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Completely random ideas and thoughts about MMO games, design, theory, and the industry itself.

Author: Coldren

De-Railed: From World of Warcraft to Darkfall – Babystep Interruptus

Posted by Coldren Monday January 25 2010 at 1:13PM
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[Author's Note: This is the second part to what I hope to be a continuing series of blog posts here at about my experience with Darkfall.]

I keep telling people I have bad luck. I don’t mean “never wins the lottery” or “missed a bus by 2 minutes” bad luck - That kind of bad luck I could deal with. But no, it can’t be that simple. My bad luck tends to be nuclear-grade bad luck. In those 2 examples, it would be far closer to the reality of it all to say “Can’t even win a game of Bingo with all but the center square filled in” or “Gets on the bus, only to have it stall, tires burst, and then explode into flames because of a freak combination of baking soda and vinegar.”

People far too optimistic keep saying “There’s no such thing as bad luck, it’s all in your head, blah, blah blah”. I wonder when people will start believing me.

And so it was that on my inaugural weekend with Darkfall, there were so many connection problems with the North American servers that they are reimbursing us for the down time. Due to the fact that it happened late in the evening (EST) Saturday/Sunday Morning when I have the most available time (Wife is asleep.. QUIET DOG!), the review won’t be quite as steeped in playtime as I had hoped. However, what I have experience thus far has more than enough substance to get this series of posts started. We’ll start with some basics of the game itself – Setup, installation, character creation, and the client.

Account Setup:
The setup of my Darfkall account was uneventful. I had no problems with my credit card, the website functioned flawlessly, and it was easy to do. It’s standard MMO-faire from this perspective.

Download and Installation:
If there was a bit-torrent alternative, I didn’t find it. The download of the setup executable was a few megs, and went by fairly quickly. Setup required that you download some versions of .NET and some Developer Kits so that you could run the program. This is a bit unnerving, but alright, I’ll go with the flow. From there on, it’s a typical patcher, so make sure you have about 9 or so hours on a DSL connection to download the remaining several gigs of the client.

Character Creation:
In case you didn’t know, you get one and only one character for the one and only one server you can access at this time. Don’t worry about skills and whatnot though, because you can theoretically cap every single skill on one character, so alt’s aren’t really required.

If there is any benefit to one race, stat or ability wise, I didn’t see it. It might be there and I just missed it, but there’s no highlight to tell you the major differences aside from aesthetics or alignment, since some races are naturally aligned with others. I almost always pick human, and this time was no exception.

The character creator is average. You have a few hair facial designs, a few hair colors, and a few optional pieces of jewelry. It wasn’t bad, but it’s certainly nothing of the caliber of Aion or just about any game by Cryptic, but I personally have no problem for that. It was good enough for my tastes. I’d almost say it still had more options than World of Warcraft.

The Client:
It should be noted that throughout all of my gameplay, the client itself did not crash once. The only times it did crash was when the server itself went down, or when my DSL connection died. It has so far been remarkably stable.

Connectivity and Movement:
When I COULD connect to the game, it has a pretty consistent low ping. I did however notice hitching or screen lag when fighting and sometimes moving. It's noticeable, but not game-breaking. I use a Geforce GTX 260 graphics card (No SLI) and the movement and animations were fairly fluid, even at higher video settings. Some, however, might feel they are a bit primitive. (I've heard people state somewhere that it seems like characters have a broom stuck up their.. well.. You know).

The World:
The first thing I noticed after signing in is the graphic style. I can’t quite put my finger on them. They’re just… Different. It’s almost like it’s a cell-shaded style with a hybrid of rendered textures. It’s a very unique blend, and something that honestly hasn’t been captured by any Youtube video I’ve ever seen of the game. Personally, I find them quite nice. It looks like it was designed to be nicely stylized, but low in Polygons. You really have to see it on your screen to understand.

