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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 3 of 3)
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Control
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Brian
While control is generally a bit easier to learn, the GUI of Shadowlands takes as much practice as many of the more complex gameplay elements. Again, newbies to the MMORPG will have to remember that they will have to spend a longer period of time with Shadowlands than is normal with other games before they are proficient enough to navigate the world with precision.

Stephen
While the new GUI does cater to a more inexperienced audience with mouse-over explanations and a more iconic representation, I can see how managing such a large amount of data and player options can be daunting. Controlling the actual avatar itself is simple enough and Shadowlands has a variety of camera options ranging from 1st person perspective to dynamic 3rd person to keep the action in focus.

I can see the sheer amount of character actions is remarkably staggering for the uninitiated, but learning them isn't impossible. Shadowlands does offer text based tutorials for many of the aspects of controlling and customizing a player's avatars, but some of it doesn't feel natural without spending a significant amount of time at the wheel.

Also, as all actions are icon-based, players have the limitless ability to set actions to function buttons as well as use the large variety of already established hotkeys. I've played many PC RPGs that were far more daunting to control with much less depth. I can see Brian's point about the challenging nature of really taking control of the game, but the task isn't impossible and the payoff for the effort is enormous.

Brian
Well, Stephen, the task may not be impossible and the payoff may be enormous, but you could also say the same thing about cutting out your own kidney and selling it to a body farm in Taiwan. True, Shadowlands' controls may not be as difficult as a do-it-yourself nephrectomy, but that does not mean they are easy.

Stephen
Eeeewwwww...

Timothy
What can I say that hasn't already been stated? Well, compared to other MMORPGs on the market, AO's GUI isn't the greatest. Though not as pretty, Dark Ages of Camelot offers much customization when it comes to their GUI. As does SWG which also offers many variation in skins that are pre-loaded into the game. Shadowlands’ GUI, however, is one of the better looking and less cluttered. Odd though, that the entire game is so customizable yet the GUI is mostly static.

 
Community
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Stephen
Here were at the last topic of our discussion and probably the most important part of any MMORPG: community. As the expansion to an established MMORPG, Shadowlands will have a broad spectrum of players with all levels of experience. Added to the fact that Funcom has been very supportive of the existing player community, allowing many fans to enhance the game's playability. Player-made services like Gridstream Productions (online radio station for AO players), really give the player base a feeling of ownership in the game world.

Shadowlands will also fall under the mantle of ARK (Advisors of Rubi-Ka), one of the largest player-volunteer customer service teams in any MMORPG. There are over 300 players involved in the ARK program, actively assisting and resolving player issues as well as working hand-in-hand with the Funcom events team. In fact, to address some of the concern over the daunting nature of the game for new players, ARK is planning to roll out a more comprehensive greeting and tutoring program for the Shadowlands crowd. There's also word that ARK will begin handling many aspects of the in-game role-playing events, in addition to their already impressive roster of duties. From my personal experience, they are THE most well-trained and empowered aides in an online game, period.

I feel that the diverse playerbase along with the ARK will bring a lot to Shadowlands. Time will tell just how well the players will shape that particular world, but if regular AO is any indication, the dead-zones of Rubi-Ka are going to get a lot livelier.

Brian
The community seems to embody what Shadowlands is all about. Just as the game's gameplay and controls will likely be daunting to any new player, the community members that I encountered during my stay in Shadowlands seemed more willing to brush me off and treat me as another newbie that was not worth their time.

While this is certainly not true for everyone I encountered; you will be hard-pressed to find a fellow player willing to get you up to speed with the entire game. Thus, your first weeks will be dedicated to finding players that will share with you tidbits of information that will allow you to play the game at least semi-normally. Though, as with any gaming community filled with the elite who would rather mingle with those sharing their same status, expect to be ignored and laughed at plenty during your first encounters with the game.

I have already stated that Shadowlands is a difficult game to play, and unless you have a real-life buddy who is willing to spend many hours teaching you how to play the game, you will have to resort to the occasional tutorial from a player who is likely not enthusiastic about helping you.

Though I must concede one thing; the game masters of Shadowlands certainly had the foresight to understand that new players would have significant trouble and made a wise move in utilizing ARK greeters in the game. While I have not had a chance to deal with an ARK personally, I can see how this single addition may do a great deal to alleviate newbie difficulties.

Timothy
With every MMORPG, you'll find the elitists who'll brush you off. That goes without question because we are dealing with people after all. But the fact of the matter is AO is so newbie friendly that there is a hill full of high-level players who will nano-buff most new players without asking for anything in return.

Add to that, most high-level players know how difficult it is to start off in AO. You're more likely to find a high-level player going to the basic shop and buying a courteous new player a full suit of armor then you'll find one who'll snub you out. Those who snub you are either so bitter about veterans posing as newbies with alternate characters, or are players who purchased accounts on Ebay who seldom have morals and compassion for legitimate players.

Despite this, I believe the AO community is hands down the best of any MMORPG available. With over 300 people willingly spending time to aid you, there is no way you can say that Funcom is not dedicated to making the world of AO the friendliest.

 
Conclusion
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Stephen
For me, as a long-time Anarchy Online player, I'm looking forward to Shadowlands with bated breath. The expansion will bring not only an aesthetic overhaul, but makes great strides in establishing a strong plot-line while giving players accountability for what they do in-game. The inclusion of static dungeons, team-based combat elements, greater character customization via the Perks and Shadowbreed systems, and an evolution to the already intense land-control system introduced in the Notum Wars is enough to send any AO fan into a frenzy.

While my colleagues make important points about the learning curve and certain graphical inequities, I still feel that Shadowlands brings so much more to the table than any other MMORPG I've encountered. The fact that many aspects of the current Anarchy Online world are player-enhanced only makes the addition of the Shadowlands that much more enthralling.

Timothy
Shadowlands, in my opinion, is one of the greatest expansions to ever be made for an MMORPG. Not only does the expansion add lots of content, they've taken the extra step to improve the graphics as well as taking the music to the next level. Yes, AO is one of the hardest MMORPG to learn, but in the end, it is worth the time and effort because Funcom, unlike most companies, cares about their players and that's priceless.

Brian
Even as a relative newbie to both Anarchy Online and MMORPGs as a whole, I still find myself a bit excited about Shadowlands' release. True, it will be a bumpy ride through confusion and terror, but on a roller coaster as beautiful and temptingly fun as this, I am willing to give it a shot. While I hope that all my praises end up true and all my concerns end up incorrect, I guess the truth will not be found until my Shadowlands review coming early next month to RPGFan. Stay tuned!

Stephen
So now that's done. What do we do now?

Brian
Well, I do need some extra cash for my first few month's subscription to Shadowlands...
Hey! I know! Why don't you both come to my place!
And make sure to bring your kidney... er... uh... kittens!

Timothy
Yay!
Hey... wait...

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