The Shadowbane beta test was a very strange affair indeed. The graphics were so bad people were laughing openly, yet there was a group of people who insisted that Shadowbane would be released with a brand new graphics engine when it went live, and all would be well.
As if. It was never going to happen, and it has not happened, though the game is looking a lot better than it did in beta. Nevertheless, compared to Asheron's Call 2 or Anarchy Online, it sits firmly at the bottom of the looks tree.
So, any graphics whores out there can look away now. The rest of you, stick around, we're here to tell you all about the gameplay. In a nutshell, Shadowbane is yet another fantasy-based online RPG. Kill monsters, find and loot gold, level up, get new spells and skills. You know the score.
Who Dares Wins
However, Shadowbane stands out from its competitors in one very significant way. The entire game is based around player versus player combat (PvP). You can level up to level 20 in a safe environment and hone your skills (maximum level is 70) without risk of attack from vastly superior players. But from then on you're packed off into the big bad world, and are fair game for higher levels to pick off and rob blind.
Harsh? Well yes, and no. It lends the game an element of real risk that you won't have experienced in similar games. You will feel genuinely scared when attacked by player killers or enemy guilds because you can, and will, lose everything.
This kind of environment is not everyone's cup of tea. but if you want real thrills and spills, PvP is the only way to go.
So where are the trade skills and quests, both considered essential for a successful online RPG? They're not there, that's where. Outside of guild warfare there is nothing to do. And this in itself will cause many players to burn out long before they get into the full-scale warfare, even though the levelling-up process itself is relatively quick.
On the plus side, there is a huge variety of classes, races, professions and disciplines to choose from and Shadowbane offers more variety in terms of character customisation than any of its competitors. But ultimately the appeal (or lack thereof) of PvP combat will determine whether or not the game is a success. Shadowbane has yet to receive a UK release date, so for now you'll have to track down an imported US copy, but look out for updates as it develops.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Cast Your Mind back, if you will, to the very beginnings of the online RPG market. In the beginning, while many companies toyed with the idea of bringing their titles online, there was only one company brave enough to risk spending time and money creating a new genre. That company was Origin, and the game was Ultima Online. You may argue that Origin had something of a safety net by using a brand name that was synonymous with the best the RPG genre had to offer, but nonetheless, those first tentative pioneering steps created a genre which is fast becoming overcrowded in today's market. The main reason Ultima Online succeeded (apart from the obvious advantage of having the Ultima name) was it literally forced gamers into player-versus-player combat (PvP) and provided an adrenaline rush never experienced before on PC as gamers fought real people on the Net for supremacy in UO. Since then, UO has been toned down to a large degree. There are now towns and areas where you can travel safely if you don't want to get involved in PvP, and much of the gameworld is considered 'safe' for travelling and exploration. So where does that leave gamers who are still desperate for their online fantasy PvP fix? Enter stage left: Shadowbane.
Kill, Or Be Killed
Shadowbane is designed from the ground up to fully support every facet of PvP imaginable. Player-made cities and towns will be the rule rather than the exception, and unless you quickly gain membership to a good player guild you will be open to attack from all other players in the game as soon as you set foot outside the initial newbie training grounds, and yes you will lose money and items to them if they successfully beat your brains out and loot your corpse. Shadowbane won't be for the faint of heart, and all those who left Ultima Online en masse to go to EverQuest in order to get away from all the player killers are advised to stay as far away from Shadowbane as possible.
Designer Wolfpack believes there is a big market for player-versus-player combat, and it is backing this claim by going wholly PvP right from the start. This is a brave move, and to get it right will be no easy task. From the beginning every hardcore PvPer in existence will be out to create a class that is designed purely for success in PvP. This gives Wolfpack something of a headache when it comes to balancing the classes for PvP capability. Given the diversity and flexibility of the character development system and the almost endless possibilities for unique character combinations, it will be almost impossible to completely balance all classes for PvP. But since most of the PvP is expected to be between rival guilds, many of the players will be playing support roles rather than being directly involved in combat. Exactly what role you choose to play in the great scheme of things is entirely up to you, thanks to one of the best character development models we have ever seen in a RPG.
