Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Darkfall Online: First Review of the Release Version



Today, RoganBlackheart posted his impressions and reviews of the current post-release state of Darkfall Online.

Hello folks, many of you may know me from the pre-release AOC Boards, the Irth Online Boards, or the pre-release / beta Dark and Light boards. I have tried to infuse some good ideas into the MMORPGs by fostering discussions on unique ideas not seen in most mmorpgs, especially in the games I heavily supported in the past, such as the three above. That being said they were all failures of epic proportion, so when it came to my new hope, Darkfall, I just shut my mouth in hopes I wouldn't jink another release. You will not see any positive or negative posts by me regarding this game anyone, period. I see a lot of misinformation flying around these boards, and it mainly seems to stem from people that are having account issues, or were unable to preorder / order Darkfall, and are for lack of a better term pissed. While I was not in beta, I was lucky enough to get a preorder. After getting a fairly good handle on things, I wanted to post a review for the folks coming here HOPING that Darkfall was the be all end all game, and have no idea what to think since 99% of the posts on this board seem to be uninformative garbage, flames, and rants.

*****WARNING, THIS IS A WALL OF TEXT*****

I can assure you for those not in the game yet and left wondering... hopefully this information will be worth the read.

I also want to emphasize one last point. This is a review of the GAME. I am not reviewing the poor beta process, the poor preorder process, or the poor launch that plagued the first 2 days or so of game play. The game absolutely had all of these problems. Now they are over. 6 months from now they will be all but forgotten. For those of you that cannot play and want to order, this will be corrected in time as well, but I do feel your pain. This is the same mentality though that I see on Cnet, for example, when comparing electronics. They will claim that one TV for instance, has a much higher quality picture than another. But because its $400 more expensive than the lesser quality TV, that somehow makes the lesser quality TV more desirable and therefore a higher rating score? In my opinion this is complete bull shit. I intend the review the product and leave the rest out.

While I do love games in general, once I was introduced to MMORPGs (Ultima Online being my first) I simply couldn't go back. Playing a game with thousands of people that never really ended was just simply for me. Through my mmorpg experiences I think its easy to break down mmorpg players into 3 categories:

-Veterans: Those that have been around when it was creative and fun gameplay that kept these games going, not graphics and hype. For instance, Ultima Online now over 10 years old with its shitty graphics and aging UI STILL has hovered 100,000 active subscriptions to this day.

-Level Based MMORPGers: This group discovered these games after skill based games like UO and Asherons Call. World of Warcraft being the most obvious instance that brought all sorts of gamers from all over the world into the fray.

-Everyone else: Anyone who has never played an MMORPG can be put into this category.

In my opinion if you are a veteran you will want to read more. If you are a Level Based MMORPGer and you feel you have mastered all there is to master in this style of game, you will want to read more. For everyone else, I think this game is simply not for you as it most likely will be too difficult to understand the mechanics, the "What do I do now" feeling, and the general frustration of learning something of this magnitude.

First and foremost this is a not a level based game. Your character is nothing more than a sum of his skills, NOT his level. That may be hard for non veterans to understand. Its much like life if I see someone across the street staring me down, I can try and assess the person the best I can. But in all reality if I never had seen a Jackie Chan movie before and he was the individual staring me down, I would think he looked like a huge pussy. I would of course be wrong, and have my ass handed to me in the process. This is the core element of Darkfall that you must understand. Maybe the guy standing next to me is the best warrior in all the land, and maybe he just has a more expensive suit of armor than me, has shit skill and is a complete pussy. You simply don't know and this adds an element that you simply never find in level based games. The spills over into NPC enemies as well. There is no gauge to spoon feed you the difficulty of the mob so you can know the outcome of the fight without ever fighting it.

