This is continuing my review of Star Stable. In part one, I discussed how Star Stable isn’t like other MMOs, the biggest feature being that it is targeted for young girls and doesn’t feature hand to hand combat like most MMOs. I also mentioned some of the hallmarks of MMOs that I enjoy, ‘realistic’ graphics, PvE, customization and most importantly, consistent fun.
(For those who haven’t been following the diaries.)
In Star Stable, one joins the game as a young woman sent off to Moorland Summer Camp for a vacation of fun and horses. Once there, they are pulled into a game of intrigue by the stable owner’s son Justin and find themselves up against corporate companies bent on taking over Moorland, eventually all of Jorvik, and harming the environment. Along the way they make friends with those who have saved Jorvik before them and embark on a quest to become a Soul Rider and put an end to the evil machinations of Dark Core for good.
Now, here is the reason why you are a girl. The original Soul Rider was female, aka Aideen. The one who brought light and life to Jorvik. All the former Soul Riders have also been female, including the Soul Riders that in the game are mentoring you and you are saving! If I say anything else here, I’ll be giving away plot in this review and I don’t want to do that! Just saying, that there has been one case of a male with the potential of being a Soul Rider and so far it isn’t turning out well due to reasons. So, in effect, because the original Soul Rider is female, and every Soul Rider since has been female, the druids look for females to be Soul Riders and not males. This could have been a big mistake in this cycle but nothing has been confirmed or denied yet.
The game either launches through the browser or a desktop launcher can be downloaded and installed. Star Stable has moderate graphics. High enough resolution to be realistic and to have interesting textures, low enough that it won’t bog down a lower end system. I would compare these graphics to the first Guild Wars graphics. One really doesn’t want to go too much higher than that with an internet based game. Their night time sky texture is amazing. Star Stable does really well also with atmospheric effects. They can render fog, snow and haze fairly well. The game has a clock that goes from bright daylight to dusk to night time. The settings are varied. There are at least four forests on Jorvik that we’ve seen so far, and each one is different.
The first thing that the player can do is customize both their avatar and their horse. They can change the face shape, skin tone, hair style and color, eyes and makeup of their girl. For their horse, they can change mane and coat color. Names are selectable from a list. I have seen some really funny (hopefully intentional) Marvel and My Little Pony references for girl names. Girl names must be unique per server, but you can name your horse whatever from the list. I did random until I got a name I liked and fiddled with the last name. I went with a theme for my horse names, but I do know players who just hit random until something they liked appeared.
Once in the game, you can go to salons to change your hair color and make up. And your horse can have different mane styles and a mane style store. (Coming Soon: More avatar model customization!
Along with new manicures!) This does cost Star Coins. You are given a starter outfit and as the game progresses with quests, people will gift the player with more clothes. One can keep or sell these clothes as they wish. Every town and stable has shops to buy more clothes in and the clothes have stats to help improve the character’s capabilities. Lifetime members are gifted with several sets of ‘starter’ type gear and the game offers redeem codes fairly regularly for both free clothes and free star coins. They’ve recently added a mall for all players that has more gear and more clothes!
I want to put out there, that the clothes in Star Stable are modest. Most of the tops have high t-shirt necklines. The dresses and ‘nice’ shirts are peter pan collars. The high, small rounded type of collars. There is on some t-shirts some navel baring, but those t-shirts also have the high rounded collars. The clothes are mostly clothes that are appropriate for riding, long or capri pants, some shorts and a few short skirts. Dresses have to have something worn underneath them, pants or shorts. There are a large variety of styles and all the colors of the rainbow. So, the player can dress from everything to a slouchy fisherman type, to a punk, to a dressage proper English rider. There are no high heels, low necklines or high hems. This encourages modest and classy dressing. The lowest neckline I can think of happens to be with spaghetti strap tank tops. These are sixteen year old girls dressing like modest proper sixteen year old girls. There is no Barbie or bratz style dressing here!
The horses move like real horses (and like real horses must be cared for every day, though nothing too serious will happen if you don’t) and can be controlled through the mouse or the keyboard. I find I prefer using the keyboard so it leaves my mouse free to move the camera around and click on items. The interface extremely easy to use because you aren’t having to keep track of a dozen different abilities and spells and know what key they are set to. You click on an item/person to interact with it and if you need to use an item, you drag and drop it from the inventory where it needs to go. There are special items that will sometimes add an extra button near your map/heads up display. When you get near benches or chairs, a button will appear so you can sit. There are cafes where you can buy “food” though there is no in game reason for doing so. On Friday and Saturday, there is a disco in Fort Pinta where you can go dance. A button to dance appears when you get on the dance floor.
You can expand the map of you HUD to see the entire world, including places that aren’t opened yet or inaccessible to your character due to ‘reasons.’ There is a list tab on the map that show what areas there are to discover. There are secret areas on the map to discover (though some you will find through various quests) and falling stars to recover. Golden stars seem to be a trademark of Star Stable games. The list will tell you how many stars each overall area has. There are currently 75 stars in the game in total. If you do get into an area that you aren’t supposed to be able to get to, the game will kick you back to your home stable. This isn’t precisely easy to do and if you do it too much they will suspend your account.
The quests are fairly straightforward with moderately clear directions. There are a few places that the directions do become “over there” and it takes a few minutes to figure out what they mean. In the beginning quests, objectives are marked on the map through either a green dot or a red orange haze. As you progress in the game, these green dots and orange hazes start disappearing. In the world, quests are given by people with yellow or blue exclamation points over their head. And once quests are complete, exclamation points turn green. The orange red haze on the map is represented in game by red orange sparkles. About the only time it is difficult to see these sparkles is in the snow. In the Valley of the Hidden Dinosaur, other important drop items or archaeological dig sites have yellow sparkles appear from them. This means the game is relaxing and rarely frustrating. (Perhaps the most frustrating are the random drops in Dino Valley because there is literally no control over any of it.)
