PC software preview: Shadowbane

Many years in the making, Shadowbane is Wolfpack Studios' pride and joy. Conceptualised as a player-versus-player game from the start, Shadowbane has been shackled with the reputation as a grief-player's paradise, where casual gamers have to fear being randomly squashed by higher-level characters who are just out to ruin someone's day.

A look past the reputation shows that Shadowbane will be much more than just a chance to kill folks. First off, Shadowbane will feature one of the deepest and most interesting back-stories in gaming, let alone in online gaming. A war versus the humans and the elves ended in a shattered world, and 90 years later, you have to help in rearranging the pieces. There's more to it than that, but you'll want to read it yourself.

Unlike other MMORPGs, in which you pretty much wander in a world that's created for you, Shadowbane will allow large, successful guilds to create and run their own towns. According to Wolfpack, the best and busiest towns in the game will be player-created and player-run. If you're good enough, you'll be able to establish shops in a town by hiring craftsmen and labourers and telling them how much to buy, how much to make, and how much to sell items for. Plus, the ruling guild of the town will reap taxes from the established businesses. It will be in that guild's best interest to keep its citizens happy because if they're not pleased with the leadership, they'll be able to find another city to patronise.

The most interesting thing about Shadowbane will be its PvP system. While anyone can kill anyone else in the game (except for newbies level 20 and lower who are located within a GM-created city), the victim of random violence will be able to return to town and report his own murder to the town guards. That town's guildmaster will then be able to place the entire town on alert against the character's murderer so that when the criminal tries to enter the city to shop, rest, or whatever, the guards will attack him on sight. The guildmaster will also be able to contact the king of the murderer's hometown and ask him to tell the griefer to knock it off, lest the towns slide into war.

The ultimate goal of Shadowbane will be to have humungous city sieges and gigantic guild wars to mirror the epic battles of heroic fantasy. According to the developers, sieges will take anywhere from 24 to 48 hours to complete and weeks or months before that to plan and prepare.

The stakes will be high, though: if the attackers win, the defenders will lose their home city, and their guild will be disbanded; if the defenders win, the attackers will have lost tonnes of resources and gained a powerful new enemy in the victorious defenders.

Please note that the screen shot is an early vision of what the game looks like now. Wolfpack's policy has been to get the nuts and bolts working first, and then add dazzle and graphical flair later. It has a lot of ground to make up to compete with such games as Dark Age of Camelot, Star Wars Galaxies, and Asheron's Call 2, but it already looks like Shadowbane will be a player-versus-player fan's paradise when it ships later this year.

Developer: Wolfpack Studios.

Publisher: Ubi Soft.

URL: http://shadowbane.ubisoft.com.

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