So how do I distinguish myself from someone else you may be asking. The character customization in a game like this is fairly huge on several different scales. The first being that you are not bound by any predeterminded notion of what you should be. You have no predefined role. Its very much like life. The harder you work at something the better you become. But working on Swords for instance, does not mean that you now get stronger in something that has nothing to do with swinging a sword, like magic. Where in level based games when you "level up" all of your abilities level with you, whether you actually used them or not. This means that you simply can become better at what you enjoy, and leave the rest alone. If you decide to forgo magic and crafting all together, and just want to swing swords, then you can do so. And your skill in swords will reflect that. There is no limit to the amount of skills you can learn. Its simply using the skill makes you better in that skill. So forget earning "XP" all together.

Money and skills are directly intertwined in Darkfall in 2 ways. First, you must buy many of the skills. For instance if you want to become a weaponcrafter, you must buy the skill. Stuff in this game is expensive, and skills are one of the only things you can hold onto if you die. So its not like everyone can just go and buy all the skills, level them all to max, and be just like everyone else. You must carefully pick and choose based on your play style and your budget. This made me feel like I was really customizing my character, because I was presented with a LOT of choices, and a LOT to work towards as well. Secondly, some skills have "skills within skills"? Wtf does that mean? Well, take mining for example which you start with for free. Once you hit a certain skill level (75), you can buy another skill that improves the length of time it takes for you to mine, thus decreasing your gathering time significantly. So you can decide to improve something you are already good at, or you can choose to grab another skill and learn that one from scratch with your hard earned gold.

Yea yea yea, but how are the graphics? I'm a graphics WHORE! Heh if that fits your mentality then I think you will be pleasantly surprised. This game will not win awards in the graphics department. But that being said the graphics are indeed good. The mobs are fairly unique looking, the character models are ok. The world actually looks pretty nice at times. The engine runs NICE on just about any PC. I have a nice rig and I had everything maxed at 1680X1050 and I get close to 150fps, anywhere, crowded or not. I have a so so rig also that I tried and I was getting 70fps everywhere. That being said I do occasionally see some strange things. For instance when playing and the sun is hitting things pretty hard, distant objects begin to look funny and cartoony. Almost as though they are cell shaded cartoon graphics. This doesnt happen all the time and I can't tell if this is by design, my rig is set up poorly or some other optimizations need to be made. But all in all the graphics are adequate, and for those of us that were stuck playing skill based games with graphics from UP or Asheron's Call can rejoice! I have also seen some pretty big fights with about 50+ people on screen and I can say with a straight face that NO SLOWDOWN OCCURED. This is a very big positive checkmark in the game's corner.

How is the sound, immerisve? Sound for me is a mixed bag. While they are definitely adequate, there are currently 2 big sound issues that piss me off. First the sound in the game when scaled up or down changes your PCs master volume. This gets annoying when trying to use Ventrillo or another voip type application to talk with your in game buddies. The second is that fighting sounds (swords clanking, spells casing, etc) do not seem to scale properly with distance. I can hear fights WAY far away and I often have to check my health to make sure I am not being attacked. I really hope this gets fixed because this kills the immersion a little bit and its really damn annoying.

How is the combat! I want to kill... Well I can honestly say I have had more fun in combat than any mmorpg ever made. This is because it doesnt feel like an mmorpg. In fact, currently I have no weapon skills in my hotbar either . You control when you swing, when you block, essentially everything about the combat. While your skills do play a role in your damage and general combat success, they do not play a role in your hit ratio. Meaning you cannot physically "lock onto" an enemy and then your hit or miss is determine by a random roll of the dice. You must swing your sword on your own (no auto attack) and you also must aim. So if you go to swing at me and I back up quick enough you will whiff. This spills over into archery and magic even more so. This is because magic and archery are done from a first person perspective and it feels very much like a first person shooter. If I pull out my bow I physically have to aim it myself. The arrows also arc instead of firing straight forever. This means that you actually need "player skill" to hit a moving target with archery and magic, especially at a distance. I must say this is strange since this mechanic is virtually non existent in nearly all mmorpgs, but once you get used to the mechanic it just becomes so damn cool. This is the first time I have really seen a player's skill come into combat in an mmorpg and its a welcome change. And again, combat (at least to me) always is exciting because mobs behave differently. They actually will try to run behind you (which does more damage) and it's not uncommon for a mob to try and run away and you will see 4 or 5 PCs chasing that bastard down.

