Massively multiplayer online role-playing games let you play as an adventurer exploring a persistent online world with many other like-minded players. Although some critics would say that they're all too much alike, for better or for worse, Wolfpack's fantasy-themed game Shadowbane is pretty different. It has a clunky interface, it has dated 3D graphics, and it continues to have problems with latency, which occasionally cause the game to slow to a crawl. However, of all the online RPGs, it's also the most supportive of player-versus-player combat, as it lets players' characters readily fight and kill each other. Perhaps as a result, most of the game's relatively small player base consists of hardcore fans that are in it not for slaying dragons and rescuing princesses but for honorably (and dishonorably) dueling against each others' player characters and claiming bragging rights afterward. That's why the new expansion, Rise of Chaos, seems so puzzling. It introduces a new player race, a few new character classes and skills, some high-level monster-hunting areas, and a few miscellaneous improvements, like new graphical weather effects. These are additions that might be attractive to traditional online RPG players who mostly prefer exploration, fighting computer-controlled monsters, and recovering powerful weapons and armor for their characters. However, for Shadowbane's population of player-versus-player aficionados, the expansion doesn't seem to do much, nor does it do enough to compel new players to get into the game.
According to the game's background story, Shadowbane takes place in a postapocalyptic fantasy world that was changed forever by the deeds of heroes and villains long past. None of the story plays a role in the actual game, which lets you create a character by choosing a race, gender, character class, attributes, and skills--much like any other online RPG. Shadowbane lets you start your career as part of a basic profession, and then you can "graduate" to an advanced profession, much like in Mythic's Dark Age of Camelot. You gain levels by fighting monsters, and in Shadowbane you can do so more quickly than in most other online RPGs (which made advancing your character surprisingly enjoyable in the game's early days, when everyone was running out of town to beat on snakes and spiders while chatting).
However, Shadowbane is a more mature game now, and most of its players are interested in fighting each other--though the game has had numerous issues over its life that have perhaps led to its low player population. Shadowbane continues to have intermittent lag problems, as well as an unintuitive point-and-click interface that routinely spawns multiple windows on top of your character and obscures the game's action. Furthermore, while the game lets player organizations build and lay siege to castles, the sieging system continues to have issues. As a result, it's not uncommon to see very few players online, depending on which server you choose. This can occasionally reduce Shadowbane to a simple exercise in monster-bashing.
Moreover, Rise of Chaos' specific additions don't really seem to do much for the actual game. The new character race, the demonic, bat-winged nephilim, can fly--but so can the birdlike aracoix race that was included in the original game. The two new classes, the doomsayer and the sentinel, seem interesting enough. The former class focuses on magic spells that can weaken enemies, while the latter is a holy warrior who has the ability to dispel magic and can damage demonic enemies. The expansion also offers two new skills, which include darksworn, a school of magic that weakens enemies, and conjurer, a school of magic that lets you summon "pet" monsters to fight at your side.
None of these additions really add anything significant to the game, nor are they anything that online RPG veterans haven't seen elsewhere in other games. The expansion's new, high-level areas offer powerful new enemies to fight, and they also let characters increase in level to 65 (though the game also has a "soft-level cap" that allows characters to go higher than that). These new monsters don't seem to exhibit any kind of exceptional cunning or challenge, but, instead, seem more like excuses to let player characters gain their highest levels rather than anything else. Otherwise, time hasn't been kind to Shadowbane. The game's graphics were dated last year, and its simple textures and blocky character models and architecture don't look any better. With the exception of some music that plays on certain menu screens, Shadowbane continues to be a mostly silent game whose sparse audio effects mainly consist of character and enemy grunts and groans that can be heard during battle or spellcasting.
The core game itself does still offer a few features that made the original Shadowbane so attractive to some. Namely, there are diverse advanced character classes, and there is almost completely cutthroat player-versus-player combat. However, you can get these features without the expansion, which is modestly priced at $20. Aside from the extended level cap and a chance to start a new type of character, though, it doesn't seem to offer Shadowbane veterans much. Essentially, Rise of Chaos' new additions don't seem to have a significant impact on the core game, so if you're a Shadowbane fan, you may want to think twice about ponying up for the expansion. And if you didn't like or weren't interested in Shadowbane to begin with, Rise of Chaos won't do a thing to change your mind.