Preview: The Chronicles of Spellborn (PC)

While the thought of another fantasy-based MMORPG hitting the U.S. PC market might trigger an automatic roll of the eyes from most gamers, Acclaim has been toiling away on a select title originating from European servers which it hopes will prove that initial reaction wrong. On the surface, The Chronicles of Spellborn looks like any other standard fantasy grindfest swarming the Internet. However, its creators have gone to great lengths to build a better MMO and based on closed beta player reactions, Acclaim may have reeled in a winner from across the Atlantic.

Jumping from closed to open beta, members of Acclaim’s team, including Acclaim CEO Howard Marks, Acclaim CCO (and creator of Earthworm Jim, MDK and Wild 9, among other classic series) David Perry, The Chronicles of Spellborn sound designer Matthew Florianz and lead game designer El Drijver, took time out of their schedule a week ago to detail the company’s newest offering in an online conference.

Spellborn separates itself from the business plan crowd by operating on neither a pay-per-play nor through a premium item purchase shop. Billed as a “freemium” game, players can explore a meaty portion of the world and everything found within it, but have the option to pay a monthly fee to gain access to the remainder of the world.

“We’d love to have people play for free the whole time, but, realistically, you need to charge at some point,” joked Perry.

At the time being, the company plans to set the premium fee at $15 (or 1500 Acclaim Coins if players buy game cards or Acclaim currency to use in its number of games) per month. At the cost of free, however, players will still be able to access a total of three areas and the features of guilds, mailboxes, the marketplace, quests within the three regions and, of course, the player versus player (PVP), will still be ready and waiting for gamers who download the game client.

Once launched, the game thrusts players into a shattered world with each area housed on a shard of land jettisoned from a destroyed planet, now floating through a magical deadspell storm. All of the fantasy RPG staples are here as different classes of characters, a myriad of weapons, armors and skills, PvP options, party support and more are available to players as they navigate through the broken realm.

Through development, Spellborn’s battle system strayed slightly from the beaten path and most likely the most notable change players will have to adjust to lies in the skill-based “FPS targeting” the game institutes. Instead of hitting a key to lock on to an enemy and hitting a button to engage an enemy until it dies, players will actually have to aim their attacks for maximum effectiveness. Spellborn features a number of onscreen reticules, which change depending on the situation and outline in red when an enemy is targeted for the full effect of a skill or attack. While this may draw a number of scoffs from traditional RPG buffs, Drijver explained the game was built with the mechanic in mind.

“It was an early principle of the game,” he said. “A big grudge the developers had with these games was the fact they were so dependent on a ‘dice roll.’ When something happens, you can’t do anything other than accept it. In a game, if you can dodge a hit, you shouldn’t be hit. That is why we went for the manual aiming. It hasn’t been done much and it definitely hasn’t been done successfully. It’s definitely a unique system.”

Through the system, luck and the importance of gear and items takes a backseat to skill, creating a one-of-a-kind experience. It’s hard to grasp the unique concepts of Spellborn just by reading Web pages and press releases, so, thankfully, the open beta allowed me to get in a little hands-on experience with the game. For a free offering, Spellborn surprisingly flexes a graphical muscle, which comes courtesy of an extended Unreal Engine 2.5. While there is a loose, fantasy art style used in the game, the attention to detail and lighting effects don’t go unnoticed. However, with so many critters and demons to slay, players won’t be able to gawk at the scenery forever.

Thankfully, so far, the action-based combat is where the game is truly shining thus far in its development. Actions are performed via skill decks, which rotate into different layers, giving players robust options with buffers, attacks and combos. Furthermore, with the removal of formulas and random interventions from the game play, players will have to use strategy and preparation before approaching an enemy. Praying for a miss from your opponent is pointless in Spellborn as it won’t happen randomly like in other RPGs – players have to actively make opponents miss by dashing or jumping to safety. Want a crippling critical hit to bring your opponent to their knees? Again, it won’t happen randomly – you’ll have to work for that extra damage by strategically attacking from behind the opponent. The strategies and reliance on action put Spellborn on a different plateau and while the environmental AI monsters can become predictable, facing off against another human takes the game to another level.

“The game never, ever does things twice the same way,” boasted Drijver. “We’re trying to make a game that keeps surprising you and entertaining you.”

Spellborn just entered its open beta phase following a swipe of the slate of the closed beta testing, and, as such, players can expect a number of updates and extra features to unfold as the game progresses. However, Perry pointed out even though the game is fresh, it certainly doesn’t lack in content.

“It has a surprising amount in it even though it’s a relatively new game,” he said. “It will be interesting to see people keep playing and the constant updating. The game is going to be fascinating to see five year years from now.”

Right now, there are no plans for a progress wipe following the open beta testing phase, so players can begin their journey now without fear of losing their beefed-up Bloodwarrior when the game is made available commercially. The game’s official web page offers up all the information you could want to know if you’re curious about keeping your keyboard and mouse busy with Acclaim’s skill-based RPG offering. Until then, we’ll keep an eye on The Chronicles of Spellborn as it closes in on its official release.



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