Available: Now
Developer: Funcom
Publisher: Funcom

Interview by: Dennis S.

Anarchy Online has already established itself as one of the most popular MMORPGs currently available. Its terrific sci-fi cyberpunk setting, coupled with flawless execution of the game's concept and terrific community support are the factors that earned it this reputation. But Funcom didn't stop at achieving one goal, and after last year's release of the Notum Wars booster pack they've just recently launched a full-scaled expansion pack to the game, adding new playable areas, professions, items and much more. Read on to find out more about Shadowlands.

Hi, can you please introduce yourself and the company you work for to our readers?

My name is J√¬łrgen Tharaldsen and I work as Product Manager for Funcom. We celebrated our tenth anniversary this March, and Anarchy Online Shadowlands was our 22nd game. We have been around for quite some time, and these days we are focusing on being a high quality developer and publisher of unique adventure games and deep online RPG's. We are working on several games at the moment, among them a sequel to The Longest Journey and a new expansion for Anarchy Online.

For the uninitiated among us, what is Anarchy Online about, and what's Shadowlands?

Anarchy Online is an online roleplaying game set on the planet Rubi-Ka about 30.000 years into the future. The planet is controlled by the gigantic Omni-Tek corporation, but their relentless exploit of both humans and the very planet itself has caused the many clans on the planet to revolt. The players choose to join one of the sides, or remain neutral, and enter a world full of strife, adventure, challenges and not the least, lots of fun. It’s a very social game, with lots and lots of opportunities and customization choices. You and a group of other players on a wild adventure together, or fighting for your base, is something else than merely interacting with NPC’s.

With Shadowlands we introduced an entirely new world, the titular Shadowlands. As it turns out the struggle on Rubi-Ka between the clans and Omni-Tek is but a dim reflection on an age old struggle between light and dark. You as a player is in the middle of this, and it’s up to you to enter this paradise lost to fight incredible monsters, gain new powers and re-discover the most ancient of civilizations.

The update to the graphics engine, the strong art direction and a myriad of new features and areas has made sure it’s almost like a new game. That said, we do not remove any of the trademark gameplay, simply add a lot more to have fun with.

What's the plot behind Shadowlands?

With Shadowlands we reveal that Rubi-Ka was the cradle of life for mankind, a lush serene paradise where man lived in harmony with the Source. But, as always, man got greedy and wanted more, wanted to control the source itself, become immortal. On ancient Rubi-Ka two factions formed; the Redeemed wanted harmony, only reap as much as nature could endure, the other faction, the Unredeemed, wanted it all.

As with all stories of greed it went awry; the leaders of the Redeemed were forced to flee, the winning side, the Unredeemed, stayed, extracting more and more of the source, developing sinister machines and technology. One day the world could take no more. Rubi-Ka imploded, the paradise was cast into another dimension, and only the strongest leaders of the Unredeemed managed to flee. Rubi-Ka became barren and lifeless, just a shell of it’s former self.

Millions of years later in the floating city of Jobe brilliant human minds managed to drill at dimensional hole, re-discovering the paradise lost. A world twisted, dying, and with the remnants of the two ancient civilization all around. As the players rally forth into the Shadowlands they side with the ancient civilizations, and the fight for the future of mankind is on.

Which new playable areas Shadowlands introduces, and what's so special about them?

You will come across 20 large playfields which takes you through seven distinct geographical themes. It starts in Nascence, the birthplace, where you can create a new character. It’s mainly a theme for beginners, and a place which resembles the paradise that once was. Next is Elysium, a lush paradise with amazing fantasy like landscapes. Next is Scheol, the endless steps, it’s clear that the paradise becomes a hell down here. Windswept canyons, dark, foreboding. Next is Adonis city, a gigantic city of the Unredeemed is sprawled through the landscape, and with a large Redeemed village and temple area on the edge of the map. Halfway through the city breaks and plunges into the Adonis Abyss,¬¬†an eerie underwater area. Then you come to Penumbra, the hell frozen over. Glaciers, ice forests with fantastic technological contraptions littering the landscape. Next on is Inferno, a volcanic area filled with rivers of lava and also a gigantic dark fortress, guarded by hideous beasts. Finally, there is Pandemonium, a total chaos where a mystery of the Zodiac awaits and epic encounters unfold. All around these areas you find the Brink, and beyond there is only void. At the Brink you find monster only bent on destruction and death, so watch your steps.

You will also find 165 static dungeons in the landscape, with different themes and stories. The floating city of Jobe has also been introduced, and a large new training area for beginners. Underway you also find some 40 gardens, areas with quests, save points, travel opportunities and more. Last, but not least, you have the new apartments, a great addition for those who like to socialize and host gatherings.

As you can tell it’s a somewhat linear world, and it gets increasingly difficult. On a final note we have overhauled the graphics engine a lot so it creates a great immersion, and we have created the entire world with a handcrafted approach. This gives a more designed gameplay experience, instead of the regular openness found in many MMO’s including our original game.

Can you tell us some more about the new playable professions?

There are two new professions, the Shade and the Keeper. The Keeper is a “sharing” profession, and an expert on two hand weapons like swords. He buffs the other players with his aura, and serves the role of tank well. The Shade is a more sneaky profession, assassin like. She uses magic tattoo’s instead of armour, and uses trapped spirits of the dead instead of implants. She is a typical close combat fighter, and has the ability to drain opponents of life so she has definitive advantage the longer a fight lasts.

Shadowlands has introduced "perks" to the skills system. Can you elaborate on their mechanism?

