Review: Darkfall Beta
Darkfall Online is a game that is not for everyone. The nature of the game is such that you will either love it or absolutely hate it depending on your playstyle. If you are a casual gamer, someone who does not like harsh PvP in an MMORPG, or you place a heavy emphasis on graphics, there will probably be little here that will appeal to you. On the other hand, if your MMO history involves playing games like Ultima Online or Asheron's Call, like PvP with consequences, and value gameplay over graphics, there is a good chance that this game will provide you with something you have haven't seen in a long time.
Darkfall is a lot different than most MMO's. The game is entirely skill-based, meaning there are no levels, no experience points, and all advancement happens through the raising of various skills through use. The core of the game revolves around open free-for-all PvP with full looting. This means that when you die through PvP or PvE, the entire contents of what you are wearing and carrying can be snatched up by anyone. Now while the game allows you to attack anyone, the games races are divided up into loose teams, but whether you respect those teams is completely up to you.
There are consequences for your actions in Darkfall. Should you choose to attack members of your own team and go "red", your experience in the game will be different than those who work with their racial team. Unlike other MMOs, Darkfall only allows you one character per server, which means that if you chose to go red, you will not be able to log onto a non-red alt character to get supplies and switch back. It is also worth mentioning that unlike some other RvR based MMOs, there are no language barriers stopping you from saying whatever you want to anyone else.
Character Creation seems fairly simple. I would say its has a bit more options than WoW and WAR, but not even close to AoC. You get to pick your face, hair color, facial hair, and various natural jewelry stuff like rings through your nose. There is no setting for height, and no sliders to sculpt your character's face and body like Oblivion / AoC. Once you decide on your look, you'll have to chose a first and last name (yes, the last name is mandatory). Once you are all squared away, you get to chose from 1 of 3 starting cities near your racial capital and you are off to start your journey with nothing except an undroppable starter weapon. I was very surprised by the size of the starter town when I first logged in, I vision of some huts on a dirt road was thrown out the window pretty quickly. I do think they could definitely use some more NPC's, it looks like there are no non-essential NPC's at all and it makes the town seems a bit deserted given how big they are.
The UI has a learning curve. If you have played other recent MMOs, you can pretty much just forget everything you have seen. The cookie-cutter interface from WoW, EQ2, WAR, AOC is completely gone. I think people are going to struggle with it the first time they sit down and it could turn some people off. Luckily, there is a small tutorial to help you get your bearings. Right clicking the mouse turns the game into UI/Menu mode, much of what you would expect if you pressed the "ESC" key in any other MMO.
When in this mode, you will see that this is the only time you have a mouse cursor on your screen. This means when you are in play mode, there is no clicking on your hotbar to active abilities, you just press the numerically assigned button on your keyboard. The UI is completely customizable as you can move and resize any window to fit your personal preference. The in-game help pretty much tells you that controls will feel better to FPS players over MMO players. The "F" key is the default use button and works just like it would in Call of Duty, as does spacebar with jumping, and "C" for crouching. The "R" key draws your weapon, and will put you into 3rd person if you have a melee weapon equipped.
You can't loot a target with your weapon drawn. When monster or players die, they leave a tombstone which can be looted by pressing the use key. When the loot box open, this will put you into UI mode, so you will not be able to move or do anything. You also need to open your backpack (Default "B" button) and manually drag and drop the items from their corpse to your bag one at a time. This will definitely be perceived by many as clunky, but at the same time there is a case to be made by others that looting should not be fast to prevent people from cleaning out bodies quickly in the middle of a heated battle. After playing for a while, I think it has grown on me a lot because the time associated with cleaning someone out adds a risk when you are in a heated situation.
