Anarchy Online: Shadowlands
So, Shadowlands is here, the expansion set for Anarchy Online, a well known MMORPG. If you think an expansion is just some more of the same, you better change your mind from the start because this is not just an update for an existing game. In fact I think it is more like going from Quake 2 to Quake 3. More visual astonishing stuff and more moving in the direction of multiplayer. I hear you think already: “Hey, it was a multiplayer game already, you fool”, but we come to that aspect later on. The multiplayer stuff, not the fool stuff.
Saying that the story of the original game was simple, would not be very accurate, since there is already a complete book available, written by Ragnar Tornquist. He wrote the story behind ‘The Longest Journey’ also. But to play the game, you did not have to know all that, it was possible to simplify the story to a war between OmniTech and the Clans. There are some poor Neutrals in between, not very much; the Omni and Clan sides do get more advantages. The expansion set brings a complete new story to the game. First thing you have to know is that the Shadowlands are not even located at the same planet. So you can’t simply walk to this area. (Note for the people that are playing the original already, look at the map, the areas that are not filled in yet do promise some later expansions, not?) To get to the Shadowlands, you have to use a portal, made by the scientists of Jobe, the new large city. Jobe itself is floating in the air above the old planet.
I won’t get in much detail about the rest of the story, that would take away part of the fun, but there are 2 sides over there: the Redeemed and the Unredeemed, in a battle for eternal life. Where one side is light and almost ethereal, the other camp is dark and terrifying. But that is only the main stream of the story; there are a lot of factions that you can help. Or fight, you choose. In this game, everything you do has an influence that will show who you really are. Are you the good brave warrior, helping the poor and fighting Evil, or are you stealing from the poor and fighting the Good? You decide.
This good-bad idea is reflected from the very beginning, the making of your character. You could make 12 different professions, nano technician, engineer, martial artist, adventurer, things like that. Now there are 2 new professions available, the Keeper and the Shade. The Keeper is something like a Paladin, fighting with huge swords and helping the team mates with protective auras. The Shade is the opposite, master thief with daggers and backstabbing his or her enemies. Of course you are absolutely free to play an evil Keeper, nobody says what you have to do in an RPG. And although the previous sentences give the idea that Anarchy goes more in the direction of a Dungeon and Dragon medieval affair, this is not the case. It stays futuristic, only the two new professions don’t fight very well with a shotgun or a sniper rifle. A rather strange thing about the Shade is that this profession can wear tattoos as protection; he/she does not require normal armour.
The first thing you can do after creating your character and heading to Jobe, is solve a quest. Six quests actually, and that is a huge change in AO. There used to be only one quest, Dodga-Alvin, which you could start to do at level 40. A year later some minor quests where implemented, but that’s it. Now you will need to solve a lot of quests to get further in the exploration of Shadowlands. For me this is a huge step forward. Oh, you still have to find things and kill monsters, this is a shooter after all, but in this way you are forced to explore the land.
And that brings us to the major thing that will strike new and old players. The land is beautiful. While I was on a tour with a GM, sometimes I just asked her to wait for me, so that I had a little more time to look around. Rubi-Ka was no ugly planet, a little barren sometimes, but here the artists managed to create some really fantastic views. The Shadowlands are divided in six huge areas and they all have their own feel and look. Where you start, in Nascense (land of Birth), everything looks green and lovely, spring is in the air, but that will change even in Nascense, when you enter the swamps. Later on you will find other areas, I’ll take you from this first until the last, Pandemonium, and well, hmm, with that name, you know what to expect… Each area is huge; the six together have roughly the same size as the original AO. After 2 years of playing I haven’t seen all of the old, so with Shadowlands I’ll know what to do for the next 2 years. (I can’t play all day long… shame…) You don’t have to stay outside, there are indoor areas also. Dungeons actually…
Together with the fresh landscapes come the new monsters, 40 pieces, but combinations with previous monsters give a total of 1000 new encounters. The database with all the items now contains 160.000 items. And to continue with figures: 70 new character heads to choose from also, it becomes easier to stand out of the crowd. Not that I ever saw two completely identical players, but the chance to see that is getting smaller.
After level 50, Elysium can be entered. It is a paradise lost of a sort. The GM I was taking the tour with, hadn’t seen that entire zone after 50 hours, so if you have to fight your way through here, it will take some time. In the Redeemed and Unredeemed temples, players can fight the opposite faction mobs, thus gaining a lot of experience (levels). The previous top, level 200, is now set to 220. Those last 20 levels can only be gotten in the Shadowlands, but since most level 200 players have probably seen all of Rubi-Ka already, that is no big deal.
A very nice solution to the camping problem is also available now. In every game of this kind, with special bosses and special loot, players are camping to get this, preventing others to even see the special boss. Now you can summon a boss, so that every player or every team can fight bosses at will. You have to find blueprints before you can do that, but those things are not very rare. Bosses are hard to fight, even at your level, and this has not changed in Shadowlands. I would even say that mobs are harder over there.
After the initial start of Shadowlands, around the 9th of September, people complained that the mobs where almost impossible to kill, even easy victims could turn out to be a lot stronger then players thought. Now, 4 weeks later, this is not a big issue anymore, since Funcom slowly diminished the powers of the mobs, and they will keep on doing that until an almost ideal balance is reached. Not only the mobs were made stronger, the players have gotten a nice new feature also.
