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Anarchy Online: Shadowlands Media Tour
Anarchy Online: Shadowlands Commentary
by Brian Cavner, Timothy Duong, and Stephen Harris - 08/23/03
The Journey Shadowlands Commentary Tour Gallery

Anarchy Online: Shadowlands Commentary (Page 1 of 3)
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Story
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Brian Cavner - The Complete Newbie
As an RPG fan who has recently made the switch from console gaming to PC gaming, I have been able to grow comfortable with a lesser emphasis on story with a primary focus on gameplay. MMORPGs seem to stretch the differences between console and PC even further. Despite being comfortable with short, simple stories the PC has to offer, I simply cannot get used to the complete lack of plot in MMORPGs.

It seems like Shadowlands is taking a step in the right direction with the decision to implement quests that pick players rather than simply allowing players to pick quests. But I, myself, still don't think that this fills the story void. I mean, yes, it makes things a little more interesting, but aren't we still just having a series of unrelated events tied together under the umbrella of a "plot" that may or may not exist? Kill-fests and hunting parties are fun and all, but I want the game to tell me WHY I'm doing these things, not just that I exist in a world and do it.

Timothy Duong - The MMORPG Expert
I couldn't agree more. The plot in regular Anarchy Online is little more than pitting two sides against each other and hoping players find it rewarding to kill each other. The current plot on Rubi-Ka is thin and is only strong enough to support a community that is more interested in battle. Talking about the multiple factions and the influence one has over different NPCs as seen in Shadowlands isn't exactly new to the genre. I fail to see how this will take AO to the next level when upcoming MMORPGs like Final Fantasy XI are offering much more in the way of storyline.

Stephen Harris - The Anarchy Online Veteran
I disagree...
What kind of story cannot exist without conflict? This isn't just about good vs. evil. The conflict is much more multi-faceted than that. What about the Neutrals and ERGO; what about the moderates and their choices? Surely there's more to this than black and white. The fact that players will develop an alignment to several unique factions on THREE sides of the conflict means there's more shades of gray than you think Tim. The fact that not only will NPCs make their decision about whether they talk to you or blow you up on how you've behaved to their allies and enemies puts a lot of depth into a self-directed, but scripted storyline.

Of course, the storyline is only as good as the players say it is. Since most MMORPG players forgo storyline, simply because they never had one, I see a lot of players clicking through text to get to the quest objective, instead of enjoying the prose. Still, I think that there will be much more than people may believe, though it will be more of a matter of whether players chose to pay attention to it or not.

Brian
But what you're talking about still comes down to generic responses from random enemies that are encountered. Where are the named NPCs that have a major impact on the grand scheme of the story, I ask? Where is the love interest? Where is the antagonist? Where does the player ever fit in? It's fine to let the player make his or her own choices regarding how he lives, but what impact does a player's decisions have other than making random enemies spew out random lines from a different set of posibilities?

Stephen
Well, for one there are major NPCs. What about the Redeemed and Unredeemed that conflict over each region? What about the caretakers of their Gardens who guide you on the path to their own ideal enlightenment? While I doubt you'll ever see something like a love interest in an automated event, an MMORPG isn't a static adventure. If there was, then what would be the purpose of having other people interact with you?

Shadowlands is designed with linear story progression in mind. While the choices you make will determine the ultimate outcome, there is still a formula to follow and lore to uncover. But, as I said earlier, itís the playerís decision whether or not they chose to pay attention to this aspect at all.

Brian
You say, "ultimate outcome". Does that mean that Shadowlands will have a definitive ending complete with a showdown with a 'main boss'? If so, such an addition will likely provide much comfort to newcomers to the MMORPG world that still want aspects of the more traditional RPGs to which they have grown accustomed to persist.

Certainly, a set climax will help to rid Shadowlands of one of the major problems that has kept me from playing many other MMORPGs: the fact that the game only really "ends" when the player is simply too bored to continue.

Stephen
Well, first of all, one of the facets of a good MMORPG is the addition of new content to keep the game interesting. Shadowlands brings much more to the table than the original Anarchy Online ever did. You can't prescribe the rules of a single player RPG to an MMORPG; it's an entirely different animal. I completely disagree with you on that on many levels. While players do get bored and leave MMORPGs, how does that make it any different from a regular game like Morrowind? I know plenty of people who got tired of that game and quit.

While its nice to have a definitive ending, that kind of negates the point of a persistent adventure. Still, I think that Shadowlands may suprise you in that regard. There IS a finale to the expansion with the showdown in Pandemonium, though I wonder how the game will change once the main objective is complete. Aside from this, the game has many of its own rewards. Take the storyline for example. What exactly caused the downfall of Rubi-Ka in Shadowlands? Who created the supercomputer ERGO? Who or what is responsible for the creatures tearing away at the Brink? There are so many questions whose answers lie at the end of the game. The fact that Funcom decided to give quests "purpose" and "meaning" in terms of the actual storyline is a step in the right direction. Giving it a dynamic nature is also a way to prevent it from being stagnant.

Brian
So perhaps we could come to agreement in the fact that Shadowlands offers more in terms of story and plot than no other similar MMORPGs, but still may leave RPG fans that are used to engrossing novel-quality plots with much to be desired.

Timothy
I agree that Shadowlands is a step in the right direction. Though I do have one concern: will the story implemented in Shadowlands be able to support 220 levels? Because if it doesn't, we'll still be forced to do the level treadmill to learn more about Shadowlands, which defeats the purpose of the story being there to begin with...

Stephen
I second that. Shadowlands IS a step in the right direction, but its ultimately up to the player to decide whether or not they chose to really become involved and invested in the story. The option is there; its up to the player to take the first step.

At level 220 you should firmly be a trusted ally of one side, but that will have to be seen, now won't it? Every game, even offline RPGs, has the level treadmill; itís how well they address the story progression with natural level progression. Remember the level treadmill is a player creation, not a developer creation. If Funcom can pace the quests with appropriate XP and activities, it can be a painless process. With the GeoGameplay system, players will have an environment that has a direct impact on how players and monsters will interact. Hopefully this mechanic will keep natural experience progression in mind, and soften the tedious level treadmill that Anarchy Online suffers from today.

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