I live to own newbs! Tell me about PVP. Well this is the other core mechanic of Darkfall. As if you didnt already know, this game is hardcore PVP. This means that anyone can kill anyone, outside of town. Not only can you kill anyone, but you are also free to loot EVERY SINGLE ITEM they has on them at the time they died. This makes for a seriously immersive experience. Part of the reason this becomes such a big deal in the everyday life of Darkfall is because of one very little talked about fact: You can only have one character per server. So you are now completely in control of your characters reputation as well. This means that if you attack other players without reason, if you loot other peoples kills constantly, or you are just an annoying fucktard, this stays with you FOREVER. Their talking shit, PKing someone, and then logging onto another character and thus a completely different reputation. For all I know I am grouping with that very guy! Well these days are over. Players are quick to point out who PKed them for no reason, who not to group with / trust because they ninja loot everything, etc. PVP works by having several races being aligned, and all other enemy races free to kill. You have a single alignment status with your own racial alignment. Everyone is a "blue" by default. You lose status by killing members of your own alignment. If your status gets low enough, you turn "red". When red, anyone is free to attack and kill you without taking a status hit, even from your own racial alignment. To get your status back up and become a "blue" you have to go kill some enemy races for some positive alignment. This is a great system in my opinion because you CAN do what you want, with some penalties in place if you do so. So what I like to do is go kill a bunch of enemy races, build up a lot of faction, and then I have a few "few kills" on smacktards in my own racial alignment that I deem it necessary to cut their throats, and chop off their head (which you can in fact chop off their heads as a trophy). One thing that I am a bit up in the air about is the "rogue status" which is a grey category. If you attack a "blue" character then you go grey, which means anyone is free to kill you without penalty, and of course, loot your shit. This status is temporary, and lasts only 8 seconds or so at first. If you attack someone again before this is over with, the flag extends to a full 3 minutes. While this is neat on paper, it has strange results. Since we are all newbs at first, the newbie spawns are obviously fairly camped. So when something spawns and 500 people all attempt to hack away at the mob at the same time. Occasionally, you will miss the mob and hit a friendly player. This will trigger your "rogue status" and you will go grey, while you meant no mal intent. Whats worse is that most times players know it was an accident, but a few of them want to be fags and will attack you partly for fun, and partly because they can loot your shit without penalty. Other players will recognize the mistake, and just ignore it. While this doesnt sound like the best mechanic, I can honestly say I would rather have it than not. Because what you get sometimes will be players just being dicks in general, randomly attacking players when a mob gets close to dieing so the blue player runs in fear of dieing, and the now grey player kills the mob and loots it before the blue player returns to the fight. It's instances like this where I am glad to know I can kill punks like this when I encounter them. I have a feeling this mechanic will get tweaked as time goes on, but again, most times it works well and as intended. Other times issues can arrise.

I am a merchant tell me about crafting! Well this is going to be a mixed bag for people, and it primarily depends on which of the mmorpg categories I you fit into. If you are used to WOW crafting, then you may not like it much. This has a much different feel to it. But everything you can make is needed by someone, even at the early stages. For instance I decided to craft much more than fight initially. I knew that people liked the archery mechanic and that many people might flock towards armor crafting and weapon crafting, so I tried bowcrafting. I can honestly say that you can make a career in this game both as a harvester and as a crafter (or both!). While its not feasible to simply be crafter only, you CAN be a crafter and gatherer and never fight, if you don't want to. This is a welcome change from most games that place rare resources next to high end mobs that decimate most characters. Its nice how nearly everything you craft someone wants. And since everything eventually breaks, or you lose because someone killed you and you lost your stuff, this creates a neat little economy between crafters and players and becomes fairly cyclical. This is SOOO cool in my opinion because if you have a positive experience with someone and are fair with them, they actually become a "customer". Not in the sense that they just bought something from me, but because they now will actively seek me out when they run out of bows and arrows and are happy to buy from me again. Now many times I have people seeking me out instead of me seeking someone out to buy my goods. I havent seen this since Ultimate Online with player run vendors and shops. Furthermore, you feel as though you are building a business. Especially because crafting is HARD. It takes a long time to get good, almost to the point where newbie crafters may essentially drop out as your competition because they cant keep up skill wise or they do not have the will. So as you progress you really feel as though you are accomplishing something. That being said the communication tools you receive for selling your goods suck some major balls. There is no auction houses, which I like because it forces interaction between players and you have interesting exchanges like the ones described above. However, there does not appear to be a trade chat, and most people seem to just speak in their racial alignment chat. This means that if I have to more or less spam my goods in the open chat as my only means of selling. I hate spam, more than most so it makes me feel bad to have to do that. I try to keep it to one message every 5 or 10 minutes, but I can quickly see how this may become insane once more crafters get their footing. They really need to create a trading channel, or categories of trading channels.

