With the game being in development for so very long, I wasn't sure what to expect when the nice gentlemen from Spellborn NV sat me down to give me a first hand look at their MMORPG The Chronicles of Spellborn. The game was being shown in publisher Frogster's booth, the very same booth where I got my first look at Runes of Magic. In stark contrast to that game, which endeavours to combine elements of many successful RPGs into one game, The Chronicles of Spellborn team's goal is to create an MMORPG like nothing we've ever seen before.
Character Creation: My first stop was character creation. The team had already generated pre-made characters for the combat walkthrough, but you can't truly know an MMO until you've crafted the shoes you plan on walking a mile in. While Spellborn only has two races - the humans and the demonic daevi, the variations you can generate are nearly limitless. The body sliders in this game are not screwing around. Hitting the random button a few dozen times led to countless varieties of humans and daevi - long and lithe, grossly overweight, short and stumpy - anything is possible here.
Next you can select your clothing, which means a great deal more in Spellborn than most other MMO games. Clothing in the game has no stats, with attributes added by way of mystical sigils, so you never need to change your clothes if you don't want to, maintaining your own unique look throughout the length of the game. You can choose to be a mage in full armour, or a warrior wearing nothing but a codpiece, and people will be able to identify you by your particular style.
Finally you choose your archetype - warrior, spellcaster, or rogue, each having three disciplines they can focus in. I would have further explored character creation, but this demonstration wasn't about navigating menus. It was all about ...
Combat: This is where Spellborn really sets itself apart. Instead of clicking on an enemy and hitting the attack button, players actively target their enemies using the mouse cursor. If the enemies move, you need to follow. If you want to dodge, move out of the way of their attacks. If you are firing a bow at the caster in the back of an enemy group, make damn sure there aren't any mobs behind him, cause a miss with a ranged attack could very well strike another mob, pulling a whole other group down upon your head.
Spellborn also features a unique way to organise your combat skills as well. Dubbed the skilldeck, it consists of five rotating slots, in which you can place six skills each. It's up to the player to place six skills in any single slot that compliment each other, creating combos and effects that stack or amplify damage. As you fight, you can hit the 1 through 5 keys to make a slot active, and left clicking activates them in order. Think of it as five different revolvers with highly specialised bullets.
The warrior that the team provided me came complete with a melee slot that stacked attacks with bleed effects, a debuff slot that basically leeched life from our enemies, and a ranged slot, useful for taking out casters, especially with enemies as smart as these.
They're Thinking: In the combat demo I played through, my spellcaster companion and I faced groups of three mobs, generally consisting of a rogue, a warrior, and a spellcaster each. When we engaged in combat, the warrior and rogue immediately closed, blocking our path to the mage, forcing us to dodge around them to take him out with ranged attacks. If we tried to charge the caster, he backpedaled while the group's rogue slipped behind us to deal more damage and the warrior attempted to stay in our way. The enemy groups basically react like an adventuring party themselves. They'll attempt to dodge, slow you down, or even position themselves so a miscast spell will aggro other groups, forcing you to keep moving in order to avoid adds.
While we only fought human enemies in the demo, the team did mention that packs of wild animals had their own advanced pack behaviour as well.
It took a little bit of getting used to, but soon I mastered the combat system, longing to get into my skills to see what combos I could create on the skilldeck, but we were on a timetable here and had to keep moving.
Quests: Spellborn has plenty of quests, each one mired in the story of the area you are in or the NPC you are helping at the time. You will find fetch quests, FedEx quests, and kill X number of mobs quests, but each one will have an underlying reason behind it. If you're interested in game lore, Spellborn is completely drenched in it.
The NPC I was currently assisting sent us off on a quest to set fire to an enemy commander's tent, forcing him out in the open in order to separate his life from his meaty bits. My mage co-pilot and I managed to take out several patrolling groups in no time flat, and I took out the commander on my own while she waited to recharge. Obviously I had gotten the hang of things, so it was time to move on to something more challenging.
Don't Touch The Egg: One last task lay ahead of me. The team teleported me onto a shard ship - a special sort of craft used to navigate the magical energies that suspend the shattered remains of a planet - where an ominous looking purple egg was sitting on deck, ignored by the crew. I noticed the slight grins on the faces around me as I clicked on the egg, only to be swarmed by various creatures that might not have defied description had I been paying less attention to staying alive. As this was a developer trap for unwary journalistic types, I died rather quickly.
What Lies Hidden: The tag line for The Chronicles of Spellborn is "What lies hidden must be found...", and it applies just as readily to the game itself as it does the storyline. Hidden beneath the unique art direction, intriguing characters and flashy spell effects is an MMORPG that doesn't play quite like anything I've seen before.