Mortal Online – Why is this Fun?

I’m at a loss to explain it, but I’m digging Mortal Online. When I’m staring at my desktop full of MMO icons trying to decide which one to play, MO is the one I usually click on.

I’d be hard pressed to tell you why this game is compelling. I log in. I run out to the Graveyard and kill some undead to make some money and practice my blocking and swordfighting. I gather some plants and chop up some trees. I tame donkeys and horses and ride around. I cook up some food to feed myself and my animals. I make myself some leather armor from pig skins. I practice swimming in the ocean. I read books to train skills.

Somehow those incredibly boring-sounding activities end up being fun and engaging.

And that’s despite all the obvious bugs. This game has a very alpha quality to it in that there are a bunch of polish bugs that shouldn’t have made it through basic quality control. You get the sense that the developers are just a couple of guys in someone’s basement, eating chips and banging away at whatever code interests them, with no regard for the big picture. (I don’t actually know how big or small Star Vault is. But I’d guess small.)

Combat is incredibly weird. It’s first person. Half the time you can’t tell if you’re going to hit your target or not. You can’t tell if blocking is going to work or not. There’s lag and rubber-banding all over the place (though that seems better in the last patch). I can’t even imagine what "real" combat is like (ie. PvP), when your actual life is on the line. If I go below half of my health I start running like a screaming little girl.

For that reason I tend to avoid combat. Honestly, there isn’t very much to fight in this game except for other players, and the only other players I could realistically defeat are newbs who are even more newbish than I am, and what am I going to get from them? So far the wilderness is about 90% empty of players or monsters, which is great for exploration. When you find mobs they are usually clustered in a small area that you can easily go around.

A Day In The Life

One day I was wandering out in the rocky desert east of Meduli. I found a herd of horses and I managed to tame one that was old enough to ride for the first time. (Previously I had been riding donkeys.) I was on my way back and decided to stop and chop some wood for some reason (I think I was testing to see if it was a different kind of wood). Then I spotted somebody approaching on a horse.

The guy was wearing real armor and carrying a shield, which was a sure sign that this was a veteran player. Oh crap, I thought. I’m probably going to get killed and lose my brand new horse. Thankfully I wasn’t carrying very much, for the exact reason that I knew I might get ganked by some random PK.

It turned out that he wasn’t there to kill me. He just stopped by to say hi. I cautiously told him I was new and just wandering around and he offered to take me to Bakti, which at the time I had never heard of, so I said sure. We rode southwest and the terrain changed from depressing desert terrain into really nice green grassland with occasional pine trees.

Riding to Bakti
Riding to Bakti

I probably slowed him down a lot because I had to keep resting my horse because my stamina ran out pretty quick. (Fortunately I was good enough at riding by then to avoid being embarrassed by getting thrown from the horse every two steps.) Soon after taking that screenshot I actually lost him among the trees (because it’s pretty easy to get lost in this game) and I figured he would just leave me and keep going, because I apparently have a poor opinion of humanity, but eventually he came back and found me. He showed me a spot where I could get a steppe horse, which I made a mental note of for later. While we were there, a rather intimidating-looking "red" walked by so I have a feeling it’s a protected resource. My guide said we only survived because the red’s guild knew my guide’s guild. We went by a town called Vadda which had a lot of reds around so he advised me not to go there. Eventually we made it to Bakti and I thanked him for the escort. (As it turned out, Bakti wasn’t all that safe either because right outside of town there was a big PvP fight going on, which I watched from afar.) I stabled my horse and logged out for the night.

Later I had to consult an external map to find out where I was, because in-game I had no idea which direction I had gone or how I could ever retrace my steps back to Meduli, where my base of operations is. (By "base" I mean the place where the bank with all my meager possessions resides.) There is no in-game map in Mortal Online, if I haven’t mentioned that. After orienting myself, I set off northwest on my horse and eventually made it back home.

That kind of sums up the PvE experience of the game. Wandering around, chopping wood, taming horses, meeting strangers and wondering if they are going to be nice or if they are going to kill you on the spot for no reason. It sounds horrifying but the non-combat systems in the game are so deep that you can find a lot to do without ever learning to swing a sword.

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