Dark or Light

E3 2005 Impressions

Dana Massey Posted:
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From E3 – Tuesday May 24th, 2005

Dark & Light has been on the MMO radar for quite some time. Originally announced several years ago and a veteran of the E3 show, the folks behind this game were found at the front of the Kentia Hall. This year they once again showed off their game known for its massive view distance, as well as a slew of more details on the game mechanics behind this title. As the game bares in on a launch date later this year, this may be the last chance we have to see it at the show before it hits shelves.

The main defining features of the game are its long view distance, massive world and single server approach. The team employs BigWorld technology and a layering system of LODs (level of details) to allow players to see a long way. Their zoneless world is larger than anything on the market and is inhabited by the four playable races, plus variants: Trolls, Humans, Elves and Lutins; the later being a small sneaky race.

Visually, this game remains a sight due to its long view distance, but up close it was meerly average. It features some interesting environments, and generally good models, but the view distance remains its defining visual trait. The entire experience should be more than adequate to entertain the average player, if not those who really enjoy eye-candy. That said, the game does carry with it a very epic feel that other games simply cannot achieve. Players cannot escape the realization that it is indeed huge.

What I truly wanted to know is how they were utilizing their enormous game world to make it a compelling and fun place to explore. It is one thing to have a big world, it is quite another to take advantage of what that gives you. The demo heavily emphasized their various transportation methods, such as flying a dragon or a hand glider, but as we flew over the world, I could not help but feel it was very desolate. Partly, this is due to the fact that their core design relies on players to colonize and build cities throughout the world. As a result, in a pre-release stage it feels a bit more empty than it ultimately will be.

With a world this big, the game was 90% generated, partly using satelite imagery. On this front, they mask the lack of hand-crafting well. The world does not appear ridiculous. I am sure a geologist would not agree, but in the end Ganareth is a fantasy world and some of the stranger world anomolies make good sites to behold. On the downside, the team has no plans to include dungeons and underground areas in their initial launch.

Combat in Dark & Light is as you have come to expect from an MMORPG. You have auto-attack and a series of special moves you can use on your opponents. They briefly displayed some basic combat. It seemed fast paced and compelling, if not altogether different from most other games. The effects on their spells were visually adequate. The game also relies heavily on groups and social behavior. Although it is possible at early levels, the game is not designed for solo play.

The meat of the game promises to be city creation, politics and player vs. player combat, all of which reminded me a great deal of Shadowbane. The game is class based, but there are parallel advancement tracks. You can advance in combat or in social skills. Theoretically, it is possible to play Dark & Light without ever fighting a monster. You gain social points by participating in politics, which was loosely defined as city and guild management. It was not immediately apparent what these social skills provide you in a practical sense.

The political system allows any player to run for office, the winners chosen by a player vote. If they win they can come to control an area of the world. This grants them a title and the ability to manage the district (taxes, prices, etc.). Players can also found villages and build them up over time. This is where PvP enters the equation. Towns can declare war and attack other towns in their area, but they must be careful to ensure they fight those of opposing, not similar, gods; lest they anger their patron. I also asked how they plan to deal with a political leader who griefs his people. There will be no mechanism for removal save waiting for the next election. They did say that if it was really bad, players would have the option to simply leave.

The majority of their massive world is PvP open, with the exception of a few smaller newbie areas. Players who murder innocent players will be given a murder flag, a decision they hope inspires a reactionary force of player bounty hunters. If you are at war with their town, you will not receive a murder flag. This should appeal much more to those players who enjoy “old-school” Ultima Online or Shadowbane.

To take advantage of their one giant world, the team at Dark & Light has teamed up with Alchemic Dream, a Canadian company, to handle their in-game events. There was one story being run during E3 for the beta testers, although we could not see it at either of the times we visited their booth. The plan is that these events will generally be announced in advance, although sometimes sprung on people, and will help the world and its story move forward. They told me they want to get back to the roots of MMORPGs and emphasize the last three letters. They currently have a team of about ten people working in Canada on these events.

A few fun things they did mention, is that while there will be no boats; wizards have a spell that allows them to freeze, and thus walk on water. Another cool fact is that their server will not require a restart to change anything, including the landscape. They are also planning a full crafting game, and some magical abilities will depend on the lunar cycle. The later especially being an interesting little twist on game play.

Overall, I felt somewhat underwhelmed by Dark & Light. This could be partly because it is a long-toothed veteran of the show running up against a bunch of new shiny games. The major hurdle they face as they approach launch is to ensure that they take full advantage of their massive world and players are not stuck in tedius plods from one point to the next. Their live event system and open PvP seem to have put them on track to develop a core niche audience, if not the mass appeal of some other games we saw this year.

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Dana Massey