I came across a new MMO called Darkfall many years ago and started casually following it, thinking if it isn’t vaporware, we could have something worth investing. Being a fan of Ultima Online (pre-Trammell), Shadowbane and even Eve Online, Darkfall definitely caught my interest. I also play just about any other casual MMO out there and I enjoy those too. For those that aren’t familiar with the fore-mentioned games, I will give a rundown of what I mean by those. There is a desire for myself, as well as many others, that like a “hardcore” style of game. Hardcore meaning there are harsh penalties for dying, the game is rough and challenging, and there is danger lurking in every corner, causing the pulse to race. For those that fought their first PVP experience in any MMO game, you can remember how your heartbeat lit up and sweat formed on your mouse, as well as that first PVP victory. For those like myself who had this experience, we forever chase it like a drug. It can be even more exhilarating if you have something worthwhile to lose. I was hoping that Darkfall would be the fix.
When it appeared that Darkfall would actually offer a real game, I signed up when the first opportunity came to do so. This was their European “Beta” sign up, even though I live in North America. It cost me 65 bucks for the initial purchase and one month of play. Well worth it to see.
With any MMO, there are certain things that I look forward in a game to keep me coming back. Each category is rated on your typical 1-10 scale, 10 being the highest. Each category is also weighted. I rate the game based on the following:
Eye Candy (5%). The game needs to look pretty good. It has to at least look like it was made in the current decade. I can handle some sloppiness in graphics, but sharp, realistic graphics can go a long ways for me. I also like the players to have some diversity in appearance and armor.
Playability (30%). I have to log into the game and the basic mechanics work. The servers must be stable enough to play more than a few minutes. Constant crashing will run me off. The game must be able to run on current machines. I have a good computer and I build a new one every 3 years. I don’t have the most high end gear, but its pretty damn good. I won’t buy the most expensive computer components, but I will buy the next best thing. Every game should run smooth on my machine. I will give the developers some time to work out bugs and crashes, especially in the first month of release. The User Interface (UI) has to have some thought into it. Key binding is a must. I don’t want to click around on the screen all the time. Also, the learning curve has to be somewhat attainable. I don’t want to spend a month trying to figure it out, there has to be tool tips or information somewhere.
Fun Factor (50%). When I log off, how much fun did I have playing this game. Do I think about this game when not playing? Do I find it harder and harder to log in? Am I getting a good return on my time and money investment? Am I instead reading the forums looking for some convincing to keep playing or cancel? When I log off, do I have a feeling of accomplishment, or a feeling of frustration?
Tilto Meter (5%). Is there anything special or original that gives this game an edge to continue playing? Is there anything in this game design that just sours the experience? Is there any potential here that may come forward in the future?
Developer Musings (10%). Are the game developers listening to their player base? Is the direction of the game purely the developer’s vision? Sometimes great developers have a vision that can exceed the player’s expectations. This is unlikely though. The players are what makes the game. We spend hours of our free time playing, so we know what it needs and what has failed. The success of Blizzard is a glaring representation of this. Developers should filter through the boards and suggestions and provide good feedback. If it’s a good idea and there is a lot of support for it, by all means a company representative should post saying it is a good idea and the developers are seeing how quickly it can be developed. There should be two priorities of the game development, both equal. Fixing bugs and things that are broke, and guiding the game in the direction of the desires of the player base.
I will start with Darkfall and its eye candy. The graphics are definitely not earth shattering or cutting edge, but there is enough detail to immerse the player. Although a bit dated, they get the job done and there is some detail to the terrain. Unfortunately they have a case of repeat for the buildings, where one city building looks the same as the other. Players have some distinguishing looks and the clothing and armor has a bit of diversity. The general overall feeling of the game is ugly. The characters are ugly as well as the clothing/armor. They aren’t cartoonish in the least bit and they try to follow a gritty look, which they pull off and fits with the feel of the game. I give it a 5.
The game is playable. Although the occasional server crash is there, it is playable for long stints of time. Most of the game mechanics aren’t broken, so they are working as intended. This game works fine on my machine and moderate settings. If you crank it up to high, it can get a bit choppy. During a siege with lots of players centralized, it is completely unplayable. If you get near the siege, you will crash most likely, even with graphics cranked down to an un-enjoyable level. This in my opinion is pretty standard in a new game. It can take several months for the developers to work it out. I won’t judge it on that since its still newly released. I give it a 8, not counting the siege issues. I would give it a 2 overall if I counted sieges.
This is the real meat of the game for me, the playability factor. With any new game, there is always the pleasure of creating a new character and exploring the first steps in the virtual world and getting your first kill or quests accomplishment. I generally like to explore around some and learn the mechanics before joining a guild. Darkfall is completely centered around PVP, flat out, that is what this game is all about. There are starter quests that mostly let you learn the MOB areas and getting some basic weapons. After that, quests pretty much fall off and are non existence. Since this is a PVP focused game, I have no problem with that. You will quickly learn that this is PVP game.
This is not a solo game at all, so if you like spending time soloing, this is not the game for you. You will get ganked repeatedly by superior forces and everything you have will be taken from you. There are no levels per se, but there are skills that level up with use. If you get ganked enough, in theory, your defense skills will level up, making you stronger. But you quickly learn in reality, the leveling scale is so high, that you could get ganked 100 times a day for a month, and make very little progress in this area. This world is big, I mean really big. So you could find a very secluded area and do your business, either harvesting or working on fighting skills on MOBs. But even secluded areas, you will be found by roaming gank squads. You make a lot of noise fighting and harvesting. So you must join a guild early for protection. A note on fighting MOBs, this is not an easy task, the MOBs have some really strange AI, you can’t really pull a single, they come in groups and are tough. You will die often to them and takes time just killing one. So once again, soloing is not a viable option.