There are some nice shadow effects, and the environment feels right. I swear that those trees are swaying in the wind. The water effects, while not spectacular, are unique in that it looks like the water is crashing on the shores, ebbing and flowing. The starter area of Heart of Eanna was my chosen location – A small fortress town on a peninsula surrounded by a forked river, and mountains beyond. It was nicely detailed and suited my palate just fine. Some people, however, might not like the style of the game, but it’s a matter of personal taste.

The Interface:
The biggest shock, barrier of entry, or deterrent from the game for me so far is the interface. As has been mentioned before, it’s probably among if not the weakest technical link in Darkfall. Here are some of the “Gotcha’s” I’ve noticed:

1) Controls – It makes sense that since Darkfall has an awful lot in common with an FPS (I swear, the more I think about it, it IS an FPS with different skills and armor in it) that the controls would be similar. For those of you like me who never play FPS games,there's a steep learning curve ahead of you.

You have your sprint, strafing, crouch, and jump buttons, and left click shoots/swings. This is awkward from the WoW standpoint, because the process to actually use an ability is at least a three step process, possibly four:

Equip the Weapon (Hotbar)
Unsheath the Weapon (R Key)
Optional: Select the ability or spell (Hotbar)
Left Click to fire/swing

All of this has to be done while moving and aiming. Now when you are done killing, to actually loot something, you have to sheathe your weapon, press H, drag and drop each individual item to your backpack (No right-clicking to loot), then unsheathe your weapon again. And since you can only have 10 slots per bar, you’ll be shift+num’ing a lot for spells, attacks based on weapon equipped, and general skills like “Rest” and “Bindstone Recall”.

Between switching weapons (melee, bow, staff) and using all of the related abilities related to whatever weapon you’re using, your real-life dexterity score needs to be a bit higher for Darkfall than it is for WoW.

2) The Quickbar – “Clickers” take note: You can’t click the hotbar anymore. Whenever you right-click to be able to use your mouse for anything but aiming, pressing on the hotbar will do you no good from what I have tried.. Come to think of it, haven’t tried putting potions on it.. I’ll look into that.

3) Chat Windows – By default, there are quite a few of them, separated into two groups, each with different tabs. There’s Race, Race Alliance, Public, Clan, and Monster. I’m not certain, but I think “Public” is the equivalent of “/Say”. I really don’t understand the reasoning behind not using the tried-and-true method of /s, /gu, /p, /as that every other MMO has. As it stands, you have to manually change tabs.

4) The Map - I understand exploration and making it take actual effort to get to know the lay of the land and the world, but I really don't think it would hurt if towns and cities were labeled on the world map at all times. It would also be nice if you could create markers (Can you?) to note monster spawn locations, as they are quite scattered and only indicated on the map when you have a corresponding quest.. And walking and searching, while it sometimes can be fun and exhilarating when you find something new, can feel tedious when you go great lengths of time without finding anything.

5) No UI Scaling - You can re-size windows, but you can't scale the content, which results in a lot of scrolling. It would be nice if I could actually scale the UI so it's less obtrusive and easier to read. It should be noted, you can make elements of the UI hidden and only appear when you right-click, but I'd like to have some things open but smaller at all times.

6) Skill/Stat Monitoring - Along the lines of number 5, it would be nice if there were some window or GUI that you could drag and drop skills and stats on so you can monitor their gains as you play. Sure, you can right click and have a whole mess of other GUI's open, but again, it'd be nice to simply have the option and for everything I like to monitor, I'd see nothing else when I right-clicked.

The UI is probably the thing I think needs to be updated the most, so far, to prevent people who come from games like WoW from signing on, then signing off in frustration. If you liked WoW's UI and won't settle for anything less, Darkfall is going to be a tough sell for you. For me personally, it's something I can get used to, but it needs to be far more accessible from a usability perspective to be feasible to a larger market. The challenge of the game should be the mechanics, not the controls.

Speaking of mechanics, in my next article, I’ll talk about the mechanics of gameplay itself, the community, and why I was NEW for (only) a day.

Thanks for reading! writes:
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