It's not just about leaping about and circle-strafing, however. The game's boldest and perhaps most controversial move is to dispense with the traditional action bar, replacing it with an altogether more unusual variety of skill selector, the Skill Deck. It's essentially a rotating bar of skills. To begin with, it's only got two faces, each with three skills on it, but it rapidly increases in size and complexity. At heart, the idea is that you set up skill rotations on the Deck before entering battle. You can't access the next face of the Deck until you've used a skill from the face you're presently on, so in theory you could set up a rotation of buffs and debuffs, fire them all off, and then move to the next slot to rotate through standard attacks, before perhaps switching back to your debuffs (which should have finished their cooldown timers by then).
It's all a bit more complex in practice. You can royally screw yourself with the Skill Deck - if you end up staring at a face of the deck where everything is on a cooldown timer, you're going to have to stand around like a lemon waiting for a skill to become available before you can move on. Even more complex are the various combos, which, when they're eventually introduced, require an opening and a closing move to be executed in order to increase the potency of a variety of attacks in between.
On one hand, there's a lot of headroom here for high-level players to explore, but on the other, it's not exactly friendly to new players. That's true elsewhere in the game. For example, a host of MMORPG interface conventions introduced in recent years simply don't show up, most notably the ability to track quest objectives on your map. The difficulty curve, too, is uneven, as some battles at one level are considerably trickier than others. To some extent that's down to the AI, which will happily lead you into packs of enemies or shield powerful allies from your attacks rather than just sitting there and waiting to be smacked - but while that's a minor revolution in MMORPGs, it could do with a smoother introduction.
Equally, despite the game's excellent art, atmosphere and environments, there are moments when its humble origins show through. The quest text, for instance, is unpolished and amateurish - although the humour and enthusiasm are infectious, so the My First Fantasy Story stuff is more forgivable. There's also a distinctly unfinished feel to parts of the game, most notably the fairly basic player-versus-player systems and certain quest chains that seem to peter off into nothingness.
Fortunately, Spellborn isn't quite as baffling as it sounds on paper, largely because it gives you very restricted set of skills and a small Skill Deck at the outset, and builds up the options available to you very gradually. You may well hit a point where you have to rethink your entire strategy, rip your Skill Deck apart and construct a new one, but by that stage you'll understand the techniques involved well enough not to get utterly lost in the process.
Spellborn also shines in PVP. The game's system feels incomplete right now - we're expecting some kind of factional fighting in a future update - but the simple experience of duking it out with your fellow players is vastly more entertaining than most MMORPGs, and the skill-based combat and lack of gear considerations means it's possible for a skilful low-level player to take out someone several levels above them, which adds a definite frisson of excitement to the whole experience. Also, gankers, finally, face having the tables turned on them in dramatic fashion.
It's also worth noting for the benefit of our UK (and US) readers that this is a game which, while launched in continental Europe, is still technically in beta elsewhere. A launch is planned for January, by which time we'd expect the team to have made some fairly major updates to the game, and we'll certainly be returning for a re-evaluation next year.
For now, Spellborn lives up to the promise it showed in beta, despite some issues. From its fast-paced, exciting battles to the beautiful, haunting environments, it's an MMORPG like no other we've played - and what it lacks in expensive polish, it makes up for in enthusiasm, ambition and creativity. Two weeks in, and despite the rush of amazing console and PC games of recent months, The Chronciles of Spellborn holds our attention. We look forward to seeing how that plays out over the coming months.
8 / 10