Early Access Impressions - It's Rough Right Now, But There's Hope
We’ll admit right from the start that we hadn’t followed Dark & Light all that much in the months preceding yesterday’s Early Access release on Steam. Other than a general knowledge gleaned from posting news, casually reading forum threads and so forth, we hadn’t given much thought to actually playing D&L. Of course, we also understood that this was a game many players were looking forward to playing but still, it wasn’t really on our radar. However, when offered the chance to check out the game firsthand and understanding that it’s basically high fantasy + survival, we figured, “Why not?”
Caveat #2 - Obviously, Early Access means that this is a work in progress. We are trying to convey the state of the game as it is right now. There’s no question that the development team is going to make significant changes, add new things and respond to player feedback over the coming months. Our thoughts are based on its current state.
Polish - Or how long does this take to load?
There’s nothing like that first exciting moment when you log into a new game for the first time. The loading screen comes up, the music swells and…...it continues for five minutes. Wet blanket applied. Dark & Light takes an extraordinarily long time to load. It doesn’t matter how fast your connection or how zippy your PC is, Dark & Light is going to try your patience and / or lock up your system through pretty hefty pulls on system resources.
On this front, the D&L team needs to do a lot of work on optimization.
Servers - Multiplayer, server hosting or single player
Once the game finally loaded, the server list bloomed into view. It was awesome to see how many servers were running at or near capacity. Picking one at random opened another long loading screen but after 10 minutes of loading, nothing happened. The only way to get back to the list was to exit the game completely, something that had to be done via Task Manager. Trying again led to the same result.
We tried hosting our own server, each of us in our turn but with the game crashing immediately once it “loaded” for the host. In the end, each of us played in single player mode.
Hopefully with some optimization applied as well as bugs worked out to accommodate random crashes, this process will smooth out over time.
While not Black Desert Online’s level of customization, the game offers a variety of toggles and sliders to give your character unique appearance on top of being able to choose a gender and race (from three variants: humans, elves & dwarves).
The sliders give a large range of skin and hair color to choose from, but the variety of hairstyles (and facial hair options for male characters) is lacking. The redactor also doesn’t offer such options as scars, tattoos, etc.
Just don’t use “Random” in character creation, and you’ll be fine.
First Steps - Crafting, progression & gathering
As in every other Survival game, when you first log in, you find your character without any cash, abilities, items and all but naked. A helpful innkeeper immediately gives you a variety of gathering quests, such as gather wood, apples, grass, etc. Prepare to spend your first minutes in the game blundering through the grass around a fountain trying to gather enough blueberries for the strict quest giver lady.
Spending time doing a certain chore raises up linked skill, which leads to unlocking of a new rank of it, sometimes together with a couple new recipes, mostly building new tools to head out to gather more stuff to please the ever unhappy city denizens.
So far crafting weapons and tools requires to have the specific skill as well as enough resources which at first are acquirable from multiple sources and accessible in huge amounts.
It doesn’t take long, of course, to work things out and that’s definitely a nod to those who don’t want their hands held. Undoubtedly, too, there will be a more robust tutorial added once the game matures a bit.
By the way, nothing says fun like strolling over the bridge and being confronted by two hulking electric green level 44 beetles or like digging up a chest and having that momentary thrill of finding gold only to be chased screaming back to the city by a hulking skeleton.
The overall look of Dark & Light is where the game truly shines. The level design when on an overlook and taking in a scenic vista is gorgeous. The broad strokes of the visuals is breathtaking at times. Obviously, we didn’t leave the first city by much, it’s obvious how much attention has been paid to the environments, the building styles, flora and fauna.
The good part about this is that it’s one less thing devs have to worry about as they work through some of the other, more pressing, tasks.
While navigating your character around the world, the interface stays next to invisible. But the moment you open your inventory or skill tree? There it is. The folder in folder, sprinkled with buttons and toggles and whatnot. In addition, it takes your full screen - it is impossible to see what is going on around your character, be it an enemy sneaking up, a friend passing by or a quest giver imparting you with words of wisdom.
Perhaps for people who are adept at playing Survival games such as ARK, but for the people who are new to the genre or the particular game it can be messy and un-intuitive.
While we truly believe that there is a good, if not great, game inside the current version, it just feels like Dark & Light should have stayed in development for a longer period of time before releasing into Early Access. In addition, it also feels like maybe the development team wasn’t sure exactly where to go next with the game as is stands today. Perhaps they’re looking for the kind of feedback to help drive development that will make Dark & Light into the game that it obviously has the potential to be.
While not ready to write off Dark & Light as a loss, we still won’t be playing for at least several months. On return, it’s likely that much of what we’ve mentioned will be addressed, fixed, trashed or somehow changed.
Right or wrong, first impressions do matter.