As is the trend in today’s fast-paced gaming world, new browser MMOs, especially those with an RTS element attached, are appearing on our ‘things-we-probably-need-to-play’ radar almost every day. And with so many already established titles in the genre, some with huge development budgets and pre-existing brand exposure (The Settlers Online comes to mind), it’s difficult for a new title to get into the spotlight.
That’s usually where innovation comes in – a single, extraordinary feature is often all it takes to get ahead in this Game of MMOs; though, without it, the game is sometimes over before it’s even begun. In the case of Shadowland Online, it’s a little difficult to tell.
On its face, Shadowland Online is another typical resource management MMO. You start out by selecting a race/class template, then by selecting the type of units you want to use in battle. There’s some great variety here, as the types of units you’re able to choose are dependant on your initial race/class choice. A mercenary, for example, assumes the role of a pirate archetype, and as such the units available are stylised as buccaneers.
There’s definitely innovation here, but not enough to make a mark. There’s a nice blend of RPG elements that I found refreshing, but ultimately, these choices, at least in the beginning of the game, bear little impact on gameplay.
Speaking of gameplay, my initial impression was somewhat altered by the ‘in-your-face’ tutorial, which, as is the case with so many of these games, crams a ridiculous amount of information – most of which could have been easily discovered through a little harmless trial and error – into your head in the first 5 minutes, leaving you tired and confused before you begin playing.
This is often the problem when an MMORTS attempts to teach you everything before you had the chance to learn anything. In the case of Shadowland Online, this is more true than ever. Your first 10 minutes of play will consist largely of clicking where the yellow arrow tells you to click, and should you suffer from even the smallest case of TL;DR, you’re likely to miss what you were supposed to be doing altogether.
That said, once the tutorial has been and gone, and you’ve had some time to fiddle around with the UI yourself, it’s pretty easy to get an idea of what you should do – that is, upgrade your buildings, weapons, heroes and units, send them into automated combat, and simultaneously manage farms and gold mines to produce income (of which there are a lot of different types).
On the brighter side, the quest management system definitely gives you a decent understanding of what you should focus on next (though, it must be said that the quests offered lack any sort of intrigue at all), and the UI, while clearly dated, serves its purpose well – you won’t get lost too often, and you’ll generally know what you need to do.
Elsewise, Shadowland Online follows a lot of the same rules as its competitors. If you’re willing to spend some real cash on Diamond Currency, you’ll be able to increase the speed at which you upgrade your town and troops, thereby increasing how quickly you can progress. So far as I’ve been able to determine, there’s no ‘pay-to-win’ mechanics in the early stages of the game.
Sadly, while Shadowland Online does enough right to be a contender in the genre, it, in the end, fails to innovate enough to make a splash. There’s enough ‘game’ here to make for an enjoyable pastime – especially if you’re interested in the fantasy setting and lore – but there are also better games done in the same style.