Mortal Online 2 is not for everyone. And I don’t say that as some platitude about how everyone has different tastes. This is a game made for a highly specific audience, and if you are not part of that audience, you are going to struggle.
It is a game with always-on PvP and dying can be devastating if you aren’t prepared for it. It is a survival crafting game with resource gathering and systems that disincentivize grinding without some level of planning ahead.
Mortal Online 2 has systems as wide as an ocean and just as deep. This is not a game you can just pick up and play for a short while. This game demands your time and attention.
You Can Go Your Own Way
Mortal Online 2 has one of the crunchiest character creators I’ve seen in a while. You choose the nationality of your parents and grandparents, which has an effect on your starting attributes. I already know this is going to get a lot of people running the numbers for optimized builds.
Additionally, the day one patch added in robust facial customization. You can do a lot of good with it. I immediately abused it to make a monstrosity.
And this number crunch extends into the main game itself. There are no character classes. Instead, you have a variety of stats and related skills, which improve as you use them. And there are a wide variety of skills for you to improve. From reading to foraging to resting to the multitude of combat skills. And that’s not even getting into the magic system, which requires you to have specific reagents on hand, so planning ahead is essential.
There are no levels either. Your stats and skills and ‘Clade Gift’ tree are all improved individually. You want to be better at melee combat? Then swing your sword a whole bunch until you’re really good at it. You want to use magic? Do some book smart things and get smarter, nerd.
A video game protagonist wakes up in an on-fire science lab with nothing but an AI and a high-tech gun to…
The crafting system is modular. When you build something, you build each component separately and combine them together into the finished piece. This is luckily handled simultaneously, so for example, making a sword has you choose your hilt materials and your blade materials separately, but at the same time. This too encourages experimentation of the different materials and how they combine together into equipment.
This experimentation is highly emphasized throughout other parts of the crafting system as well. Processing the raw stone that you’ve mined requires a catalyst, and different catalysts provide different materials from the same type of stone. Cooking and potion making involve throwing whatever you want into a pig pot and stirring it around and hoping whatever comes out is usable.
Mortal Online 2 is a very slow game. You don’t move very fast. Your attacks are slow. Blocking requires directional input that doesn’t always read instantly. Foraging and mining is slow. Looting requires you to pick up a heavy corpse and then skin it for usable materials or carry it all the way to a butchery table to skin it there for more parts. And if you’re over encumbered, you’d better believe your movement speed plummets until you can’t move at all. There is a significant amount of waiting. The first book I was given as part of the tutorial required 999 hours of reading, though admittedly you continue to read books while offline. My reading Skill increased fairly quickly though, reducing the number to the far more reasonable 157 hours. Processing raw stone takes time. Your most accessible means of healing is to rest which naturally takes time.
All of this combines into a very specific feel. You are not some unstoppable god-warrior who will slay everything in your path, cutting bloody swathes through enemy armies. You are just some guy trying to eke out a living, the same as everyone else. I describe it as being an NPC in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. I don’t remember the last time I saw a single bandit pull a weapon on me and my first instinct was to run away while screaming, but you can bet that’s what I did in Mortal Online 2.
An Acquired Taste
The problem with a lot of this—if I can call it a problem when it’s clearly an intentional design choice—is that you aren’t given any guideposts. There’s no Main Story Quest. I don’t even think there are side quests, actually. The theory seems to be roughly what Fallout 76 wanted to achieve: an entirely player-driven and controlled world. Unlike Fallout 76, Mortal Online 2 actually has a reasonable understanding of what players want out of their games. The tutorial island of Haven is designed solely to be a safe space you can stay for as long as you like while you get to grips with the game. Even in the closed Beta I saw this working at least somewhat as intended. I saw people in chat advertising themselves as crafters or merchants. (Even in video games, there is no escape from the cold grip of capitalism.)
I also suspect that the Closed Beta is holding out on me, as when I made my way over to the capital city of the starting nation, I found very few NPCs. It took several minutes before I even found the town guards, much less a merchant.
And the merchants I found first were specifically for providing player-to-player selling and trading, by providing a place where people can request or sell specific items. As stated, the modular crafting system means there’s a large demand for highly specific equipment made with different material combinations. It took me much longer to find the actual marketplace for NPC shopping because the city was just so large.
So it’s possible there will be more story content and NPCs in a later expansion, given that the tutorial features a functional quest system with markers. But to be perfectly honest I would not be surprised either way. I suspect much of the ‘story’ will be politics between player guilds.
