By W.B. Wemyess (Tagspeech)
We've been covering the development of Shards Online lately – that's the MMORPG slated to revolutionize MMORPGs by putting development power back in the hands of players. It's being heralded by some as the proper spiritual successor to the Neverwinter Nights series, an RPG that allowed players to develop their own private gaming servers using the engine, and even put in their own content and features, with enough patience and know-how. Shards Online goes far deeper than the NWN series ever did, and yesterday, I had a chance to play it.
First, I loaded up the pre-alpha build they gave me. It prompted me for a code, which I supplied, and I was in. I had no idea what to expect, other than some kind of demo/playtest for the game engine. So, I named my character “Omika,” which is one of my usual character names in RPGs, and loaded up. At first it appeared I was stuck as a pair of legs with no torso inside of the ground. There was a crate nearby, I opened it, and took out a scroll of fireball to put it in my backpack. I never got around to using it. But now I was a stuck pair of legs with a scroll of fireball, ready for anything.
So I logged out and logged back in again, this time manifesting as a shirtless dude in the middle of the wilderness. If I'd known my character was going to be a guy, I'd have picked another name, but I decided to ride it out, and to explore the adventures of Omika in the wilderness. I couldn't, though, because I was frozen in place by the admins, along with everyone else, until the event started. So I minimized my window for half an hour (I guess I was early?) and did something else.
Once things got started, I was allowed to wander around for five minutes. I was immediately reminded of the old-school experience of Ultima Online, with this top-down, isometric camera angle and the back-to-basics art design. The inventory backpack and the weapons crates I found were rendered as interactive objects I could rifle through, which was kind of fun. I attacked a bear, and almost won – but then I guess the bear was friends with a nearby deer, and it attacked me. A rabbit joined in, too, and this quickly became a scene. Apparently the forest creatures had formed an alliance against man, or I was secretly thrust into the bloody, adult sequel of Bambi, in which he exacts vengeance upon humanity with a death squad of gentle forest herbivores.
Needless to say, the rabbit and the deer kicked my ass. I tried to fight back, but the RNG was not kind, and my attacks were dodged and missed repeatedly. Old-school, indeed. I was not deterred, however. I was supposed to be using that time to 'gear up and skill up' but I had no idea what skills were or how to up them, so I just kept rummaging through crates. I found some armor and a hammer and equipped that. Feeling confident, I wandered to a nearby cave. The event began, and apparently it was supposed to be some kind of PVP deathmatch. I didn't really have much interest in that, but felt obligated to participate – right after wandering into a cave and attempting to kill an ancient bear.
The bear had none of my nonsense, and smacked me straight down into the earth so hard my body dug its own grave from the impact. It was messy. It was savage. And it was permanent, because apparently the PVP event had turned respawning off. So I sat there dead for five minutes, doing other things, until the event simply ended. No second round. I logged out and that was it.
All in all, the demo didn't really do much for me. But it's okay, Shards Online, because I don't really care about your engine, your world, your PVP events, or whatever else you think people want. I care about what players are going to create with you, and I care about the fantastic, immersive, roleplaying experiences I will have in the game. Why Citadel Studios is showcasing the game this early when the main draw of the project is to simply be a platform for player creativity, I have no idea. When I interviewed Mr. Brinkmann, one of the leads on the project, he seemed quite adamant on insisting that the game was going to be a fully-fledged game at release, with its own worlds, stories, and quests, etc. And that's just fine, I'm very happy to hear it. I encourage it! But let's not kid ourselves, Shards Online is about giving power back to players, letting them run their own servers, and create their own worlds. I hope the next demo somehow manages to incorporate that aspect of the project, instead of being some bizarre PVP event.
Tagspeech is the alias of author W.B. Wemyss, who was responsible for the bizarre cyberpunk fever dream called Children of Athena.