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Shadowbane: First Impressions

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Shadowbane is the newest MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) to be released for what some say, is an overcrowded market already. There are lots of MMORPGs, but few are any good. It takes a great deal of talent to produce a successful continuously dynamic RPG. The game has been out for barely a month, so I thought it would be a bit unfair to give it a full review just yet. I would like to thank Stan from The Mac Smith for my review copy.

With the purchase of the game you get free 31 days, but must have a major credit card and buy a further month for $12.99. You have to have a credit card to sign up. This seems to be a good way to keep trolls from making multiple accounts. There are rewards for the multiple month purchase, including discounts and further races to play. If you buy a year subscription, all current races are open to you. If you do not pay this way, you will need play for an allotted time before you can access some of the fancier races (like Minotaur & Centaur). Both of these races are ones that more for experienced players either of this game or MMORPGs in general.

One of the great things about the game is that it was released for Mac and PC simultaneously, on a hybrid CD. This is the first MMORPG of its kind (other than the dire and crude Clan Lord) for the Mac, and kudos to Wolfpack for following Blizzard’s lead. I suspect that this fact alone will get the game some following that it might not have had. Of course, the end of this month sees the release of Everquest, the acknowledged leader of the genre. I expect to be able to review that game as well, to compare the two games.

One thing that is for sure is that EQ will be harder for Mac gamers to get into as it is a long established game. There will be a temptation for experienced EQ players to exploit newer Mac-based EQ players. There is none of that in Shadowbane.

In fact, there is a “Dunkirk spirit” in the game, as it goes through its initial teething stages. People, at least on the (0-21 rank islands) are very helpful indeed, and very patient with newbie players. It does help that there is no player killing until players hit 21st level and are booted off to the main island. But there is still looting of players’ bodies when they die. I have seen many cases of relative strangers, recovering loot from a body and bringing it back to players after a re-spawn. Twice, I have had other players give me money to help me along my way after server/application crashes or lag got me killed. The game does foster a great deal of camaraderie between players. To encourage co-operation getting into groups with other players significantly helps you gain both experience and gold. It would be nice if a few more people could be in a group that exists currently, but that is a minor quibble. Other games, such as Clan Lord, have tried this but it does seem to work well in Shadowbane.

This is useful training as the game on the mainland relies on most people being members of guilds. This is a brilliant form of protection for players where a gratuitous PK will get a whole guild coming down on the guilty. You can, in fact, play a loner but I suspect this is for the brave, the stupid or the high level. I understand from some of my more experienced players that guild battles are something to behold.

The helpfulness of the other players helps to make it pretty newbie friendly. There is even a broadcast in chat, which allows you to ask the whole island. Most of the time your question is answered fairly sharpish. The game interface can take a bit of getting used to, but works well once you do and is fairly intuitive. Ditto camera angles and point of view. There are quite a few options as well, so you can tweak. Initially when you show up in the newbie town in the “world” (server) you choose it can be pretty damn daunting. Fortunately, really low levels go by quickly (especially in a group) once you get accustomed to everything. As its fairly easy to get to level 10 or there is less reluctance should you make the wrong choices at the beginning. There are lots of choices to make along the way, as you expect from an RPG.

It is highly recommended that you read the documentation to this game because it is actually rather good and there is quite a bit of stuff in it you need to know. Several sites have sprung up, in addition to the official ones to help you along the way.

These are the positive aspects to the game, now the current downside. Both the application and the servers are ropy. Lag is a constant problem, especially in large groups. Considering the game is based on group battles this is a problem that needs to be addressed soon. In chatting with fellow players (especially around the statue after people have all died), I have found that the game lags, horribly at times, even on cable. The one advantage to this of course, is that everyone is suffering a similar fate. It is not just the 56k users who are getting the short end of the stick. There are server problems as well, last week the server died at midnight PST. At times, it is impossible to log into the game at all. Please note that I have been playing between about 8pm EST and 3am EST, which I had hoped, would be better for lag. I tried to log in at 9am and had not luck, mid afternoon is fine until 5ish.

Nevertheless, the game has lots of good points and a great deal of promise. Those with the patience for “teething” are recommended to jump in now. The game is not, however, a pay-for beta. Frequently when you log in there are updates of one sort or another. Those of you who are expecting a bit more polish and reliability should probably wait a few months. Overall, the game is a great deal of fun and can be rewarding time spent.

Many thanks to Snood the minotaur, my female centaur benefactor/guide and various others for their help getting this newbie along his way to the mainland. If you wish to find me, my name is Farnsworth of Bacons, and I hang out in Chaos world.

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