"There's a lot of love put into Shards, by a group that knows that they want the players to help create the game that *they* want to play."
The fine folks at Citadel Studios had a little work to do if they wanted to convince me that Shards Online was going to be a success. I was skeptical at first, when I was informed that the concept of complete player control was the main focus point. A veteran of the genre, Derek Brinkmann wants to give players the ability to mold and sculpt the game any way they see fit. Drawing a lot of inspiration from his previous works, like the venerable Ultima Online, he is seeking to provide the premiere sandbox experience for the MMORPG Genre. This in and of itself is a completely new concept to me as a player, and despite my reservations, I am steadily becoming more and more invested in the idea.
The concept is simple, yet ingenious. Clusters essentially function like servers in your normal MMORPG. Where this differs is that Clusters that are run by players can function with their own specific rulesets in place. In the case of almost every MMORPG, there are three or less selections: player vs. player servers, player vs. environment servers, and roleplaying servers for the actor in us all. What Shards Online tries to do is allow players to design and manage their own specific rulesets for their own overarching Cluster. Citadel Studio-run servers will function with the normal rulesets that they decide are appropriate and allow players to play on those limitations (or freedoms, depending on how you look at them). Player control is granted through choosing to play a God, a choice players make during character creation. Gods become the avatar for freedom, and they are allowed to design and manipulate whatever they see fit. Players can also choose to create a Mortal, but regardless of which route you choose through creation, you are limited as to the Clusters you can select. This prevents players from creating a Mortal on a PvE Cluster and then migrating it to a PvP Cluster. It also seemingly forces players to invest more heavily in their experiences in a more centralized location. This does not mean that you can't visit other Clusters; it simply means you will need to create a new character in order to do so.
Mortals, as their name implies, are "normal" characters that are built to experience the mechanics and reap the benefits of whatever Shards they are playing in. Mortals will quest, level up, and gain abilities — normal staples for an MMO. Mortals can also hop between Shards (so long as they remain in the same Cluster), which allows for a certain level of freedom. Shards aren't limited to one aesthetic either; while hopping around in one Cluster, you can experience Shards that include being styled after Roman Coliseums, Steampunk landscapes, and a third one known to me only as "Alien Horror." Some players like more sci-fi, and some like more fantasy, but at the end of the day, Shards Online lets players decide what they want. There is also an in-game housing mechanic that takes a different spin that most other MMOs: the housing in Shards is non-instanced, which means it reacts in real time to everything surrounding it. You won't need to load to go into your house, and other players can visit at will.
Playing as a God allows the player to take total control of whatever zone they're in. You can break away and get a birds-eye view of the world, then take part in anything currently going on if you so choose. Gods gain access to an exclusive menu with a plethora of commands and options, which range from spawning monsters, possessing said monsters, becoming invisible, fast traveling, and dropping equipment, to my personal favorite, "Nuke," which clears the screen of baddies. Gods play a pretty big hand in the customization of Shards. They are able to adjust the custom rulesets in play for whatever Cluster they're operating, and thus all the Shards that are a part of that Cluster. This also allows for the creation of different skills and abilities, storylines, and entire events that would otherwise be nonexistent, although the latter would involve a working understanding of the programming language Lua. This does, of course, allow for a certain level of player abuse. Citadel Studios adapts the philosophy that a poorly-managed Cluster (with say, an abusive God) will not be as well-received as Clusters that have a positive and contributing God. The concept of a self-moderating server is appealing because players will always have the choice of where they want to play. They have also stated that they intend to implement a rating system for Clusters, so players will be able to make the right decision based on reviews other players have made.
Citadel Studios seeks to provide players with a unique experience that often doesn't come around in a majority of MMOs that make their way onto the market. Some of these ideas are borrowed from other iconic MMOs that I am now regretting never partaking in. There's a lot of love put into this, by a group that knows that they want the players to help create the game that they
want to play. In that same vein, they are hoping to acquire those same players' help in getting the game released by way of Kickstarter. Citadel Studios is currently seeking $320,000 to help this project see an official release. Rewards for backers range from a thank you from the developers, to NPCs being named after you, all the way to a personal invite to the launch party. Citadel Studios looks to hopefully have an Alpha of the game out later this year, and I for one couldn't be more excited.