I went through two guilds in my journey through Darkfall. Neither of them are worth mentioning. Since the skill cap is so high on gaining skill levels, most of the time is spent beating on each other repeatedly to gain skills. It even goes so far as guilds have what they call a “wall of blood” in their guild cities. This is simply where you park your character and other guild mates beat on you to gain attack skills while your afk character gains defense skills. The game doesn’t force a log off, so you leave the game on forever at the wall of blood. Like mentioned before, the skill gain is so slow, you can get bored of beating on the wall of blood pretty quick. Other activities of the guild are to go farm resources close to the city, this can be a shining moment in the game, because this does attract the gank squads and some nice battles are fought here.
Fighting is a challenge in Darkfall. There is no targeting, just swinging your weapon or blasting a spell in the general direction hoping you land it. This can bring latency into play. If you high latency, I would recommend not playing this game. You will be at a HUGE disadvantage. But the fighting mechanic can be fun and gives a real sense of a First Person Shooter (FPS) and offers some skill to the task.
Soon guild cities can build the resources to farm inside the guild walls, which removes farming outside the walls. This took away some of the fun, because there was no fighting, just boring continuous clicking of your axe on a tree. Harvesting is the center of the game, you need it to make money. You need to build anything. Since you die a lot and lose everything, you have to be able to make more weapons and armor.
Once you realize that skill leveling is such a long treadmill, it becomes your central focus, just trying to get your skills up so you can compete. This brings out the worst in people. I have never played a game with so many macros and hacks. It has become quite clear that the Darkfall developers don’t seem to have a problem with this.
The game has an excellent premise, allow the players to build huge cities, open free for all pvp with the keep what you kill mentality. It allows guilds to destroy other cities and basically very few rules. It’s a harsh world with the possibility of pulse rate overload. But there was little of that. The gameplay is mostly tedious repetition thinking that one day, you can actually fight and not just grind. I found myself not wanting to log into this game and I started reading the forums, that are filled with very one sided opinions. You either love it or hate it. At the end of the day, I felt the game was more frustration than pleasure. There is zero feeling of accomplishment. In Darkfall it would take you a month to accomplish in a day with other MMOs. It is truly a grindfest.
I never felt like I could experience the PVP action of the game, because there is such a large divided dual class structure. There is what I call the Upper-Class. They got in the game early, some pre-beta. In the early stages of the game, you could macro up your skills quickly by just shooting arrows in the air for example. This changed, you now have to actually hit a target. The other class is what I call the Lower-Class. These are players who have joined the game late or who never used macros or grinded skill levels. There is no Middle-Class, not yet. The Lower-Class players have at least a year of grinding to catch up. If they try to compete and PVP, the Upper-Class will destroy them. They are left with two decisions, grind everyday or quit. I imagine most will chose the latter. I give it a 1 in fun factor (with a potential of 10).
As I played this game, I looked for things that really set it apart from other games, either negative or positive. I don’t know if the non-combat targeting system is original, I have seen it in other games, but it defiantly can set it apart. It’s a real feeling of battle. Also, the FFA looting a killed player is pretty rare in a game. One thing, the ability to build small and large boats is fairly a new concept. Also, the mounts have a cool idea. You keep it in your bag and when you “summon it”, there is a split second or two where you have to jump on the mount. Another player nearby can get on it first and steal it from you. Neat concept. But I give it a higher Tilto Meter rating because of the nerve to develop a less than friendly free for all game. I give it a 8 for the Tilto Meter.
Darkfall took almost 10 years to develop, so you can guess that they are in no hurry to make changes. They obviously have all the time in the world and a clear vision of what they want from the game. I think the developers take very little input from the player base. There are many good ideas in the forums and issues the players have, none of these have been taken into consideration. Normally I would say this game is dead in a year, but they will probably trudge along for several years with 100-300 players dedicated to the game. I don’t see many new players jumping in this game. I give it a 1 for Developer Musings.
Eye Candy (5%) * 5 rating = .25
Playability (30%) * 8 rating = 2.4
Fun Factor (50%) * 1 rating = .5
Tilto Meter (5%) * 8 = .4
Developer Musings (10%) * 1 = .1
Total Rating = 3.65
Rating Numbers Recommendations:
1-3: Move along, nothing to see here
4-6: Make be worth a look, could be just your game
7-8.5: Good solid game worth your time and money till something better comes along
8.5-10: Quit your job and throw real life away, you have found your new career
So how do you expand this game to more players? The main issue I have is the grind fest. Its ridiculous, up there with what is commonly referred to as an “Asian Grind Fest”. The game looks to have so much potential with epic battles and so much to lose when you fight. But to get to that game requires too much frustration and grinding. I agree MMOs have to have some level of grinding in the game, but that journey has to also be entertaining. A simple fix for this is allowing skill ups outside the game, like Eve Online does. In the end, players want to play what the big picture of the game vision is. If it takes a year to get to it, I have better places to spend my valuable time. I think the developers have a good vision for this game, I just disagree with their vision of a time sink to see the beauty of what they put together. I hope they will eventually understand this, then I will take another look at Darkfall.