When I originally sat down to write this column, I had something closer to our Review In Progress in mind. Instead of retreading the same ground and giving you a rehash of Unholy Wars' systems, I'd like to talk about what it's like to actually play Darkfall; what it feels like to adventure through a game donning the intimidating mantle of “full-loot sandbox.” That's what strikes me as most important and the thing so many players seem to be missing. Hate the concept all you like, hate the forum community, and heck, hate PvP in general, but if you haven't tried the game, please step to the side and stop ranting about something you don't understand. Darkfall: Unholy Wars offers an experience you won't find anywhere else and it bears a wonderful old school charm that's become too uncommon in recent years. More importantly, it has more legs than most modern MMOs combined. Still with me? Good, now let's talk about why.
Here's the thing: as an MMO “tourist,” most people would tell you that I have no business playing a game like Unholy Wars. These would be the end gamers, Darkfall's most core playerbase, and those who stay for the thrill of the win. I enjoy PvP as much as the next guy, but believing that that's all the game has to offer is missing the forest for the trees. Yes, everything feeds into PvP, but for me, Darkfall is about the experience of living in Agon. It's about the world and the camaraderie of exploring it with a clan. It's about hours spent in the woods as a lumberjack or deep in a cave as a miner. Darkfall's sandbox feels alive in ways “safe” games simply cannot. I don't need to play twenty hours a week to experience that. If I wanted to, the game would return my investment with new opportunities and adventures I could recall for years – I've had that experience in the original Darkfall.
I start my days by hunting. I log on early in the morning and the server is quiet. My guild is off at school or work and the town safe zones are speckled with the AFK. I open my map to locate a mob spawn before visiting the bank. Rule number one in Darkfall is to store anything you don't want to lose. You have to be cautious. The clank of swords on shields and the whoosh of arrows through the air travels; a roaming adventurer could hear them in the distance and sneak in for an attack. Hopping my mount, I leave town. Five minutes later I arrive at the ruins. It's afternoon and the skeletons are guarding their haunt. Spiders hide in the grass nearby. I scan the horizon for players.
Combat in Darkfall is visceral. Mobs will zig-zag to dodge and run away for reinforcements. Still on my mount, I rush in with a short sword and make a low pass on the skeleton. I do extra damage while mounted. A ball of blue magic flies by me from a nearby pillar and I see a second skeleton duck for cover. I rush back for a second pass and finish my first target. When he's dead, I dismount and, switching to first-person view, take aim with my bow. The mage flees and I close in with a greatsword, healing myself on the way. When he's dead, I open his tombstone and pull out a new hood for my elementalist role and some alchemy ingredients. The first skeleton dropped some coin. Night falls and I run. Mobs can change and gain power after dark and I didn't want to be outmatched. I rest behind a nearby tree to replenish my stats, on high alert for other players. Being caught resting is almost certain death.
Sometimes that happens. This is the great misconception about Darkfall: that death matters and losing your gear is somehow a monumental setback. Nothing could be further from the truth. Gear in Darkfall is easier acquired than any game in recent memory. The best of it still needs to be hard earned, to be sure, but getting back on your feet is often a matter of minutes and a trip to the bank. Farming mobs will often reward multiple sets of back-up gear just from random drops. Most clans also keep items on reserve for such occasions. It's even possible to get some of the best gear in the game by looting armor and weapon racks in NPC cities. What matters in a PvP death is everything else: the cargo you were trusted to get to a nearby city, the harvested resources, and the time spent gathering them. Smart players bank often, but a loss here or there is a small price to pay for the thrill of a dangerous, unpredictable world.
Predictability comes in the form of feats, Darkfall's version of quests. Acting as a network of goals, the feat system guides you into the world with new tasks and rewards you for experiencing all the game has to offer. Everything from harvesting to participating in a clan earns prowess points to invest in skills and attributes. This largely does away with the macroing of DF1 and makes it much easier to catch up and become competitive. It can be grindy at times but teaming up with friends makes it much more fun, especially since it's so easy to get distracted.
My clan holds a small settlement we like to hunt by. We're always looking to expand, even at the cost of going to war with other clans, so building up resources is important. One day, we spotted a group of three players farming mobs nearby our holding. Our philosophy is simple, the resources around our holding are ours. If you take them, we take them back. They saw us coming and ran. We chased them up a hill by a stony ridge. Suddenly their three became seven and we were outnumbered. We fought it out, shocked and elated, but it was a lost cause. At the end of the day, they killed our small party but if we were supposed to be disappointed, nobody told us. It was such an incredible rush, such a Darkfall experience, that being unhappy didn't even enter our minds. We hit the bank, geared back up, and went forward with smiles. Syncaine has more great stories.
Darkfall isn't a game for everyone, but it's definitely for more than think it is. If you're an old school player, or simply like the idea of a virtual world that reinforces teamwork, do yourself a favor and give it a try. It's a lesson in how to do so many things right that the industry is still struggling with. Put another way, it will broaden your horizons and might become a new favorite game you'll be convincing other people to try.
Taking the old school stick and running with it, join us next week as we dive into Vanguard: Saga of Heroes.
Christopher Coke / Chris has been an MMO player for over ten years and longs for the return of great fantasy sandboxes. Read his reviews at Hooked Gamers, his blog at Game By Night, and follow him on Twitter @gamebynight.