Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Darkfall Online: The Darkfall Manifesto

There is another leaked post about Darkfall, 2 weeks before the release, and it sums up of previously stated developer intents and player feedback.

Read on


We are two weeks away from release and while nobody really expects sweeping changes in gameplay at this point there is a great deal of interest in developer intent. This manifesto is the rough sum of previously stated developer intent and player feedback. I will try to go light on specific problems and instead cover general areas of gameplay are not quite where everyone wants them to be. This is going to be long but as succinct on each topic as possible:



  • 1. Combat
  • 1a. Melee Combat
  • 1b. Archery
  • 1c. Magic
  • 1d. Gear
  • 2. Tradeskills
  • 2a. Harvesting
  • 2b. Crafting/Trade
  • 2c. City Building
  • 3. Exploration/The World
  • 3a. Travel
  • 3b. Monster Spawns/PvE
  • 4. General
  • 4a. Skill System
  • 4b. Audio
  • 4c. Newbie Weapons
  • 4d. Animations


1. Combat

The stated intent for combat in Darkfall is that it would contain strong elements of player skill but not necessarily require 'twitch' reflexes. As things stand Darkfall is incredibly close to that ideal, however there is also a lack of depth in certain aspects of combat that allows most good players to master the system in a very short time.

1a. Melee Combat

Melee combat requires a moderate amount of tactics and a low degree of 'twitch' skill. Amateurs often get the impression that melee combat is just a 'clickfest' because of the lack of conventional MMO depth (little to no skills to activate), however this isn't the case. Careful management of stamina, well timed swings and a firm grasp of the reach of whichever weapon you've chosen (as well as your opponents weapon) will give any player an edge over someone who runs in spamming attack and holding sprint. That said, melee combat could be much more involved than it is. Many weapons share the same reach and swing timers, and the animations that drive real-time action based combat are far too homogenized. Many good ideas have been suggested to 'spice up' melee combat, among those the ones that best fit with both the current design of the game and what players want have to do with different swing styles. There are many ways to implement different swing styles, one of the most popular being 'weapon' based styles such as "polearms get an extra long thrust attack". Animation/style changes would make combat more varied and entertaining to watch while also forcing players to reckon with a metagame of how best to tackle users of different styles.

Request for crowd control should be ignored. The people requesting crowd control in a game that relies purely on positioning and movement in action style combat are just very confused by other MMOs they have played. If you want a better game to compare DF combat to try Jedi Knight I, II, and Academy where force powers (crowd control spells) were, popularly, turned off so that players could enjoy the light saber combat. Please keep DF 'force powers' free; there are plenty of ways to add depth and skill without making players lose control of their characters.

1b. Archery

Archery is a very basic FPS style system that is difficult to find fault with, however it is also lacking in depth. As things stand many players feel it is a bit too effective at low skill levels. One possible solution for this would be to separate arrow types into tiers. Basic arrows would include the starter craftable arrows as well as arrows found off of low level monsters such as kobolds. Basic arrows would deal lower damage than what arrows do currently and higher level arrows (which could be crafted for greater costs at higher skill and found on more difficult monsters) would do the same or more. Archery is a great combat dynamic and it should absolutely not be limited by bow type alone. It would be best if both developers and players looked at archery as stamina based magic. This would open up cool possibilities like poison arrows which stop your food/potion regeneration for a duration.

1c. Magic

Unfortunately, too much about magic is unknown. The only school that can be reasonably addressed is Lesser Magic where players have reached cap on some spells and have experimented with most of the available spells. As things stand the most major issue with magic are the results yielded when switching into a new tier, and unfortunately I'm going to have to cite specific examples since we have so little material to work with. Having Mana Missile leveled to 50 is going to be a very common circumstance for players who have leveled Lesser Magic to 50 and begin using Greater Magic. Players who begging casting Rend (which is comparable to Magic Missile in that its purpose is damage based) will quickly learn that is does less damage than the Mana Missile which they leveled to 50. Not only does Rend deal less damage but it costs a reagent and has a significant cooldown where Mana Missile has neither. A common argument in favor of things working like this is that you can't get the full effect of greater magic while using a newbie staff (and that staff levels haven't been implemented). However, if staff levels should be limiting anything its not schools of magic, but maximum damage dealt. Progression in other areas of the game works smoothly; high skill in Greataxes means dealing more damage. Not just with upgraded weapons, but with any weapon. Same for archery.

Because magic is divided into 'schools' there seems to be a high level of confusion (and tremendous lack of consensus) on how exactly it should work. However, its fair to say that as players skill up and progress to new abilities and skills they shouldn't be forced to 'gimp' themselves by using a skill repeatedly until its as effective as a skill they had earned at a lower tier. The parallel to this in melee combat would be that power attack actually hits for less damage than a normal strike until it gets leveled up. This is silly and counter-intuitive to how the vast majority of gamers have been taught to play games.

