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Shadowbane – State of the Crush report

I just wrote and posted this on Grimwell Online just this past Friday, 12/26/03. No one seems to be writing a lot about Shadowbane, so I felt I should put an update out there.


Shadowbane went on a diet last month, and so far, the old gal is looking great! Too bad appearances aren’t everything. Here’s a brief recap (and my occasionally interjected opinion, of course) of all the changes made in the past few months. Note – links are to the news posts on the Chronicle of Strife only, since Ubi has decided in its wisdom to not allow anyone without a game subscription to read the majority of the SB forums. That means no reading the ensuing forum threads for some of the news posts.

So on to the report…

New Map #1 (August)

At the end of August, it was announced that a new world map was being worked on. Despite the complaints of “why are you working on a new map when the code still sucks donkey balls?” it was a welcome announcement, especially with the implication of existing servers being rolled into the new world map. Huzzah! A new land to explore instead of the same map that everyone has been on since beta!

There was actually quite a bit of excitement over this announcement. People were looking forward to the addition, and the servers discussed amongst themselves which would be lucky enough to be replaced by the new map. Thoughts of being able to redo a city plan, or pick a new location to build danced in guilds collective heads. Now all players had to do was wait for the official announcement.

Server Merge #1 : Scorn and Treachery get bitten.

After almost two months of uncertainty, the servers affected by the new map were announced. Scorn and Treachery were being taken down, with the initial plan to force those players to merge into existing servers with nothing more than what each character had equipped. The uproar this caused went on for days, and finally resulted in the decision to add two new servers – Corruption and Vengeance – instead of just one. While this defeated the stated purpose of reducing the overall number of servers, it was a sound business decision in the long run, since it helped to keep a large amount of account cancellations from resulting.

Players from Scorn and Treachery were happy(ier), but other servers complained that S/T were being given special consideration and it would lead to more problems down the line since the Dalgoth map was now duplicated. Corruption was opened to newly created characters only, while Vengeance became the refuge for Scorn and Treachery if they so chose. Many guilds migrated to Vengeance, while many more from all the servers started anew on Corruption. Some guilds even chose to migrate to one of the remaining existing servers, despite the need to migrate again in the future for other server merges.

End of the World events on Scorn and Treachery were scheduled for 10/27 (and they were an odd success, if you like mad experience mobs in a bunch of places with only limited FC exposure), and the new servers were to go live on November 1st.

Execution score = 6. It would have been higher (they launched early = +++++!) except for one small detail – the Corruption rule set. Vengeance was the same old, same old with a new coat of paint slapped on it. The émigrés were happy and the server population hovered at 500+ on a consistent basis, a vast improvement over the parent servers at the end.

But Corruption was thrown a curve ball at the 11th hour. Not only were the gold and experience rules changed without advance warning, but the guild lore bonuses were finally implemented properly. Since guild type had previously had no effect on XP or bonuses, few guilds stuck with anything but a military legion/ARAC setup. Now, that was all thrown into confusion. Some of the changes made sense, changes to city building and maintenance for example, while others came out of the blue. All-in-all, players who’d deleted existing high-level characters in order to make room for Corruption were stuck.

So many people were looking for the Corruption server to provide a new start and inject some much needed vitality into the game for them – new map, new opponents, new guilds and alliances, just… newness. The server population blew past 2K players from the start and the revamped newbie island was complete and utter chaos. It was never meant to handle that many new players at once, and competition over spawns was fierce, lag was horrendous and players bitched (when don’t they, though?) None of the actual or perceived problems prevented the appearance of R5+ characters within the first 2 weeks though.

Server Merge #2 : Dread, Fear, Deception and Carnage.

Early November saw the announcement of the next round of server merges, along with the next two servers to be brought online. This time, it was Dread, Fear, Deception and Carnage under the gun, and there was yet another twist to the game.

These four servers were given the option to migrate to Vengeance (with nothing but what they have equipped) or to the last 3 remaining “original” servers – Mourning, Chaos or War – and face migration again down the road. But, if they chose to go to one of the old servers, they could not only take what they had equipped, but everything in their character inventories as well – the migration script had been improved upon apparently. Decisions, decisions. Move to an old, existing server with a population that is slowly shrinking and politics that are stale, but with as much as they can carry (gold! extra equipment! Deeds!), or migrate to Vengeance with nothing but items equipped, and a server that is less than a month old, the politics are dynamic and in constant flux and they won’t be starting over at an extreme disadvantage.

