As promised last time around, we want to give you a little bit of insight into the plot of the game. Now I don’t mean to fill this with spoilers, so we will take a peek into the story and learn a bit more about how we want to treat story progression in Shadowrun Online.
Now, as you know, SRO will be kind of an MMO and kind of not. Many backers have expressed their wish to run with their friends and we totally want that too, but it isn’t as simple as it sounds. Anyone having played MMOs may have experienced the effect of different progress speeds. You start off with your friends but then some of them or you may not be able to keep up with the progress speed of the group and then someone gets left behind. For a while there, the others help him or her progress, but that member is missing important raids and after a while drops from the group. This effect is even more pronounced when you add different platforms in and take our mixed model of campaign and free to play accounts in consideration. So how are we tackling this?
Well, first of all, unlike many solo-RPGs, we don’t think of the game as a linear main-story with side-quests. We think of it as experiencing different phases – chapters if you will – in a continuing development of the 6th world (well, the little corner of the world on our servers) as the meta-plot moves towards certain key events. So, from the get go, you of course experience YOUR version of the game, stringing together your specific path of progression inside the plot, which becomes your unique story, but that isn’t the same for everyone. It is also clear, that the rest of the people on the server contribute toward the advancement of the game world.
Obviously, with the world being moved forward by all the players, we don’t want to leave anyone behind or put off newcomers, which is where the phases come in. Many of our runs consist of ‘mission boxes’, so they aren’t necessarily linear and it is up to the player how to tackle them. For example: Your Johnson – an overworked and desperate Ares officer – contracts you to stop a marauding bunch of psychotic gangers on some new drug. These guys have holed up in different locations, indiscriminately killing the inhabitants. Now, depending on your team, you may want to tackle the ones hiding away in the talismonger’s shop or the guys barricaded in at the Stuffer Shack, or the guys burning cars on the street corner or the ones holding hostages in the office building etc. We don’t force you to do all of them – though you are free to do so. Once you’ve secured a certain number of locations, you may discover a common pattern to the craziness of the gangers, unlocking the next mission box for you and thus progressing the plot. Once enough other players have advanced this far, Ares will hire a strike against the drug distributors and a new global mission box will unlock for all players, perhaps offering a special mission for those who have a good standing with Ares. And there may be a mission box on top of that, dealing with stopping the drug from being produced at all. All of those mission boxes may in turn improve Ares’ standing on the megacorp ‘leaderboard’, influencing the next layer of missions to be unlocked (for instance, other megacorps might start hiring operatives to do sabotage runs against Ares). Many of those boxes can be played at different power levels, at least within a certain tier of power. So while there is a slow, server wide-progression that coincides with the collective effort of runners, new players may just see parts of the boxes and once they advance into the appropriate power tier, Ares might have already been brought down a notch. By then, NeoNet might want you to steal a shipment of those drugs for examination in their SOTA lab. So, while it technically means you play the same mission map with the same goal (get to the shipment of drugs), the mission context changes and so does your personal story – and of course, enough of those runs add up to NeoNet gaining an advantage on the corporate ‘power board’, unlocking new global missions from or against them.
So what does that mean for you and your group? Well, for one, you don’t have to do every mission in order, one after the other, making it easier for runners that ‘missed’ a mission somewhere to join the team. Secondly, your group may do runs together, or each player may do them at different times to team up again for the ‘next’ unlocked mission box. And last but not least, if you are at different levels, you can still play the same missions, even though your characters are on different ‘power levels’ and both, you and your chummers, profit from it. And all of you contribute to the standing of your favorite corps, which sweetens the deal.
We have several tiers of power in the game, which coincide with plot phases. So after a while your runs will lead you deeper into the scheme of the game and to more juicy missions. This finally leads you to where all the factions/corps involved are scrambling to control ..well, the ultimate mission box of the campaign. We will see an all-out shadow-war for something unique that holds the key to some of the 6th world’s most interesting secrets… and no, it isn’t an artifact J. The struggle can take the form of actual PvP against other runners or joint and coordinated PvE conflicts (think of it as all of one faction adding their successful mission completions up against the other factions) within a given timeframe.
The goal here is to open up the classical MMO structure and to mix this with the experience of a dynamic world, while allowing you to select your personal mission path in the world you help shape. We want you to play with your group (or potentially your association, or network, or whatever term we will find for ‘guilds’) no matter whether you have been running the shadows together for the past few weeks, or just happened to find the chance for a spontaneous session now. We also want you to later on join forces with other players when the stakes are getting higher, without requiring 30 people to be there at the same time to do a massive raid.
It is an ambitious goal and it may sound slightly complicated, but we hope in the game it will play fluidly and feel natural.
One thing we need to do in order to keep control is to lock you down in certain locations. All MMOs do this in one way or the other (the world geography ends at some point, areas unlock over time), but we went all the way and actually lock you down as a story element. In fact, even the campaign book for SRO will be called Lockdown! Instead of finding some weird mechanic to stop you from veering off the course, we actually decided to make that a cornerstone of the story: The city you play in is on lockdown. Nobody gets in or out. And this means resources are scarce and a lot of Johnsons need extra hands to help them, as most law-keeping forces and corp armies have their hands full enforcing the lockdown. With a total lockdown, a lot of things (including most virtual connections) get cut off, which means fewer prying eyes. An ideal situation for people with shady businesses to get their work done, for gangs to take advantage, for old feuds to be settled (the hard way), for power grabs and for straight forward havoc on the streets. The city is plunged into chaos, as violence erupts amidst a desperate struggle between several corps, who hire every disposable asset they can. This equals a lot of blood in the streets and even more work for the Shadows. And so, a city is left to its own devices while a shadow war wages… who wouldn’t want to be part of this?
And, to give you a little teaser of the story, it all starts with a blurry trideo recordings of a dragon suddenly emerging from an underground complex in mid-town, writhing in agony and then going totally crazy, killing hundreds of people in a mad frenzy, laying waste to a corporate arcology, leaving a weird trace of iridescent rain… and a whole city having to deal with the aftermath. Welcome to Shadowrun Online: LOCKDOWN!