[Author's Note: This is the introduction to what I hope to be a continuing series of blog posts here at MMORPG.com about my experience with Darkfall.]
It's a common topic of conversation here at MMORPG.com, and indeed, almost any site that talks about MMO development or just in general - Sandbox vs. Theme Park. Open worlds with few restraints as apposed to a well thought-out and meticulously guided path.
Most games released after the earth-shattering success of World of Warcraft (WoW) follow a similar path, one well traveled and straight. They tend to guide the user with pre-defined classes through carefully constructed zones, formulaic advancement with minor variation in the form of quests and sub-specializations, culminating in an "End Game" consisting of raids requiring groups of people, item advancement, or carefully controlled or at least segregated PvP (Or RvR). All of this is usually accompanied by what I would consider by most standards to be fairly easy-to-use and/or customizable interfaces, a plethora of tools to aid the advancement process such as maps and quest indicators, and some form of rapid transportation (Not including mounts). It's a complete package, usually wrapped in high-definition or stylistic graphics, shadows, and polished animations... Well, the good ones anyway. They're fun, easy to play, and the only real barrier of entry to any activity is time and contacts. I've seen some of the worst players in gear better than me, either carried by guilds or friends I can't say, or simply are persistent and available enough to excel beyond what I had achieved.
And you know what? There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. You have to be pragmatic about it, especially when considering the 8-ton mega gorilla. If no one enjoyed it, or no one thought they could compete with WoW, or no one thought money could be made by emulating it, it simply wouldn't happen. But money talks, and by and large, there is still money to be made off of these types of games. For all their differences and the constant debates, flaming, and fanaticism, games like Aion, Warhammer Online, Lord of the Rings Online, and even underdogs like Vanguard: Saga of Heroes or the aging Dark Age of Camelot are still with us today, in the same arena as WoW, and turning enough of a profit not to be shut down yet and in some cases are still growing. Sorry Tabula Rasa... We hardly knew ye.
But it wasn't always as thus. I should know - I'm old enough to remember. My online gaming addiction started back with MUDs like Usurper and Legend of the Green Dragon. I started UO the first month after release, and it was a revelation - A gaphical MUD with almost as much depth! I was smitten. It was open and free, amazing complexity, no classes, lots of tools for RP'ing, and a cohesive world helped foster a sense of immersion that in some ways for me exceeded MUDs. You could take an axe, cut a tree and get logs, or use a dagger on a tree and get branches! Then make a camp fire! Amazing! Learning in what ways you could interact and use objects in the world was almost as important as what skills you chose - Did you know boxs placed on the ground in a row in a narrow passageway could stop skeletons from getting to you, creating a temporary safe haven? Yeah, eventually they fixed that, but it was damn cool at the time! I think someone even took the time to wall in Trinsic, keeping people who didn't have Teleport/Unlock or Lock Picking in or out by putting walls of boxes filled with heavy ore and then locking them on my server...
True, there were some aspects I didn't like or understand why it would be allowed at the time, like PK'ing and dry looting with no consequences (Before stat loss), but I accepted the fact that it was these relatively unpleasant aspects that helped the world feel alive. To this day, despite all of the changes the game has seen in its 12 years of operation, for better or worse, it is in my mind the epitome of what a Sandbox should be. It was about exploration of the world, how you interacted with objects and people, and learning how to create templates for fun or function.
Dark Age of Camelot was my next game, and it was there that I came to enjoy PvP. Weather or not it was a lack of skill or my age, I never quite got into PvP in UO. DAoC was great stepping stone into that world because most of the time, you were fighting with others in a group - Soloists who survived for any amount of time were few, and often very skilled or had the right class to do it. By using classes, it taught you the value of skills and item templates, even if they were restricted by class. The other side of that was it was also here that I came to really understand how the balance of skills and abilities affect things in ways I never comprehended when I played UO.
Then of course came WoW. What really needs to be said here? It is a great, well designed game for what it is. Weather or not you like the style or method of which they implement things in the game is a matter of personal taste, and if you can't recognize and respect the level of skill, detail, and polish they have put into almost every feature and class in that game (Even if some of those things are heavily repeated and only slightly modified), then you're quite frankly, a rebel with out a cause.
But I feel, for me, the theme park has run it's course. Again, don't get me wrong, I've tried a lot of theme parks. DAoC, WoW, WAR, Tabula Rasa, Aion.. All have their fun rides and attractions. But eventually, the rides all feel familiar, and you're ready to try something new, or go back to something old.
But when you look around, options are limited. UO is still around, and it's still a great sandbox, but it feels like the game is simply buying time until it closes its doors, which will indeed be a loss to the entire MMO community, even if it lives on in the form of Free Shards.
Which of course brings me to Darkfall. I have to come clean here. I was one of those people who used to think the title was vaporeware. I always thought the concept was solid, but to be frank, after it's original annoucement some 6-8 years before it launched, I had no confidence that it would ever see the light of day. And the fanaticism and zealotry of it's followers who defended something that seemed to have every red flag to indicate it would never be released, the repeated delays and unkept promises by Tasos, and migration to Greece didn't help foster any good-will towards the game, or give me pause to rethink my position. It was a game that quite literally, until released, consisted solely of faith.
But as history has shown, I was wrong, and the game is very real, and I can admit to that. That was the past. This is now. The game has been with us for almost a year now, and from every indicator, it's fulfilling it's niche role better with every patch.
So come with me, if you will, as I begin a journey and explore the world of Darkfall. You'll laugh, I'll cry, and for however long this journey might be, hopefully you'll be entertained and informed. I'll do my best to show you the good, the bad, and the ugly from someone who isn't "hardcore" or even a thoroughbred PvP'er (I don't even play FPS games!) . My first "Days" experience will be hopefully posted soon, but play time and posting time is limited, so bare with me.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you keep reading!