MMOs have spent the last decade heading down the ever-more-accessible theme park road, hoping perhaps, to “solve” the intimidatingly competitive aspects of old school games in the genre. Undoubtedly, that's been the developer's path to a healthy bottom line. Still, many a venerable RPG-er (and plenty of MMO newbies) hanker for a more dangerous role-play experience, and Snail Games' upcoming survival MMO Dark and Light plans to give it to them.
This week Snail Games invited us to a look at a pre-alpha version of the game at their Los Angeles office, and after doing so, we're happy to report it's quickly coming together. After a quick overview of its fictional foundation (refugees arrive from another planet destroyed by dark magic and must rebuild their civilization from the ground up) Associate Producer Jonathan Stebel took us through the game's main features.
As its survival-MMO category implies, Dark and Light is about survival. You start with nothing—as a human, dwarf or elf—but a journal written by a mysterious mage. This journal gets the survival thing rolling, but after that it's all you. Your main priorities are obtaining the necessities: shelter, clothing, and weaponry, and those come from gathering resources. Lots of them. The good news is, you're on a lush, verdant planet chock-full of useful materials. The bad news is, these materials are scattered among untold dangers—human and otherwise—who'll kill you as soon as look at you.
Death is a major part of Dark and Light, so get used to the idea. You're vulnerable at first, (no matter what race you are; there are no racial bonuses.) to everything: animals, falls, weather, and other players. On the designated PvP, 100-player servers, it's a total free-for-all so look for high-wire tension as you struggle to establish yourself, knowing that at any time other players can squash you into the mud and take all your stuff. (Note: death doesn't cost levels or XP: only items if someone else takes them.)
If you have the smarts and the fortitude to handle this unforgiving environment, you'll work your way apart from the three race-specific starter towns, join with other players, and start writing Dark and Light history. This is done by progressing through three different skill trees: Battle, Survival, and Construction. By completing tasks related to each category, you earn points which you can use to buy useful skills and spells. Two of the spells we saw during the demo included a fireball spell with insanely long range and a levitation spell that lets you lift huge objects and hurl them Hulk-like, at your enemies. (Mind you, spells cost resources. They're crafted and used like limited-use items so don't think you can just run around boulder-crushing everything willy-nilly.)
If learning butt-kicking spells doesn't get your blood flowing, know this: everything in Dark and Light is destructible. We watched in awe as the fireball took down trees from what felt like a mile away, and as levitation took out a section of the forest with a boulder the size of a car. If you don't learn to defend yourself with powerful magic, you likely won't be long for this world.
After burning and crushing stuff, we took a brief look at the crafting system, which for now consists of a clean, orderly interface where you drag resources to the appropriate boxes and click a button to craft items. As of now basic quality items are all you can craft, but Snail Games says higher quality items will be possible down the line. From what they showed us, crafting isn't a sideline in Dark and Light; it's central to gameplay. Associate Producer Stebel told us there will be an incredible number of skills to learn and items to craft, and all races can learn all of both. So lace your boots up tight people! Your work's cut out for you.
Anyway with all that crafting and resource gathering, you're going to need a lot of storage, and you'll be glad to hear Dark and Light's got you covered. You can carry a surprisingly large number of items, and while it's possible to exceed your carrying capacity, you can build a home to store any excess (actually, it's probably a good idea to keep the lion's share in your house in case raiders get you). That said, don't forget you're on a savage planet where everything's destructible, so build those walls strong and high or you could come home from adventuring to a smoking pile of rubble.
Along with crafting and spell-casting, we were treated to brief look at shapeshifting and character creation. The former involves spells that let you to turn into fierce and fantastic creatures. (We saw the Wyvern.) When transformed, you attain alternate skills and attacks used for things like air-to-air combat (!!) but the effect is temporary. Other beast-related fun involves the killing or taming of epic monsters which can then be used as mounts. During our time with the game, we got a glimpse (before being instantly killed) of a gryphon and a huge blue-glowy dinosaur called a Crystalline Beast that rumor has it, can't be killed except by large groups of players.
Character creation seemed to be still in the works, but confirmed that both male and female characters have visual kinship to the humans, elves and dwarves of the Lord of the Rings movies. All characters, regardless of race or gender, can be customized to a high degree—even to the point of silliness. We experimented with giving them crazy-long arms or giant bobble heads, and the results were hilariously satisfying. Armor and clothing start simple, but better items can be made and acquired, and parts of these can be custom-dyed. No word yet on whether your look can be changed later, but with only one character per server your only option, if you come to hate that purple ponytail, is probably to start a new character.
Other things we saw of note during the demo include the game's insane draw distance (the Unreal 4 engine makes it feel like you can see to the edges of the hundred square kilometer map) and the dauntingly dark nights. If you've ever gone camping, you've experienced that kind of impenetrable blackness and it's unsettling to the say the least. It's particularly frightening here since Dark and Light cranks the danger up to eleven during the night cycle by making wildlife more aggressive and having dark magic meteors plummet to the earth. Fortunately, there are fairies! Yep, instead of a torch you carry a Tinkerbell-style fairy that hovers nearby lighting your way.
Things we didn't get to see during the demo: combat and guild functionality. Though we died many times, there wasn't much in the way of active combat. And and as for guilds, there's little information right now of official mechanics aside from guilds being able to designate a server “Lord” who gets a unique, fancy-pants mount. Stebel did say that guilds will have no membership cap and can apparently declare war on other guilds. Should make for some interesting political shifts.
Though Snail wasn't ready to discuss the number of servers upon launch, they did say there will be designated PvE servers for players who prefer exploring and building to the constant stress of fighting off enemies. They also said that a firm early access date is still hovering in a fog of development uncertainty, but that it should happen some time later this year.
Early days though it may be, Dark and Light looks to have the kind of quality survival gameplay competitive gamers live for. In its pre-Alpha state, it's already more cohesive and polished than expected and promises with its three-pronged skill system, impressive spells, and risk-filled, strategy-testing environment, to keep excitement high. We'll be waiting for its early release date with our fingers on the download button.