by Andrew Skelton (Outfoxed)
I have a bit of a soft spot for sandbox games. The whole idea of starting with nothing and working your way through the world to become a force to be reckoned with is an ideal I know I share with plenty of other people. Star Vault’s original Mortal Online sought to change that landscape back in 2010, and now, eleven years later in 2021, they’re about to deliver a cutting-edge sequel in the aptly named Mortal Online 2. With its closed beta testing still ongoing, I had a chance to give the game a whirl to see how well it could scratch that sandbox itch.
First, a disclaimer: Mortal Online 2 is very much a mature game. Violence is plenty, cannibalism is an option, and while there’s an option to disable it, nudity is available. Men and women alike share in this, and it’s not how some companies handle it either. Everything is on display here (male and female bodied example), so if you’re not a fan of such content in games, you may need to look elsewhere.
Character creation is quite extensive in Mortal Online 2. Five different human races, two Elvish archetypes, two bestial types, and a half-human orc hybrid are available, each with differing levels of the five basic stats. For example, the character I ended up making, a Sheevra – akin to a dark elf in most fantasy – had a bit less strength than other races, but made up for it with extremely high dexterity, a good amount of constitution and psyche, and a slightly higher than average intelligence. While I had nothing to compare it to, it felt like my starting health, stamina, and mana were fairly average too.
You’ll even be able to select such minutiae as your height, weight, and age during character creation. All of these things are connected to your stats in some way, which is impressive. Older characters will lose strength, dexterity, and constitution, but gain in psyche and intelligence. Being thin makes you more dexterous at the cost of strength, but being overweight increases your intelligence – a life spent in luxury indeed. Height even influences your maximum health and stamina. All of these interconnected stats show just how detailed a character you can get, and that’s not getting into even more complicated features such as the lineage system.
That’s right; you’re not limited to just being of one human race. You can choose your parents lineage, and that of your grandparents too. If you wondered whether this also affected your stats somehow, you’d be absolutely correct. Skilled players can use this to shore up weaknesses of their chosen race by mingling other bloodlines, at the cost of lowering some of their strengths in the process. The one thing I would have liked to have seen is the ability to cross racial boundaries, but I recognize that presents a ton of additional challenges too (the least of which is figuring out compatibility between them and this isn’t a biology simulation).
Enough of character creation though. As a new character, you’ll be sent to Haven, which is one of the few truly safe zones in the world. You’re also dropped in with nothing but a sword strapped to your hip. No clothes. No armor. No food. Nothing. The game offers you two quests, teaching the basics of combat and crafting, and everything else is your decision to make. One of the first NPCs you can talk to will tell you flat out: figure out what you want to be and specialize. Do you want to make money or friends by crafting supremely high quality goods? Start gathering and crafting until you’ve mastered the arts. Feeling a bit more of the ol’ derring-do and want to fight monsters, bandits, and other threats? Make sure you’re focusing on the combat arts that fit your character.
I started with the crafting quest since I figured making something was better than running around naked. So I followed the quest marker first out of town to a field of cotton, and then to a copse of dapplewood trees the game wanted me to harvest. After the tutorial of how gathering wood worked, I set to my task with the sword I was given, and hacked away at the tree in front of me. My efforts were rewarded with two whole dapplewood. Two. I needed 50 for this part of the quest. Oh boy. So I hacked this tree to splinters for a long while until I had the requisite amounts, and headed back to town to craft a sword. From wood and cotton.
Well, let’s just say I was further met with disappointment as despite gathering what the game requested of me, I was still short on dapplewood to make the sword the game had instructed me to make, somehow. I’m not convinced this wasn’t user error, mind you, but this was just the start of things to come when it came to crafting. You see, the next step once I made the wooden sword (inferior by all accounts to the sword I was given at the start – I’m not a weaponsmith after all!) was to start mining granum to make a shield. The game wanted me to gather 250 from a nearby mine, and then in teaching about resource depletion, had me change rocks to mine 250 more. Next came gathering nitre to help process the granum into flakestone, which would be the main component for the boss of my shield. Did I mention I needed a lot more wood again? No?
After hitting the extraction station and adding the granum and nitre I waited for the machine to give me my hard earned flakestone, and marveled at the amount I received. If you were thinking I got a lot, well, you’ve a lot more faith in my abilities than I do. Still, the game said I was successful so I carted my precious haul of six flakestone to the shield crafting bench, only to find I needed at least 25 or so to make the recommended shield. Sigh. Back to the mines, back to gather nitre, back to the extraction station. I must have processed close to 1200 granum to finally get the flakestone I needed to finish this quest, all in the name of learning the game.
Which got me thinking: someone doing this blind who doesn’t enjoy heavy grinding in games is going to quickly fold at seeing what’s required to make one weapon and one shield. Yes, this is a sandbox, open world game, but there does come a point where one needs to worry about what it takes to be a crafter. This was a PvP game, after all, once you left Haven.
Putting that aside, I then went and completed the combat tutorial. This is where the bulk of players are going to find themselves. Anyone who’s played an Elder Scrolls game pre-Skyrim will recognize the system immediately. Movement followed by the attack key dictates the direction of your attack. So forward will initiate a chop, while strafing side to side will give you a slash in either direction. You can also thrust by holding the alt key (by default). Weapons have different values for slash, blunt, and piercing damage, so it’s always wise to pay attention to which is best for your weapon type. I went for spears, so piercing damage was my go to. Also keep in mind range, as hitting an opponent with the blade of your sword is much more effective than smacking them with the hilt if you want to cause lethal damage.
After clearing some zombies from the local graveyard, the game wants to teach you the basics of butchering by slaughtering some pigs nearby. Then you get some archery practice on some springboks, followed by a cooking tutorial. These all flowed together much more cohesively than the crafting tutorial did, I felt, which left the impression the developers knew more people would be interested in that facet of the game.
Once both quests were done … well, that’s it. You’re free to do whatever you wish, on your own. The game tells you there are very, very few quests in Mortal Online 2, and it’s up to you to develop your character. Personally, I don’t mind this approach; I’ve been playing MMORPGs since Ultima Online after all, the very game which basically said, “Figure out what you want to do and do it.” That being said, there was still plenty to do in Haven. In order to leave, you have to get to Clade level two. You start at level zero and it took 100 experience to move to level one. Not bad, you might be thinking, until you realize the zombies I’d been dispatching give a mere three experience points.
Mortal Online 2 is an absolutely gorgeous game. The combination of DirectX 12 and Unreal Engine 4 provide a stunning world to explore. Character models are detailed, and while you won’t be able to see your own character model past creation outside of menus (please stop asking for a third person camera), you still can get into your role quite easily. My one biggest complaint was the book system, which the crafting tutorial teaches you, and which is generally required for more complex crafts. The first book given takes 72 real world hours to complete. Three days. I had no armor on my character because I couldn’t read the book that taught it until the initial one finished. It’s pretty synonymous with what I took away from crafting in general: a lot of grind to try and get better over time that ultimately sort of felt futile.
That being said, I love how tactical combat feels. Your own skill in blocking and dodging were paramount in ensuring you didn’t receive too much damage, as healing takes a while. Archery felt most proper, with arrows having a true arc that you needed to account for while drawing and firing the bow. Despite some growing pains at launch such as massive queues for the main world and other woes common in PvP games such as this – top guilds were camping the spawn of horses for the longest time, taming any horse who spawned in prevention of anyone else having one – Mortal Online 2 does offer a comprehensive sandbox experience to anyone who’s willing to invest the time and effort into their character. Just be prepared to do a little research into things before you dive in.
Note: Access to the game was provided for preview purposes.