Gen Con 2002Shadowbane impressions

We have a look at Wolfpack Studios' upcoming online RPG in motion.


Wolfpack Studios was in attendance at this year's Gen Con gaming convention with the latest version of its upcoming online role-playing game, Shadowbane. We were able to get an up-close look at the way the game will let players create new characters, including the powerful "restricted races"--the minotaur, centaur, and birdlike aracoix races that will be available on the upcoming Shadowbane bonus disc. As we saw on the show floor, the game will let players customize their characters' skin color, hairstyle, hair color, beard style, beard color, and starting equipment, including what sort of weapon they'll be carrying.

Shadowbane will also let players adjust their characters' five physical attributes: strength, dexterity, intelligence, constitution, and spirit (the latter directly correlates to how much spell power a character will possess). Strength will determine a character's raw physical power, dexterity will determine how accurate a character is in combat and how easily that character can dodge incoming attacks, and intelligence will determine the amount of extra skill points characters will earn each time they gain levels and exactly how high those characters can progress in each skill. Interestingly, as we saw in the demonstration, players who adjust their characters' starting strength attribute higher or lower will actually make their characters taller or shorter, while characters with high constitution ratings will actually have broader chests and be of sturdier build.

New characters will also be able to choose from a list of talents and traits, which can include additional proficiency with weapons or types of magic. These traits will give player characters new rune stones--items that will let players focus on different skills and enter into different professions later on in their career. New characters start out with a basic rune stone from their race, a rune stone from their starting class of fighter, mage, rogue, or priest, and rune stones from the traits and talents they choose on the character creation screen. Though all new characters begin their careers cloistered away in a safe zone until they reach level 20, they'll be able to make their first career change at level 10, and once they're released into the outside world at level 20, they'll begin to learn character disciplines and will be free to seek out more rune stones that may help them learn new skills and eventually ascend to advanced professions.

Wolfpack Studios has made it clear that it intends to focus Shadowbane's gameplay on socializing and joining player guilds. As such, new players at level 20 will be fair game for player vs. player conflict, and if they insist on remaining unaffiliated with any guilds, they'll be at the mercy of any wandering bands of monsters or high-level players with a mean streak and should wind up with a substantially long death list--a list of names of the monsters and characters who have killed them. The death list includes the name and emblem of any guild members who may have committed the assassination, so when players do join a guild, they'll be able to quickly locate the home castle of their enemy's guild on the game's overland map and will also be able to see the name of that guild's leader. Players who have been assassinated (or have guildmates who were assassinated) will actually be able to chat directly with that rival guild's leader, from whom they can demand restitution. And once players are in a guild with other strong characters, they probably won't have to worry about constantly being murdered by higher-level characters, since the game's character level system makes a character's power increase less at higher levels. In other words, a few level 35 characters with some good tactics should be able to take down a level 50 character.

Once players are safely ensconced in a guild, they can look forward to enjoying the benefits of guild life, including the ability to make use of the tree of life structure in their guild's home castle, which will let them respawn there whenever they die, rather than randomly respawning in ruins throughout the countryside. The powerful tree of life also maintains a guild's castle and will continually repair it if it's damaged in a siege. In fact, Wolfpack suggests that when the game is finally complete and balanced properly, a full-scale siege on a guild castle should require between 12 and 24 continuous hours of real-time assault to make "a noticeable dent" in the castle walls, especially considering that guild leaders can spend money not only to upgrade the defensive strength (and physical size) of their castles, but also to build a barracks and recruit a guard captain, who will help spawn powerful non-player character guards to help defend the castle.

Laying siege to a castle will be an extremely challenging endeavor, because successful capturing a castle can have dire consequences for the defeated. A guild whose main castle has been destroyed and whose tree of life has been neutralized goes errant (in other words, it's no longer a guild), and its members will have to either swear fealty to a friendly guild or seek out new territory for a new castle. According to Wolfpack, approximately 85 percent of the game's world will consist of territory that players can build new settlements on, but depending on each territory's proximity to adventuring zones (where powerful monsters can be gainfully hunted for profit and experience points), some areas may end up being exceptionally valuable real estate and may become the focal points of contention between the most powerful player guilds.

Shadowbane's been a long time in coming, but this fantasy-themed online role-playing game is finally coming together, and it's actually already in beta testing. The game is scheduled to ship later this year, but for now, you can get more information by consulting our previous coverage .


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