Thoughts on Darkfall: Unholy Wars
Ever since the delayed and eventual release of Darkfall: Unholy Wars, I've been contacted by several members of the community asking about my thoughts on the new version of the game given how much I covered the original. I haven't written a real "review" of the game at this point for several reasons. The first being that I haven't had much time in general to write with how busy work has been for me (I tend to do a lot of my blog posts when work is slow), and I have been focusing less on my blog here and a bit more on my Twitch TV. The second reason I haven't written about the release is that I am not currently playing it. The extended delay of the game basically decimated my guilds entire recruitment effort and personally I don't find myself on MMO footing as of late. That being said, I finally have some time to breath here at work, so I decided to throw together just some of my thoughts on the new Darkfall. I don't really call this a review since I have not played since the end of the beta, but I will touch on what I feel are some of the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of Darkfall Unholy Wars.
There's a few notable areas where Unholy Wars shines over the original Darkfall, so let's start by pointing out some the improvements over the original Darkfall.
The new Prowess System is by far the best single change in Unholy Wars that improves the game in a variety of ways. Basically the system acts much like advancement system of old Asheron's Call 1. Players earn prowess (experience) by killing monsters and harvesting, these points are then spent on raising various skills to improve your character in the areas of your choosing. This helps crush the entire AFK macroing culture that plagued the original so badly. Players are actually rewarded for playing the game and advance in a meaningful way by doing so. Overall this is probably the single best change to the game.
The feat system basically supplements the prowess system. The good thing about the feat system is that it rewards players for completing certain goals and milestones. I like to think of feats as achievements or a passive questing system that rewards chunks of prowess for the completion of a wide range of activities such as killing monsters, harvesting, and even exploring. It helps give new players some direction, which was a common complaint I've heard from friends who came from theme-park MMOs regarding the original game.
The exploring aspect of the game is actually rewarding when factored along with the feat system and the new map. The new map is another change to the game that I found very interesting. Basically the map is covered in a dark fog of war that lights up various areas only when you personally travel through them. The good thing about this is that built into the map is the ability to toggle on and off locations of monster spawns, wilderness banks, and other points of interest which are automatically shown. Old Darkfall players were probably very used to having to rely on going to some popular community websites on a regular basis to access this information, so having it built right into the game is a convenience.
Like every game out there, Unholy Wars does have some issues. To me I think some one of the biggest problems with the game is not so much what is in the game, but what is not in the game. Obviously with the delay and lengthy beta, most people following the game figured out that Aventurine was obviously running behind schedule on their timeline to releasing the game. This is glaring obvious by a lack of features that were supposed to be in the game and are not.
Class roles is one of the big ones. The majority of them are not in the game, and the ones that are in the game still could use some balancing. There is enough in the game for the game to be playable and enjoyable, but having a lot more in at launch would have been better.
Dungeons are still not in the game. They are coming soon according to Aventurine, but the community was told a long time ago that most of them were done. During the beta some "creative" players were able to access them by using various shady methods, but I feel that not letting everyone access them during the lengthy beta was a wasted opportunity to have the content tested properly. The beta has definitely shown that the community is far better at putting features through the Q&A ringer a lot better then the AV dev team. The lack of dungeons also falls into a larger content problem where players are looking for some other things to do in game besides grind out their characters and look for random fights.
The Market is another key feature that is missing and is promised to come soon. Darkfall has always badly needed a real economy tool. This is critical because not only does it help build an in-game economy, but it also offers another way to play the game for people who would rather focus on being traders instead of player killers.
The good news is that all of the above are things that can be added and are planned to be put in in the near term according to AV. The bad news is most know AV's ability to meet their own stated deadlines is not the best. Whether these issues ultimately drag the game down hinges on their ability to patch these things into the game in a timely manner.
I reserved this section to rant about one thing aspect of Unholy Wars that is just a mess to me, the User Interface. It's common knowledge that the UI from the original Darkfall was not the most user-friendly and could have used improvement in some areas. After a lengthy redesign of the games UI, we now have a UI that is equally bad if not worse in many ways from that of the original. I think I can understand where they were going with it, but at the same time I am baffled. I really want to know what the hell the guy who came up with this mess was thinking, and if he still has a job, why is he still employed?
The Darkfall: Unholy Wars UI is probably the second worse user interface I've personally encountered in an MMO, only being best by FFXI. The chat interface is a complete abomination and a step backwards in almost every measurable way from the original Darkfall. The original allowed me to to resize each chat to the size of my choice and place it anywhere on the screen of my choice. What we have now is a chat hard locked into a spot that I can't move, and can't be resized the way I want it. It just completely clunky and lacking in customization that every other MMO in the last decade allows a user to do, including the previous game! How we went from that to this honestly is mind boggling to me, and makes me think that whoever designed it not only did not play the original Darkfall, but probably never played a modern MMO.
The inventory system is another complete mess. Instead of allowing players to see the entirety of their items on the screen at the same time, we are instead given a single thin row of items that has to be scrolled off the side of the screen. Now honestly, the system in DF1 was messy and had it's faults, but the current system again turn a blind eye to every innovation made in inventoty management going all the way back to the original Everquest. If they were insistant on getting rid of the jumbled backpack approach from the original game, wouldn't a grid make more sense? The frustration with this system gets compounded by the fact that it is used for your bank as well, making managing and moving your items around a complete chore.
The entire hotbar system as been thrown out the window and now been replaced with a radial wheel system for using your abilities. That's a clever idea I guess, but why? The problem with the original Darkfall was that there were too many abilities and not enough hotbar space for them. The new class system means you have less abilities to manage, which helps this issue a little, but again I'm sitting here scratching my head. I found the radial wheel system unintuitive and an overcomplicated way to solve a problem that was figured out a decade ago when someone decided to add extra hotbars to the UI to accommodate players. You can and will probably adapt to all of this over time, but I could probably get used to eating shit sandwiches, it doesn't make it a good idea.
The good news is that I'm not saying anything here that AV has not received in feedback from their players and testers already, and they claim to be working on UI enhancements to improve the player experience.
At the end of the day, despite it's flaws Darkfall: Unholy Wars is probably the best MMO experience in the marketplace right now. It's one of the few games bold enough to deviate from the worn out theme-park linear quest-hub grinder formula that's killing this genre like a cancer. Factor in that it also offers an open and seamless world with FFA PvP and full loot, and the experience it serves up is one that you will not find anywhere else.
Will it have staying power? Honestly I don't know. The fate of this game is going to be based on AV's ability to get the missing features and content into the game in a timely manner. There is enough in the game right now to entertain for a little while as people want to establish their guilds and develop their characters and such. But to have and hold staying power for all but the most hardcore players, AV will need to put the missing pieces into the game before people lose interest. You may better off waiting to see what happens if you are concerned. One the other hand, if they manage to deliver on the promised content in a timely manner, the game should be able to survive and retain people to offer MMO players a much needed alternative way to play an MMO.
Co-Leader of Inquisition