Execution score = 9. The new émigrés came to Vengeance in droves, pushing that server’s population to the 1K+ mark easily. And wonder upon wonder, the lag still wasn’t out of hand. Oh, it’s still around, and makes frequent visits, but game stopping and crippling it’s not (yet). Guilds from the four affected servers who had previously started over on Corruption migrated to Vengeance instead and left without looking back.

Corruption had already fallen victim to the “huge alliance #1 fights huge alliance #2 with alliances #3, 4 and 5 looking on” curse. Vengeance has been actively working to prevent that sort of thing, and keeping the fights at guild level only, or with smaller alliances only. Lately though, with 4 of the largest guilds working together against everyone else, how long can the halcyon days of actual GvG warfare continue? How long before others start to band together (as one group in the northern area of the map have) and form the large zerg alliances to fight, and the server goes the way of all the others?

New Map #2 – Cataclysm

At the same time server merge #2 took place, another new world map was introduced – Cataclysm. This brought the server total back up to 6 – Corruption, Vengeance, Cataclysm, Mourning, War and Chaos. Oddly enough though, Cataclysm uses the Dalgoth map (introduced with Corruption/Vengeance) instead of a completely new map. So now the unique maps stand at 3 servers with the original Aerynth map and 3 with the new Dalgoth map.

Similar to the test server, Cataclysm’s ruleset provides faster experience gains and more gold drops than the regular ruleset servers. This allows for faster character leveling and quicker city building, since every three months, there will be a complete server wipe. According to the developers, this was regarded as one of the most well-liked aspects of gameplay from back in beta, so they decided to introduce it to retail. It’s a twist on rerolling to try something new and fun, or to interject life into a game that may becoming stale and boring for some. How many players are willing to put up with a constant cycle of starting over is unknown yet.

In order to prevent feelings of futility, the ruleset calls for rewards to be given for the most successful or victorious guilds from the previous cycle, based on a points system. The winning guild will have a city named after them, with NPCs possibly named after prominent members and / or the leader and ICs. It’s a form of glory that will live for the next 3 month cycle, then the brass ring is up for grabs again. Since the server has only been live for a month now (live date as 12/4), there are still 2 months remaining before the first wipe happens. What happens in early March has yet to be seen.

Expansion Pack #1 – The Rise of Chaos

Shortly after the second round of server merges and the opening of the Cataclysm server, Shadowbane’s first expansion pack was released. Rise of Chaos opened a new island off the mainlands, one only accessible to those with the xpack (logical that), with higher level monsters, and the introduction of 2 new classes and an entirely new race (Nephilim – flying demonites). The xpack also granted a sixth character slot, just in case players didn’t want to delete a character in order to try out one of the new race/classes. Along with all of those goodies, the soft cap was raised to level 75, and characters have already gotten close from the fast and furious XP to be had on the new island.

I can’t really give a good review of RoC, since I have yet to purchase it for my 2.5 accounts (I share one with a guildie). Why is that? Partly because none of the stores in my area have it available for sale, and ordering online (from what I’ve heard) hasn’t been much more successful for getting it delivered. The other main reason is that the xpack costs $20, and all that you get in that pretty looking box with the fancy art is the freaking CD key. All the code has been downloaded as part of a normal (as normal as SB gets anyways) patch, and already exists on each account. There is no need whatsoever to buy some damn box just to get a key. Offer the fucking activation key online, you morons, and make it easier on your playerbase that has stuck with you through thick and thin. That one little thing is what’s kept me from looking harder to find the box for purchase, and I’m not exactly alone, going by what some of my guildmates have said.

Execution score = 4 simply because of the whole CD-Key issue. Well, that and the fact that the RoC patch that was added to everyone’s accounts wrecked havoc for several days, causing servers to be unstable and resurrecting the horrible twin ghosts of lag and sb.exe for a while.

New Map #3 – Vorringia

The latest new world map to be announced is for Vorringia, scheduled to go live in January 2004. Although it’s not been confirmed (or perhaps I just can’t find the post stating so), the Chaos and War servers will presumably be the next pair to be replaced. The Mourning server would then be the last of the original servers left, and even though it was at one time the “Unofficial RP server,” it too should probably be replaced as well. Either in the same go around when Vorringia is brought up, or shortly thereafter with another new world map server. Or perhaps just wipe that server and leave it with the Aerynth map instead.