The perks can be explained as benefits, or extra powers which you can train. There are hundreds of them, 852 in fact, and they come in three categories; profession, general and team. The professions ones are tied to, you guess it, your profession. It means lots of new abilities and attacks, just for your profession. Team perks are powerful attacks which can be unleashed when several players work together. It’s a new take on “social” combat gameplay :-)

You get one perk point for each ten levels, and from level 200-220 you get one for each level. They can also be untrained, so it you make the wrong decision, you can always go back on your choice at a later stage.

Factions are also introduced in Shadowlands. How does that work exactly? Is it possible to switch from one faction to another?

We have always wanted the setting in Anarchy Online to feel like you do what you do for a reason. With the introduction of the factions¬¬† it means that you need to consider your actions, since having the right standing will give you quests, items, information, Shadowbreed and much more.

Now here's an intriguing question... What's Shadow Breed?
It’s a representation of your inner self, a powerful morph you can enable in combat. Depending on your faction and breed different “monsters” will emerge to wage terrible damage.

We've heard that a lot of weapons, armours and other nifty stuff was added with Shadowlands. What's the total amount of new items, and how big is the percentage of unique items among them?

In total there are thousands of new items, and hundreds of uniques. New profession specific armour, nano lines (or “magic” seen in a fantasy perspective), lots of weapons, power boosters, trapped spirits, information packages, treatment kits and much much more. It’s a deep game for those who wish to delve deeper.

"Special encounters" with rare critters was one thing that cheered up AO players and gave them strength to camp their spawn areas for hours. Have any of those been introduced with Shadowlands?

We have always tried to avoid camping in AO, but it’s impossible to completely avoid since you can only create so many “interesting” areas and there are many players. With Shadowlands we introduce lots of hard encounters with fascinating and deadly creatures. There are more than 40 unique monsters, and with several texture variations and AI differentiation you can expect a true challenge in a strange land. Additionally you have all the dungeons with boss encounters and specific loot, and lots of boss camps spread throughout the landscape.

In addition we have added a cool new feature we call “Blueprints”. By collecting and completing blueprints of life you can stick them into the notum machinery and create life. There are more than 150 blueprints, hence a 150 “boss-in-your-pocket-summon-it-when you-and-your-team-are-ready”. It’s a great anti-camping mechanism.

How much has the game play changed with all the new things introduced with Shadowlands? Would returning players that didn't play the game for a while have any difficulty adjusting to those new changes?

Shadowlands adds a whole new dimension to Anarchy Online, and the large new amount of features makes it a fresh new challenge even for existing players. We have re-vamped the entire GUI to make it easier, and implemented a new training and action area for beginners so we think AO is easier to get into than ever before. That said, AO is a deep game, with numerous layers. I find that highly fascinating, since there is a myriad ways of interacting with the world. With Shadowlands there are more choice than ever before, but the core gameplay is still revolving around combat.

Were any enhancements made to the graphics engine in Shadowlands?

Yes, we greatly upgraded the engine for Shadowlands. We can for instance use four times the poly amount on the ground and scenery, and we have also worked a lot on textures. Additionally we had a fantastic Art Direction for the project, so not only does it look good, it also has a distinct and unique flavour. With the new music and the new graphics engine we are able to create immersion like in few other similar games.

Music was always one of the strong points of AO... Are there any new tracks in Shadowlands to indulge ourselves with?

Yes, there is a whole new soundtrack for Shadowlands to reflect the eerie descent from paradise through hell. All new monsters have received new effects, and we have worked even more on our music technology to ensure the greatest possible variation to avoid repetition. The audio is one of the most celebrated fields of AO, and I think our music dept. has outdone themselves with this expansion.

So, Shadowlands is out now, a huge milestone in AO's development has been achieved. What are your plans for the future?

Well, we hope that AO will continue to be considered to be among the top-picks if you want to test an MMOG. We will continue to implement creative and fun game¬¬†design, mind-challenging gameplay, a deep setting, great audio and fast-paced action.

We care a lot for this creation of ours, and take great pride in creating the best possible universe for our players. If you choose to play AO, you know that the developers will continue to give you great challenges and fun. Any MMOG game should be fun, stimulating, social and action filled, and that is the aim for the future of AO.

How can new players get a hold of Shadowlands? What's the current subscription fee?

If you would like to try Shadowlands, and the entire Anarchy Online universe, you can download the free 7-day trial from www.anarchy-online.com/tryout. It means that you can test the game for seven whole days without any financial commitment.

If you choose to join this universe for 12 months you only pay 7.95 USD a month, but if you go for only one month at a time you pay 14.95 USD. The first month is included if you are a new player though, so it’s ample time to make up your mind if you think it’s worth it.

As a PR and marketing person I can sit here all day and talk about how nice and dandy everything is, just like all our competitors do, but here you can also have a¬¬†go at it yourself for free. I actually DO mean that this game is something you should definitively test. After the first 39 reviews of Shadowlands we have received 7 Editor’s choice award, many other brands, like “essential” in PC zone, and has yielded an 87% review score average. If you truly like RPG’s you should try this one.

Thanks for chatting with us. Is there anything else you'd like to add before we wrap it up?

Thanks for giving us the opportunity to answer. Seeing how long this became I guess most readers are gone by now :-) As a final point I would like to say a few words.

I love games beyond any other form of entertainment, to me games¬¬†are the highest form of art since it blends everything else I love; books, music, film, art, fantasies, dreams :-) . I think most people on the AO team think just like me. We have created this world so that you can have a blast in a challenging and fun world. We do not intend to uphold your time with boring stuff, we intend to create universes which stimulates all areas of your mind. Hopefully we have somewhat managed that with AO. Don’t just take my word for it though, go ahead and try it for yourself :-)

Thanks for answering our questions... See you in the game :-)