Player-controlled, sandbox style MMOs have been lacking presence in the industry, and Star Vault have been aiming to fix this with Mortal Online. Inspired by Ultima Online, MO was released back in 2010 and hasn't really gained much notoriety in the past couple of years. But with the switch to a free-to-play model, this could be a time for Mortal Online to grow and expand in a realm littered with indistinguishable titles. But does it have the chops needed to do so?
Aesthetics - 7/10
Mortal Online has been gorgeously crafted, with every inch of detail taken care of. As expected the Unreal Engine provides great scope for Star Vault to do what they wish. Vast expanses and huge cities are all well-crafted, resembling medieval townships or capital cities, as they should. The use of lighting in MO is something that caught my attention with the aesthetics of the game. Light blooms, refracts and reflects beautifully off of appropriate objects and buildings, adding atmosphere and immersion to the experience. But this isn't without its flaws.
While the game does look visually stunning, there are performance issues surrounding this. I feel, that while the visuals do make this game, but I get the feeling that Star Vault have spent more time on making this game look good, rather than making it play well. In terms of UI, MO condenses all its interfaces into as little windows as possible and can only be activated when using the mouse to navigate.
The engine itself, though it looks amazing, does need some form of optimisation. Even running on a high-end rig, it still struggles to settle at a smooth frame rate.
The main issue I have with Mortal Online is the gameplay, which as you can guess is kind of a sticking point. While it has the potential to be absolutely phenomenal, there are issues that need to be addressed. The sandbox nature of the game is a style of gameplay that is slowly being used more and more in MMO's. But not used enough. Here Mortal Online offers this to you on a plate, opting for a Elder Scrolls type experience where your character’s progression is through leveling attributes by executing those actions.
When you jump into the game, MO offers a simple tutorial, teaching you the basics of combat and crafting, and that is it. No other direction or tasks to lead you off into the world. It left me lumbering around for absolutely hours trying to find a purpose to this game, an outcome, if you will, to whatever it was that I was supposed to be doing.
Character creation is very convoluted; there are four races to choose from. All are equally as interesting as each other, but the issue arises in which you choose your ancestry. Ancestry is chosen through four slots on either side of the screen. Here you are required to choose what looks like a significant character for that race, as a bloodline of sorts. But for each slot, there are only two characters, which are the same characters for each slot. No lore is explained at this point either, so what race/ancestry you pick is irrelevant and does not affect gameplay. It's disappointing to see such an integral feature still looked over, even years after release.
Character progression on the other hand, is interesting. Attributes are raised by doing certain things. For example, jumping and sprinting increases athletics. It's an interesting and different system compared to the generic progression model we have seen lately in various MMOs, providing a lot of depth.
The combat system has taken on an Elder Scrolls/Darkfall first person style. Your weapon is drawn out at a push of a button, with blows and blocks delivered with the mouse click. It's a mechanic which you would hope would work well and would be fun to play with. But with issues such as hits not registering, no sound effects and the general clunky feel of the action as a whole, combat in Mortal Online is more of a chore than an enjoyable activity.
I could say a lot about the gameplay that I have issues with, but rather than bash it and just completely dismiss it, I am still giving it a notably high score. I can appreciate the mechanics and systems employed in the game, I just feel that they need a lot of work to make MO a more enjoyable experience. Given care and attention, it can be.
Mortal Online is a sandbox MMMORPG that relies on the players to sustain itself. Whereas most MMOs today would offer you a world to explore through progression and questing, MO offers a realistic environment in which you are free to choose your own path. This and the attribute based progression make MO feel like it is on the cusp of something big, but it’s not quite reaching that point.
In terms of the 'little things' and how well Mortal Online stacks up in terms of bugs, it's not too good. There's a lot to work on in terms of glitches, combat, and general bugs. The engine itself also needs some refining. Even on a high spec machine, I struggle to maintain a smooth frame-rate.
Even bugs like the floating horse, pictured above, occur on a regular basis and the aforementioned clunky combat system feels incomplete. So far my time in MO has been both enjoyable and a frustration for these reasons. If polished up to scratch, it would be a great game, but it's these regular bugs/glitches, that make your experience in the game, not as enjoyable as it should be.
Sandbox games have a lot going for them and should provide a lot of content way past the initial settling period for any player. With MO's unique progression system, player controlled world and vast game world. There is a lot to see and do in-game. But with the issues listed before, I lost interest quickly. People who are looking for a throwback to the good ol' days, will enjoy themselves and will probably be enamoured with the content on offer here, especially for a now free-to-play title. With so many stagnant free-to-play MMO's, I think it would do MO some good to polish itself up and push forward. But we’ll have to see if it can.
Socially, MO does quite well. But this is down to the players. As a game which relies heavily on player control and for players to practically figure the game out by themselves. I can safely say the fans of Mortal Online do very well in providing a great community, helping out wherever is needed in this daunting MMO. The chat window itself is one of the only windows within the UI that is constantly shown during gameplay and it is rife with activity.
Mortal Online offers very good value as a free-to-play title. With huge amounts of content on offer, you'll be lost for hours in-game, but be prepared to face its issues. Being free-to-play also means that playing as a free player is going to have some kind of restriction, and low and behold it does.
Without a monthly subscription, all skills are limited to a level of 60, and you will not be able to use thievery or, loot/trade expensive objects. If you are looking to get dedicated to this game, you're going to need a subscription.
Still, MO offers hours upon hours of gameplay. Enough so that you will find it a long period before hitting the maximum restricted skill level of 60. But if you're looking to become a hardcore player, find your place and ultimately seek treasure, you will need to subscribe to get to that point.
In conclusion, Mortal Online, offers a unique sandbox experience, on a free-to-play model. Those lusting over a decent free sandbox title; Mortal Online is your answer for now at least. But don't expect something perfect. What waits ahead is a beautiful looking game that requires a lot of hours put in to get something in return. If you can see past the bugs and other issues, Mortal Online is quite intriguing at times.