The Vorringia map will feature the icelands areas more prominently, judging by the “to do” list that has been put out so far. New disciplines, a new race (sort of – female half-giants finally) and new higher level spawns on the mainlands (meaning you don’t need the xpack to hunt above R6). The plans for this server have plenty of people excited, since some of the planned changes are ones that have been requested and needed for some time (friends lists on the ToL instead of KoS lists). Hopefully the new year with the new changes help make things new (again) for the players themselves.

Wish List – Here be opinions

Overall, it seems like SB is finally going in the right direction. No, things are not perfect by a long shot, but looking back over the past 10 months, and there are definite improvements being added. Some changes seem to take forever to be put in, while others come from out the blue, but nonetheless, improvement is being made. Lag is a persistent and recurring problem, and this is still unacceptable at the levels that it exists. For a game built on large scale siege and guild-vs-guild warfare, having half the players lock up and lag out when more than 50 characters are onscreen is completely wrong. It’s gotten better, and the rash of sb.exe errors that would abound in the above situation have mostly gone away, but there is still room for vast improvement.

Interserver travel (HA!) hasn’t been mentioned in ages, to the point where it’s probably a joke to think it will ever be implemented. The only reason I thought of this was when I was writing the update above on Vorringia. With a server focusing on the icelands, will the next new map be geared towards the desert islands? Making each server a different aspect of the racial homelands would perhaps mean that interserver travel hasn’t been pushed by the wayside.

There are three servers now with the Dalgoth map – Corruption, Vengeance and Cataclysm. By it’s very nature, Cataclysm can be switched to a new world map every cycle, so what map it currently has shouldn’t matter as much. I hope that is the plan (or if not, why isn’t it?), because starting over on the same map, with the same spawns in the same locations with the same people just leads to more of the same. With Vorringia (presumably) being yet another different map, that leaves whichever of the original servers with the Aerynth map, and Corruption and Vengeance with the Dalgoth map.

When the Dalgoth map was brought out, everyone knew that one of the servers would be replaced again in the future to give it a unique map of its own. The whiners who complained that Scorn and Treachery (and now the other 4 servers that rolled into Vengeance) were given special consideration maintained that Vengeance would of course be the server changed. After spending the past two months playing on Vengeance, and seeing how many guilds moved over (quite a few from Corruption) in the last month, I would beg to differ.

Granted, Vengeance doesn’t have the special ruleset that Corruption does, but it has, on the whole, been a much more successful server. People move to Vengeance because of the dynamics and politics. Corruption has (as I mentioned before) already fallen victim to the “big zerg alliance” syndrome that hit the original servers and caused extreme population declines after a few short months. This time, it took less than a month for this to happen.

Other random thoughts

Make runegates useful. Supposedly the placement on the Dalgoth map was more “efficient” or some such nonsense, yet they are used even less often now than previously (not to mention the changes in the traveler rune itself). Something I read in the Vorringia description made me think that they are doing something I suggested once – make each gate (earth, fire, water, air) part of a chain of gates instead. So if you trained up fire, you would be able to travel a loop of 2-3 gates only to a certain area, and water to a different area. Each chain would have a “main” gate that would allow you to connect to the other main gates if you had those trained as well – move from water to fire to earth, etc. That would make the gates useful again.

Disciplines – there are some discs that are never taken (enchanter, summoner) simply because they serve no real purpose in a PvP environment. Take them out completely, buff them up or replace them totally. One of the most interesting things with the template creation aspects is how a disc can change two outwardly similar templates into something different.

Movement (I said this was a wish list, didn’t I?) – one day, I have a dream, that players all over Shadowbane will be able to move without needing to Click2Move. Yeah, I’m sadly used to it now, but it’s still a retarded way of movement in a 3D environment, and it tends to ruin whatever little bit of immersiveness I manage to cling to some days. The camera controls no longer bother me, and the sheer ability to customize my playing screen is beautiful. But that click thing, especially when your character gets stuck on something… ARGH!

That’s just a few of the things I hope for in the coming months. The changes that have been made, and the ones that are in the works will serve to keep me playing for a while longer at least. Currently, no other game out there can match the type of PvP fun that SB provides, especially when you put it up against a full stealth crew of guildies running around looking for anyone and everyone to hit, and succeeding enormously.

Bet you though I was going to say “But what does this have to do with Shadowbane?

 

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