Overall Stability. I heard it sucks wtf is the deal? I must say in terms of stability this is one of the most stable games I have ever played at launch. Now before you throw up all over that statement, I must preface it by saying there were BIG issues initially. First the servers went up for 20 minutes and right down again for like 12 hours. Then up for 10 minutes and then down again for 12 hours. There were all sorts of connection, account, and queing issues. Then they came back online for 10 hours or so but had all sorts of synch issues where mobs would just vanish but you were still getting attacked, or mobs wouldnt attack you at all and everything was a free kill. I stopped trying for 2 days and decided to wait until Saturday to play. And when I did the server was up and its been stable since. I have not crashed to desktop ever, I have had no game breaking issues that I have seen in many other mmorpgs, even after the initial release (player getting stuck, falling through world, warping worse than william shatner, etc.). Interestingly enough the server seems to be handling 6k -10k players at once fine, which is amazing, since most games I have played seem to crap out at half those numbers. Keep in mind that there is only one server currently, and that people seem to be playing from all over Europe and the US. I am on the West Coast of the United States and I have maintained a ping of 180 and have noticed to lag or delays whatsoever. Thats a fairly hefty statement in my opinion. So barring the initial launch fiasco they have this nailed hands down.

UI - The user interface takes some getting used to, and could (and probably will) definitely be tweaked in the future. But its slowly growing on my and you can tell that i was designed by gamers. For instance you have two modes, one for free looking and another that makes the mouse appear on the screen. You can set windows to appear in one mode and not the other. So I can be reading some info about my quests and WHAM someone slams be on the back of my head. I never saw it coming, with a single mouse click I switch to my free look mode and the quest window disappears while the windows I want remain. When I switch modes the quest window returns. Its really neat once you get used to it. That being said, there are clearly omissions here. There are a lot of functions of you use the /help command, I mean its fucking ridiculous how many there are with no explanation of anything. There are no buttons to add a group, you physically have to use commands. You can target someone and press a hotkey, but the question comes up time and time again in chat "How do I invite someone to a group", "How do I leave a group", "How do I trade with another player"? I often wonder how they could completely nail an immersive and fun world and completely miss out on obvious mechanics like these. So you must type things like /partyleave to quit the party. Its workable but it seems clunky. Its worse that you cant make text macros and place them on your hotbar. The chat takes a while to get used to as well. There are 2 main windows, and you can customize it more. But the "system" window and the "chat" windows cannot be combine (or at least I have not found a way to do this). This means that to see everything (that I want to see at least) requires 2 chat windows and that really eats up screen real estate. Suffice it to say they have some innovative features here and some ones that leave you saying... wtf?

