E3: The Shadowlands invade LA
05.16.03 - 2:10 PM

Funcom’s booth at this year’s convention was in a quiet corner of West Hall, tucked away amid a cubical labyrinth far away from the carnival atmosphere of the show. RPGFan had the pleasure of being shown the latest build of Funcom’s upcoming expansion pack to their acclaimed MMORPG, Anarchy Online.

While we’ve recently published an extensive preview of the expansion pack, Funcom had a few new surprises in store. Firstly, a final release date has been set for July 22, 2003. While Funcom had some significant retailer problems with their last release, Anarchy Online: Notum Wars, Funcom assures us they’ve taken measures to ensure that Shadowlands will be readily available at retailers at launch.

Product manager, Jørgen Tharaldsen, stated that their closed beta has recently begun and to expect a limited open beta in late June with the final public beta testing to begin the first week of July.

When released, Anarchy Online: Shadowlands will feature a gauntlet of 20 new playfields that will span 7 themes from the sublime to the infernal. The expansion will also be home to approximately 1,500 new monsters and NPCs, countless new items, weapons and equipment. Mr. Tharaldsen also noted that Shadowlands will feature an entirely new soundtrack as well as a dramatically upgraded graphics engine. While final system requirements have yet to be made, players may find that they may not need to break the bank on a new video card. World designer Sverre Kvernmo stated that while the visuals have been improved significantly, they’ve managed to tweak the existing engine to display over four times the polygon count of the original as well as use higher resolution texture mapping. When asked if these visual improvements will carry over onto Rubi-Ka, Mr. Kvernmo and Mr. Tharaldsen stated that a revision of the regular Anarchy Online world would be addressed in their next slated booster pack, the tenatively titled Anarchy Online: Towns of Rubi-Ka.

During the presentation, we were able to fly through the city streets of Jobe, the floating city in the sky. Comprised of three islands, this neutrally aligned city is the starting point for players in the Shadowlands, though Mr. Tharaldsen stated that in time, players will be able to move back and forth between the two worlds without using the portal in Jobe. He also stated that astute players may find alternate ways into the Shadowlands via secret portals in one of Anarchy Online’s numerous static dungeons. We were also told that there were very specific areas designed for particular ranges of levels to offer something different for everyone, regardless of experience.

More details were given about the new Shade and Keeper class present in Shadowlands. Both character classes will not be given the option of choosing to join Omni-Tek or the Clans; instead they will begin as Neutral. Since there is no true neutrality in the Shadowlands, these classes will bend towards a specific side of the struggle as they progress through their adventures. The Shade will not be able to use armor in the traditional sense; instead they will gain defensive powers through a series of magical tattoos they can find. The Keeper, however, appears to have a more traditional assortment of equipment.

Our next discussion was about “Shadowknowledge”, the amorphous term used to describe the experience point tier used in Shadowlands for players who have hit the level cap in Anarchy Online. Mr. Tharaldsen clarified that the level cap has been raised from 200 to 220; but that these last 20 levels are tied to the player’s behavior in the Shadowlands. Essentially, these last levels are gained through the established experience point system, but with a twist. In Shadowlands, player actions will swing their alignment to that of the Redeemed or Unredeemed. The more “complete” a players alignment to a particular side, the more experience points they receive from destroying an entity of another alignment. Those who chose to walk the thin line of neutrality will find themselves unable to harness enough Shadowknowledge to break the old level cap.

While raising the level cap has received a resounding round of applause from high level players, we asked Jørgen about other incentives for Shadowlands play. Mr. Tharaldsen was emphatic in stating that the player’s main goal in breaking the level cap was in the quest for their “Shadowbreed.” This ability allows the player’s avatar to manifest themselves as a true metaphysical being wielding god-like powers. Obviously, we weren’t given any specific details on how players can complete this particular quest for godhood, but were told that the path would become clear as players sought out their Shadowknowledge. One delightful detail Mr. Tharaldsen mentioned was that a player who has obtained their Shadowbreed can manifest this form anywhere on Rubi-Ka, not just in the Shadowlands. Frightening visions of true demi-gods running amok amid the local populace come to mind. The loot-minded will also be happy to know that tradable items obtained in the Shadowlands can be given to players who have not yet purchased the expansion and all equipment would be visible to players regardless of their location.

Last, but certainly not least, is that Shadowlands will feature a per diem spawning system. Those who play MMORPGs are familiar with the term “camping”, the act of waiting hours on end for a particularly rare monstrosity to spawn so they can be killed for their rare and powerful loot. The system that Funcom is devising is tied into the plot of Shadowlands. In the Anarchy Online mythos, notum – the rare mineral found only on Rubi-Ka that is vital to the production of nanotechnology, is truly the element of life itself. In the Shadowlands, notum flows in its pure liquid form, erupting from the earth in notum veins. Throughout the Shadowlands, players can adventure for “blueprints of life” for special monsters. These quests are story driven and can be found through NPC interaction. Once a blueprint has been completed, a party or guild can place the object into a notum vein to give birth to the creature and then consequently destroy them. While the number of notum veins in the Shadowlands is unknown at this time, Funcom plans to have at least 2 per playfield.

From what we’ve seen so far, Anarchy Online: Shadowlands is shaping up to be a competitive expansion to an already compelling game world. I was summarily impressed by what I’ve seen so far of Shadowlands and I believe fans of the game and even the MMORPG-curious will be surprised at what this expansion pack has to offer. The incredible amount of improvements and enhancements offered in this addition is a hallmark of Funcom’s commitment to quality. Look for Anarchy Online: Shadowlands at your local software retailer on July 22nd 2003.

Stephen Harris

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