1d. Gear

Equipment plays an important role in DF and it looks pretty good so far. Light armor is not very effective but it is also very easy to come by. Heavy armor is very effective and is much more difficult/expensive to acquire. Still, many players feel that the disparity between a lightly armored player and an unarmored one is simply not enough. Fighting naked is currently a viable tactic against all but the most heavily armored opponents. Two naked guys can easily dispatch one heavily armored opponent and that is a concern. Risk vs. Reward is one of the core tenants of gameplay in Darkfall and it would be a shame to see naked raiding parties become flavor of the month after release. A part of the problem is obviously newbie weapons but an equal amount of blame can be put on gear. The best suggestion I've seen deals with a general idealogy rather than hard numbers but it goes something like this:


Player Armor Type - Ability to Soak Damage

  • Naked - 1x
  • Light Armor - 2x (leather/studded/ancient/crap)
  • Medium Armor - 3x (chain/banded/scale)
  • Heavy Armor - 4x (scale/plate)
  • Super Heavy Armor - 5x (full plate)
  • Mighty Morphin Power Ranger Dragon Armor - 6/7x

In that system a light armored player could soak (roughly, obviously gear isn't tiered so cleanly) twice as much damage as a naked player and so on and so forth. The weapon system should be similar with a 0.0 weapon doing doing 100% dmg, 0.10 - 110%, 0.20 - 120% all the way up to 200% at maximum skill (more for exceptional quality weapons/dragon armor weapon equivalents). There needs to be a disparity in the way weapons and armor scale because you can wear a ton of armor and only one weapon. If you make weapons too powerful people will just go naked with a weapon, and armor has a penalty tied to it where there is no penalty for using the best possible weapon.

The final issue with weapons is that of durability. More testing will need to take place but unless a repair system is implemented, or crafted weapon durability is increased - it is likely that weapon durability is decaying too quickly.

2. Tradeskills

The largest complaint with trade skills appears to have already been adressed (barrier to entry costs). This leaves the 'grindy-ness' of the system as the primary concern. Almost every MMO to date has had the same basic resource farming mechanics (with a few notable exceptions). There really doesn't appear to be a good 'quick fix' for this. Tradeskilling could be turned into a mini-game but that is a bit gimmicky and probably not what most players are looking for. The biggest and most addressable problem with trade skills is the lack of trade options in the game. The universal banking system removes the need for traveling with goods and the only sanctioned trading areas appear to be in the newbie cities which is going to hurt the game in the long term (as players migrate to the rest of the world). Player cities may become meccas of trade but for this to work correctly some features need to be added.

2a. Harvesting

There is not much to say about harvesting. Its tedious, repetitive and necessary to do everything tradeskill related in the game. Could the system be better? Absolutely. Should it be a priority in this stage of DF's lifecycle? Probably not. Its the same ole same ole for harvesting in DF as every other MMO and while that's not necessarily a good thing, it is something many will be willing to settle for... for a time.

2b. Crafting/Trade

Almost as tedious as harvesting, but not quite. Managing resources and grinding towards bigger and better things is a bit better than the prospect of hitting the same rocks you were hitting at 0 skill when you reach 100 skill in mining. The system could definitely be tweaked to be more interesting. Alchemical crafting systems are always interesting to players (systems where unique combinations of ingredients can yield unique results) but much like harvesting this something that isn't in imminent need of change for most players. What does need to be changed is how players buy and sell items to each other. The ability to set up vendors in player cities is crucial. Player cities shouldn't just be locations to defend and siege, they should centers of player trade and while this may happen to some extent regardless; a little trade support would go a long way. Stockable vendors, price settings, buy orders, sell orders, taxation, and the ability to flag your city as a trade location on the world map are all features that would go a long way towards allowing crafters to make a niche for themselves in the world.

2c. City Building

Like Magic, not enough is really known about city building at this point. The costs vs rewards of city building remain, for the most part, a mystery (unless you include what has been said in the past, but not tested). There have been some good posts on the subject but until this system is more thoroughly tested its difficult to say what really needs to be changed, if anything.

3. Exploration/The World

The world of Darkfall is unequivocally one of the game's greatest strengths. That said, it needs to be more populated with both players and monsters. This should be solved by release so its not a great concern, but it still bears mentioning. Agon is big enough to have plenty of interesting locations but not so big that it will lack for player conflict.

3a. Travel

This a point of some contention mostly due to the fact that its paradigm shift for the majority of MMO players. Ever since the stamina consumption was reduced for mounts there should be no real issue for players wanting to travel across the world. Many players are taking issue with traveling long distances but there are as many cons with quick travel as there are pros. Whatever kind of recall/gate system the game will include (its been mentioned often but the details seem hazy) hopefully it won't shrink the world into a few points of interest that become all most players see of the game.

