Personal Experience & Death
The way an MMOG handles death is often a hot topic among fans of the genre. Are the penalties too harsh? Are they too soft and give the player no reason to fear dying? The answer, at least for many hardcore fans, will determine how they view an upcoming game. I’m going to be as blunt here as I can be: I think Spellborn handles death better than any MMOG I’ve ever played.
In Spellborn you earn two types of experience, the first is towards your Fame level. This is your typical MMOG level, which caps at 50. Killing monsters and completing quests awards Fame. You also have a Personal Experience Level, also known as PeP. Your PeP level maxes out at five, with every other level adding an extra bar to your base state ranks of Physique, Morale and Concentration, and every PeP level in between giving you a bonus to your basic player statistics of Body, Mind, and Focus. By PeP five you will have a base increase of +30% damage on all attacks, +30% run speed, and +30% attack speed. Building PeP can be pretty tough and when you die, you lose an entire PeP level. The PeP system punishes you for dying, but doesn’t impede your progress. I found it to be the perfect balance as a death penalty. It’s not the end of the world when you lose a PeP level, but you begin to get addicted to the bonuses. Thus, the fear of losing them, especially when you can anticipate the time it will take to re-level your PeP definitely provides for some heart-in-throat moments.
The various shards that make up the world of Spellborn are often a beautiful sight to behold. In general, the game seems to have a kind of dreamy Fable-esque style, with the dimensions of the architecture as well as the proportions of characters being oddly exaggerated. Also, looking up at the “sky” above provides a truly humbling view of a rock carapace marked by various large gaping holes where light shines through to the world below.
There are many shards in Spellborn, ranging from large areas you’ll be trampling through for an entire level range, to small off-shoots used for specific or special quests. While some areas can get a bit repetitive, many are varied and often exhibit wild phenomenon going on in the background. For example, travelling all throughout the shard of Quarterstone, you won’t be able to escape the sight of a large tornado like occurrence looming in the distance. Other areas, like the Mount of Heroes, simply float within the Deadspell Storm itself, which appears as beautiful vortex of light. On shards such as these, you can simply leap off the side of the world to your death. Not such a great idea, but it’s definitely unique.
Character art is varied, with many different items available to wear, and even dye. Though even with the wealth of options, many players seem to at least opt for the same type of head gear: the always in style ninja hood. I didn’t, but hey, I tend to go against the grain.
Spell effects too, are quite nice. The fiery magic of the Rune Mage provides some neat eye candy, while even the ghostly effects of the many Wrathguard abilities are fun to watch as you lay waste to your foes.
Be warned though, Spellborn does use a modified version of the original Unreal engine, so while its sights are quite nice, they aren’t a technical masterpiece.
Let me just say I am a big fan of Jesper Kyd. I love the Hitman series and his compositions are truly a joy to the ears. For fans of Kyd, you will immediately recognize his style in Spellborn. The music in the game world also strikes the perfect balance of being easy on the ears, but also not overwhelming to your senses so much that you want to turn it off so you can focus on the game.
Another stand-out is the inclusion of many voiced emotes. When you create your character,you also get to select their voice track, and there are many amusing voiced emotes in the game. If you play a female character the emote /ahh in particular stands out. Try it out for yourself and find out why.
The gameplay is the hardest area of Spellborn to judge. But let’s start out with the first town of Hawksmouth. As I described earlier in the review, questing serves as the bulk of your gameplay experience. The problem here, especially in Hawksmouth is how old school the quests are. There are only a few mob types in the entire area, mostly consisting, of bears, wolves, boars, and some sort of bird creature I can only describe as an ostrich meets a velociraptor. Just about every quest in the first area sends you to kill one of these things for one reason or another and the respawn rates are so slow that competition for mobs harkens back to the days of EverQuest. This is not an ideal experience for players new to the game. If after you experience the combat system of Spellborn you are still on the fence about the game, the rest of the newbie experience probably won’t help you over.
Unfortunately, this really doesn’t improve even once you’ve left the first area, as the next few are eerily similar to Hawksmouth. The game only truly opens up once you leave the shard of Parliament and dock at Quarterstone.
Speaking of travel, players travel from shard to shard using Shardships, a sort of airship that is capable of travelling through the Deadspell storm. Players may “Rent a Cabin” aboard a shardship for a fee and be whisked away instantly to their destination, skipping the flight. There is also a “Join the Crew” option, which is free, but you must wait aboard the ships deck until it reaches its destination. I often chose the latter as it was free, the rides were relatively short, and even a bit dangerous. Oftentimes the ship will actually be attacked by stowaway pirates whom you have to fight off, giving you something to do on the flight. Following the excitement, you are treated to a brief cinematic depicting your destination as you approach.
When you arrive at Quarterstone, you will do a variety of quests that have you adventure through the city districts, and this is also where you will really get into your House quests, which are quite fun to do.
I described how combat works in Spellborn, but how does it fare in practice? In short, the combat experience is what helped me ignore the 8000 bear and boar quests you experience in the earlier parts of the game. Combat in Spellborn is incredibly fun no matter which way you choose to do it. Much of this has to do with the shooter mechanics and the skill deck, but there is even more reason to find combat in Spellborn fun: the AI.