What happens when you combine a massively multiplayer game with real-time strategy elements, politics, and a focus on player-vs.-player combat? You get Wolfpack Studios' forthcoming online RPG, Shadowbane. Shadowbane has been in development for some time, but this year at E3, it once again did not disappoint. While the developers opted not to show the actual game client in action, fans who've been following the progress of the game were more than happy to see the gameplay videos that were on display.
The videos showed off just how far the game has come since last year. New graphics, new animation, detailed explanations of the economy, and siege combat all made their debut this year. The booth itself was also a big hit. Based on a scene similar to one you might encounter in the actual game, the booth was made up of trees, moss, logs, smoke machines, a war tent, and even a miniaturized but fully functional trebuchet. The trebuchet was a big crowd-pleaser as it flung T-shirts, dolls, and everything that wasn't nailed down far into the air.
Graphically, Shadowbane stands up to the current competition in the market. Though some of the graphics may not look as detailed as in some forthcoming online games such as Anarchy Online, Shadowbane's claim to fame will be that it will have massive battles with many dozens of characters onscreen at a time. Furthermore, the animation in Shadowbane is noticeably impressive. All of it was motion-captured at the Wolfpack offices. One scene used to demonstrate this technology was of a warrior dual-wielding swords in an expertly choreographed demonstration of his skill. The motion-captured animation in Shadowbane is a real improvement over the rigid animation found in other online games.
Another element shown in the video was Shadowbane's economy. Little was known of this before E3. The economy in Shadowbane may be more detailed than most role-playing gamers are used to, though it all starts with players going out and fighting monsters. This in turn brings back gold and items towards their cause, which can be used to employ hirelings, or invested in money sinks such as buildings and upgrades to a city--guilds with high-level crafters will be able to sell very expensive items. A city will always need some players at the base level, killing monsters and bringing in new monies.
Siege combat, perhaps Shadowbane's most unique feature, was also shown. No other online role-playing game has attempted to do something like this to date. Guilds erect war tents outside of cities they wish to attack. Inside these tents, siege engines such as the trebuchet and catapult are made. Players then use these siege engines to actually destroy parts of the city. Don't feel too badly for the defenders of a city, though: They will have their own defenses and use of a magical object known as the tree of life. Guild leaders and their inner circle are able to manipulate this tree to heal parts of the city such as the gate, walls, buildings, and so on, as the siege is happening. This is one of the strategic parts of the game--it'll be important to maximize the potential of the tree's restorative powers.
Probably the most common question heard at the booth was, "How do you intend to stop griefers?" A griefer is someone who plays online games for the purposes of having fun at other players' expense. Such players will go out of their way to abuse the rules of the game and make sure you have a bad time. Shadowbane addresses the potential problem of griefing by its very design as a player-vs.-player-focused game. Problems associated with other online RPGs, including kill stealing, player harassment, text spamming, and more, won't seem as frustrating in Shadowbane, in which you'll readily be able to defend yourself against pesky players. That is, when player killing becomes the focus, it's not really a problem when you're taunted by another player or even killed--you would have done the same thing. Besides, if you're overpowered by an enemy player, you'll be pleased to know that you'll still have the option to raise a group of players to attack your foe for you. Also, Shadowbane will keep low-level players safe from others, and they'll have plenty of opportunity to learn the ropes in a low-level dungeon.
The designers of the game freely admit that Shadowbane will not be for everyone--but Shadowbane's unique focus on large-scale combat within a huge, online fantasy world promises to be a worthwhile gaming experience when Shadowbane is finally released later this year.
The game is currently in its second stage of closed beta, comprising 100 testers, and this will be followed by another beta period that will add more players. Stay tuned to GameSpot's Beta Center for possible future sign-ups.