Anarchy Online: Shadowlands
As Successful launches go, Anarchy Online is up there with the third generation telephone network, Channel Five and the space shuttle Challenger. With Shadowlands, the first official expansion for AO, Funcom is out to prove it has learnt its lesson and hopes to win back the respect of gamers who left in droves after the initial bugs and crash-fest.
First impressions, we're pleased to report, are favourable. The dreaded memory leak of old has disappeared (cause of more fatal errors than a heart surgeon with the shakes), and all areas of the expansion we explored were stable and perfectly playable -something the original game took quite a while to achieve.
Aesthetically everything has come on in leaps and bounds. Shadowlands brings with it many new ground and environment textures, which greatly improve the all-new areas in the expansion pack, as well as the areas in the 'old' game world of Rubi-Ka. It's not quite up to the standards of EverQuest 2, or even Asheron's Call 2, but given Funcom is still using the same game engine it started with several years ago, the new visuals are pretty impressive.
Old World, New World
Shadowlands opens an entirely new region outside of Rubi-Ka and practically everything about it is different. Obviously the graphical style has changed. but so too has the method players can use to make their progress through the game. Instead of hanging round mission booths selecting assignments with juicy rewards, in the expansion pack you are encouraged to explore and find adventure - conquering newly-discovered playfields by playing through whole series of quests and unlocking brand new ones.
There are seven new areas in total, all apparently inspired by the circles of Heaven and Hell in Dante's The Divine Comedy. You also have a new city to start in (some nice apartments are being offered to early subscribers), which puts you in mind of every daydream of Tokyo you've ever had. These new areas give the game a focus that's been badly missing, providing a level of linear structure that keeps you going. At the same time it offers enough diversity and sub-questing to keep the most ardent of players happy for a long time to come.
The sub-quests are to be found in the new static dungeons, which bear no resemblance to the cut-and-paste efforts found throughout Rubi-Ka's previous missions. Each is unique and hand-crafted and they serve to provide AO with a new level of depth, something sadly lacking in the original game.
This is Funcom's answer to the oft-repeated player forum cries for static dungeons, and a good answer it is too. With the option of playing AO in the traditional way or by heading out to the wilds of the Shadowlands for a more open-ended and rewarding experience, Funcom is giving you the best of both worlds and it's this kind of variety that re-affirm's position as the closest competitor to EQ in the genre.
Quest For Story
While the storyline in the original game has its own appeal, it never had that much significance since you weren't forced to follow it. Shadowlands integrates the story with the new quests, drawing the player in, and rewarding exploration of the world at large. It deals with the two types of beings inhabiting the new lands - the 'redeemed' (who are aligned with Clan members on Rubi-Ka) and the 'unredeemed' (who are aligned with Omni-tek). Most of the new quests centre round the struggle between these two entities, and supporting your faction is now more important than it ever was before. Players have to be careful where they raise their faction in the new areas as it will directly affect their progress throughout the expansion pack.
There are also new 'perks' (or skills, if you want to be English about it) to gain, along with the ultimate form of bonus - the Shadowbreeds. Effectively these are hugely powerful self-transformation spells, bestowing immense combat bonuses on players. However, they will only be available to players who gain sufficiently high rank with their faction - something that's not going to happen overnight, take it from us.
As MMOG expansions go, Shadowlands is one of the most impressive we've seen in a very long time. It shows the darker side of Funcom's initial vision of a futuristic world and, as a result, is more atmospheric and downright eerie than the world of Rubi-Ka. With the inclusion of new static dungeons and the heavy bias on exploratory questing and raising your faction, Shadowlands brings a welcome new experience to AO players, for whom life in the existing game was starting to wear thin. While heavy-duty competition is just around the corner in the shape of EQ2, Horizons, World Of Warcraft et al, this expansion leaves AO in great shape for the foreseeable future.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode