Anarchy Online is perhaps one of the more infamous MMORPGs of all time. After four years of development and a rocky start, the game became well-known as buggy and problematic for players to enjoy. Nearly three years down the line, however, the situation is far more favorable for the world of Rubi-Ka and Funcom, the Norway-based company responsible for the game. Due to the increasing success of the game in general, and the vast improvements made over the last few years, the time has come for a grand MMORPG tradition: the expansion pack.
Shadowlands will be the first true expansion pack for the world of Anarchy Online. While an add-on to Anarchy Online, The Notum Wars, was released late last year, it was what Funcom termed a “Booster Pack” or, in essence, something halfway between an expansion pack and a normal content patch. While The Notum Wars gave game players a small new subset of content to enjoy, Shadowlands aspires to be far greater in scope than the typical add-on.
Shadowlands promises to offer a wide array of modifications to the existing world of Anarchy Online. In fact, Funcom believes Shadowlands is such a departure from the normal modes of gameplay found in Anarchy Online that they’ve used the term “new player experience” to reference the expansion. From a story perspective, the relationship of Shadowlands to the current game is anything but simple. In basic terms, the Shadowlands are a sort of alternate reality to the world of Rubi-Ka, or the “dark side” of the world as it is known today. As the player begins to find out more about them, however, one is hit with the reality that the nature of The Shadowlands goes much deeper than meets the eye.
Enter the “Redeemed” and “Unredeemed,” two ancient warring factions that very much mirror the nature of the current conflict on Rubi-Ka between Omni-Tek and The Clans. Powerful creatures that were basically immortal, the Redeemed and Unredeemed engaged in a great conflict over the very essence of the universe. The world of Rubi-Ka, as explained in Shadowlands, is the cradle of life for humanity and the source of creation itself. While the Redeemed wished nothing more than to live by their own means and let the universe roll by peacefully, the Unredeemed wanted to gather power and become even stronger than they already were. Eventually, the Unredeemed succeeded in their fight over the Redeemed, and took upon the task of drawing upon the very “source of life” for their own benefit.
Like most stories of good vs. evil, the Unredeemed were eventually thwarted - with their world collapsing in a great, yet unknown, cataclysmic event which expelled them from Rubi-Ka and scattered them across the universe. The disaster was so great that the paradise of Rubi-Ka was shattered into the vast desert that Omni-Tek would come to exploit and the sealed, secret world of these ancients. Funcom has taken the opportunity to tie this mystical and ethereal back-story into the existing timeline. The Unreedemed, through millions of years of plotting, have been manipulating the existing Omni-Tek Corporation which has come to control Rubi-Ka as per the existing Anarchy Online story.
The mystery of the Shadowlands is set to be unveiled by the inhabitants of the mystical floating city of Jobe. Made up mostly of scientists and artisans who had spun off from Omni-Tek many years prior, the purveyors of Jobe discover a portal to the alternate reality of Rubi-Ka, the Shadowlands. This lost world is guarded and maintained by an ancient sentient supercomputer known as “Ergo”. When Jobe’s scientists finally force open the path to the Shadowlands, Ergo had no choice but to let these children of the ancients back into the cradle of life. Ergo will play a central role in the Shadowlands story, but if it is for good or evil remains to be seen. Players will initially be able to enter the Shadowlands through said portal in Jobe, transferring them to the new world that awaits them. Once they enter, they will become engaged in the new war for Rubi-Ka and pulled in to the omnipresent conflict of Redeemed vs. Unredeemed.
The city of Jobe will be the first new location players will experience before entering the metaphysical realm of the Shadowlands. The neutral city will be comprised of three large interconnected islands and house the portal to the dark side of Rubi-Ka. The Shadowlands themselves will be comprised of several enormous new playfields that range from the idyllic to the infernal. Visually, Shadowlands will show a drastic graphic enhancement over the current in-game graphics for Anarchy Online. Funcom has been working on improving the existing graphics engine over the last few years and have managed to increase the number of polygons in both characters and backgrounds significantly. Character and background textures will also see an improvement. Environmental enhancements will also include realistic bodies of water with reflective, rippling surfaces and blinding snowstorms.
