60 Days of Darkfall
It's been about 60 days since Darkfall has gone live, and I figured that I would take some time to give an overall update to how the game is progressing. There have been a lot of changes since I wrote my Beta Review, so hopefully this should give people a general idea of where the game has improved, and where improvements are still needed. I write again from the perspective of a guild leader, and someone who has been fortunate enough to see more aspects of the game than perhaps the average player. I am not going to review the basic game here or go over things I have already talked about in previous articles, instead I am going to focus on some of the changes that have occurred over the last 2 months.
This is one aspect of the game that has really undergone some a variety of changes over the last 2 months. When the game first came out, a given harvesting node originally held a different amount of resources for each player. As an example, originally a tree would hold X amount of wood for every player who harvested from it. This meant that a group of people could all harvest the same node and each person could get 50 wood as a hypothetical number, so 5 people could gain 250 wood collectively from a single tree. The nodes have since become universal like most games where they have a set number of resources, so that same tree would only yield 50 wood collectively no matter how many people are there.
One major gripe about harvesting originally was the general tedium of it. Originally the player would have to click each time they wanted to harvest a node, thus a player harvesting that 50 wood would have to click a minimum of 50 times to get it. This tedium drove some players to get an auto-clicker to take some of the strain off of them. Fast forward to last week, Aventurine changed the harvesting mechanic so that one mouse click now makes your character auto harvest the node repeatedly until it is depleted. This was a welcome to change to me personally because I do not macro, and this is one less reason for me to consider doing so. It also allows me to Alt+Tab while harvesting so that I can take care of other things.
There are still 2 aspects of harvesting that annoy me. The first is the fact that you do not know a particular resource node is tapped out until you go through the harvesting motion. I would think that I would be able to tell for the most part if a tree had no more wood to offer before I started chopping, it's hardly a game breaker by any means, it is just an annoyance I would like to see addressed. The second beef with harvesting relates to me as a guild leader who owns a hamlet with resources. I can understand the fact that strangers should be able to sneak into enemy cities to harvest their resources, especially given how rare some of the high end ores can be to get. What bothers me is the fact that I have a farm in my hamlet, and if I do catch someone harvesting from it that I do not like, attacking them results me in me going rogue if they are on my racial team. I would like to see players outside my guild or alliance be flagged rouge for harvesting from my land without permission, so that I can stop them and protect my property without consequence.
The Trade Channel
In a recent patch, Aventurine added a trade channel as a new tab to the chat window. While it may not seem like a big deal, I think this was one of the simplest and better improvements that has gone into the game. Previously, a lot of the commerce in the chat was bunched up in the "Race" and "Race Alliance" chat tabs. This made it very frustrating to hook up with buyers and sellers for the various goods players were peddling. These chat channels consist of a cross between WoW Barrens chat and guild recruitment messages, so trying to use them as a platform to sell goods was often unsuccessful.
With the addition of the new "Trade" chat channel, players are given a means to browse the goods of other players as well as to unload some items they might want to convert to cash. While anyone is free to type anything they want in the channel, I am surprised that most players seem to respect the channel and use it for what it was intended. The channel broadcasts to all members of your racial alliance, so depending on what race you rolled, you often hit a pretty wide audience with your messages. This has helped boost economic activity in the game a lot from my own personal experience, and it no doubt helped crafters find a marketplace to link up with buyers for their wares as well as vendors for crafting materials.
I originally brought this up as a personal issue I had with the game during the beta. My issue stemmed from the fact that the game colored the names of all the people in the game as either blue or red. This color coding system bothered me and other players because it colored names based on the alignment of the person you are targeting. This meant that as a Mahirim player, if I spotted another player who was a human, his name would be blue to me despite the fact that he was a natural enemy to me. This became somewhat confusing, especially for newer players, who would see a blue name coming at them not realizing the person was actually an enemy who intended to kill them. I mentioned in my beta review that a player's color should be based on their relation to you, not their own race.