Quests are parceled out over several days. This game is one with set game hours built in. You can only run so many quests per day before you run into a barrage of clocks. This is like an in game addiction modifier. If you want to stay the night at an inn and pay Star Coins to unlock those days you can, but otherwise, you can spend anywhere from two to four hours playing the game (with or without daily quests) before you aren’t advancing the plot line anymore but riding around for the fun of it. This might be frustrating for those used to hack and slash MMOs that encourage eight hours of play a day and don’t have any such timer caps. I find because you are constantly in motion on the horse in this game, it is better to play in one to two hour bursts and then get off and rest. The Clock system makes this easier to do because there isn’t “just one more thing” to do. If you are a parent, worried about your child becoming addicted to the MMO so much that they won’t do anything else, then this clock system puts a curb on that behavior and slows them down.
And like in other MMOs, you can form social groups. In Guild Wars, players can band together and form guilds and in Star Stable, players can band together and form Riding Clubs. The Silverglade Village Council House is also the meeting Hall for Riding Clubs. You can assign officers and members, chair meetings, post events to the Club Calendar, form Role playing games and hopefully help each other with quests. Of course, you don’t have to be a member of a Club to join a Role Playing Game (RPG) within Star Stable. In the global chat function, there are people constantly advertising roles and forming groups at different stables and towns. They also organize trail rides, stampedes and parades.
As I said earlier, races are the closest thing to Player Versus Player this game has. It is still something of a misnomer. Races can be run individually daily to gain experience for your horse. After you run the race once for experience, you can run it as many times as you like to try and beat the highest time on the chart. (Though the daily race does count towards that time.) Otherwise, you can join races as a group of friends. Now, while this might seem to be PvP, there is actually no way to sabotage the other players while racing. Other player’s horses aren’t solid. So there is no bumping and jostling. Other players are more apt to sabotage themselves by slowing down by jumping than you having to do anything. You just ride right through them. The last group races are championships. These tend to involve anywhere from 20 to 60 riders and they are released in groups and the ones with the best times earn the ribbons. If you are consistently number 1 on the time charts of specific races, you get prizes.
And there are a lot of horses you can buy, I mean, a lot of horses. Horses cost Star Coins. So, they are investments. Mr. Moorland does sell you your starter horse for Jorvik Shillings (and slips them back to you, so I don’t know what was going on there.) And the second horse you will probably buy is a pony from the pony barge at Fort Pinta. Ponies are really cheap. After that, there are other horses (everything from Appaloosa to Westphalian) that are open to buy, but there are other, sometimes nicer breeds that are available after a certain amount of levelling. For instance, at level 6 you can buy a Tinker Horse, at level 8, the North Swedish, Friesian Sports, and Andalusian breeds become available. At level 10, you can buy Arabians. At level twelve, you can buy pure bred Friesians (in three shades of black). And lastly, at level 15, you can buy Fjord Horses. Now, they just added Chincoteague ponies (at level 1) and in the next few months have promised American Quarter Horses (with new animations.) You can keep 10 horses at a time in your stable, and at any time if you find you don’t have room or think (like me) having more than four is just too much, you can send them off on an island vacation. Different horses have different starter stats. And with the gear you can buy, you can augment these stats in any way you like.
You can also buy pets in the game. At Fort Pinta and Jarlaheim, there are pet shops. Along with saddlebag shops. These pets don’t really do anything but sit in said saddlebags and look cute. So, you don’t have to buy them, but they are cute! The saddlebags are also optional, but it is nice to have a physical representation of your inventory list. They have kittens, puppies and rabbits. And occasionally, they bring in odd pets as special offers like seals and teddy bears. (Bear cubs would be going too far.)
Now the plot is fairly straightforward and it does rail road you into a certain direction. This is just the nature of the game. Everyone in the game is learning the same abilities and doing the same things. And as you do chores, quests and races in the game, you can gain reputation points with various factions to open items in the shops, open new quest trees and open new places. There are some quests you can’t do without gaining a certain amount of reputation with these factions. If you don’t have enough reputation with that faction and a quest is available, a heart with a circle is over their head to tell you that you need reputation with that faction to proceed.
A lot of the updates just make me squee with happiness. They do try new things fairly regularly. They tried a geocaching quest tree recently that was interesting (and mildly frustrating but interesting.) There was two weeks of a fashion show in the new Jorvik Mall. I loved the April Fool’s update. I thought it was hysterical. And the fact they allowed us to change the coat on our horses to something silly was ultra-fun. Though I’m glad it was only for the day. Christmas went on for about two months, which was one month too long. They do a lot of holiday themed updates, which their saving grace is that they do offer a bunch of experience and Jorvik shillings. With the updates being weekly, there is always something to look forward to. However, this does mean that once you catch up with the game (this can take up to two to three months if played daily) that there are a lot of plot threads left in the middle of things while waiting for them to update them. I’m pretty ambivalent about it because it is their game and I’m sure they’ve got some sort of plan in mind and as long as people keep playing and paying and the company turns a profit, they will get to the quests eventually. (Or risk losing their established player base.)
So, overall, Star Stable is fun, relaxing with enough content and things to do to keep you going for several months before you have to resort to simply doing dailies. If you aren’t able to yellow dot quest every day, then it will take you longer. There are lots of clothes and gear to buy, ways to change your character after you first make her to make her even more unique and the game time manages for you. Plus, there are lots and lots and I mean, lots of pretty horses.