The Chronicles of Spellborn Preview
The Chronicles of Spellborn has been shown at the Leipzig Games Convention for some time but we finally got the chance to play it for the first time this year. Spellborn could be found at the Frogster stand, where I was lucky enough to play the game with the help of Matthew Florianz, sound designer for The Chronicles of Spellborn and PR manager Pierre-Yves Deslandes.
This article is accompanied by 3 short videos (each bout a minute long) made during our visit. They provide some additional information but are not essential for reading this article.
The Chronicles of Spellborn is an MMO with a combat system that the designers feel is rather unique. This is not a unique statement - many games both multi and single player claim they are different from the rest. But are they really? And what about Spellborn?
Spellborn has no auto target, which means you use the mouse to target enemies. If you want to do a melee attack you have to get close enough to the enemy - or come from behind to do even more damage. Ranged attacks are the same; if you use arrows you really have to point at the enemy to hit them. Miss, and you will hit whatever is behind the enemy - and that could be another group that gets pulled, so you better pay attention. Spellborn is a real-time system; if you see the animation of your opponent attack and you take a step to the left, he will miss - there are no dice rolls or anything like that. It all comes down to how skillful you are as a player.
In combat you use skills to attack your opponents. You can collect more than 40-50 skills in your skillbook and Spellborn offers a skilldeck to store a selection of these skills. The skilldeck offers up to 5 slots per row and it has a maximum of six rows, also called tiers. The rows can be selected by using the scroll wheel of the mouse and the skill is fired off by selecting it with the left mouse and you will get to the second tier where there are a new set of skills you can choose from. Do it again and you get the third tier etc. and finally go back to the first one again.
The skills can be freely placed into your skilldeck so you can adjust the skillbar to match your fighting style as much as possible. You can choose one set of skills if you want to be a tank and another if you prefer to play a supporting character, so it all depends on your own preferences. Every class can use the skills. Some classes are better at it than others, but the developers didn’t want people to get stuck in a fixed role.
To experience the combat a predefined skill deck was made for me.
See the video where Matthew gives an introduction to Spellborn.
In the game I played a level 15 deathhand trickster, which is one of the different rogues. I was accompanied by a character controlled by Pierre-Yves - or actually I was following her (yes he played a female character), as I didn’t have a clue where we were going. Besides, this support kept me from dying, which turned out to be a good thing. Pierre-Yves kept me alive by making sure I was buffed. In Spellborn, health in a fight is always gotten by buffing yourself, de-buffing enemies or by putting a specific spell on an opponent where health is gained by the user every time the opponent is hit. You don’t get health in the game by potions or anything like that.
I got some more instructions from Matthew about the controls. He explained that I can move in the game by means of the WASD or the arrow keys. With the right mouse button it is then possible to look around, like in an FPS game. Alternatively the game can be switched into a ‘mouse-look’ mode where you look in the direction where you are moving the mouse to and move in the direction you are looking at while you hold your right mouse button. Furthermore you can zoom in to first person perspective and out into 3rd person view.
In the normal combat mode, there is a crosshair placed in a circle . When the crosshair moves over an opponent and the circle starts spinning he is in range for whatever it is you have selected at the moment, be it a skill, a sword or a bow. It takes a bit of getting used to as it is a big step from the point-and-click system I’m more used to, but the idea is that it gives you, as a player, the sensation of being involved in the action, instead of clicking and waiting until the action completes, or even repetitive clicking.
In my first fight there was a group consisting of a mage and two others. The mage was doing its best to get as far enough from us as possible while still being able to cast his spells, whereas the others were trying to stay between us and the mage to protect him, which showed that the developers have invested time into the AI of the game. You will have to choose who you will take out first (See the video where Matthew tells about the AI).
After the quick introduction, I tried it out and I must say that it did take some getting using to the controls. At first I fell into my point-and-click habit forgetting that I had to aim before I hit but after a while I was able to make a kill or two. To be fair, it might have been Pierre-Yves who killed them - I was so busy figuring the controls out at that point in time I took no notice of him and what he was doing really.