My main beef with UI is the chat box. The chat box has multiple tabs that correspond to the different channels, such as group, clan, local, tells, and alliance. The problem with this is that it is becomes easy to miss messages. Let's say you are in your group chat tab running around looking for trouble, and you run across another player and kill them. Unfortunately, that player asked if he could join you and wanted to provide you with some valuable information, but you missed it because his text was under the local tab that you were not looking at because you were talking in group. Unless you are paying careful attention to the various tabs, you are bound to miss a tell or message in another channel. You can however click and drag those tabs out to create new chat windows for that channel. This also means that having a different chat box for each channel can start to clutter up your screen. I think the chat would be better served with multiple channels in the same tab, and leaving it up to the user to decide which channels they want to see in each tab. Aventurine has stated that further revamping of chat is already in the works and will arrive shortly, so there is a good chance that this will be less of an issue very soon.
The environment looks very nice. The sky looks great, and you can see every branch on every tree swaying in the wind. The game runs very smooth to me with everything cranked, but I have a relatively powerful machine. The graphics are by no means cutting-edge, but considering you are getting a zoneless and seamless world with no loading screens, it looks quite well. The world size does seem massive, and I was shocked to see how little I moved on the world map after walking for a few minutes. Traveling from my starter town to my neighboring enemy's starter area can take me anywhere from 25-45 minutes on foot depending on my route and how much stamina I burn sprinting. I think it is probably bigger than Asheron's Call.
There are lots of interesting and hidden places scattered around the world that will appeal to explorer types. I have seen underground cities, giant tree top villages, mountain top fortresses, hidden treasure boxes, and ancient ruins just to name a few. My beef as far as the overworld goes is the scarcity of monsters. Since there are no experience points in Darkfall, monster serve the critical role as a source of items, gold, and materials. This shortage not only makes it difficult to getting these resources, but it makes the world seem a bit devoid of life at times.
Characters and Animations
Chances are that if you are a fan of this game, it isn't because it is a graphical behemoth. This is one of the areas that people who are sticklers for visuals may be disappointed. The character models are a mixed bag. There are times when I like them, and times were I think they could be a bit better. Graphically, they will come in a distance behind some of the newer MMO's on the market. I do however think some of the armor models make them look a lot better. When you wear heavier armor, you can see the glare of the light reflecting on some of the metallic pieces, which is a nice touch. It does vary from race to race, I hear a lot of opinions from various people who either like or dislike a certain race's model design.
The character animations are another issue that detract a little from the game's visuals. Some of the various animations when characters run around seem a bit off. I think it is something that most people will notice fairly quickly after watching some of the video and in their first hours in the game. Since you are in a first-person view for most of the game, you won't be looking at your character nearly as much as other games that have you locked in the 3rd person. While they can take some getting used to, they are by no means a game breaker to me and most of the target audience of the game. If they decided to review and rework the animations down the road, I don't think many would complain, but I think most agree that their time is better spent on other things right now.
There are 3 major different combat types in Darkfall; Melee, Archery, and Magic. This will most likely be one of the more hotly-contested aspects of the game, where most people will either love it or hate it. Unlike other MMOs, Darkfall's combat plays out more like a first-person shooter than a traditional MMO. This means there is no tab targeting, your attacks need to be manually aimed, and your attacks can also be dodged. It is also worth mentioning that the different races all vary in size, which means that certain larger races (Ork / Mahirim) may have a larger hitbox than some of the shorter races (Alfar / Dwarf). I have heard some people freak out about this issue making different races having advantages, but as someone who plays a Mahirim, it was not much of an issue for me personally. I am sure others will disagree on this point, but I would just suggest people play what they like and you will adapt.
Stamina also plays a very critical role in combat because when your stamina is depleted, you will not be able to attack or put up much of a defense. Stamina management will be vital to most of your fights, and in most cases, running out of stamina can be as equally devastating as running out of life. Darkfall also seems to recognize back attacks, and rewards them with doing an increased amount of damage. This can make turning your back and fleeing from someone have some risk if the other person is able to hit your back, especially with arrows. To combine these points, some people will find that melee combat will often have some people sprinting the entire time trying to get behind behind their targets or to make themselves harder to hit. While it can be annoying sometimes to fight someone doing this, these people tend to burn themselves out faster, but the use of this tactic will no doubt frustrate some players.
