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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 2 of 3)
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Graphics
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Stephen
Shadowlands is without a doubt one of the most visually stunning MMORPGs I've ever seen. The sheer variety of each location, from picturesque garden to volcanic slag, is staggering. The little touches such as steam coming from an avatar's breath in the frozen plains of Penumbra were also well received. To think that this an evolution of the same engine that's powering Anarchy Online, a 2-year-old game at that, is amazing. The architecture is enough to take your breath away.

Brian
I have never been one who cared very much about graphics. I guess that may come from growing up on the 8-bit NES graphics that seem archaic today. But despite being able to handle graphics that other RPG fans cannot, I can still appreciate good, rich graphics. Shadowlands certainly has them, for all the reasons that Stephen has mentioned. It is unfortunate that the screenshots cannot do the game justice. Experiencing the lively world is necessary to fully understand its beauty.

Due to my inexperience, I expect to discover a graphical wasteland every time I play in an MMORPG, but Shadowlands had me pleasantly surprised and quite impressed. Even some of the more graphically elite single player RPGs that I have played cannot touch Shadowlands.

Timothy
I'll agree that Shadowlands is truly an eye-candy filled experience with the vastness and diversity Funcom put into its design. But I feel that with the new graphics of the land and its inhabitants, they should have upgraded the player avatars to reflect the progress. Now that the 2-year-old avatars are placed in such an impressive world with impeccable monster models, both aspects of which were hand-crafted; I feel a visual discrepancy that shouldn't exist. Add to this the great pains Funcom has gone to, like adding slight touches like butterflies and bubbles underwater, they should have taken the obvious step of updating the player models.

Stephen
Well, I do agree that with the substantial increase in polygons in the monster models and backgrounds, the player avatars should have received a much-needed overhaul. Though the increase in texture depth means that new armor will greatly enhance the appearance of avatars once they have been procured. I would have liked to see as much attention paid to the player models as the new monsters, but I donít think this will be a huge stumbling block.

From what I understand, Funcom made a conscious decision to concentrate on improving and expanding the overall gameplay experience over the simple asthetics of the player avatars. In any project as large as this, you have to prioritize, and I think that offering this much enhanced external content is far more rewarding for players than a simple facelift. But if we want to split hairs, I guess I should also mention that Shadowlands will have over 70 new avatar faces to help improve diversity. Don't get me wrong Tim, I do agree with you; aesthetically, it does lead to some mismatching to see 2-year-old character models next to jaw dropping high-poly renders. Hopefully, this will be addressed in the upcoming booster, which reportedly concentrates on the more "social" side of Anarchy Online.

Brian
I completely agree with Stephen on all of his points. It is my opinion, however, that the amazing textures and absolutely stunning skies and environments of Shadowlands more than make up for any lack of quality in avatars. I was one of the slobbering fans that created screenshots of Morrowind's sky and created desktops for my PC using them. I am proud to say that screenshots of Shadowlands' breathtaking sky have joined the rotation.

 
Music
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Brian
While I am able to overlook poor or dated graphics, music is one of the items that I expect to adhere to a high level of quality. It is my belief that music, above any of a game's other aspects, is responsible for making the player feel a connection to the world in which he is playing.

In addition to the diverse graphical design of the many worlds featured in Shadowlands, the game also seems to capture the very essence of what such worlds may sound like. In addition to scores that fit the general theme of the area, there are a number of environmental sound effects that bring a great deal of life to an already lively location.

The grunts, groans, and eerie songs of certain enemies that are encountered in Shadowlands succeed in filling them with realism and believability. Coupled with the stellar graphics, about which we have already spoken, Shadowlands is able to breathe life into its digital world with a variety of applicable music scores and deliciously realistic sound effects.

Timothy
I'll echo Brian's statements. Shadowlands breathes life into the game with diverse music and an attention to detail. Each musical piece captures the surroundings like no other MMORPG I've experienced thus far. This has to be the greatest achievement that Shadowlands brings to the table and proves that music can just as easily heighten a game as much as graphics can.

