Mortal Online – Travel Back to the 90s

3,464 words.

So you say you wish you could play an MMORPG like the ones in the old days? Something like UO maybe? Well get yourself a copy of Mortal Online and experience what MMORPG life was like in the late 1990s.

Previously, I thought that Wizardry Online was a pretty old school, hardcore MMORPG. But WO is a total cake walk compared to Mortal Online.

Here’s the first thing you need to know about MO: You’re going to die and lose everything.

This is a full-on free-for-all PvP game, just like UO back in the day. You are never completely safe, even standing right in the middle of town surrounded by town guards. (In practice, though, nobody is likely to attack you in the middle of town surrounded by town guards, but it can happen, possibly by accident. Some guy in fact did kill my dog right in the middle of town surrounded by town guards, and then said guards promptly killed the guy.)

Not only are you never safe, but this is a full loot drop game, meaning when you die, you lose everything you were carrying, with the exception of your newbie sword and pickaxe. So here is your first lesson on playing Mortal Online: Find the bank and put stuff in it. Don’t carry a lot of stuff around with you. For two reasons: 1) You could die any time and lose it, and 2) You can only carry so much stuff before becoming encumbered. Yes, this game actually considers encumberance, an extremely old-school MMORPG concept that is almost never implemented any more.

You’re already intrigued right? I mean, who doesn’t love getting killed by a PK and losing everything you’ve worked for?

As if it couldn’t get any better, it’s a first-person game with controls quite similar to Elder Scrolls. I personally am of the opinion that first-person RPGs that operate like shooters are among the worst things ever invented, because it feels incredibly weird to swing a sword by clicking your mouse button, but after a while you sort-of get used to it. (I also don’t like first-person MMORPGs because you can’t ever see what your character looks like.)

Most sane people have probably already heard enough to run screaming from this game. It’s a lot like my memory of the first version of Darkfall, which I, too, ran screaming from. But now I must be in a particularly unbalanced mental state because I actually kind of like Mortal Online. It has a lot of complex game mechanics that are very interesting to play with. And while it is possible to be killed at any time, in reality, you don’t die very often unless you do something dumb. (Like try to swim when you’re carrying too much weight.)

MO is a skill-based game so there are no classes, but you can select your race and appearance. What’s interesting is that you actually select the races of your character’s grandparents, so in effect you can be a mixture of up to four races. Min-maxers will want to be choosy here because your race selection (and age selection) determines the maximum values of your base attributes. There’s probably a web site somewhere that will tell you, “If you want to be a mage, pick this race combination for the best stats, and if you want to be a warrior, pick this.” (In the free-to-play version you can only make one character, which is a bit of a bummer. You’ll almost certainly want to start over with a new character so don’t get too attached to the first one.)

Once you’ve made a dude you get plopped down in the the newbie area of Tindrem with a dinky sword. There’s no elaborate movie setting up your character’s epic story or anything. You’re just there. There’s a short tutorial quest-chain which will lead you through the absolute basics of fighting pigs and skinning them for leather, crafting some armor, and taming rabbits. Read them because those things are not nearly as easy as they sound. (When you kill a pig, it turns into a corpse, which you then “extract” into leather, meat, and, charmingly, bone tissue.) You will definitely want to know how to do those things, so pay attention. After the tutorial, you’re on your own and there are no more quests to guide you.

This little piggy provides leather and sustenance.

MO has a very active and helpful general chat, which is moderated. I’ve got to give them props for this. Moderators will step in and shut down anything they don’t like in the help channel very quickly, because they obviously don’t want to alienate newcomers right off the bat. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen in an MMO before.

Anyway, at the end of the tutorial, you have an opportunity to pick from a number of preset builds to get you started, which essentially just gives you a shortcut for starting out. You can also bypass it and do everything yourself. At first I chose Tamer because I thought it would be cool to have a stable of pets, but I re-rolled again and chose the Mage build, which gives you a spellbook and some reagents to start out. (More about spellcasting later.)

Oh, there’s another way to get your skills. You can train up your skills by using them, or you can buy “books” which will train up your skills automatically. When you pick a build at the end of the tutorial, you get a couple of books to get you started. The bad news is that it takes a long time to read books, like a day or two, and some of them are expensive. The good news is that you continue to read your books even when you’re not online. (Kind of like EVE, if I remember right.)

After doing the tutorial, I would suggest you stick around the little newbie area outside Tindrem for a while to get the hang of things. You’ll be “yellow” so you’ll be immune to PKs for a little while (eight hours?) so you won’t have to worry about griefers right away. There isn’t much to do at the start except kill pigs for leather, chop up trees, gather plants, and mine some ore, but you can make some decent coin doing those things, and you’ll level up your skills while you do them, so it’s probably worth it. Make sure to sprint a lot so you train up your sprinting skill.

A favorite pastime among MO newcomers. Yes that's a pickaxe because you don't lose it if you die.