Each of the 3 combat types have skills associated with using them. When that skill reaches 25, new attacks will open up to be purchased. These new attacks initially after purchase do not seem to show a noticeable increase in damage, but after skilling them up a bit, they start to show more of a return. Some players might be disappointed to find that there are not many "special" attacks compared other MMOs for the melee and archery types where you may be used to having a hotbar full of different abilities. As a fan of Asheron's Call which had literally no abilities, it doesn't bother me as much because the combat has more freedom than other MMOs by combat having no autolocking hits, but it definitely will be an issue to some players. Hopefully as the game progresses, they will introduce a some more skills down the road to beef up the amount of tools non-magic players have at their disposal.
This is the most basic forum of combat in the game and most likely the path most will follow, especially at the very start of the game because it is inexpensive. While melee is a bit easier on your purse, it has the obvious drawback of limited range. Different weapons types do however offer varying range, such as polearms reaching farther than daggers.
When your melee weapon is drawn, you will be pulled out into a 3rd-person viewpoint. Even if this view, your visibility behind your character is minimal. This means sneaking up behind people is a legitimate tactic as opposed to other MMOs where you can spin the camera to see behind you. I can testify first hand that this works quite well, which is good because this game has no "stealth" skills like other MMOs that can make you go invisible. The only time in Darkfall where you can spin the camera at your whim is while resting.
Pressing "T" will toggle your attacks between a horizontal slash and a vertical chop. While both of these do exactly the same damage, certain situations may find one over the other as more practical. The horizontal slash makes it easier to connect with your targets due to the wide cone of damage, but in crowded combat, this could also have you striking your allies for damage because the game has friendly fire. A vertical chop while having a narrow cone of damage, works better in crowded situations because it minimizes the chance of striking nearby allies in a frantic battle.
Firing a bow in Darkfall requires some degree of skill when it comes to aiming your shot. When you fire an arrow, it will arc through the air as opposed to traveling in a straight line like a bullet. This means that the archer will have to compensate for this by aiming the crosshair above his target depending on how far away it is. Pressing and holding your left mouse button will make your character load an arrow, which can be held as long as you continue to hold down the button. This allows you to wait for the moment of your choosing to take your shot.
The upside to archery, besides the range advantage, is that arrows can be very hard to dodge if the shooter has good aim because of the speed they travel towards through the air. The downside to archery is that you can only hit one target at a time, and that arrows are not free. This can make it hard for new and financially struggling players to keep up with the price of obtaining arrows on a regular basis, although many of the starting mobs are known to drop small quantities. Archery only skills up when you shoot an arrow, and since they are not recoverable once fired, raising this skill can end up costing you.
Magic is broken up into many schools, each with their own spells. In addition to skilling up each school of magic, each spell acts as its own skill. The more you cast a spell, the better you will become with it. Higher skilled spells will evolve and start to travel faster through the air, do more damage, or even shoot multiple projectiles.
Like archery, firing spells at your enemy will require some degree of coordination because they need to be manually aimed. The good news is that magic is a lot easier to aim than your bow because your spells will travel in a straight line exactly to where your crosshair is pointed without arcing. In addition to the ease of aiming and obvious range advantages, many of Darkfall spells have splash damage that can hit a target if your shot is close enough, or even hit multiple targets.
Magic does come with its disadvantages as well. Most of the spells in the game require a reagent or component to cast with the exception of the starter spells. This means the life of a mage can be costly, and skilling up spells and school with components can be a hard road. As such, starting the game as a pure mage right out of the gate will come off as extremely difficult. Spells are also easier to dodge than arrows at range because they are easier to spot and generally travel slower through the air. Magic also has a tendency to fizzle more when you are wearing heavier armor, but there is an armored magic casting skill that helps offset it a little if you are able to skill it up.
