In this week’s edition of “why is Sam still so sad and unable to find a regular MMO to play?” I’ve decided to take a look back at a battle royale style game with fast action and quick rounds. If everyone can remember back about 10 years ago in March 2020, we got our hands on the Black Desert battle royale spinoff: Shadow Arena.
At the time I gave my take on the game, it was overall a positive experience, but I found many aspects of it to be redundant and meaningless, especially when looking at the gear system. Our resident BDO expert, Carlo, had a similar experience but tended to enjoy it more than I did. It could be because of his insight into BDO, its playstyle, and the lore behind it. Or maybe (read: absolutely) he was just better at the game than I was. Winning and being generally good at a game tends to improve one’s opinion on said game.
As it’s been the better part of a year since I’d played it and Pearl Abyss has been pumping out a ton of updates, I wanted to see what has changed in the interum and whether there is now enough to make me a more regular player.
Tons of new heroes to control
When I say there are a ton of new heroes, it’s no exaggeration. I wish I had counted up just how many the game launched (beta launch? Pre-alpha launch? Does it matter?) but there are easily at least double, if not triple, the number of playable heroes. For games like Shadow Arena that rely on heroes rather than character builds, I think this is really important.
I know I’m in the minority on this one, but I think being restricted to only a handful of select heroes always feels so boring. Even in a similar BR game like Spellbreak, players get to build their characters. Even though you are choosing within a fairly limited scope of skills and talents, it still gives you that feeling of agency and ownership of the character you’re playing. It might make balancing decisions more difficult (and since I’m a regular PvPer, balance is always on my mind), but I’d rather have custom characters with frequent balance updates than not. Because let’s be honest, balance decisions are always difficult and the result is never perfect!
For anyone who played the game back in March when I originally got my hands on it, I’d definitely recommend taking another look at it. At the time, none of the heroes really struck the right chords with me, but this time around I think I found one I really like.
New modes galore
Hand-in-hand with a ton of new heroes, we also have a ton of new game modes. I was seriously impressed. You don’t often see games actually trying to work outside the box that often with their PvP game modes (cough cough Guild Wars 2 cough). Typically you’ll have a couple of standard modes the developers want you to play, perhaps some shorter or unranked modes, and then maybe a practice mode. Pearl Abyss has really blown the door off the hinges with this one, though.
In addition to the original solo, we also have a trio mode (which appears to replace the duo mode), 1v1 arenas, and even a pseudo-PvE mode where players take on bots. There’s a deathmatch and champions arena too. I absolutely love this. I’ve yelled at the top of my keyboard smashing each key with as much force as I can to translate these clacks into the cloud hoping someone would be listening. I’ve always said, “Give gamers more options and let them decide what the best PvP mode for your game is.”
On top of the multiple new modes, the studio added a respectable tutorial as well. It was quite buggy for me, though, unfortunately. It was designed to be one of those tutorials where the NPC tells you to use Skill 1 to cast magic missil,e then it waits for you to do so before moving to the next step. However, instead of waiting on my skill activation, sometimes it just moved on to the next step. Other times it looked as if multiple steps were being displayed on screen at the same time. It was weird. It had a bunch of trivial steps, such as telling you how to use WASD, but there were many useful ones as well. Overall, it currently comes in at a C- for me. Passable, but just barely.
I actually really enjoyed the PvE mode. It is sort of a nice, laid back version of the standard BR mode. You run around killing mobs, picking up loot, and occasionally fighting a player or a bot. The difference in this case between a bot and a normal mob you’d fight is that the bot isn’t a demon-looking monster (maybe Carlo can help me out with what they’re called!). Instead, it looks a lot like a player and will fight like one of the heroes with more skills and being overall more deadly. It’s actually a great introduction mode for new players.
But there’s hardly a soul in sight
After playing through the new tutorial, the first thing I tried to do was play a round of 1v1. What better way to test what you learned in a tutorial than to get smacked around against someone who probably knows their hero inside and out, right?
Well, unfortunately for me (or maybe fortunately), no one ever showed up. The game’s population hasn’t been super healthy.
I waited around for maybe five minutes in the arena hoping another player would join, but no one did. I’m simply not the type to wait for over five minutes for a queue to pop, so I left. Maybe 1v1 is too intense of a game mode and it scares players away. So, I decided I’d try to play a round with a team of three. I joined a queue and waited for it to randomly assign me some friends. Once again, I waited around five minutes, and I never had a player join my team. To say I was becoming discouraged was probably an understatement. I suppose it’s great to have a ton of game modes – but not so great if no one is playing them.
I’m not so sure what a great solution for this case would be. I don’t love shuttering a game mode – there are certainly some players that love it and would hate to lose it. At the same time, you don’t want players to have a negative experience with it like I did either. One thing I might try is to give players some additional information. Maybe a count of the number of other players currently queued for each mode or possibly an hourly average so players have a rough idea of the queue size but not the precise number. Another option would be to give players the average queue time before the teams fill up. While none of those options might be perfect, they are certainly better than sitting in a queue not knowing whether you’re the only breathing being waiting to play or are just on the cusp of joining a game.
That’s been my experience popping back into Shadow Arena for a bit. There were plenty of good (new heroes and modes), but if there’s no one to play them, it doesn’t bode well. Has anyone else out there tried to peek into Shadow Arena lately? Was your experience the same as mine, or do you have a vastly different take on the state of the game? Let me know!