Vaporware, savior, amateur, hardcore, troll, fanboi, scam, beta, broken, epic.
Welcome to Darkfall! If any of you have followed Darkfall over its nearly 8 years of development, seeing these words in forum posts or splattered across various internet sites has almost become a prerequisite of posting. For better or worse, Darkfall has become the most loved, hated, and talked about MMORPG in recent history. Sadly, for those of you that were not fortunate enough to get into beta, you were left scrounging for any official information you could find about the game. Good luck trying to find any! Over the past 2 years the only information available were the seemingly random statements given to obscure media outlets from Darkfall's lead developer Tasos Flambouras.
These "interviews" reminded me of late night infomercials where the narrator makes the product simply look and sound utterly amazing. So much so that at times I am almost tempted to pick up the phone and start ordering. That is, until reality sets in and I realize that if they are giving away not one, not two, but three for the low price of $19.95, it must be crap. It sure did sound enticing though. The more you read the more skeptical some became, all the while making others more rabid for the game than ever before. On February 26, 2009... the Earth stood still. Darkfall was released. Is this the be all end all second coming for MMORPGs? Or will it be soon forgotten among the ranks of failed prospects such as Dark and Light. I am here to answer these questions for you in an upcoming ten part in depth initial overview of the Darkfall world. The parts soon to follow will delve deeper in the Darkfall game itself.
With the huge list of MMORPGs which have been released, or are currently under development, what makes Darkfall so special? Why should I even care? Well that's an excellent question. Darkfall has promised one thing that very few if any other MMORPGs in history has been able to deliver: freedom. Freedom to develop your character in any way shape or form as you see fit. Freedom to kill anyone, nearly anywhere, for any reason. Freedom to break free of classes, breaking the mould of predefined "roles". Freedom from experience, levels, and becoming married to your "leet" gear that you spent hours, days, or even weeks grinding to obtain. A game where player skill counts just as much as your character's skill. And you know what? In nearly all respects, Darkfall actually delivers. By reading the above statements, you may be more confused than ever. Especially if you are a veteran of games such as World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, or Everquest 2. This is because Darkfall has gone full circle and returned to the grandfather of all MMORPGs, Ultima Online. For all intents and purposes one could consider this game the natural evolution of the game that started it all.
First off, Darkfall has no levels, it's purely a skill based game. This means that you gain no experience points for killing monsters, you have no skill points to spend when you "level up", and most importantly, there are no preconceived notions of sizing up monsters or players, because there are simply no levels to compare against. If I decided to become a sword swinging mage, I am free to do so. The concept is really so simple I often scratch my head as to why we have not see this in years. You increase your sword skill by (you guessed it) swinging your sword. You gain magic by... casting spells. If all I do all day is craft, you will have high crafting skills and no fighting skills. Gaining ranks in one skill has nothing to do with another. Every skill advances independently. Now players can simply spend all of their time doing what they love, and leaving everything else alone. You will not find a single thing in Darkfall that you have to do.
The skill based system alone allows for some really unique game play you won't find in most other MMORPGs. For instance, the combat is very much like real life in that you really never know what you are up against.
There is no "conning a mob" to be instantly told whether or not you can win the fight. If you find yourself laying dead in a pool of your own blood, you just fought a red con. If you mow a mob down in two swings, that's a blue con. This is where Darkfall really sets in stone the simple fact that you are now in a harsh world, and it's up to you to figure it out.
This will actually be a scary premise to many, and I have no doubt they are in for a rough and wild ride when they first enter the game. You won't find any NPCs with flashing exclamation points above their heads. You won't be briskly pushed from lower level zones to higher level zones. In fact, there aren't really any zones in Darkfall at all. Agon, the name for the Darkfall world, is one large land mass surrounded by a few smaller islands.
You can run from one end of the world to the other and never experience any loading or zoning of any kind, and unlike most other MMORPGs, the "starter" areas never become obsolete. In fact, this is where some of the most intense action takes place.
But still... hardcore? Are you serious? Well, let me introduce you to the other biggie within Agon. Full Player Vs Player combat. That's right, you are free to kill any player you want to, for any reason you want to.
Well big deal, I can play "battlegrounds" or "arena battles" in other games? Here's the kicker: when you die either from another player or a monster, all of your equipment drops with you. That's right, all of your equipment. There is no insurance, there is no resurrecting at that magical fairy that spends her free time collecting your loot and kindly placing it into your backpack should you meet an untimely demise. It stays where your beaten and bloody corpse does. Sure, you can run back to it and retrieve your things. That is, if no one else has picked your corpse clean before you get there. In Darkfall, you are able to freely loot each and every item on another players corpse at any time. Even if you somehow manage to die in town. The newbie in the world of Agon need only know two things:
This opens up an entire world of Risk vs. Reward mechanics as the better equipped you are the larger advantage you have. But if and when you fall, the more you have to lose. It's an incredible balance that I have yet to see matched in another MMORPG to date.
But I can just get the best loot in a week, right? Wrong. Darkfall isn't just hardcore, it's just plain hard. Monsters are fairly crafty in their AI. They get very difficult very quickly. It is not so easy to amass and farm hordes of gold. And crafting items takes some serious time investments. It's very apparent that Darkfall was designed to reward you for your hard work. So the sting of death can be quite harsh at times. Now don't be completely taken aback, there are consequences for your actions. For starters, there are "allies" and there are "enemies" in regards to other races. Darkfall has 6 races, some of which are aligned with other races. Each player has an overall alignment. You gain alignment by killing someone from an enemy race. While you can kill an allied player, this action causes you to lose alignment. If your alignment goes negative from killing too many allied players, your character is labelled as a murderer and becomes "red". This means that any player, even allied players, are free to attack and kill you. In fact, you will gain alignment by killing red players, even if they are allied. You can become "blue" again by bringing your alignment back into positive territory. So while you are able to kill your allies, you cannot really go on a rampage wiping out allied newbies as you see fit or you will quickly find yourself red, dead, and naked.
Over the next several weeks I will be delving deeper into the game mechanics I brushed on above, as well as the current state of the game, and the problems it is currently facing. In part one of the upcoming ten part review we will focus on some technical hiccups prospective players should know about, as well as an in depth look into the skill system mechanics.