Those who delve deep into magic will also be forced later on to make decisions about which schools to pursue. New spells and schools of magic are unlocked as you progress through prerequisite school, but some restrictions start to show up down the road. Darkfall does not let you specialize in schools of magic that are polar opposites, such as Fire and Water, Earth and Air. You can have 2 out of the 4 elements, as long as they don't clash with each other, but your end game plans will need to be thought out to avoid training in the wrong areas.
Probably one of my favorite aspects of PvP combat that makes Darkfall unique is the incapacitation of a player when they reach zero life (excluding the rare and freakish decapitation). This starts a 60 second or so window where you get to decide the fate of the fallen player, or have some choice words with them. There are no revive spells in Darkfall, but when someone is in this state, anyone can help them back up without need of any spell or item. If the person lays there for too long, they will bleed to death and expire. The option is also your to deliver the final blow to send the fallen player back to their bind point naked, and ironically this is called the "Gank" skill by the game. Incapacitated players will yell out "HELP ME!" when reaching zero life, which can be heard from quite a distance away.
Questing in Darkfall at this point doesn't seem to play as much a role than it does in some of the other more recent MMOs. Considering that there are no experience points, quests seem to be a way to get your hands on some items or cash. Finding the quest givers is not as easy also from recent games. There are no floating icons over NPCs like in WoW, WAR, and AoC. Some vendor NPCs simply will have a quest tab on their menu, but you won't know until you talk to them.
The quests themselves are really nothing special in all honesty. Most of them consist of the same basic stuff we have seen the last few years where you are sent to either kill a certain amount of a monster, or collect some items from monsters, or kill the monsters in a certain time frame. It isn't to say they aren't rewarding to do, but they are just as uninspiring as any other MMO, unless I just haven't found the good ones yet.
PvE in Darkfall is a bit different than other MMOs in a few ways. For starters, since there are no levels or a con system, you never really know just how powerful a monster (or player) is until you fight it. Luckily, if you find yourself getting in a bit over your head, it is not too hard to escape the aggro range by sprinting away. Since there are also no experience points, your motivation for engaging in this part of the game will be for monetary gain and equipment. Monsters for the most part seem to drop the items you see them wearing or using in combat, so if a goblin is shooting you with a bow, you can assume that it will be on his body after you beat him. That being said, the monster AI is a step up from other games. Monsters with bows will try to kite you sometimes, others call for help, and some strafe around you to avoid being hit.
There is no kill stealing or tagging system for monsters either. This means anyone can loot anything regardless of who hit it first, last, or did the most damage. While this can sometimes be problematic depending on who is near you, most of the time people seemed to have some degree of respect for who did the dirty work. Another interesting thing though about looting in general, is that multiple people can loot the same target at the same time. I have had situations where me and a friend were both grabbing items out of the loot bag at the same time, which can lead to some humorous situations with people frantically trying to identify and grab the stuff they want before the other guy. Remember that if you are defeated in PvE with people nearby, there is nothing from stopping another player from walking up to you while incapacitated and opting to finish you off and cleaning you out. I can say from personal experience that I have never seen this happen, but I will admit to seeing someone bleed out and getting there too late to save them, then sneakily rummaging through their bag to capitalize on their misfortune.
You also need to be careful not to accidentally damage strangers, or you run the risk of going "rouge" status for a short time, which allows other players to attack you without any alignment penalty for a short time. If 2 players are meleeing the same monster, it can be easier than you think for someone to get accidentally hit by a wild swing, but most of the time other people were good sports about it. There are those who will try to capitalize on it though; I remember a circumstance where I saw one of my guildmates being chased by someone he accidentally hit. Magic users need to be extra careful as well because since most spells have splash damage, it can be very easy to hit both the monster and another player trying to melee the same target.
The alignment system is the main mechanic that determines if you are in good standing or bad standing (red) with members of your own racial pairing. The basic theory is that killing someone who in your racial pairing (who isn't red) will result in a loss of alignment and bring you closer to being red, while killing the natural enemies of your race and red players will increase your standing. The value of a negative hit is much higher than that of a positive one, so it will take several enemy kills to negate the effects of a single friendly kill. If you only hit another player, will be rogue flagged for a short period of time, in which case you can be killed by friendly targets as a means of self-defense. Your alignment is displayed as the bottom meter in the window where your life, stamina, and mana are located.
