by: Tony "RadarX" Jones
An interesting mix of West and East, Spellborn NV is attempting to place the Chronicles of Spellborn as a premiere MMOG in todays market. While still in development, it promises to bring both North America and Europe a unique combat system they are calling "easy to learn, hard to master." At the Leipzig 2008 Games Convention, instead of showing a demo as in previous years, they decided to let Ten Ton Hammer have a hands on to see just how it works.
It Looks Peaceful...
As we logged in, I got a brief explanation regarding grouping and communication so I could work with an escort (another Spellborn team member) to accomplish my objectives. We soon approached the the first combat we'd see and they quickly described the AI which might become what really separates this game from the rest. It turns out, the unique thing about Spellborn's AI is the humanoids come in groups, and they aren't your typical battles where the enemy rushes in.
As I used a ranged attack to shoot the first target, each of the different classes did something different. The fighter ran straight at me, the healer moved in behind him, and the mage stayed in the back and began using magical attacks. This is simple scripting and probably done in a number of games, but as I dispatched most of the group and approached the mage there was an additional level of complexity. The mage dropped a spell that rooted me in place and backed up to begin casting more spells. A few more shots from a bow and some hefty melee attacks from my escort dispatched him fairly quickly but these NPC's were aware of their situation and reacted.
As we met the next encounter, you could see a second group pacing back and forth in the background. My escort pulled out his bow and fired a quick shot to the side of his target, intentionally missing him. This shot landed amongst that second group which resulted in everyone attacking us all at once. It looks like Spellborn will avoid the traditional obliviousness given to creatures outside an active encounter and provide consequences to your actions. While this does sound really good in principle I couldn't help but wonder how this would work with dozens of players running around shooting and casting.
It was hard not to be impressed by an NPC given the ability to think and act, but Spellborn's current combat system is in a class of it's own. First, it steps away from "target locking" which is standard in every other MMOG. While you could highlight your target, the determining factor of whether you hit your opponent or not was where you aim your targeting reticule giving it almost an FPS feel. Once again, it rated extremely high on the coolness factor, but how functional would a system like this be with high latency?
I Saw This in Independence Day...
In order to attack properly, you have to hold down the right mouse button while clicking the left to activate abilities. Admittedly, using both mouse buttons at the same time felt rather awkward and may just take getting used to. A few shots from my bow to a healer or mage immediately drew the fighters attention. With him effectively blocking me it was necessary to switch targets and go melee which made combat more challenging.
This brings us to the combat skills themselves which proved to be a mix of strategy and timing. Imagine if you will a series of rows with 4 skills on each. When combat begins that first row is accessible and you choose an ability. After your choice is finalized, this brings up the second row where you choose another ability, and so on. What you effectively end up doing is chaining attacks for combos based on your selections. Providing a vast number of combinations, this could provide players a metagame to maximize their effectiveness.
Taking things a step further you actually decide which abilities go in which rows, thus determining the order of your skills. Spellborn refers to this as your "deck" and gives the freedom to mix and match. It's hard to think of a more customizable system and it appears these folks might really be on to something. Granted I have concerns of the complexity level required to utilize the system effectively, but it appears you can get away with quite a bit by button mashing.
Overall it appears the Chronicles of Spellborn is looking for innovation more than tradition by providing a robust AI and intricate combat system. Whether it will appeal to the mass market remains to be seen, but you certainly have to give these folks an A for effort. We saw quite a bit at Leipzig this year but this game in particular was one of the biggest surprises and has come a long way since 2007.
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