Stephen
I have to say the acoustic ambience that Funcom has achieved with Shadowlands is phenomenal. The environmental sound effects and creature noises are not only crystal clear; they take advantage of PC's with surround sound capabilities. Also, their sound team had managed to create a score that dynamically changes with player conditions. For example, the music during combat will change tempo with the flow of battle. While a lot of games will play a different track to accentuate a won or lost battle, the music in Shadowlands actually transforms into the appropriate anthem as the outcome of the fight draws nigh.

The closest comparison would be that of a composer redirecting his orchestra on the fly and leads to an incredibly rich and dynamic experience. Funcom has added a lot of new elements to the score for this expansion. While I heard many remixes of the old AO tracks, there was an incredible amount of new music, accentuated with wind instruments and even chanting. I have to applaud the many talented musicians who made the music in Shadowlands an integral and enjoyable part of the experience.

 
Gameplay
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Stephen
One aspect of the original Anarchy Online that I really enjoyed was the interface and depth of customization. Now, with Shadowlands, we have a new user-friendly GUI as well as an added layer of character customization with perks and inter-player co-operation with team-based special attacks. I know Anarchy Online isn't the easiest game to learn due to the sheer variety of gameplay aspects, but for a game that's main draw is its long-term appeal, the depth of character options and customizations never seem to lose their sheen.

For the experienced players, they will receive even more diversity with the perks system as well as accountability of actions with the faction system in addition to the introduction of the Shadowbreed powers. For the new players, Funcom seems to be reevaluating the learning curve with a larger, more diverse training area that introduces quest-based play as well as an introduction to interaction with the Redeemed and Unredeemed that will lead into the Faction System. They will also be adding a much improved in-game help system as well as adding a downloadable New Player's Guide.

While Funcom still hasn't finalized the new GUI and is working on making the story-based NPC quests more user-friendly, the fact that they have recognized these as player needs and is addressing them is encouraging. There aren't very many MMORPG companies who look at their playerbase and actively try to make improvements based on feedback on a regular basis.

After the chaotic launch of the original Anarchy Online, Shadowlands is a very important release for Funcom. Not only as a follow-up to the immensely popular MMORPG, but also as a testament that they have learned from their mistakes.

Timothy
Again, Stephen brings up most of the points that would define the gameplay of Shadowlands. The new GUI and the integrated tutorials into the story all help the soft-core gamers, but they add a load of new features that will negate what improvements these make.

The new perks are a very welcome addition to hardcore players but it'll only add to the chaos that is AO. As mentioned, AO would have to be one of the most daunting MMORPGs to enter. Not only this, but with the introduction of notum veins and boss monster spawning on demand, I beleive we'll see more people be pushed into large guilds in order to make full use of the world. I hate to see this kind of alienation of the solo player or those who chose to adventure with just a small group of friends.

With players being able to spawn legendary monsters that will drop incredible loot at will, I fear this will create a massive flood in the market. How Funcom plans to deal with this is still unknown.

Brian
While both Stephen and Tim make good points about the elements of gameplay, and I do agree that all of the new additions seem to increase the general fun factor of play. Though, I find that the majority of new additions, as well as the basic groundwork of Anarchy Online, does not cater very well to a MMORPG newbie.

It took me a great deal of time - more so than is typical with a new RPG - to learn some of the finer points of the AO world. Leveling up and the concept of perks, as Tim has discussed, is rather daunting for someone unfamiliar with these features. Not to mention implanting and nano program-buffs. But it would seem that the new features introduced with Shadowlands only complicate an already confusing system.

While I admit that many of the new additions are quite welcome and greatly anticipated by veterans of the game, newbies like myself are already drowning in confusion without having to deal with the massive influx of new considerations.

Shadowlands is certainly a thinking man's game, but so is chess. And while playing the game, I often feel like I'm trying to struggle through a game of chess without any instruction as to how the pieces move. And now they are trying to move me from a simple chessboard that I already don't understand to one of those Vulcan skyscraper chessboards they play on Star Trek.

Shadowlands is clearly geared toward the hardcore MMORPG gamer and players who are willing to put a great deal of time and thought into how they want to develop their character. If you lack experience in the realm of MMORPGs, or simply do not have the time or patience, Shadowlands may not be the game for you.

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