Apparently Aventurine listened, because in a recent patch they implemented an entirely new system of color coding that went way beyond what even I had wanted. Instead of names being just blue and red, Aventurine added a few other colors to help identify people based on their race, guild, and political affiliation. Players who are members of your guild show up as a bright green, while members of your political alliance show up as a dark green. This is extremely helpful to me as a guild leader because new people to the guild and the game can quickly identify what other guilds are in our alliance without having to check a list, which in many situations there is simply no time to do. Blue players now represent all players who are racial allies, and have positive alignment. Red names are for people who are racial enemies, political enemies, and individuals who have negative alignment.
This is another controversial part of the game that has changed a bit since my initial write-up. The original game mechanics had alignment on a scale that went from positive 100 to negative 100, being on the upside made you blue, and being on the downside made you red. Killing a friendly player on your own racial alliance would cost you somewhere in neighborhood of 8-10 points, depending on whether or not you let the friendly bleed out or you finished him with a gank. On the flip side, killing an enemy player and ganking him would usually result in a net gain of around 2-4 points. This meant that under the old system, a player could farm up to 100 positive alignment and then kill upwards of 8-10 people on his own team before going into the red zone. I used to joke about alignment with my guild as redeemable coupons to go kill friendlies once you hit positive 100 that you could turn into loot.
Well change came to this system, and the cap on the upper end of the scale was changed from positive 100, all the way down to only positive 10. Suddenly killing someone on your own racial team got much more costly. Under the new system, even at your maximum positive alignment you would only really be able to kill one friendly at best before going into the negative red zone. The negative side of the scale remained the same, leaving quite a large hole that a player can dig themselves into if they didn't start respecting members of their own races. At the same time to make things even stricter, the amount of alignment rewarded for killing enemies was reduced to only 2 points, making that deep hole even harder to climb out of for red players.
My main beef with the system now is that there are times where I do have a good reason for wanting to kill someone on my own team. Again using the harvesting from my hamlet as an example, if I attack or kill someone from my race harvesting in my farm, I will be on the verge of going red for protecting my property. This could of course be less of an issue if renegade harvesters were flagged rogue, but it can be an annoyance. The other part of the system that bothers me personally is the lack of penalties against ARACs (all race clans). There are a ton of them because of a lack of punishment for opting that route, and it seems a little inconsistent to make players respect the lore with a strict alignment system, but not in terms of ARACs.
Crafting is another area of the game that has been somewhat enhanced a little since release. In addition to some new recipes for various pieces of armor, Aventurine is actively trying to add incentives for people to craft, or seek out crafters to get their equipment from them. In a recent patch, Aventurine decided to lower the durability on weapons and armor found off of mobs. In the past, farming mobs for certain pieces of gear became an ideal or preferred over buying from crafters because it was a lot cheaper. Why pay a crafter when you can farm the same exact item off a mob for free? With the new durability changes, many of the armor found on mobs has significantly lower durability which means they will break a lot sooner.
One thing I would like to see added would be a "Create All" button for crafting. There are certain crafting activities in the game that are done in bulk, and like harvesting, it would be nice to have an auto-craft feature that would make as many of a given item as possible without having to babysit and keep clicking every 20 seconds. The above picture shows a hypothetical situation where I would be wanting to craft a bulk quantity of arrows, but could easily be applied to potions, cooking food, smelting, and woodcutting. Crafting a stack of arrows takes 20 seconds, and uses a single wood plus a single ingot. I could conceivably craft 149 stacks of arrows in this picture, but it would take me 149 x 20 seconds to do it, or 49 minutes roughly. While this is a somewhat extreme case, it would be a godsend to be able to click one button and go do something else, or make the time to craft a bit lower. I think a combination of the 2 ideas would be good.
