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Play 2 Crush: History of Multiplayer PvP in MMO PC Games - Part 10 - Shadowbane

by: John Hewitt ; edited by: Michael Hartman ; updated: 4/17/2012 • Leave a comment

Some play games to bake bread... others play games to crush. Shadowbane fell firmly in the latter category.

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    Getting ready to wtfpwn in siege combat
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    The crops in the world of Shadowbane are watered by the pure tears of dying newbies.

    Shadowbane (SB) was hotly anticipated as the holy grail of PvP MMOs by thousands. People worshiped SB as if it were some sort of god. The open PvP system and the ability of guilds to build their own walled towns, siege their enemies and crush them was like a dream come true for PvPers. The fact that the development dragged on for years and that screenshots looked strangely... well.... 1997-ish, did not diminish the burning flames in the hearts of the fanboys. The unrestricted, PvP focused game hearkened back to the "dread days" of early UO - or so many hoped.

    The beta was promising, but problematic. The competition was hearty, and the regular wipes ensured that no guild would become too dominant over the others. The class customization features were quite extensive, but difficult for the development team to balance well. The system also demanded that players plan out their character's advancement far in advance to account for various runes and additional disciplines. It was extraordinarily easy to create a horrible character, at least for uninformed players. This made it difficult for new players to access without getting significant help from more experienced players.

    SB is not a pretty game. The textures are washed-out, the models are simplistic, and when it launched, it sometimes slowed to a crawl when many players were on screen. It was also very technically flawed, with crashes (the legendary "SB.exe") being a common part of the experience. The siege system did work, but it took hours to prepare for and conduct, further limiting the appeal of the game. Only a relatively small subset of hardcore players can spare the time to plan their entire day around a game. It certainly makes for dramatic gameplay, but only if you're willing to sacrifice the rest of your life for it.

    When SB launched, it was beset by technical issues, but none of them were really severe enough to make the game totally unplayable, so long as you had an above-average tolerance for sloppy code. The real issue was more fundamental. The stakes of losing a city were quite high. On each server, a single dominant guild managed to form that managed to destroy or bring to heel every other guild in the game. Most of the guilds that came to dominance were ones that had accrued a great deal of organizational experience within the relatively exclusive beta, so they had a built-in advantage. After total victory was achieved... there was nothing left for anyone to do. The losers either joined the winning team, or they just quit the game.

    With nothing left to do, the game began to hemorrhage subscribers within the first few months and never managed to recover.