Shadowbane was believed to be the end-all, be-all of Massively Multiplayer role playing games, capitalizing, according to its designers at Wolfpack Studios, on a truly dynamic world. Having played the game for over 40 hours in the first week of June of 2003, I found that the attempts to balance Player vs. Player with a level-based and skills-imbued character progression model inherent in the Player vs. Environment, utterly render the game boring at best. It appears as if the game was designed in large part to the complaints of EverQuest's users, who felt that they had to contribute far too much time to the game's never-ending multifold tiers of timesinks, and who didn't have any lasting impact on the game world, aside from the bruised egos and fierce competition that ensued. Yet, in Shadowbane, attempts to remedy these complaints resulted in a sloppy final product that neither entertains nor inspires. Because Players complete over huge, mostly-empty landscapes for monsters (since only PvE encounters grant experience) and their loot, the resulting guilds and nations that players form dynamically end up being stagnant and locked in a deceptive harmony of idle existence. In fact, Shadowbane's game masters recently admitted that for the few months that the game has already been out, guilds seem no desire to enter into competition with one another, because there are really no rewards for doing so. They plan on "spicing things up" by creating artificial conflicts that pit guilds against one another. But is this why you buy Shadowbane? Players begin the game in a village on the outskirts of one of the three major metropolitan regions of the newbie island. At first glance, the worst features of the game come to light -- the graphics are horrific. The game has been in development for years, and it certainly looks it - the graphics engine is dated, the polygons are unrealistic and blocky, and even at the highest settings (which some reviewers may argue add detail and depth), you only receive higher quality textures. None of the dynamic graphic effects of most graphics cards GeForce 3 and later are taken advantage of. One change from most other MMORPGs is that leveling, in Shadowbane, happens dramatically fast. Within the first three hours, I went to Level 10 at the same camp. But the combat experiences were utterly boring and unengaging. The rewards were menial, and the lack of tangible benefits seemed discouraging. The game world itself lacks realistic depth. Though there is a Day/Night Cycle, there is no in-game way, aside from looking at the sky, to take a guess at what time of day it may be. Furthermore, there don't appear to be any weather patterns. Even if it were just the periodic rain-shower or snow-storm, I think that Shadowbane's realism would have benefitted tremendously. The one exception to this is the icy peaks of Vorringard at the Northeast Isle, where it snows all of the time, day or night. An over-abundance of dynamism does not compensate for a lack of world realism. Music in the game is actually one of the finer points of entertainment in Shadowbane. While you walk endlessly in empty, desolate wastelands or countrysides (since virtually all monsters spawn - and respawn rather quickly, by the way - in clusters or camps that are few and infrequent), you are accompanied by a stirring and epic musical theme. Yet, there are only one or two environmental sound effects that could have really brought out audio realism in Shadowbane, and so, you don't really feel like you're in a forest, but when you get near a torch, you can certainly hear the fire crackle. By contrast, it would have been nice to hear some of the wildlife as you travel - because you have to travel a great deal. The game's progression model - wherein characters select a class at creation, and then a profession at Level 10, and then continue to specialize with skill training and proficiencies - allows for incredible complexity and uniqueness. It is assured that no two characters would ever be the same. Herein was incredible potential that was impeded by the absence of a meaningful Trade Skills system and further hindered by the lack of identifiable abilities or class trademarks that visually distinguish players. The visual limitations of the game are extensive, since every member of the race looks virtually identical, but adding visual markers for classes and professions might have remedied this flaw. The core of the game appears to be its PvP element. Once players have attained their first rank, they are encouraged to leave the newbie isle and seek membership in another guild. Yet all of the guilds, even on the most crowded servers, appear to be only city-building experiments and protected experience farming. Here is where the game reeks with utter boredom -- though you can level quickly (and this is assuredly a benefit, because leveling is repetative and straining) to get to the end-game content, there appears to be no meaningful end-game content. I reached a mid-level activity, and basically saw all that there was to see in the game. You acquire vast quantities of gold, team up with other rich players, and can build your own cities in your guild. Sieges, which are supposed to be fun, happen only when the boredom threshhold forces players to decide to risk all that they have. Because in a Siege, everything - the vast quantities of gold that you have collected since the beginning, the lives and well-beings of all players under your control, and the destinies and futures of the characters in the other guild or city that you decide to siege - are at stake. In a blink of an eye, in one of the laggiest and link-death prone activities that the game can muster, sheer randomness appears to take precedence in determining who can win these drawn out player vs. player battles. Perhaps if they happened more frequently, the Sieges and PvP warfare would alone be enough reason to play Shadowbane, given the many flaws of its visual and game realism system. Yet, they don't. The guilds enjoy resting contently, are not challenged by new goals and higher expectations, and instead just build large cities that, while on some scale visually impressive, do little to advance characters and careers. In the end, Shadowbane suffers mostly from its concept design. With no end-game content (even if this end-game content were highly accessible, unlike EverQuest's competitive, exclusive end-game content), Shadowbane is a race to acquire land and resources, and then gain control over leveling areas - the only "real" commodity. But with so few players playing this game, land is extremely abundant and there is no need to worry about impending competition, warfare or crisis. In the end, you're stuck with nothing to do. And that's boring.
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