We visited Funcom's E3 booth and took an early look at Anarchy Online: Shadowlands, the upcoming expansion for Funcom's futuristic online role-playing game. Since the release of the original Anarchy Online, Funcom has dedicated its resources to improve the game, which launched with several technical problems. Since then, the developer has worked continuously on fixing these and other problems, and the Shadowlands expansion will address another commonly-cited issue with the game, namely how difficult it can be for a new player to get started. Shadowlands will have a new character creation system, context-sensitive tooltips, a full tutorial, and a new way to conduct dialogue with characters.
The expansion itself will, like any online role-playing game expansion pack, add new areas to the existing game to explore. However, Shadowlands' new areas won't consist of regular zones-instead, the expansion will add the Shadowlands, a bizarre and sinister alternate-reality version of the world of Rubi-Ka. The landscape of the Shadowlands will be dark and twisted, and be populated with an all-new set of monsters. In addition, player characters may be able to morph into a "shadow breed"-a new kind of character with new abilities whose appearance will reflect its affiliation. For instance, members of the rebel clans will have an angelic appearance and may have halos, while members of the evil Omni-Tek corporation may have a darker, shadowy look. Neutral players will likely look grey and formless-Funcom wants neutrals to take sides in the upcoming conflict. All players will be able to access the Shadowlands through a new city called Jobe-a neutral merchant city reminiscent of Hong Kong in the early 1990's. Jobe will be smaller than most existing cities of Anarchy Online, since the developers feel that several of the game's existing cities are simply too big.
Even though the expansion will try to make Anarchy Online more accessible for new players, much of Shadowlands will be intended for high-level characters. For instance, rather than increase the character level cap, the expansion will let experienced players customize their high-level characters by spending character points in highly specialized disciplines. Players will also be able to acquire special "profession suits," specialized bodysuits that will be different for each character class and will enhance that character's abilities. High-level players will also meet up with the Unicorn Company, an elite army of heavily-armed soldiers hired by Omni-Tek to deal with Rubi-Ka's rebel threat.
Anarchy Online: Shadowlands is scheduled for release this Christmas.