Having a bad alignment and going red does have some consequences. Besides the obvious of being a target to everyone in the game, your own racial towns will not welcome you and you will be attacked by the guard towers. You will also not be allowed to bind at the same bindstone as normal players, which makes sense because since the bindstones are in town, you would be attacked immediately. Upon going red, you will be automatically bound to remote bindstones in the wilderness where there is little in the ways of merchants and banks in many cases.
The alignment system has its flaws. For starters, it can be easy to flag other players as rogue status by deliberately trying to place yourself in front of their attacks. This can lead to you getting attacked by what would be otherwise friendly players, who then try to capitalize on your rogue status. This means that when you are in a crowded PvE area with strangers, you need to be very careful about your surroundings. Another personal beef I have is that players of an enemy race have their names colored blue, even though they are technically your enemy. The game displays them as blue because their alignment is good in the context of their race. This can lead to confusion if you see another player at a distance and can't quite make out what race they may be. I think it would make more sense to display their names in red naturally since you will be rewarded for killing them.
This is one aspect of the game that I think tends to scare away or concern players who have never played in this type of environment, but may be considering it. I'm sure most people following the game know and understand that Darkfall has full loot upon death, which means that everything on your body is lootable with the exception of your starter weapons, but does not include what you may have banked. Every player starts with a single starter weapon which can always be traded for a different one for a small fee of 20 gold. For the price of 100 gold, you can secure a 2nd weapon, and for 1000 gold you can secure a 3rd. Most players will eventually have 3, which will probably consist of a melee weapon, a wand (needed to cast magic), and a bow (no starter arrows). So you will never be without a weapon no matter what happens.
Now I am not going to sugar-coat it, catching a beatdown and waking up at the bindstone in your underwear sucks, and everyone is going to have days where it happens. On the flip side, there is definitely something to be said about bending down over a fallen opponent and seeing a pile of treasure. The first time you do this, it will definitely bring a smile to your face. If full loot scares you, consider the nature of the game. This is not an item-based game, and while items do help a good bit, they are expendable and replaceable. Remember that the core of your strength in Darkfall is your skills, and nobody can ever take that from you. I think people who are used to raiding weeks for epic purple gear might have a hard time understanding this, but hopefully this should give you some perspective.
Darkfall is still pretty rough around the edges and could use some polish in many areas. Given all of the hype and hysteria surrounding the game, it would be easy to be disappointed if you go into it with unrealistic expectations. The game is being developed by Aventurine, an Indy developer that has made an MMO with a fraction of the manpower, and at a fraction of the price compared to the industry leaders. I personally think the game would have benefited a bit by prolonging the release for at least another month or so, and some players who demand polish may be better off waiting for a little bit before jumping in especially with access being limited initially.
That being said, Aventurine has created the solid framework of an MMO that offers a unique experience that the genre has not seen in quite some time, and I am sure many players will be more than happy to jump into Darkfall at the ground level despite its issues. Anyone who has seen their patches can attest to the fact that they are frequent and robust. I have no doubt that as time goes on, Darkfall will further develop into an interesting and needed alternative to the theme-park model that has been beaten to death in the last few years.
If you are a fan of harsh free-for-all PvP, full looting, clan warfare, and non-linear gameplay, Darkfall might be just the sort of thing you have been looking for. If you are a casual gamer, someone who enjoys a linear style gameplay, or looking for a graphically intense experience, this game might not be for you. I also think to fully appreciate the game, playing with a group of friends or being in a clan will expose you to more of what the game has to offer. I don't think it was ever intended to have mass appeal, but more to cater to a niche of PvP players who are looking for something more than what is out there now, and I think in that respect it will succeed.
If you have any questions about anything I have said or not said, leave a comment and I will do my best to answer.
Co-Leader of Inquisition