A small word of caution: Be very cautious around water. Do not just jump into a body of water thinking you’ll be able to swim to the other side. Swimming is a skill just like any other and it goes up with practice. Once, I thought I would do some swimming practice to raise my skill level, got into the water, and promptly sank straight to the bottom, died, and lost all my stuff. That was almost a rage-quit moment, because I was carrying all the reagents I’d gotten from the tutorial, a book, and all kinds of leather and a decent chunk of money. (That was undoubtedly why I sank straight to the bottom-too heavy.) The first time I returned and tried to dive down and get my money back, I died again. I drowned quite a few times in that adventure. I managed to get back only a couple of things before giving up. (My first corpse vanished after a while so I assume either it timed out or someone came along and took it.)

Eventually you’ll go into Tindrem proper (you have to ask a guard to open the gate for you), which is a gigantic city that looks a bit like Ancient Rome. (Not that I know what Ancient Rome looks like.) Here you will find tons of vendors, a vitally important bank, and The Graveyard. From what I can tell, the city is about 500 times bigger than it needs to be. Most everyone hangs out at the bank, and the rest of the place is filled with completely empty streets and buildings. You will find people riding horses, leading pack animals, wearing actual armor and capes, casting spells, and so on. (It is awe-inspiring to see someone riding a horse in MO, let me tell you. It’s one of the few games in recent history I can remember looking at other players and their stuff and thinking, “OMG I want that so bad how do I get one!!”)

In the city, you’ll run across a lot of stray dogs that you can tame. These are the first pets you can tame besides rabbits. If you selected the Tamer build, you can tame them easily, but otherwise it will take two or three tries to tame one. You can then send them to fight for you, or fight alongside you, or just have them sit around and look at you.

Hi! Wanna throw me a ball?

You have to feed your pets periodically, so make sure you get some pig meat. (You also have to feed yourself periodically, so you’ll want pig meat even if you don’t have a dog.) I’ve noticed that your pets don’t always follow you, so sometimes you’ll turn around and find your dog is nowhere to be found. I have to go track them down and give them another follow command. I don’t know if that’s a bug or what. Also, don’t get too attached to your first pets, because they don’t last very long. Either some PK will kill them, or they’ll get killed by skeletons in the Graveyard, or they will simply disappear on their own after you log out. (Your pets lose loyalty while you’re logged off.)

Once you’ve tamed a dog and visited the bank to deposit all of your meager valuables (you did do that, right?), then you’ll be ready to visit the Graveyard for your first taste of real combat in MO. One of the first NPCs you encounter on the way into Tindrem says that he’ll buy the heads from zombie corpses in the Graveyard, and there are big signs pointing you in the direction of the Graveyard, so it seems pretty obvious that you’re supposed to go there.

Hrm, where to go?

Inside the foggy Graveyard, you’ll find a bunch of skeletons, zombies, and other unmentionable things. These things are much harder to kill than pigs, but still manageable with your newbie sword, so there isn’t much danger unless you happen to get swarmed. (I lost several dogs in there, though, because the zombies tend to attack your pet a lot. Dogs do well against pigs, but not so much against the zombies.)

It's a bit late for Halloween isn't it?

You actually make some decent change from the skeletons (for a newbie), and you can sell the collected zombie heads to that NPC for even more decent change. But: The Graveyard is where you will probably learn from first-hand experience about a griefer technique called “blue blocking” and exactly why nobody makes mainstream games like this anymore.

It is vitally important for you to remember in MO that you can attack anyone and anything and there is no mechanism to prevent you from accidentally attacking people. Griefers can take advantage of this. Say you’re in the Graveyard killing skeletons, minding your own business. A griefer sees you attacking a skeleton and jumps right in front of you while you’re swinging your sword. You accidentally hit the griefer, and then you are instantly flagged as a criminal, and then he-and anyone else in the vicinity-can kill you without any penalties. Repeatedly. Until your criminal state wears off. Because you can always fight back if someone attacks you, but if you attack first you get flagged, and if you attack a lot you get flagged in red as a murderer. As if that wasn’t bad enough, sometimes the people in the Graveyard don’t even bother griefing. Sometimes PKs (“the reds”) will come right into the Graveyard and start murdering noobs left and right.

As a quick tutorial, there are basically three PvP states people can be in: Blue, which means the person hasn’t done anything wrong; Gray, which means you can attack the person without penalty; and Red, which means the person is a mass murderer and you should probably run away. It’s actually more complicated than that, but that’s the basics.

So what I’m saying is: The Graveyard is a hive of scum and villiany. Even though it’s the logical place to go as a newbie, and it’s an easy place to make some early money, you might want to avoid it if you’re easily enraged.

By the way, if you die, you turn into a ghost and you have to run and find the nearest priest (assuming you know where that is). Then you have to run back to your corpse and grab all the loot that you dropped when you died. There’s a good chance it won’t be there any more. Or, in my case, it might be at the bottom of a canal and unreachable.

I mentioned magic earlier. I haven’t done much with it yet, but it’s definitely not point-and-click pew-pew magic. First of all, you need reagents to cast spells, and you need money to buy reagents. It’s a pretty big limiting factor when you’re starting out, getting killed all the time, and losing your stuff. So I’m not sure that magic-user is the best way to go at first. There’s only one spell I can cast with a readily-available reagent (water), and that is “water spurt.” It does like half a point of damage, if you’re lucky. You can’t really cast it in rapid succession, either. It takes two key-presses to cast a spell: First you “prime” the spell, and then the second key-press actually casts it. Sometimes the spell “fizzles.” The only other spell I can somewhat consistently cast is a minor heal spell, but that requires a second reagent that I have to buy. It’s handy for pets, though.

If you’ve made it to the Graveyard and survived (or if you played UO back in the day), you’ve probably learned most of what you need to survive in this game as a newbie: 1) Take anything you have of value (coins, resources, reagents, books) and put it in the bank as soon as possible. 2) If you want to explore, don’t carry anything except your newbie sword and your pickaxe. (If you don’t want to be nekkid on everyone’s screens, you could make yourself some leather armor, too.) If you haven’t learned those things, you have undoubtedly rage quit and uninstalled the game already.

I don’t think I mentioned this but MO is a total sandbox. There are no goals unless you set them for yourself. So after I had “built up” my newbie mage a little bit, I set myself a goal to get away from Tindrem, because that’s where most of the griefers hang out to mess with the newbies. On my first character, the Tamer, I walked outside of town and looked around a bit, then promptly got killed by some PKs. So on my second character, I decided to be a bit craftier. First, I put everything I owned in the bank, obviously. Then I went to the gate and made sure nobody was around, then I sprinted (as much as a newbie can) across the road to the forest so I wouldn’t be so easy to find. You might be tempted to run down the big obvious roads to the next town, but if you had ever played UO, you would know that you should never, ever use the roads because that’s where the PK predators patrol. Especially around a newbie town.

Run Forest Run! (Notice my inventory. :)

Did I mention there is no map in this game? That’s right, no matter how many times you press the ‘M’ key, nothing happens. There’s no telling what’s out there. (Obviously there are web sites with maps you can look up if you want ( is popular), but what fun is that?)

I ran, and ran, and ran through the forest, heading more-or-less directly south. Somewhere to my right there was a road, and there was mountainous terrain on my left. I gathered some wood from trees, and picked up some plants. I passed some buildings, but I wasn’t sure if they were player-made or part of the world. There was a stable master NPC at one of them, but I don’t know if that means anything. I left before anyone could PK me for trespassing.

Who lives here? Probably don't want to know.

Then I came out of the forest and entered some plains, and stumbled onto my greatest discovery so far: A herd of donkies! They were all gray, so they were unclaimed! This was an exciting development, because I thought maybe I could figure out how to get my very own donkey like all the cool kids in Tindrem!

A treasure trove of donkies!

Sadly, my taming skill could barely handle taming a dog, so I didn’t think I had much chance. I suspected it would say, “You don’t have enough points to tame this animal” like it does when I try to tame a pig. But to my shock, it actually allowed me try to tame one! (I think I had about 28 “points.”) The first try failed, though. So I tried again. And again. And again. Roughly twenty tries later, I gave up on taming a donkey on my first wilderness excursion. It’s probably just as well, because the first PK I saw could have killed me and taken it. At least now I know where to find one.

I will be nice to you Donkey...

One thing I found very cool was that each donkey seemed to have different skin patterns. Some were white, some were brown. Some had stripes and some had splotches. Some were big and some were small. It was neat that you could pick out the one that you liked and try to train it, knowing that it would be fairly unique to you.

So I continued south from the donkies into a sort of desert wasteland and eventually spotted a seaside village, which turned out to be a place called Meduli. There were a lot fewer people there than in Tindrem, and I didn’t see any overt signs of griefing, so I think I’ve found a new home. It has its own bank-and when I say “it’s own” I mean that literally: It’s separate from the bank in Tindrem. So all that stuff I put in the Tindrem bank before I left is still up there and I would have to transport it all to Meduli on foot if I wanted to move it. (If I recall correctly, that was also a feature of UO.)

A quiet village by the sea.

So what’s the bottom line? I didn’t think I would like MO for more than a day. It’s awkward to play and painfully unforgiving of mistakes. But it still beckons to me. It reminds me a lot of a 3D version of UO. There are tons of crafting and gathering possibilities. You can actually make gear that is better than loot drops (because so far, there are no loot drops except for money - none that I’ve seen, at least). You can just run in any direction and explore off the beaten path. Because pretty much anywhere outside of town is off the beaten path.

On the negative side, the graphics are not that great, especially for a title released in 2010. It’s definitely not a AAA-quality game. It’s got some bugs. The pet interface window routinely goes nuts. It’s not as bad of an interface as AC or EQ1, but it’s still heavily dependent on drag-and-drop to do things. The server seems to reboot every morning.

The big question is whether this game is worth subscribing to. On the one hand, I’d like to send the developers some money to reward them for doing something innovative (compared to modern MMOs, at least). On the other hand, I don’t particularly want to pay to get killed over and over again. I get the feeling it would be a long time before I could actually start fighting back or even running away. Everyone else has had a two-year head start, after all.

But I think it’s well worth checking out the free version.

P.S. Dear Mortal Online Developers: You cannot imagine how annoying it is to process screenshots in *BMP* format.

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