Story and technical caveats aside, there will be much for players to experience upon entering the diverse and distinct world on the other side of Rubi-Ka. In addition to all the new goals and plot-based twists on the way, the gameplay in Shadowlands will be getting as much a facelift as the landscape. New items, weapons, and armor will be widely available, along with a multitude of Shadowlands-specific equipment, nanoprograms (Anarchy Online-speak for spells) and abilities.
Luckily for players, the improvements do not end at simply adding new toys to play with. While the existing class system offers an array of 12 professions - Adventurer, Agent, Bureaucrat, Doctor, Enforcer, Engineer, Fixer, Martial Artist, Meta-Physicist, Nano-Technician, Solider, and Trader - the new systems employed in the expansion will offer even more variety. Shadowlands will give players the ability to choose profession “specializations” in addition to their basic class. For instance, a hybrid healing/fighting profession would be able to improve their healing abilities at the expense of fighting prowess, or visa-versa. Additionally, two new Shadowlands-specific professions, the Shade and the Keeper, will be making their debut as well. Both classes will be melee-type fighters who embody the spiritual and metaphysical nature of the Shadowlands. The Shade, whose design resembles a ninja, will not be able to augment himself with the use of implants like the other classic Anarchy Online professions; instead he will increase his ability through coercing certain “spirits” into improving him. The class will also be able to drain their enemies of power and life, a true “Soul Reaver” of the Shadowlands. In contrast, the Keeper is a more benevolent spirit. This profession resembles the paladin of classic Dungeons & Dragons. The Keeper will be able to raise the abilities of his companions through his very presence and will be a fierce close combat fighter specializing in large two-handed blades.
With profession specializations on the horizon for the original classes, Funcom will also be providing far more profession-specific quests and gear to further diversify the population of Rubi-Ka. As a result of profession diversification, the battle system will introduce various mechanisms to highlight and utilize strengths of each player. One example given was that of chaining certain special moves from various professions, with each move strengthening the subsequent move of the next player. Equipment distinct to certain professions, such as various “suits” will also highlight strengths and weaknesses of certain players and professions over others.
Other aspects of the new systems will be totally distinct of the current game. Elements such as “Shadowbreed” and “Shadowknowledge” will take over the existing faction and experience mechanics of the game. The Shadowbreed system is slated to be a dynamic faction determination based on in-game actions and general conduct in relationship to the Redeemed and Unredeemed. Simply put, the Shadowbreed is the metaphysical manifestation of the inner self of the character. Though the journey to find your “Shadowbreed” is not clearly defined, Funcom states it will be a major motivation for players and will be based on their behavior and actions. “Shadowknowledge” however is even more amorphous and could be an amalgam of character specialization, Shadowbreed and a new layer of experience points. What is known is that the level cap will be raised from level 200 to 220 in the Shadowlands. Central to earning those last 20 levels will be through gaining “Shadowknowledge”. The only catch is that “Shadowknowledge” can only be learned in the Shadowlands. Hopefully, more details will become available as the expansion goes into beta.
Also, many of the intrinsic aspects of how the game is currently played will be undergoing drastic changes when players enter the Shadowlands. Cybernetic implanting, a mainstay of character improvement, will be replaced by symbiotic organisms which will augment characters and abilities. As a warped world of ancient and decaying metaphysical technology, many devices and items won’t work or will work in different ways. Players will have to use new and different forms of transportation, and with an emphasis being placed on outdoor content, they will find themselves adventuring more than they ever did in Anarchy Online.
Overall, the re-working of “key” gameplay elements, such as physics, transportation modes and abilities for Shadowlands promises to offer a completely new adventure for the casual MMORPG player and a vastly different experience for long-term Anarchy Online veterans. Given the scope of the changes being made and the amount of time spent on crafting the “other side” of Rubi-Ka, Shadowlands promises to be a substantial improvement to an already diverse and active game world.
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