This lack of direction does make exploration difficult as well, however. Even with a map, I found navigation difficult because the maps are hand-drawn images with no indication of my position or orientation. Later, like I mentioned in the last paragraph, I travelled to the capital of the nation I spawned in to sate my own curiosity. This required me physically following roads and signs and hoping that the spires I could see in the distance were my destination. On the way there I was attacked by bandit NPCs. Since there are no levels or other easy means of gauging someone’s strength, I had no way of knowing how much of a threat this single bandit posed. Even expecting the worst, my weak starter equipment and stats left me no chance of victory.
Not to mention that once you’re outside of a town, you are fair game for any player to kill and loot your corpse. The only consequence for this is that if you kill too many people in a short period, you can’t come into towns. Which is more devastating than it sounds since you need to craft up food and water to replenish your reserves or you’ll eventually lose a war of attrition.
The consequence of Death is the loss of anything carried on your person when you die. In a game about gathering resources for use in crafting, or spellcasting, or selling, or whatever, this can be a huge blow to have taken from you. But other than that there are no longer-term consequences that I noticed, and players have banks in cities where they can safely store goods. And PvP is disabled in cities.
Mortal Online 2 is a game about, well, being a Mortal in this presented fantasy world. Improving yourself, improving your abilities, and using that to earn money or barter goods.
Sights to See
My first thought when I saw the trailer for Mortal Online 2 was “Wow, I just want to go on a walking tour and take in all the sights!” The game may not be an Epic Fantasy in genre, but the world certainly feels epic. The tutorial island that exists solely for you to have somewhere safe to experiment is filled with things to discover. I stopped in the middle of gathering wood to stand at the edge of a pond with a waterfall and just bask it in. And the actual mainland continent is even better. The world is gorgeous and I love it.
The textures and models are hardly what I would call AAA quality, but the world design uses these assets well. The way trees and rocks are placed in the world creates a lot of visual interest. And there’s a variety of types of trees and rocks so that you can harvest different materials, as stated above. This variety in material is also represented visually.
Each town has its own architectural style and layout. And there is spectacle to be had with the larger cities. The massive, fortified walls surrounding Tindrem took my breath away when I first saw them. And then when I accidentally stumbled across the city’s garden at night, when it was illuminated only by torchlight and fireflies. Absolutely gorgeous.
It is, however, sometimes hard to find loot from fallen enemies and animals. This is especially notable when hunting animals. Dropped loot is represented as a sack lying on the ground. But if you kill something in tall grass from a distance, it can be a challenge to actually find the bag.
The crafting menu is fun in a way I wasn’t expecting. There’s a simple animation of every individual component being added to the whole, so you can watch the shield or sword or whatever come together. And a sound plays as the parts bang together, making it even more satisfying to watch.
Speaking of menus, there are a lot of menus in Mortal Online 2. You have an inventory menu which is separate from your character equipment menu. Your character menu has tabs that show you a breakdown of your stats and abilities, your ‘Clade Gifts’ tree, and your titles. Shopping is its own menu. Magic is a menu that you use to set up a hotbar.
Thankfully, there is also a Journal, which chronicles places you’ve been and some lore about them, as well as sorting them between animals, caves, cities, dungeons, plants, stone, and wood. So once you’ve figured something out, you can come back to it later. There’s even a section in your journal to write your own notes, which I suspect is probably going to be the most useful feature in the entire game.
The music reminds me a lot of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Not stylistically, but in design philosophy. The style is epic, swelling orchestrations. The songs are quiet and simple, with pauses. I believe the concept is called Mu, where the use of negative space is used to make the actual subject more interesting. Hayao Miyazaki used the example of the pause between claps in applause. It makes it more natural to take in the scenery and reflect, since there isn’t much to do while out and about—unless you get attacked by bandits or players.
I did experience a number of visual glitches. Sometimes lighting wouldn’t quite react correctly, or some textures were clipping. Also, I once found three of the deer-equivalent clipped inside of a mountain.
Mortal Online 2 is the kind of big, crunchy MMO time sink that will eat hundreds of hours as you learn the game. It is commitment you will have to make. It is a game for people who are willing to fight for their lives, for every scrap of progress. For people who love planning ahead and improving as efficiently as possible. I frequently wondered how long it would take for players to start creating and sharing excel spreadsheets of the best ways to improve stats or acquire certain materials.
If this is the harsh, gritty game you would enjoy, then you’ll get a lot of mileage out of the depth of its systems.