A look back at year one of The Chronicles of Spellborn

The Chronicles of Spellborn is a game that I have long had a love affair with. I followed it through development and beta, and have played since the very beginning. Immediately its unique atmosphere and wonderful art style drew me in and had me hoping that this game would be one of the games to break the MMORPG mold. I downloaded screenshots, read the lore that I could find and waited with baited breath as the release date drew closer.

Now, here we are a year after release. What happened within that year that resulted in two empty servers and a (seemingly) dwindling population? We haven't learned much through the usual channels, and the players that remain are left wondering. The last word given talked about a re-release, a "Spellborn 2" complete with a cash shop to aid adventurers, but the recent closing of the game in Japan and silence on the forums still have us a little confused.

The Release

Initially there were issues with releasing the North American beta on the same day of European release, something that split the community and dulled the unveiling. Upon release of the game in North America, confusion almost immediately set in as to how to pay for the subscription. Acclaim's coin system seemed a funny way to pay for something that usually was much simpler. But soon enough the publisher gave out two free weeks and fixed the coin issues, and the play was on. Soon after that they upped the free-to-play level cap to give players more to do before making a final decision. Again, though, these type of changes made the game feel as though it was already on shaky ground.

A few updates

Once the North American release finally came, there were issues with new players grappling for mobs to kill in bloated newbie player areas. The unusual style of the game, with its floating rocks of content, forced new players to be compete for even basic quest items. This could be seen as a good sign of a healthy population, but can also hurt the game when players get out into the mature areas only to find grouping and socializing harder to do. Soon enough the newbie experience was re-vamped, and a new dungeon was released but already the damage was starting to be done. Not only that, players were conquering content quicker than expected, and the "Dress to Impress" system (with the ability to maintain generally the same set of armor and weapons throughout the game) created a feeling of non-achievement for some players. Content began to run out, players became bored.

"This could be seen as a good sign of a healthy population, but can also hurt the game when players get out into the mature areas only to find grouping and socializing harder to do."

Going Free to Play

After months population issues grew worse, it was announced that the game would be entirely free-to-play while in re-development. There would be no cash shops, subscriptions or items sold, and instead the game would be entirely free for downloading. But it was soon evident that this meant that there would be no new updates or maintenance as the game was being re-worked. Essentially it was said that the game was now a "fantastic free-to-play single player game, with the option for grouping". Players left, worried that their beloved characters would have no future, but some new players discovered the game thanks to its new status.

Current time

As the game stands right now, the two servers are empty. While the community is attempting to continue as normal, the lack of any information is seen as a sign that nothing will get done. While much of the game is solo-able there are times when a group would come in very, very handy and none are to be found. It seems as though the only players that are able to find groups either held on to old Spellborn buddies or stubbornly maintained a cache of teammates. Either way, once in game it doesn't take long to see that the population is very scarce. Talking in house or other channels only results in a non-response. The game has indeed become a fantastic single player experience.

But, will that change? That's the question of the hour. While we would like to think that every game deserves a second chance, games like Vanguard or Tabula Rasa show that once the damage has been done, it can be near impossible to recover or to even stay afloat. On the other hand, games like WAR or older games like Dark Age of Camelot continue to survive and be enjoyed by thousands. Could Spellborn 2, complete with cash shop items that help mend some of the broken issues with the game (ground travel time, for example) save the game or at least put it on a path to surviving?

A lot has happened in the first year of Spellborn. It has gone from being one of the most looked at and sought after MMORPG releases to being a game with two empty servers. The lore is still fantastic, and the graphics unique and beautiful, but something didn't click on a large enough scale for the game to do more. We looked at why this might have happened earlier last month, but it is still somewhat of a mystery. Perhaps it was the gameplay, the bugs, or the lack of the usual MMORPG mechanics?

The issue is not so much the size of the community. Many games survive and even thrive while holding down small, if not tiny, populations. The community of Spellborn is a passionate one, so the will is there. Their patience is not limitless though so here's hoping that we are able to report more about Spellborn to you soon. Either way, it's an interesting title to try if you have not already. It is truly free now and as good a time as any to try it. We did contact Frogster Interactive (the publisher that will be taking over the Chronicles of Spellborn) for any sort of information that they could give about the currently in-limbo game. Here is what we received:

"Thanks for your interest in The Chronicles of Spellborn.We still believe that the game has much potential given its impressive atmosphere and innovative features. Our development team at Frogster Asia is still working on the re-design of the game into a free-to-play version with many improvements in terms of animations, character design and gameplay. Our Asian subsidiary has already operated the free-to-play version in an open beta phase in Japan during autumn and winter.

Right now we are evaluating the test phase together with the original developer and licensor Spellborn NV. Depending on the reassessment, we will hopefully soon be able to announce a time schedule for the launch of the enhanced free-to-play version in the Western hemisphere.

As you can see, the last word still remains the accurate word. It looks like players will be waiting a bit longer. It is good to know that they are still aware of the game and are working on it, however. We also asked about a possible character wipe with the re-release and they said: "I'm sorry, but we cannot tell you that yet."

We were glad to look back at the year of Spellborn to see what went right and what went wrong, in the hopes of clearing the table in preparation for the upcoming re-release of this fantastic, if not unusual, MMORPG.
This article was originally published on Massively.