With the latest update to Shards Online, Citadel Studios is another step closer to alpha and Steam Early Access, both of which are targeting the end of 2016. With the new player experience improvements, a more robust Unity 5 Engine and the addition of some high-end skills, it’s an update to be reckoned with. After a chat with Derek Brinkmann, we know a bit more about what this massive update brings to the game than was revealed in today’s blog post.
“It’s our biggest release since launch of pre-alpha. We took an extra month to add new player friendly things in there because we saw how punishing the first hour of the game was. If you died, and couldn’t find your body, you’d lose all your stuff, including your hunting knife that is the only way to make money. That was a quit point.”
Derek mentioned that the update can be divided into three main sections: The New Player Experience, Graphics Update and New Content.
New Player Experience
Due to the sometimes overly frustrating new player experience, Derek and team noticed that oftentimes players would quit due to the overly harsh nature of it, most keenly felt by those coming out of more “casual” MMOs. To that end, the team made several important changes.
Most notably, there is now the Initiate System that does several things for new players. On first entering the game, new players are placed in a starter guild that is filled with other newbies but also has what are the Shards equivalent of GMs, so-called Immortals, who are experienced players that can give advice and even portal around the game to give new players a hand.
In addition, the team compiled a list of the most frustrating things about being new to the game and knocked them out. For instance, every item used to say “use” even if it could not, in fact, actually be used. Derek mentioned that it was a long list, but that it’s made the starter game play much more user-friendly.
Lastly, the Abilities UI has been improved to give players an idea of the skills that will become available to them, what pre-requisites might be needed and when those skills unlock. Much more expansive tooltips are also part of the overhaul and are designed to give a new player a lot more information about abilities.
Since the commencement of pre-alpha, lots of trial codes were given away, though many of those giving Shards a try ended up leaving somewhat frustrated. To entice those folks to give the game another try, Citadel is re-enabling all trial keys from Thursday, July 14th through Sunday, July 17th so that players can come back in to an entirely new experience.
Necromancy & Player Shops
For high-end players, a pair of new features have been added: Necromancy and Player Shops.
Necromancy isn’t anything new to MMOs but the Shards version does bring some interesting twists to the class. For instance, players can summon skeletons. No big deal, right? Wrong – these skeletons are similar to pets in that they have a skill bar, they level up, they can equip weapons and other items and are largely persistent with the Necro.
Necros also can summon imps, though while sharing a skill bar, they are time-sensitive creatures and will despawn after about thirty seconds. Add these guys to a mana drain and the game's first damage debuff and the necro will become a force to reckon with.
Player Shops are a cool new addition that is designed to enable the crafter economy by allowing players to set up their own stores and sell found or crafted items to other players. To do so, a Merchant is purchase and placed on the player’s property – though later players will be able to rent a space in a town or city. Items are placed on tables or in chests with prices set by the player after interacting with the Merchant. Once the chest is locked, the shop is open but not, of course, before interacting one last time with the Merchant to dress him up according to the player’s wishes.
Because there is no auction house in Shards, Citadel wanted there to be a way for players to find shops and items. For now, other players can go to towns and check the Announcement Board for items and locations of player vendor shops and, if choosing one, a marker will be placed on the map to help players get there.
Over time, more will be added to the Shop feature including the ability to place Merchants in buidings, a better search function, additional display options and much more.
The last big improvement is that the port to Unity 5 is now complete. While players might not notice much changing at first, the development team will be bringing more of the robust engine’s capabilities to bear due to the better creator interface, better plug ins for the engine and much more.
All in all, Citadel Studios took big strides with this latest update and seem to be on track for Early Access and the alpha stage of development at the end of 2016.
Will you be logging in this weekend to check out the new additions? Leave us your thoughts in the comments!