It is worth mentioning that the overall performance of the game has been increasing over the course of time since the game has come out. A lot of my guildmates who have weaker systems have been noticing some frames-per-second increases overall and in some larger battles. Aventurine seems to be in the habit of dropping one serious patch every week consistently since the game has come out. Almost every one of the patch notes seems to make some mention of server increases and optimizations.
A real test of the server as a whole came a week or so ago. One Saturday afternoon, the world erupted into a massive war in which sieges were declared at seven different locations all at the same time. As more sieges started to get declared, more and more alliances tried to capitalize on the hysteria and declare their own hoping the enemy would be too distracted to defend as well. Five of the seven sieges actually concluded without a server crash. Eventually when it came down to the last two, a lot of the server population locked into war mode funneled into one of the sieges and eventually buckled the server. While the crash is always sad, when you compare what happened that day to situations from a few weeks ago, it definitely looks like the server has skilled up a bit in its own right.
This brings me to state of the political situation in general. While Aventurine really has no control over this part of the game, I wanted to touch on something I found to be interesting. If you have read my previous articles about "Alliances and War" and "Alliance Leader Interviews", you might have some understanding about the various sides and why they are fighting.
While Darkfall has had a fair amount of content patched in terms of new quests, the player-driven side of the game seems to be where the bulk of the content comes from. The above picture is a before and after comparison of one of the subcontinents. The left is from an influence map I used in my interview article exactly one month ago, and the right is a political map from today. In a few short weeks, one of the larger and securely situated alliances has been completely shattered. I think a lot of people get caught up in the meta aspects of the game and don't step back and realize how much the landscape is always shifting and how literally overnight, the winds of change can blow through and completely reshape an area of the map. We are only 2 months in, and when you step back and think of all the drama, backstabbing, wars, and deals; it has to make everyone wonder what the future holds in store for the players who are actively shaping Agon.
There are scumbags in Darkfall. The official forums are often used a reference to highlight the level of douchebaggery people expect to see in game. I'll be the first to admit that I have seen more than my fair share of freaks walking the streets of Agon. One thing I have not seen much of is hackers, something that I have to say has been overblown to a degree on various forums. I think in the 60+ days I have been playing, I can honestly say I have seen maybe one or two people with my own eyes that I thought were cheating with 3rd party software. After the wave of bannings that Tasos handed out a week or so ago, those people have not been seen again.
One thing I will say about the community is that there are a lot of players who contribute a lot of their time to provide the rest of us with tools to better understand the game. Players have created interactive maps, influence maps, political maps, and alliance spreadsheets. I hope that someday Aventurine will incorporate some of these into the games basic functionality, specifically the political and influence map which are among my personal favorites. Another surprising part of the community in Darkfall is the lack of angry hate tells. In Age of Conan, a game with literally zero penalty for PvP death, my guild would get flooded with all sort of raging freaks. In Darkfall, a game with a significantly harsher penalty associated with defeat, the hate tells are pretty few and far between, and some of them are actually somewhat light-hearted. Most of the people who play this game seem to be tempered to the environment, and don't let it get to them too much.
In my beta review, I recommended that most people should probably hold off before buying the game until they worked out some of the kinks. Is now the time to jump in? I can say it is a lot better now than it was in the beta, and the frequency and changes in the patches we have been getting makes me think that this game is going to be getting better on a weekly basis. I'd recommend that if you are on the fence, that you should keep an eye on the weekly patch notes. It is by no means as polished as some of the so called AAA MMO's in recent memory, but at 60 days in Warhammer, my guild had one foot out the door, and here it looks so far to be going pretty well. The irony is that despite its flaws, Darkfall performs better than Warhammer Online did with massive amount of people on the screen engaged in PvP. Other than that, I hope Aventurine will continue to add some more soloable PvE spawns and work out some of the issues with the siege mechanic loopholes. I am also hoping I will also get a chance to write again about the War Hulks many of you have been asking about sometime in the foreseeable future.
Co-Leader of Inquisition