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Full Product Review
Shadowbane
published by Ubi Soft

Shadowbane Box

Guide Rating -  

In the world of MMORPGs, one thing you can't help noticing is that player vs. player (PvP) combat is not typically the central focus of the game, even if they offer certain servers and options that make it possible. While there are almost always ways in which two players can have it out if they both consent, the focus of most MMORPGs so far has been player vs. environment (PvE), where groups of players fight cooperatively against computer controlled monsters. Furthermore, for a host of reasons, PvE is clearly the preference of the overwhelming majority of MMORPG players. Shadowbane set out to change all that by shifting the emphasis onto PvP, team on team conflicts, sieges, and territorial domination. Considering that, because of the obvious imbalances created by level differences between characters, PvP in most MMORPGs leaves a lot to be desired, this was a rather risky move. Today, some gamers consider Shadowbane the only decent option for serious PvPers, while others point to it as a perfect example of why PvP in MMORPGs is, quite simply, no fun.

Background
Player built cities and guilds are central to Shadowbane. Unlike many MMORPGs which have pre-defined realms warring with each other, in SB there are as many sides as players choose to form. Any player with sufficient resources may start a guild, found a city, recruit other players, and lead their kingdom to greatness.

You do have to level up quite a bit before your character will be of much use in combat with other players or sieges. To that end, you go around in groups killing mobs of monsters to gain experience, riding the familiar level treadmill for a while. Once you reach the middle levels of the game, you join or form a guild, help build a city, and commence sieging other guild's cities. How can you go wrong with a concept like that?

Shadowbane Screenshots
Shadowbane Screenshots
Interface
Unlike most games of this kind, Shadowbane is designed for play from a third-person perspective. Although not particularly intuitive, the interface is nicely customizable if you spend enough time reading the manual to figure out how things are adjusted. While you can zoom in to a first-person perspective, playing this way is cumbersome to say the least.

Movement is accomplished with right mouse button clicks, and incredibly, keyboard movement controls are not even optional. Another shocking oversight is that there is no way to make your character run with a toggle; to travel a large distance you must click, and click, and click, ad nauseam. About the only practical way to get from one island to another is to bribe a healer into summoning you, making Summon the most useful spell in the game. To make matters worse, pathing is so shoddy that you have to wonder if it even exists, meaning that your character will stop at every tree or other impassable object between where they were and where you clicked, ultimately forcing you to navigate around each one with still more clicks.

Expect to spend considerable time getting used to all this, even if you're a hardened gamer who moves with WASD controls in real life.

Graphics and Sound
Shadowbane is a fully 3D game, and while the graphics get the job done, they are not as spectacular as many of its more recent competitors. The world is seamless, there are day and night cycles, good shadows, and some relatively limited weather effects. It also has some decent foliage, terrain, spell effects, and modeling, even if it's not the bleeding edge of eye candy. Given the modest nature of Shadowbane visually, you'd expect to get good performance even on high settings, but unfortunately, using a system that exceeds the minimum requirements by a large margin, the game is sluggish and framerates are poor at the best of times.

I rarely mention sound in games anyone because it has gotten so good in the last few years people have started to take it for granted. By comparison, the world of Shadowbane seems rather sparse on sound. The forests are eerily quiet and you won't hear any crickets cricketing, birds chirping, or footsteps crunching. The few sounds that are there get repetitive quickly and could use more variety.

Character Creation
Shadowbane, including the Rise of Chaos expansion, currently has 10 races, 4 basic classes, and scores of professions which offer a considerable amount of character customization. You can adjust a few simple things about your character's appearance, such as hair color and style, but the options are quite limited compared to most games of this kind. Of course, your appearance changes as you accumulate equipment anyway. One nifty feature is that some races actually grow larger as they get stronger.

Unfortunately, character creation is both a mystery and a gamble unless you spend a lot of time researching it before you start. You are given points which can be distributed over your character's statistics or spent on skill runes. Nothing wrong with some flexibility, but in Shadowbane it's way too easy to make bad choices early on that will make your character pretty much useless in the end game. Users frequently share stories about how badly they "gimped" their first character.

Although I can appreciate that the standard medieval fantasy races such as elves and dwarves are getting a bit tiresome, the races and classes in Shadowbane range from the mundane to the borderline absurd. During character creation you're told that humans are the most populous race in the land, but when you get in there you discover that, aside from a handful of NPCs, hardly anyone chooses to play a human, while there are Minotaurs, Centaurs, and goofy-looking winged "Aracoix" all over the place.

Next page > Skills, Death, and Sieges > Page 1, 2

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