3b. Monster Spawns/PvE

As mentioned earlier the world needs a bit denser monster population but this is reportedly on the way (and already happening). Not a lot denser, its good to see as many players running around as monsters but there are some barren stretches of land that could use populating, as everyone is no doubt aware. Beyond spawns there are some serious issues with PvE in DF. The monsters are too hard in most situations. The group I play with has been able to kill absolutely everything we've come across (minus the Dragon) but only as ten people. Trying to fight monsters that drop weapons below my skill level even 3v1 is an impossible chore without exploiting the AI. Assuming the AI is tweaked to avoid being exploited its going to take serious group efforts to take down everything above the starter monsters (kobolds, trolls, gnolls etc.). Again, to use a specific example; myself and 2 other players all decked out in plate and chain fought one beastman chieftain (with good weapons and 40-50+ weapon skill) and had we not run away we would have been defeated easily. The amount of hit points even moderate monsters have seems outrageously high compared to the amount of damage a player can take. This is similar to Ultima Online, and sadly this is one area where it would be good to not emulate UO. UO PvE was bad, no one ever really talks about how much they loved the challenge of killing earth elementals or harpies- so making the PvE a bit more approachable would be a great place to start. If solo or small groups players have 30 weapon skill, good armor and an appropriate weapon they should be able to tackle monsters that drop gear at their level.

4. General

Everything else.

4a. Skill System

Everything from 'its perfect' to 'grindfest' has been posted in regards to the skill system. One of the biggest complains about skill gains are that the effects aren't very noticeable. The term 'instant gratification' gets tossed around a lot but its probably fair to say that after weeks of playing without a wipe there are still players who feel they have gotten nowhere. These complaints are probably symptomatic of Darkfall's topheavy skill system. Low to medium high (0-70 skill) level skills see very modest differences where some skills have been reported to surge at 99+ (Mana missile does 14 damage at 50, 75, then 26+ at 99). Some players will undoubtedly support this system as it strongly favors 'specialization' over a smattering of decent skill levels, but it will greatly damage the average player's sense of accomplishment. Is there a balance reason for mana missile to double in effectiveness over the course of a single skill point? It's almost as if Aventurine has made artificial skill 'levels' instead of the organic skill system many fans expected. The disparity between high skill and maxed skill is probably too extreme in the current system. The majority of players seem to favor a more natural progession to skill caps over the curren top-heavy incarnation which will greatly favor veteran players over new ones because new players will have a very steep hill to climb before they start seeing significant returns on their time investment.

4b. Audio

If the world is one of Darkfall's strongest aspects, Audio is probably one of its weakest. A total overhaul of audio (with the possible exception of footstep sounds) would make a lot of players happy. Most of it just seems low quality, hashed together, or presented badly. Some audio levels still need to be tweaked (as the guard tower hit volume was lowered recently). The biggest problem is how the directional audio doesn't always work properly. Sometimes it seems to 'stick' and when you turn to a different direction you are still hearing sounds from where you originally heard them. The directional audio issue needs to be resolved asap, the rest can probably be improved later in retail without bothering too many people.

4c. Newbie Weapons

In a full loot game newbie weapons should be absolute garbage. Unfortunately, they aren't. They're quite effective and while you certainly take a damage penalty by not using an appropriately skilled weapon it would be fair to say that the difference between low skill weapons and newbie weapons is very small. If a normal 0.0 skill weapon deals 100% damage (based on the aforementioned damage scaling) newbie weapons should be dealing something like 50% damage. Newbie weapons are never at risk of being lost or decaying. Its silly to even include 0.0 skill weapons in the game when players can equip a newbie sword, bow, and staff to cover every dimension of Darkfall combat with a few one time payments (that are easily affordable). Also, note that the above example would apply an effectiveness penalty to magic as well. Lesser Magic should not get a free ride just because you have to level an individual skills (mana missile/Heal Self) alongside the main one. Ideally, a naked player of one skill specialization should be just as dangerous as a naked player of another skill specialization. This is a very important system that should not be overlooked before and immediately following release. A great deal of naked rushing will be stopped by making newbie weapons less effective, and along with greater disparity between light armored players and no armor we should see, at the very least, people forced to waste basic gear if they want to have any impact on a fight.

4d. Animations

The general consensus seems to be that Darkfall animations need some work. This is a pretty cut and dry topic so the only thing worth mentioning is that when and if the animations are updated it would be a great opportunity to add the swing styles from the melee combat section.


Overall DF has a great foundation and personally, I enjoy the game a lot. I will be pre-ordering/buying it for release. All MMOs (especially at release) are works in progress and DF should always be treated no differently. Its core systems need to be fleshed out a bit and of course many things will need tweaking so that some semblance of balance is reached at the end game. The client is incredibly stable for a beta (I've played a dozen MMO beta's and including almost every major one and DF takes the cake on this front), the combat is world's apart from the industry norm (which is great for everone like myself who is tired of getting more of the same), and the world is the first in a long time that I've genuinely wanted to explore. Even Eve, which has set an excellent example as a Sandbox MMO, failed to make a World/Galaxy/Universe that I actually cared about exploring. Aventurine has a tough job ahead of them. "Listening to their players" sounds really good on paper but in reality there is a tremendous amount of disagreement towards how things should be. In my opinion, they should stick as closely as possible to how they are already doing things and focus on the players who already like the game, but want to see it improved - vs. the players who don't like the game and want to see it changed.

DFO Manifesto - Beta Build 119, two weeks prior to release

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