But macros are ruining the game. DOOM! Let me tell you that this is pure nonsense and anyone that understands the mechanics of the game can attest to this. You can't really unattended macro in this game effectively. First, for harvesting there are several things that prevent this from being effective. Nodes run out of resources, and tools break over time. Unless someone wants to come up with a macro that sends you from node to node and changes tools when necessary and watches out for people that will PK you and steal all your resources when they realize you are macroing then this simply is not feasible. Magic is the next one. There are some rather sucky spells under the heading of "lesser magic" which is what you start with. Magic missile, healing, etc. While you can macro these to an extent, once you get above lesser magic all spells require reagents that are consumed, and expensive. So while you can continue to brazenly macro magic, you will quickly wind up in the poorhouse with no gold and no reagents to continue the macroing process with. Archery is the same thing. If you have unlimited resources then you could possibly macro archery. But truthfully arrows are expensive, and since money is fairly cyclical in this game you need to use your arrows on mobs, to get more gold to buy more arrows and so on. If you blow them on macroing you will again be broke fairly quick. And the last macroing concern, combat, is non existent. This is because you physically have to strike a pc or NPC to gain skill, so whiffing away won't do much. While there are other things that you can possibly macro (like running by running into a wall forever), these do not really have game breaking effects. This is a much better system than one that only allows me to gain every so often, or adding other stipulations that simply confuse how the underlying mechanics operate.

They need to vomit some ban sauce! Kick these cheaters. Another hot topic seems to be wiping the server to get rid of the first 10 hours of exploitation that allegedly occurred when mobs werent properly fighting back. While some people did gain more than others, this simply was not to any degree of legitimacy. I have a LOT of gold right now and it was mostly gotten through building up good relationships through crafting. If I just flashed my cash others may claim I exploited as well. But this is simply not the case and the game did not get ruined in 10 hours of broken game play. I can assure you . Life will go on.

Here are some other things worth mentioning, but not worth of their own category:

* Everything I wrote was from my own experience. Obviously your mileage may vary, but these are my ideas and my thoughts based on my experience. Take that for what its worth

* There will be people legitimately hate this game. Most will fit into category #3, or never really excelled at category #2. This game is not for everyone.

* For those that can't play, it doesnt mean the game sucks... it doesnt mean the game doesnt suck. It just means others are playing while you are not. Please leave your opinions to yourself until you get a chance to play. The fact is that it seems they only had enough money to launch one server. So they sold around 10k accounts on preorder, sold out and this is where we are at. What they claim really doesnt mean shit until they do it. So hopefully they will let more players in soon, but again, I attempted my best to review the game, and not with the problems getting into the game

* I hope you like my spelling / grammar mistakes. I dont give enough of a shit to proof read my own stuff. Deal with it.

* The last point I want to touch on is the fun factor. No matter how well I can detail my experiences, I simply cannot detail out well enough how much fun I am having. The more fun I am having in a game the more bs I am willing to deal with, thats the truth. The game is just fun. No matter what I am doing at any given time (especially exploring but I am running out of time to touch on that) I am just having a blast. This is more than the "new game" feel. It feels more like returning to world I once knew and loved, but was unwilling to return to... like UO and AC. Its like this game has sparked that magic that made me fall in love with mmorpgs in the first place. Darkfall just gets that aspect of the game right.

If you made it this far, I applaud you . I really hope some of this info may help some of you that cannot find legit reviews, or info about the game. I am glad to say I have found my new home. And I can honestly say that the problems the game does have, CAN be fixed. Unlike games like (again, in my opinion) Age of Conan, which are simply a broken core, albeit a pretty one, that simply cannot be fixed. Darkfall is like having a real hot girlfriend with small tits. The tits can be fixed. I doubt I will return to this thread to post anything else as Im sure it will at some point degrade into something ugly. But I do hope some of you got some value with it. Hope to see you all in Darkfall. Take care.

-Rogan Blackheart

3 comments:

marcel said...

*applaud*

Good read, anyone know when they are accepting more people in?

Odessa Silverberg said...

I think once they increased the capacity and fixed some of the lags/problems currently there.

Hope it will be soon, haven't preordered and can't play neither. They didn't gave betatesters a headstart, only people who preordered

marcel said...

They still have a ways to go on improving the general experience from what i can tell. I would really like a chance to play. But as of late EVE is the only thing occupying my time.