Shards Online is an upcoming moddable sandbox RPG currently under development by Citadel Studios. The team is built up with people who have worked on titles such as the Elder Scrolls series, Dark age of Camelot, and Warhammer Online. Recently, I had the chance to join an exclusive online event where journalists from all over the world were invited to join the devs in the game world for a preview of what the developers have been working on over the past few months.
As a huge sandbox fan, my interest in Shards Online started when I learned that there was a developer based out of Washington creating a sandbox RPG inspired by games such as Ultima Online, EVE Online, Minecraft, and Neverwinter Nights. The sandbox genre is undergoing a rebirth as more gamers want freedom of choice rather than an on-rails experience that so many themepark MMOs offer, and I wanted to see it exactly how the developers from Citadel Studios were innovating on the genre myself.
Shards Online is an isometric action RPG that players very similarly to some of the games that it draws inspiration from. Players maneuver around the world with a point and click movement system, while activating skills with hotkeys. With an old school and simplistic graphic style, players will have a sense of nostalgia as explore what Shards Online has to offer – and its offerings seem rather extensive.
The main focus point of the game is in its title, players exist on Shards – game worlds running on servers run by the developer and also by the community. Citadel Studios is hoping to support between 64 and 128 players per Shard, which might not seem like much for an MMO fan – but that's only the beginning. A player's character is shared across Shards, and each of these servers can be linked together to create massive universes which can support over one thousand players.
While what has been on display so far as been a medieval fantasy Shard, the developers have stated that Shards will have various themes. Currently these include settings such as fantasy, Roman empire, SciFi, and Tower of Babel which is a tower featuring a new theme on every floor. This means that players can host a shard on their own server with the theme they choose, whether you want to play a fantasy or scifi sandbox action RPG – or something else entirely. The choice is yours to make.
Shards Online is aiming to offer many of the features that fans expect when it comes to a sandbox RPG. Characters do not follow a traditional level based progression system, instead players build their characters around the skills they wish to master. This means no restrictive progression or classes. A characters strength is determined by the skills they use and the various gear strapped to their bodies.
As players progress through the game and explore these interconnected Shards they will be able to do many other things as well. Taming animals and monsters will be making an appearance, allowing players to take a friendly companion with them wherever they go. NPCs can also be employed to tackle those tedious day to day tasks the player can't be bothered handling themselves. It's all about convenience I learned, the developers don't want to clutter the game with needless grinding.
There of course will be lots to do however for the player that wants to dive right in to a hardcore experience. With extensive crafting that allows players to learn new recipes as they explore, and many unique armors, weapons, and even rare artifacts to find. With all the different combinations of skills, weapons, and armor sets – there is plenty for gamers to sink their teeth in to when building their toon.
There is one feature that I know many sandbox fans have sitting in the back of their minds, one that most want but never receive. Player housing. Well you're in luck, Shards Online features player housing and even plots of land the player can own. Characters are free to come back to their own house, on their own plot of land, where they can store all their trophies from their exploits across the various Shards. Houses exist in Shards and appear to be able to be placed wherever there is free room in the game world – no predefined plots of land that restrict the players freedom of choice.
Where players set up their home will come with some decisions to be made however. Shards, much like MMORPGs, can be either PvE only or PvP enabled servers. On PvP Shards, I saw that there are certain areas that can be protected by guards, flocking to annihilate players who attack others, much like Concord does in EVE Online. So while there is some protection, players can expect to experience some hardcore free for all PvP on certain Shards. For those looking for a more co-op based, friendly experience – there are always the PvE Shards to provide a safety net for the less PvP focused players.
For those looking to really take charge of their experience, the community hosted Shards will offer a lot of freedom for those wanting to create experiences for others. Each Shard features a ruleset, the laws which govern the world and how players must behave while playing on that particular Shard. This could be as simple as a Shard being PvE or PvP enabled, or can span to things like all players moving at different speeds and casting faster or slower. It's really extensive and allows owners of Shards to truly define the experience their Shard will offer, even allowing them to create different game modes.
During the online event we participated in one of these custom game modes. It was a Hunger Games style event which pit each of the journalists against each other in a last man standing PvP competition. All players had 5 minutes to explore the Shard collecting weapons, armor, and skills from randomly spawned chests. Additionally, that time could be used to level up a players skills at an increased speed before the fighting began. Once fighting started, participants had a certain amount of time to kill each other before the event entered a sudden death mode, teleporting the remaining players to some ruins where they could finish the competition in a more enclosed location. Our readers will be happy to know that I won, beating journalists from sites such as Massively and ZAM. I couldn't let you down, could I?
This sort of custom event was really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to players controlling the experiences the game has to offer. Shards Online is entirely moddable with the LUA scripting language. Players can create everything from custom content, new skills, unique storylines, right up to re-writing the entire game if they wanted to. Additionally, the owners of Shards will become Gods in their worlds, with a custom set of abilities that allow them to play Dungeon Master. Gods can do things like spawning enemies, creating dynamic storylines, or even possessing enemy AI to attack players.
I can already imagine some of the creative ways that players will customize the game and the unique experiences they will offer players who happen to venture in to their shards. Gamers are free to create their own worlds, with custom lore and storylines that I am certain will give the budding game designer a chance to bring their dreams to life. People who spend many nights sitting around a table playing some Dungeons & Dragons will also be able to move their adventures to an online world with a bit of work. It's surprising just how much freedom Shards Online is trying to offer its content creators, you.
For those who are more aligned with being solitary gamers, there are solo experiences on offer as well. There is a complete solo campaign that spreads across multiple shards. Also with the freedom to create your own content, there is nothing stopping other players from creating additional solo experiences. It's probably one of the best features of Shards Online, the amount of content on offer is endless as long as players are willing to continue producing more – giving the game a chance to be a sandbox action RPG that can survive for years on end without ever running out of new things to do or sights to see.
Shards Online is a truly unique online sandbox RPG that is not only innovating on the genre but also truly putting gamers in the drivers seat. With complete freedom on running servers and modding the game to your liking, Shards Online can be any type of sandbox you want it to be. Currently the project is in Pre-alpha and undergoing a Kickstarter campaign to seek the required funding to drive the game forward to release. You can help support the game by heading over to their Kickstarter campaign and backing the game yourself. Otherwise, keep your eyes peeled right here at MMOGames for more coverage of Shards Online in the future as we watch this sandbox RPG progress.