previews\ Mar 16, 2003 at 7:00 pm

Shadowbane - PC - Preview

The battle is engaged, a melee/tank against a foul denizen of the forest. Blows are traded, then …. black screen and a message stating the host machine is attempting to log onto the game server.

Grrr! Should the relog be successful, it is doubtful the avatar will be alive. This is akin to lag death in established massively multiplayer online role-playing games. When the game is only in beta, things like these are to be expected.

Shadowbane, a release from Wolfpack Studios and  Ubi Soft, is the latest to toss its proverbial hat into the online gaming ring. While the graphical elements may not challenge some of the other titles currently in release, Shadowbane’s unique blend of characters and deep gameplay will likely appeal to a large number of MMO fans. This game is challenging, and has many customizable features.

GameZone was invited along for a preview of the latest builds of the game, and delightfully jumped into the middle of the world.

In some regards, the game looks like a cross of Ultima Online and Dark Age of Camelot. The animation is not extremely fluid, at this point (and the game is undergoing constant patching), and zooming in reveals angular shadows with harsh edges.

Because the beta was obtained through an online download, the game was launched without the benefit of a hand-held manual. However, that did not prove to be a burden. The online pop-up help menus, and intuitive gameplay make this a program that is easy to get into the thick of.

The game itself takes place on the world of Aerynth, a land rebuilding after a massive catastrophe. The game features 10 races (with such unique MMO races like the centaur) and more than 20 classes. This persistent online realm also has a Dynamic World Model, which means that players can physically affect terrain, buildings, politics and history of the realm. Because of the kingdom structure, players will be challenged in not only the RPG sense, but in a real-time strategy arena as well.

Other Shadowbane features include:

  •  13 guild types with a fealty system, coat of arms creation tool, assassinations, probationary member voting as well as ranks and titles

  •   The ability to go on quests or run shops, build cities or lay siege to them (with siege weapons and the ability to burn cities to the ground)

  •   A detailed magic system with more than 12 schools in the various mage forms (in fact, characters can multiclass, mastering up to three disciplines)

  •  Personal housing system for players to build cottages, house, villas and citadels

  •  5,000 years of world history

Shadowbane is hoping to set new standard for gameplay and from all indications, this game just might. Yes, graphically it  cannot hold a candle to games like Asheron’s Call 2, and the sound is rudimentary for the genre.

The quests are on a par with other like games, but Shadowbane is about depth of play. It is about the strategic kingdom versus kingdom battles, the diversity of the races, and the variety of niches it allows players to carve for themselves in this vast realm. While some games purport to allow players unique experiences, too often that diminishes into the same type of characters, with similar skills doing the same tasks.

Shadowbane follows the same leveling structure ­ battles equal experience points, which are spent to upgrade skills ­ as other games. But with players being able to specialize in three areas over 20 classes, and the guild system with its inherent intrigue, this is a game that may well elevate the genre.

Of course, with the release of the game slated for the end of the month, at this stage, server disconnections should be few and far between and there were several disconnections in the course of playing. This is definitely something that will need to be addressed.

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