Perks give the possibility to improve your character in the direction you want. Every profession has his own possibilities, for instance an agent can choose to specialise in sneaking, or he can choose to become a better sharpshooter. General perks are also available, so that the overall capabilities of your character improve in certain ways. In team fights, some of these perks work together, making it possible to use some special attacks. And you can change into your Shadowbreed, reflecting what you are as a player, good or bad, probably something in between, but nevertheless the Shadowbreed is a surprise that you won’t be able to use the first levels…
The third area is Scheol. Here the previous paradise starts to fall apart, resulting in strange architectures and ruins of ancient civilisations. In Adonis you won’t even survive without special equipment. Most of this area is underwater. In the following area, Penumbra, snow and ice reign. Players will start to learn more about the ancient civilisations that once ruled over Rubi-Ka. How is your knowledge of hieroglyphs? You’ll need to figure out some of the inscriptions on the buildings here. PVP’ers will like this place, because some of the quests here will give every other player the chance to fight you whether you like that or not.
What else than heat do you expect in Inferno? Poison of course, both of which you’ll see there. And lava. Did I tell you already that you can’t fly in Shadowlands? No? Ok, then I say it now: you can’t. Everything has to be done on foot. No more yalms. No grid armour either for those who like to wear blue. Don’t be afraid, there are other new armours that make up for the loss of grid armour. Those armours can be used by every class, better for the balance IMHO.
One thing that I did not mention so far is the existence of the Brink. This is an area at the outskirts of every piece of land. It is populated with really mean creatures; most are attacking every player at sight. They are a social bunch of mobs, so you attack one, and every mob of that kind gets on top of you. This is where you find out that soloing is hard, I would say almost impossible. When I said in the beginning that Shadowlands pushed people more in the multiplayer experience, I was thinking of this. You just can’t survive in the Brink on your own. In the original AO, teams where nice to get fast experience, but the problem there is that you have to do missions to fight. Those missions take two to three hours, way to long for many occasional players. What is the chance to get to the end with 6 people living in different time zones? Besides, what is the chance that one out of the six does not get interrupted by real life things in 3 hours??? So actually I like this grouping better, a team can form to go fighting in the Brink, but when some of the members have to leave, no problem. There is no other award then the experience points, so when you have to stop, nothing is lost. In AO I always start to cry when the team falls apart before the mission is done. Because that means no boss loot, no token… The only thing there is that you can be sure that everyone gets home alive. That is not so sure when you are in the middle of Brink creatures…
The final Pandemonium, what can I say about it without revealing too much? Just be prepared for a hard time there. When you finally arrive in that area, you’ll have won so many battles that this part of Shadowlands should be a piece of cake. Rock hard concrete cake that is. But you can’t expect less, can you? And I can’t show you a screenshot of that area. I am not supposed to reveal something no one saw yet. Yes you read it correct, more then one month after the release of Shadowlands, no player discovered this area yet… If that happens, I’ll update the screenshots.
So far I haven’t talked about some other new things that I really have to tell you, even though I’m running out of space. To save your progress, there are now Gardens instead of the old scanners. Each garden belongs to either the Redeemed or the Unredeemed, and they offer a wide range of shops. The music of Shadowlands is something you must hear of course, I can’t describe it. If the music of AO was sometimes gothic, this has a little more beat in it. I like this music even better than the music of the original. And I never put the music off, even not after 2 years of hearing the same over and over again. So this is better, let’s say that if the original got a 9/10, this goes to 9,5/10. I doubt if I will ever give 10/10, so… pretty perfect.
For early subscribers there was a nice super deluxe apartment also. The thing has a Jacuzzi, a huge living room, and a balcony, looking over the floating city of Jobe. Other players can be invited inside, so you better buy furniture, since the apartment is empty when you don’t put some things in it. I’m really anxious to see what people will make of this…There is enough stuff that players can find/buy to make some interesting combinations!
Did I say only positive words until now? Hmmm, think so. OK, a word of criticism. There are bugs in Shadowlands. There are bugs in every game. Windows is not free from bugs and you can get the latest virus even with the latest version of Norton, McAfee or whatever program. What I mean is that it is impossible to write a bug-free program. The advantage of an online game is that every bug is sorted out after a while. You can hate this, but it is a fact. I would dare to say that there are no major bugs in this game anymore now. That does not mean it is perfect, but every update removes bugs. And gets in some other bugs sometimes, but a week later there is an update. And so on…
Last words. Final verdict. First of all, what you have been reading is not only my personal opinion. I think games like this one deserve it to be judged by more than one person. This game is so huge that it takes months to get a descent overview. So I asked members of a few guilds for their opinion, and I thank Vox Populi and Komodo for their support. Almost all of the players that answered my questions agreed on one thing: this game is a beauty. Although it seems to be hard in the beginning, after a month I saw a level 120 shade. So it is not impossible to level quick. I don’t know how he did this, gaining 120 levels in a month is something I can not explain if you play only a few hours a week. But if you have the time it can be done. Just don’t stare at the horizon while you are under attack and you’ll make it. Existing players should not doubt whether or not to buy Shadowlands. Newcomers have a few options in MMORPG’s, but this one stands head and shoulders above the rest. Don’t hesitate, in the Shadowlands pack is the original AO and the booster pack Notum Wars included. For a few euros per month you’ll amuse yourselves for hours and it is cheaper than going to the cinema once a month. Besides, cinema is for lonely people, an online game is for the social community.