MMORPG Sherwood Dungeon Review
by Cody Hargreaves

July 9, 2010

Original Article:

Sherwood Dungeon, a 3D action-orientated browser MMORPG developed by Maid Marian Entertainment, is a game unlike any other you’ll likely have ever played. I know, I know. You’ve heard it all before. Hell, there’s a good chance you’ve heard it all from me. This time, it’s different. I swear. And it’s not the real-time skill based combat system, or the fully-rendered 3D models in a web-browser, or the omission of the traditional class system, or the ability to play without a download or even a sign-up process that makes it different; no, it’s knowing that the entire game was conceived, created, developed, updated, animated and maintained by one man: Gene Endrody.

When we spoke to Gene, all we could say was: how the hell did you do it?

“[Well], when I started working on Sherwood, I had already been tinkering and experimenting for over four years. It was just a crazy hobby in the evenings and weekends and there were no grand plans or aspirations. After experimenting with MUDs and VRML, I was lucky enough to get on the beta for the first version of Shockwave 3D in 1999. By the time development started on Sherwood some of my earlier games and tech demos had already established a small following and I’d attracted the attention of the Shockwave team at Macromedia (now Adobe). They nominated one of my early projects for a People’s Choice Award at Macromedia’s User Conference in 2001 and provided some of the early web traffic. Because most of my early experiments were themed 3D chat rooms, a user community formed around my website They were the ones that really encouraged me to tackle a fantasy MMO.”

And he wasn’t lying. Sherwood Dungeon has long been known as an MMO that has truly ‘grown’ since its release back in 2004, and a significant amount of that growth is owed to the community that surrounded it. “In 2003 I said on the website that Sherwood would be an experiment with a more open development process where players could see the game evolve over time and participate in the process with their feedback. That sounds more official than it is in practice and really it’s just a bunch of people talking about Sherwood and one of them happens to be making the game. No player community speaks with one voice, so it’s always a tricky balancing act. Articulate ideas from individuals seem to have the most influence as opposed to some kind of design by committee process that you might be thinking of. Early players bought into the idea of what Sherwood could be some day as opposed to what it actually was. The fact that I wanted their feedback to help steer the direction of development was apparently such a rare thing that they were willing to overlook the fact that it was so unfinished. There wasn’t much to do, so they would invent stuff. That culture of emergent play never left the game. As a result, some of the coolest “features” of Sherwood are not found in the user interface but come from a very active player community.”

As a direct result of that process, Sherwood Dungeon has since grown into something rare and greatly treasured in the world of online gaming — a game developed and designed from the ground up with only one goal in mind: making a game that everyone can enjoy. And today, that goal is achieved. With an astounding base of dedicated players and a game designer completely committed to bringing to life a game that people can both relate to and enjoy, Sherwood Dungeon has become a game fully deserving its million player following, and recent expansion into Facebook. And joining the fray has never been easier. Although Sherwood Dungeon is entirely 3D, it can be played, quite literally, within seconds, as there is no download and no sign-up process whatsoever. You simply hit the website, pop in an email address and join in the fray. When you do join, you’ll first be asked to create your avatar.

I say avatar here, because saying ‘character’ in the traditional MMO sense wouldn’t really be doing it any justice. Your avatar in Sherwood Dungeon is exactly that: a digital representation of yourself, without a class, level or statistics of any kind at all until you choose to sign up. And every time you log in, you can choose another. Today, you’re a skeleton riding a unicorn; tomorrow, a Knight on a Dragon. That may not make much sense to you now, as first, you need to understand the combat.

“The vast majority of fantasy MMO's tend to use a pseudo-turn based approach to combat. In those games, most attacks have cool-down periods that give players time to make a strategic choice for the next attack. As players level, their skill tree expands and those choices become increasingly complex. For better or worse, I wanted to make combat in Sherwood feel more in your face and emphasis timing and skill over strategy. We don’t use the traditional tank, DPS, healer trinity and focus more on an action RPG style of melee combat. XP levels have no influence in PVP, but timing matters and this make combat a little more like Street Fighter. With attack, block, six power moves and amulet attacks there are nine basic moves. This makes Sherwood’s combat easy to learn, but because timing is so important a player with skill always has the advantage.”

Yep. Combat in Sherwood Dungeon is completely real-time, and is performed by using the arrow keys to position yourself around your enemy, and the CTRL key to attack. Pressing CTRL+SHIFT will allow you to block, though the extended recovery time on blocking makes it a futile process in the beginning stages of the game, and an all-out-attack style is highly recommended. Once your foe is toppled, it’s time to hit the traditional and level up. Every time you gain a new level you’ll be allowed to equip a new piece of equipment; be that a sword with long reach, a mace with a hard hit, or an amulet imbued with special powers. And what’s the best way to level up? Quests. It’s always quests, and its quests in Sherwood Dungeon, too. Talk to NPCs, grab your quests, and slay your foes. So while there’s a lot of new flavour for you to experience, there will always be a familiar level of comfort in knowing that you’re not going to lose track of what you need to do.

But… there are a hundred other games that offer quests and levelling, too. We asked Gene why he thought his game was a good choice:

“Part of the reason for Sherwood’s longevity is the grassroots nature of it. Players seem to find it a refreshing change to play an MMO developed by a guy in his basement rather than a large faceless corporation. There are some optional pets that can be purchased for $5 each, but all the core elements are completely free of charge. By “free to play” I don’t mean it’s a loss leader intended to lure you into the purchase of virtual currency, I mean the game is actually free. We don’t require registration or personal information and the game is running in your browser within a minute. Just enter a character name and you’re in. We have the lowest barrier to entry of any MMO.”

Gene also took a minute to tell us about the current state of the game, and too, what players can look forward to in the future.

“We launched the “Prophecy of Bane” quest series recently. These quests can be finished in a few hours. They take you on a whirlwind tour of the kingdom and provide a great introduction to many of the features in the game. Go talk to the Fortune Teller under the windmill to get started. The quest series introduces you to the DarkBlood, a cult set on returning the world of Sherwood to the void. The Darkblood worship the oldest of the black dragons, a creature named Bane who can only be defeated by a weapon called the Dragon Claw Scepter. You need to earn six Stones of Power to summon the Dragon Claw in trials of combat throughout the kingdom and defeat Bane in order to fulfill the prophecy. As the game grows we will reveal more about the struggle between the Darkblood and the kingdom.”

So there you have it folks; Sherwood Dungeon is a truly unique MMORPG in as many ways as you could imagine. In many ways, it was developed by gamers, for gamers, and too, without the corporate money-grabbing scheme so prevalent in today’s world. It’s pure, untainted by corporations. It’s fresh, filled with gaming concepts old and new. It’s traditional, with dungeons, quests and PvP gameplay. And it has a cult-sized following of players in the millions, eagerly awaiting your arrival. Try it for free today.