Be Who You Want To Be
While there are only four initial classes to choose from at character creation time (fighter, mage, healer and rogue), as soon as your character hits level ten you get to choose a subclass which determines how your character will finally develop through his later levels (very Dark Ages Of Camelot I must say). There are 14 subclasses to choose from, and you can change the course of your character dramatically at level ten, depending on which subclass you choose. For example, a fighter may decide to change at level ten to a warlock, which means although he retains his inherent fighting skill she becomes capable of also casting spells, which makes him a good all-rounder (and probably a good bet for PvP too). On top of this you can also choose between sets of disciplines which give you new skills and spells. This kind of flexibility in developing your character means you rarely meet someone with the same class and skill set as you, and it puts EverQuest's static race/class combinations to shame.
The heavy bias towards PvP is not the only thing Shadowbane has in common with Ultima Online. The use of a third-person view also hints strongly at influences from Origin's classic, although while UO uses a fixed 2D viewpoint, Shadowbane is fully 3D and you can change the camera any way you wish according to preference. While the third-person camera is adequate in most situations (although it feels decidedly awkward to use at first), you have to wonder why a first-person viewpoint is not offered as an option. So many people are used to using a first-person viewpoint now that they may feel a little alienated at having to go back to an 'outside' view for Shadowbane. Wolfpack says there is a first-person viewpoint under test but it may never make it into the game if they don't feel it works for the gameplay. We'll keep you posted on this as we get more news on it.
Does the world really need another online RPG? Well the folks at Wolfpack Studios certainly think so as they have created what they hope to be the next big thing when it comes to online adventuring. Shadowbane is the latest in the online RPG market and the game makers did their homework. The characters are there, the missions are there, as are all the little goodies you would expect from a game of this type. Unless the players sign up, however, the game will ultimately fail as the world has yet to be defined and the game's strong points discovered by the gaming public.
Shadowbane is obviously like Everquest and Asheron's Call in the sense that players run around in a fantasy world with swords and sorcery. All of these games involve missions, leveling up, and teaming up with other players in order to take full advantage of online gaming. Shadowbane also adds a couple other distinctive extras that players may enjoy, most notably the mix of characters/classes. With several standard races (humans, elves) and some not so standard (minotaurs, birdmen), players can pick from a whole set of professions (healers, warriors, etc.) but then get even more precise with disciplines. Disciplines are character traits that occur throughout the game when certain unrealized requirements are met. For example, should your character kill werewolves often enough, you could become known as a werewolf warrior which in turn gives you additional powers. The game is chock full of disciplines that truly make each character unique as they continue to adventure on.
Of course, as you progress, it will become necessary to team up with other players as it provides both protection from other roaming bands of players (yes, the game allows for virtual gangs to war against one another) and the means to defeat some of the game's tougher monsters.
If I had one big complaint (besides the normal quirks of relying on online servers to run proficiently) it would be the amount of on screen menus that pop up all the time, including pop ups that explain the other pop ups. It became frustrating as the menus are numerous, but necessary.
Graphically, the game is middle of the road. After playing Asheron's Call 2, it's easy to see that some corners were cut graphically to allow for a lower system requirement. Sprites are a little murky and the lighting is nothing to write home about. The same could be said for the audio.
A game for the serious online player who's willing to pay for a monthly fee to adventure in what is the most detailed (virtual world) game on the market right now. Whether you choose to build an empire, or go around assassinating other players, this game has it all.
Editor's Note: Disciplines are specific "runes" that drop from specific creatures. In order to get the Werewolf Discipline, you must find and kill "Mortis the Fell Spider". They are not arbitrarily awarded after killing a certain number of enemies. Additionally, after choosing one of the 10 races and choosing a class (Healer, Warrior, Mage or Rogue) you enter the game and progress to level 10. At level 10 you promote to one of 18+ professions. Upon reaching level 20, you can then apply up to 3 of the 26 discipline runes. These points were either incorrect or misleading in the above review. Many thanks to Josh N. for pointing out these discrepancies.
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