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Come to the dark side...
As of this writing, it has been almost two years since the release of Oslo-based developer Funcom's flagship Sci-fi MMORPG, Anarchy Online. Set on a planet on the far reaches of the galaxy in the 200th century, the game pits two rival factions, the evil Omni-Tek Corporation and the rebel clans against each other. Anarchy Online: Shadowlands, released last September adds a bevy of items, weapons, areas, mobs, armor, abilities and even two new classes to the lineup, the Shade and the Keeper. However, these changes are not without their flaws either.
Essentially, this expansion takes place in another dimension dubbed the 'Shadowlands' by the inhabitants of Rubi-Ka. The portal to this world has just recently been opened to average citizens (Read: Players), by scientists in Jobe, a floating city straddling this newly opened portal. As usual with AO, the lore surrounding this place is quite good. The contents, on the other hand… Technically, the Shadowlands functions differently from Rubi-Ka: items which use "Advanced Nanotechnology", things such as medkits, stims, and some "nanoprograms" (spells) Do not function in this dimension. This results in players having to shell out more money for another set of healing items, and constantly replace them in their hotbar should they be traveling between the realms frequently.
Shadowlands brings new special attacks, self/group buffs, and various other goodies to the table in the form of perks. Perks are a new type of skill advancement added with the new expansion. You earn one perk point every 10 levels, and one every "shadowlevels", which can only be gained after level 200 in the Shadowlands. Perks allow you to add something like a class-based attack, just a generic ability, such as a few percent experience bonus or self-applied stat boost to better your character. This allows for a total of 35 perk points.
The expansion changes little in the way of combat from the tried-and-true AO model. Core combat still remains similar to the combat present in Everquest, though the expansion modifies several minor aspects of battle. Firstly, there are things known as "Shadowbreeds". Basically, in the Shadowlands there are factions, such as the Redeemed (Good guys.), the Unredeemed (Bad guys) and various other neutrally aligned factions. Depending on your alignment, you can unlock your breed's true potential. Unfortunately, this feature has seen little use since the game's release, as land control has not yet been enabled in the Shadowlands. In addition, Shadowlands brings new special attacks, self/group buffs, and various other goodies to the table in the form of perks. Perks are a new type of skill advancement added with the new expansion. You earn one perk point every 10 levels, and one every "shadowlevels", which can only be gained after level 200 in the Shadowlands. Perks allow you to add something like a class-based attack, just a generic ability, such as a few percent experience bonus or self-applied stat boost to better your character. This allows for a total of 35 perk points. The problem with the perk system is that, as with the IP system, there is an ideal which is needed for groups. If you are a certain class, such as the all-purpose crowd-controlling, Bureaucrat, you will be unwanted in teams if you do not have the "Insurance Reclaim" Experience perk.
In fact, that's another point altogether: this expansion greatly simplifies the experience gain. When you die in AO, you lose all experience gained since your last level/save. Recently, Funcom have halved this penalty by putting the lost experience in a "pool" to be reclaimed. Thus, you gain experience twice as fast until your pool runs out. The aforementioned Bureaucrat perk line allows a person to regain experience at a 50% higher rate, allowing players to purposely die several times in order to get a big "pool" which they can then use to level at an amazing rate. And speaking of experience …You'll be killing a lot of the same mob to get it. In the Shadowlands, Hecklers arguably give the best experience gain, more so than the missions which can be rolled back on Rubi-Ka (Even though those too, have been retooled with bells and whistles). They're too good, in fact. So good that every spot with any of these mobs present is extremely overcamped, by the worst MMORPGs have to offer in terms of players. Spammers, killstealers, griefers and the like all hang around these areas, doing what they do best. The groups that form in these synamic mob camps are extremely elitist, accepting only the "best" characters to form the ideal groups for mindless heckler pulling. This is due to some of the best nanoprograms being prohibited in the Shadowlands, replaced with inferior versions which leave a lot of classes hung out to dry in the endgame (150+). The new classes, the Shade and the Keeper are no exceptions. Taking a step back, the Keeper is little more than an underpowered paladin. They do not camp as well as Enforcers, and yet also do less damage over a period of time than an enforcer would. The Shade is essentially a spiritual assassin, complete with "spirits" to bond with instead of implants, and stat-boosting tattoos. However, people would prefer a higher damage class or healer than a Shade in their team, as is the case with many other classes.
Shadowlands has also prompted a major market fluctuation in the game's established economy. Rare 'loot', or more specifically items which improve a less viable class tend to be sold for absolutely jaw-dropping sums. The best Fixer weapon, for example, the Syndicate Messenger Gun sells for around 900 Million Credits, compared to expensive weapons barely breaking the 100 Million barrier some months before Shadowlands went live. Symbiants, essentially hyper-powered implants, are among the big sellers as well. Unfortunately, these items don't come from anywhere. They have to be hunted for, sometimes in hunts spanning several days of real time to just find the unique mob you need to kill, not to mention the drop rate. Thus, a player who wishes to better themselves has little choice in the matter; either he must camp the item himself, a next to impossible task with the dozens of other players doing the same, or have the money to do so.
There is some light at the end of the tunnel, however. The new areas are extremely innovative, sporting excellent new music, improved textures, and brilliant new effects. The new monsters, not to mention the factional characters have a ghastly, ethereal sort of quality about them. Shadowlands essentially adds weeks more life to the game, even for those who already feel there is nothing left for them to experience. The AO of the past was heavily RP-oriented, and filled with enthusiastic players who cared more about having fun than becoming the best. Sadly, this does not seem to be the case any longer. Anarchy Online has come a long way over its lifespan, and it still has a ways to go to become an alternative worth taking.
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