Nostalgia Train: Shadowbane

By April 1, 2020Nostalgia Train

Shadowbane is a strangely beautiful game that is both a story of success and failure. This MMO had a cult following and was the first in the genre that was truly a sandbox. Part of this freedom was by design, but the vast majority was due to the fact that Wolfpack Studios lacked the resources to create the rigid systems of the content we associate with these games. Essentially, Shadowbane was an empty canvas that the designers framed with a story and mechanics. Then the players were injected and given very little direction and restriction.

The legacy of the game is something that few game designers have embraced: Truly dynamic content in MMOs is player-driven. EVE Online may be the only other MMO to know and embrace this.

What was great about Shadowbane?

  • Player conflict was the only content in the game. There were no dungeons or quests to fill your time, in Shadowbane everything was about PvP.
  • Characters were classed based but had specific skills that could be ignored or augmented depending on what you wanted the character to do. There was a tremendous amount of variation that could be achieved.
  • Disciplines were extra-class abilities that could be tacked onto characters. Allowing for further customization and specialization.
  • Items and gear were powerful but easy to produce and replace, so unlike most MMOs itemization wasn’t the central driving force for character progression.
  • Planting, building and destroying cities was fun and well designed. There was an art form to creating a fortress for your guild to live out of and protect.
  • Ease of leveling and a de-emphasis on complex or difficult mobs allowed players to “roll” new character very quickly. This created an ever-changing landscape of group builds that was about bringing the right mix of tools to counter what your opponent was doing.
  • The tracking system accessed by several classes and disciplines allowed players to both avoid and find fights out in the open world. Skilled groups rarely bumbled into one another.

What was terrible about Shadowbane?

  • Shadowbane was terribly developed, managed and published.
  • Shadowbane was coded in Java… poorly.
  • sb.exe client crash, it happened so often it was almost funny.
  • The basic movement was point and click, which was clumsy and the pathing was truly the worst out of any MMO. It was by far one of the most frustrating aspects of the game.
  • The Defense statistic was broken and overpowered. While min/maxing most stats had an easy to access counter, this stat could be pumped so high it could make a character invulnerable to all but a few builds.
  • Classes, disciplines, and runes were often gated by race. Leaving some combinations to rarely or never be played.
  • Since the life cycle of the game was dependant on the population. Instead of being a persistent world, Shadowbane servers would have to be reset to reinvigorate players with a fresh start.

What do you remember?

Shadowbane was never a commercial success. It was amazing that it was able to squeeze out several years of existence with a player base that was smaller than a single World of Warcraft server. All that being true, it is still one of my favorite games in the genre because of the bold ideas behind player-driven content and a creative system of character progression. MWH remembers this game fondly.

What do you remember from your time in Shadowbane? or Who?

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