Shadow Cities brings location-based mage play to the US next week

MMO’s are well known for their expansive worlds, but what video game world is more expansive than Earth? That’s the question posed by Shadow Cities, a new location-based MMORPG that’s set to launch in the US next week.

Shadow Cities tells the story of a world – our world – in which Magic has begun to reappear after a 600 year absence. Gateways to the Shadow World where magic emanates from have begun popping up in cities all around the world, and players are striving to combat the spirits that are spilling through these gates, all while battling to determine who should have access to the magic on an epic, team-based scale.

The game has been available since November 2010 in the developer’s native country, Finland, and quickly rose to the #1 spot on the free apps chart. The game is also available in Sweden and Canada, where it has already attracted a significant number of active players.

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We’ve recently had a chance to check out the Canadian release, and while the gameplay is simple, it’s been alarmingly hard to put down. Much of the game is set up like a standard MMO – you’ll purchase spells, earn stat upgrades, complete missions – but you’ll be doing it all in concert with some very streamlined combat. To fight enemy spirits you’ll tap on them to select, and then draw a “Z” with your finger to cast an offensive spell. It’s simple, pick up and play, bite-sized fun.

As you progress through the game you’ll unlock a number of spells, from healing chants to spells that can summon in-game towers like beacons and dominators – all of which will help your side stem take down the opposition.

Speaking of sides, players in Shadow Cities will need to declare an allegiance to a team. They can select from either the tech-wielding Architects or the ancient, magic-embracing Animators. Gameplay remains the same regardless of which side of the fence you sit on, but with team vs team play factoring so heavily into Shadow Cities, you’ll want to make sure to pledge allegiance to whichever side your friends are on.

For a game that’s all about your current location, Shadow Cities is surprisingly social. In our brief time with the game we’ve quickly seen the benefits of not only participating in Team Chat, but in adding as many of those players as possible to our Friends List. Having friends in other locations will let you warp to their beacons, letting you hunt spirits and mages all around the world. What’s more, having friends and staying in chat can help you to co-ordinate massive attacks and defences once a conflict with an enemy mage arises.

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We recently had a chance to speak with Ville Vesterinen, CEO of developer Grey Area, about the game’s upcoming US release. Ville was understandably excited about the US release, but he was also aware that location-based gaming has had a hard time gaining traction in North America. To battle this fact, Ville was quick to point out that thanks to things like the beacons mentioned above, players can enjoy Shadow Cities in different locations without ever having to leave the couch. “Most people play at work and at home, because that’s where they spend most of their time,” he says.

Ville also stresses the importance of community, claiming that from the very start Finnish players have been arranging real world meetups based on their experiences in the game.

We were also delighted to hear that Grey Area has no intentions at this time of adding in things like check-ins or retailer partnerships like other location-based apps. “We’re gamers ourselves, and it would be a bit like if somebody would give a McDonald’s coupon in World of Warcraft,” says Ville. Despite what most gamers might think when they hear location-based (and what has been reinforced by games like MyTown and DJ Rivals), Shadow Cities isn’t just Foursquare with mages.

Looking to get a little magic in your life? Shadow Cities will be available for free in the US for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch on May 31st.