The Chronicles of Spellborn is the latest MMOG offering from Acclaim and the first for Dutch-based developer Spellborn International. Spellborn is an MMOG that aims to challenge many of our preconceptions for what an MMOG should be like. Does Spellborn really offer something different or is it really just more of the same?
The Chronicles of Spellborn is a European fantasy MMOG set in a post-apocalyptic universe where life has mysteriously begun anew within rock encased worlds known as Shards. These shards are remnants of the Ancestor World and float within what is called the “Deadspell Storm.” The game features robust customization options and an innovative take on combat. Spellborn is also a “Freemium” MMOG, which means the first 9.9 levels of Spellborn are entirely free; you need only pay if you wish to continue past this point. There is no box to purchase, you can simply download the game at the Spellborn website and be ready to go.
As a player, you choose from three class archetypes, Rogue, Mage, and Warrior, and one of two races, the standard Human, and the Daevi. The Daevi are a mythical race that is a hybrid of human and Mumia; the Mumia being the demon rulers of the Ancestor World prior to the uprising that ultimately led to its destruction. As you can tell, the availability of only two races doesn’t exactly provide the player a wealth of options, but Spellborn makes up for this with a robust character creation system. Sure, you may only have two races, but damn it does the game let you do quite a bit to customize them to your liking.
Spellborn goes to pretty bold lengths to emphasize the developers’ decision to truly embrace individuality. After you’ve chosen your race, you are given the choice of some typical options, faces, markings, skin color, hair, etc, but more importantly you choose your starting outfit. This is important because of this is essentially your first experience with the way Spellborn handles gear.
In Spellborn, items are almost purely a style choice. It is quite possible to be perfectly happy with the outfit you’ve made at creation, so much so you could wear it all the way to level cap and have no issues. You even choose your melee and ranged weapons, and optionally, a shield, which again, provides no function. You will not ‘block’ more because you chose a shield at creation, versus someone who didn’t.
Items do have slots within which augmentations known as Sigils may be placed, but for the most part your gear has little effect on your combat capability. Even choosing to opt out of say, a helmet, doesn’t gimp your character. The game accomplishes this by allowing you to wear invisible items in the slots you don’t want to fill. You can conceivably be fully tricked out in Sigils and run around the world appearing entirely naked to other players. As a long time City of Heroes player, I can definitely appreciate this approach. It is certainly refreshing being able to jump into the game world looking exactly as I envisioned my character. Though be warned, this also means you’ll run into some crazy looking characters. For example, take the friend I partnered up with to play through Spellborn for my review. I’ve attached a screenshot of his character, I’m sure you’ll be able to pick it right out.
Once you’ve entered the game, you will be treated to a brief tutorial aboard a Shardship where you’ll learn the controls of the game and some basics on combat. Following the tutorial you appear on the shard of Parliament in the town of Hawksmouth where you begin your adventure. From there, you pick from one of three disciplines at level five based on the archetype you chose at creation, and by level nine you are able to join your High House.
High Houses serve as the games factions, and there are several to choose from: House Maul, House Silver, House Rune, House Shroud, and House Torque. Each of these factions has their own personality, style, and method of doing things. For example, House Maul tends to conduct business through the use of force, while House Torque tends to deal with situations diplomatically. Choosing a House is permanent and determines who you can attack in PvP (anyone in a different House than your own) and of course your House quests.
This brings us to another point, Spellborn is incredibly story driven. This is not a game where you grind mobs all day; as most of the quests are long chains that really drive your leveling track. The aforementioned High House quests really give you some insight as to how your House works, and puts you right in the middle of the storyline. This storyline eventually sends you to the Mount of Heroes where you participate in a set of instanced challenges called The Vault trials.
Combat & The Skill Deck
Doing combat in Spellborn is a pretty unique affair. Spellborn plays more like an action game where you must manually hit your targets; there are no block or dodge rolls, or anything of the sort. This applies to all methods of combat ranging from magic to melee to ranged combat. This isn’t Age of Conan; the rules don’t only apply to the melee classes.
The most interesting aspect of the games combat is the Skill Deck. The skill deck appears as kind of a tumbler-like hotbar. You arrange your skills on several “decks” and as you use a skill on one deck, the tumbler rotates to the next one.
Your skill deck must be arranged so that you don’t have holes in your attack chain, and so that skills on differing decks compliment the ones preceding it. It’s not just a “rotating hotbar” you can’t go back to the first deck or down to the third at will. In most other games you can simply select any ability on any hotbar by clicking it or activating it through a keybind. Choosing when and where your skills appear on your deck will ultimately determine your performance in combat. If you set it up improperly you may be staring at cooldowns and have to wait around for something to come back up or for the deck to reset.
The deck also provides excellent options for combinations of abilities. For example, Amplify Fear lowers your targets Morale stat, and another skill, Spirit Strike deals more damage to the target based on the difference between you and your targets Morale. In most games, you could simply line these two up on your hotbar, but in Spellborn you would have to place Amplify Fear on a deck preceding the deck you placed Spirit Strike on to get the full effect. You must manage your deck to have the most options for the many scenarios possible within the restrictions of the slots and amount of decks you have available. This is the strategy of combat in Spellborn.
To start, you only have two decks, with three slots on each deck. By level cap you will have five slots per deck, and five decks total. In the teens, you also gain access to Combo openers and finishers. Using a combo opener initiates a combo sequence and grants an immediate effect, with each move used after an opener providing a combo point, which you then spend on a combo finisher. The amount of combo points stacked before executing the finisher move will augment the effect or damage of the finisher. If you miss any move done after the opener, the combo is then cancelled and all combo points built up are lost.
Another thing to consider when doing combat in Spellborn are your state ranks. In addition to your health bar you have three state ranks consisting of Physique, Morale, and Concentration. Physique governs your movement speed, and since there aren’t any traditional snares in Spellborn, the only way to “snare” your target is by using abilities that essentially debuff their physique. Increasing run speed is done in the opposite manner, by using abilities that increase your physique. Your Morale state affects your damage, the higher the better. And finally, Concentration determines your attack speed. Attack speed is basically how fast the skill deck will rotate after an action has been made.
Lastly, you have the Bodyslots system. When you choose your discipline at level five, you will have access to a new hotbar located at the top right of your screen. Every discipline can make use of items called bodyslots. You equip these items to the bodyslots hotbar and then utilize them in combat to various effects. The types of bodyslots vary widely in scope and function. Depending on your discipline you will utilize anything ranging from different pets, shapeshift forms, gadgets, even magical body scars and tattoos.