From the first time I\’e2\’80\’99d heard of Shadowbane, I was a firm believer in its failure. For one thing, the first time I\’e2\’80\’99d heard of it happened to be on the Everquest newsgroup two years ago; at that time, the PvE-oriented Everquest, in which the \’e2\’80\’98reds\’e2\’80\’99 on the non-Zek servers were already marginalized and on their way to extinction, was on its way to reigning supreme in the online gaming world and leaving the only mass market truly PvP-enabled game, Ultima Online, in the dust. For another, the game was too ambitious, promising almost anything and everything the fanboys wanted (and the fanboys themselves were so rabid that they turned many people away from the game by themselves.)

Most importantly, though, I felt that the \’e2\’80\’98griefer influence\’e2\’80\’99 would be too much in such a game, overwhelming all else, and that it would eventually turn out to be some sort of Diablo 1-style cheat filled, win at all cost slaughterhouse. Based on UO (still without Trammel at that point), the gankfest that Rallos Zek was rapidly becoming, and my own experiences as a PK and anti on some text MUD\’e2\’80\’99s, I believed that the mass market would destroy SB in one way or another- if the d00ds didn\’e2\’80\’99t get it, one uberguild or another would. The end result would be the same either way; the game would be a wasteland filled with the bodies of new players and anywhere from one to several dominant guilds, teeming with 24/7/365 powergamers, per world.

The next two years didn\’e2\’80\’99t really change my opinion. I\’e2\’80\’99d logged onto both Tallon and Vallon Zek, played briefly on both, and, even discounting the inherent flaws in EQ\’e2\’80\’99s horribly unbalanced afterthought of a PvP system, found them both lacking- the zone ganking, the naked mages (fortunately, now confined to Rallos), the bind rushing, and other grief tactics reinforced my opinion that the mass market could not support a PvP game. Asheron\’e2\’80\’99s Call\’e2\’80\’99s Darktide, the major alternative, was even worse; since shortly after the server came up, it has been almost impossible to start a new character on Darktide and get him into a PvP-ready state without knowing anyone, and even allowing for the exodus caused by the previous rampant cheating problems on Darktide, the community has slowly cannibalized itself.

So, why am I suddenly enthusiastic about the game?

Two words: Sullon Zek.

For the last week, I\’e2\’80\’99ve been playing exclusively on Everquest\’e2\’80\’99s answer to Shadowbane and DAoC- the newest PvP server, Sullon. My first few days\’e2\’80\’99 experiences, as well as the overall political state of the server, can be found here (and for those unfamiliar with EQ or its PvP system, the server rules can be found here); while the specific conditions will differ for almost everyone playing on Sullon, I believe that I\’e2\’80\’99ve managed to convey the \’e2\’80\’98feeling\’e2\’80\’99 of the server pretty well.

What I\’e2\’80\’99ve seen while playing on Sullon is a world that, while being incredibly flawed, has a lot of potential- and, more importantly, a lot of the flaws have to do with Everquest, not the server\’e2\’80\’99s concept of \’e2\’80\’98accountable, full scale PvP\’e2\’80\’99 itself. The teams are incredibly unbalanced- but that doesn\’e2\’80\’99t have to be built into a new game, and probably won\’e2\’80\’99t be. The powerlevelers still dominate PvP encounters- but Everquest is by far the most level dependent game on the market or close to release, and this will clearly not be the case elsewhere. PvP between characters or groups of similar level is still dependent on class (although the \’e2\’80\’98vital\’e2\’80\’99 classes shift from the cleric/warrior mindset of high end PvE) and resist equipment almost as much as skill- but that can be fixed, too (in fact, DAoC, whose beta I\’e2\’80\’99ve been in for several months, has been doing a great job of that thus far. Here\’e2\’80\’99s to Lum\’e2\’80\’99s and Tweety\’e2\’80\’99s success\’e2\’80\’a6)

Meanwhile, the server almost viscerally reminds me of the information publically available about Shadowbane every time I log on. There is no real zone control, in the sense that Freeport is always Freeport no matter which team owns it- but because it is the only place in the game where many evil deity/good race/class combinations can train in relative safety, it\’e2\’80\’99s a very good thing for the evil team that they hold it, because a neutral takeover of it would be devastating. There is a sense of accountability- the jerks and assholes who are busy training the newbie zones are already on so many players\’e2\’80\’99 lists that it\’e2\’80\’99s almost guaranteed that they will never find a decent guild, and with one character per account this is actually a punishment; this represents the first time in the history of the Big Three (Big Five, now\’e2\’80\’a6) that player justice may actually work, which bodes very well for SB. There are zones that are almost entirely safe from PvP and zones that are virtual graveyards; there are strategic chokepoints (mostly zonelines) which one or the other team keeps a watch on at all times; there are even vital resources, such as specific leveling areas, zones with quest components, or places with the best loot, that will (at least at first) be claimed by one team and defended from the other two. It\’e2\’80\’99s not Shadowbane- but the usual clueless newbies who inhabit the various Sullon web sites have already posted \’e2\’80\’98Wouldn\’e2\’80\’99t it be cool if there was a big rock in the center of Freeport you could touch to flip it to \’e2\’80\’98only evil can spawn here\’e2\’80\’99?\’e2\’80\’99 no less than half a dozen times. The feelings it invokes are pretty damn close.

Will I continue to play on Sullon after a month or two? Perhaps, but probably not, for a number of reasons. First, I\’e2\’80\’99ve been playing lizard shamans almost exclusively, and in this case, that leaves me very far away from any PvP (and just as far away from my guild, where I need to train and buy spells, should I decide to go anytime soon anyway). Second, being a newbie in Everquest for roughly the 8\’e2\’80\’99th time is only slightly preferable to being in a car accident, no matter what the server. Third, as I\’e2\’80\’99ve said, Everquest PvP itself is badly in need of a complete overhaul; the server rules go a little way towards solving it, but a full fix will probably need to wait for the sequel. Finally, because the server is so new, no one knows what the guild situation will turn out to be; every major \’e2\’80\’98see you in Shadowbane\’e2\’80\’99 guild, encompassing everyone from NWN\’e2\’80\’99s KAAOS to Vallon Zek\’e2\’80\’99s Shanks, is playing on Sullon, and because of Everquest\’e2\’80\’99s reliance on level in general and dependence on the high level game in particular, it\’e2\’80\’99s almost a guarantee that two or three uberguilds on each side will in fact wind up all but controlling the server. (This could, however, be solved in a future game such as Shadowbane or DAoC by reducing dependence on equipment and/or increasing the size of the world.)

Will I now give Shadowbane a try? Absolutely- because, no matter what Sullon\’e2\’80\’99s flaws are or how bad it will be six months from now, the first week has been among the most fun most people playing on it have had in a while.

It seems that maybe, just maybe, it CAN work after all.