According to Mathew it takes a full hour or two to get the hang of the game and that might be true. I had a half hour play-session with a prepared skilldeck and it took me a couple of minutes to get the hang of the controls to be able to even make a hit. Fortunately, it did get better later on but in this first fight, the word ‘chaotic’ comes to mind.
After the fight my health was low. As there are no potions in the game, the best way to get your health back up is to put the weapon away and sit down. By sitting down, health is re-energized rather quickly, but you are very vulnerable to attacks in this state. In any case, health always regenerates when you are out of combat. The developers have chosen this system because they feel having potions takes you out of the game and they want you to play - and stay playing - and get into combat quickly using your skilldeck, as those two are the heart of the game.
See the video that shows me fighting without really knowing what I am doing yet :)
The inventory is rather big; there are something like 200 slots to store stuff in to prevent you from running back and forth to the stores all the time to sell your stuff because the inventory is full. This again is done to keep you in the game and combat as long as possible.
Items don’t have statistics on them, so they can be used by any class - a mage can operate in full plate armor, for example. You can also use any weapon you like. With weapons you can use so-called "sigils", which are a type of rune stones that add extra bonuses to weapons such as the range, the number of targets you can hit, the damage and so on. Sigils can also be put into jewelry and a special version of them into skills.
There are something like 800 sigils in the game, so there should be enough room for customizing your weapons, items and skills.
What lies hidden might not be found
If you know anything about the game you’ll know that Spellborn takes place on shards. Shards are hollow remnants of an old world. The entire old world exploded once and what was left is these shards. Much of the game is about finding out what happened in the past. At the same time there is a layer of politics and houses that work together to restore the old world. The further you get, the more information will be revealed about this old world and why it exploded. The content will be extended based on what the players choose and which house they like to follow.
The different shards are different looking, with different creatures, animals and environments. Some are like a dreary graveyard and others are very peaceful again. At release there will be four shards and several sub shards, though everyone starts on the same shard. Shards are huge, though, so there should be enough room for everybody.
The developers know what it is that lies hidden and must be found, but they just are not going to tell, as it reveals the mystery and ends the game and they would like to add more content before that happens. A trajectory for the first three years has already been planned and new shards will be added in this timeframe. This does, of course, all depend on whether or not the game will be successful.
There is much more to tell about Spellborn - after all, the game has been in development for quite a long time. A lot of the information on Spellborn can already be found on their website http://www.tcos.com. I have only touched the elements here that we went through during our play session. So this brings me to the question I asked myself at the beginning of the article: “Is Spellborn really that different from other MMO games?”
As the game has been in development for such a long time (once they spoke of a release date in Q3 2005, if I recall correctly) it might be safe to assume the game is not rushed and that the developers have taken their time to finish the game. This is a good sign, although it is impossible to say if Spellborn will be a success; I haven’t seen enough of the game to make such a statement, but I’m convinced that in order to get a share of the market next to big brother World of Warcraft, you need something with solid gameplay that sets you apart and Spellborn might just have that. It has a story, it has politics, it has promising AI and it has a combat system resembling a First Person Shooter. It took me some time to get the hang of that combat system, but it does make you work for your kills and your mileage may vary depending on how skilled you are in making the right moves and selecting the right skills in combat.
As far as the AI goes it shows that it won’t be possible to finish a group by pulling parts of them multiple times. They also won’t come charging at you just like that anymore; they will have their own method of making it as hard as possible to kill them. This definitely makes combat more intense, but might make it more difficult as well.
Spellborn really looks promising and it is one of those games that might turn out to be a success if it really turns out to be as good as it appeared in our half hour presentation.
Information aboutThe Chronicles of Spellborn
Developer: Spellborn NV
Regions & platforms
Germany, Austria & Switzerland
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2008-11-27
· Publisher: Frogster
Rest of the World
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2009-04-24
· Publisher: Acclaim
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2008-12-05
· Publisher: Mindscape