I got the itch to log into a sandbox MMORPG to see if the grass was greener on the other side of gameplay fence. I went through the list over at Sandboxer.org and picked a game that I had heard mentioned before; Star Vault’s Mortal Online. Mortal is two years old and I figure that after two years, the developers have had enough time to kill bugs, clean up the presentation, and polish the experience to make a 14-day free trial enticing. Even so this is a review of the Mortal’s character creator and not the game itself. The character creator is the game’s first chance to get me interested.
The first choice the player has to make while loading up the game is the Clade they want to be a part of. There is no explanation of what a Clade is until the player selects one and gets to pick their ancestry. Essentially, the player picks their faction then gets to choose the races/sub-species of their parents; two for each. On that screen, the player finally encounters the lore behind the game; giving the player some context while creating their character. The Clade choice provides the starting zone options and the ancestry choices determine base the characters base stats and appearance choices. There are Half-Breeds, but that only means Human and something else. Since the range of races run all the way from typical human to small human/elf-like, there is no great variety of appearance.
The body characteristic that a player can manipulate are few. Players may configure the size of their character within the minimum and maximums of their race. Size only matters in the game if your characters is big enough and strong enough in the base stats for size to enhance strength. Players can also specify their character’s age which has the effect making the their creation shorter or taller and putting wrinkles on their face. There is nudity in this game; however, everybody’s naked body looks the same. Everybody is fairly fit and fairly thin.
If the player is wise, they will make a tall character, because it will be easier to modify their head. While zooming and rotating the character model is available, the zooming is performed from a fixed height. Consequently, after zooming in on a short character on only the top of the head will be seen. The lack of polish in this area might be tolerable players could still create interesting faces.
Interesting faces can be created, but only to a limited degree. Mortal Online may have been better served by using the Mr. Potatohead-style cut and paste designer with a variety of different shapes because the slider/range-style designer the game has only makes elements bigger or smaller. Players can change:
- Eyebrow (Up/Down & In/Out)
With the exception of the nosebridge and the eyebrows, manipulating the sliders on any one of the other areas made no distinct impact on the look of the character. While really dramatic hairstyles will make a difference in the new character’s silhouettes, there is little variety with the hair.
The styles are unique, but fairly similar. Curls, waves, and braids are drawn in an overly realistic style that is best described as stringy. Another problem with hairstyles is that as the player applies them and spins the character around to views them, the hair spins slightly slower than the rest of the body. The effect is that all of the hairstyles looks like a heavily moused wig. It is an introduction to some of the rough edges players will encounter in the game world.
Notably, the game has no class system. The player can skill up to whatever the game will allow them to be. One guide that I read suggested that players use all 3 of their character slots to create characters who will provide different functions so that the player can sustain himself. According to the guide, the first character should become an animal tamer so that getting horses becomes easier. Developing characters from the get-go as mules or tradesmen only to facilitate creating another character that will be fun to play seems like a terrible idea to me.
The bottom line is that the characters in Mortal Online do not look very different from one another. It does not help that players begin the game in generic, formless, oddly-textured rags. It does help that a player may not see another player’s character for hours at a time. Mortal Online wants to give players the experience of progression through hardship to develop the skills they choose to create the character they want. In the end, if a player puts in enough time, their character will come close to maxing out all of the skills available and playing with other people who have done the same thing and look the same way. I can accept that this is a game where the character is more of an avatar than a character in a story the player and the game are telling. However, I do not believe I can create a representation of myself in this game that is interesting to play.
While I did not dig it, Mortal Online has a 14-day limited trial that any curious party can sign up for without selecting any payment option. Here’s another blogger’s take on Mortal character creation as well. If you’re serious about getting started with the game, here’s a guide and a couple of wikis for Mortal Online. Finally, here’s an overview of the game delivered over 75 minutes of gameplay.