential, of current, this game is nearer to state of closed-beta rather than retail release. From the desktop-launcher to the combat system, Star Vault’s creation is riddled with bugs, glitches, errors, misjudgements and everything in-between.
Now I must state that I do not like to judge an MMORPG on its launch and by how bug-ridden it is at any point. The very advantage of this beautiful genre is that the developer toils and slaves over their projects like none of their game studio peers; we pay a subscription fee and we, eventually, get a polished product – sometimes it just takes a little time.
With this said however, this immersive MMO is riddled to the core with bugs and is woefully unfinished to the point that is really hard to defend and shield it from criticism. During my initial period of play I encountered no less than 21 bugs, graphical issues and various other problems. While the majority do not really affect the ensemble as a whole, there is a lot to do here to convert the slightly less hard-core fan base.
The caveat to all this however, is that this game has bags and bags of potential. To simply write this title off for a number of programming deficiencies would be a supremely stupid move. With the right development, ideas, and future content, this is one sandbox experience that could go down with the best of them.
I am the (bearded) Warrior
From the initial character creation screen, you can tell that this online RPG is different from the rest of crowd. The character creation process is an amalgamation of attribute points, underlying race skills, and a plethora of invisible factors that you must consider when rolling and designing your avatar.
I think that players will be torn when rolling characters simply because of the complexity and past-generation’ness of the systems in use here. Unlike your Turbine or Cryptic games, the creation process harkens back to the old days of stat allocation - which leaves some frothing at the mouth with joy and others reeling. I myself tend to shift towards the latter camp, and while I do find a creation tool such as WoW’s to be too simplistic, I think Star Vault need to find a balance between complexity and accessibility.
It seems that Mortal Online goes out of its way to be a little different from the current crowd and the customisation options show this too. Characters are sculpted using a number of sliders and other such effects. While mostly I crafted bearded-wastrels, the options on offer here do not look like your standard-indie fare but instead something with a high quality appeal. Oh and did I mention that characters are created naked? I am pretty sure I did. Penises and vaginas everywhere.
The Skills that Kills
Genitals aside, the issue of class is also another point in which Star Vault goes against popular trend. Rather than choosing a class in creation, players choose a vague set of starter skills with which they can set out on their adventures. This is an interesting method of doing things as you can craft a class as you go along and of course this adds to overall sandbox atmosphere.
I started out my initial appearances in the world of Nave with the Weaponsmith sub-set. This meant that I had prior knowledge in various skill trees and also that I could start developing them. The game offers a system wherein doing a certain thing, for example wood cutting, you will gain skills in a number of areas: So for instance, something as simple as lumber-jacking will see you gain skills in constitution, gathering, and strength with every couple of axes swings.
It is a very interesting and immersive concept that by doing certain tasks, contextual skills will be developed. I fail to remember any game that really takes this idea and runs with it as Mortal Online does. By doing almost every action, something will be learnt; for the immersive gang this is almost pornographic news.
So the result of all of this means that your skill set is developed exactly how you play the game. Wish to butcher a few small creatures? Your specific weapon skill will increase along with various combat circumstantial skills. Perhaps along with animal genocide you also wish to tame horses and sell them on to others – this career path is yours to take and will define your character until your allocated 1000 skill points are used.
I find the approach to class and career in this MMO entirely appealing and interesting – basically because it reeks of the Ultima Online way of doing things. The only problem that I ran into here however is that, at the moment, players can’t exactly play the game how they want to. Certain player defined careers such as archer and specific-smith are the only viable options of play. There is a feeling that as the game feels slightly underdeveloped, the sandbox has yet to be fully realised.
And after a short time, players will find themselves delving deep into the catacombs of some forum looking for class builds and advice on how to sculpt their characters. While it is definitely needed, I just find it contradictory of the sub-genre that this title occupies. There just seems a very narrow selection of choices and paths within the game at the moment – perhaps this is something that will be remedied in future updates? We can surely hope.