In my last post, I talked about my boredom with the latest crop of MMOs. Well, to combat that boredom, I went on a spree of installing games, some old, some not, on my computer. I mentioned Fort Zombie and King Arthur before and you can add to that list various versions of Heroes of Might and Magic, Age of Wonders and the venerable, but still unmatched Master of Magic. Those were good games and fun diversions, but ultimately, I was still bored. It seems I had a fever for which the only cure was an MMO.
More cowbell might have worked too, but would have woken the kids.
So, after a bit of waffling about spending more money so close to the holiday and possibly wasting money on a game I would not enjoy, I whipped out the card and bought Darkfall. Now there is no doubt that Darkfall is a risk. After all, its niche is free-for-all PvP with full loot. The only game I have ever played that was close is Shadowbane, which wasn’t full loot, had a safe newbie zone and was many, many years ago. Oh yeah, Eve… but I never got far enough with Eve to really make it count. Add to that the fact that the reviews at Darkfall’s launch ranged from “has potential” (which is the gaming equivalent to my six-year old’s baseball league in which everyone gets a trophy for being a unique snowflake) to “It made me throw up a little into my mouth” and yeah I would definitely say that signing up for Darkfall carries an element of risk.
But, I am itching for a new game and well… I need something to write about so I hit the “Buy” button and started downloading the client. A quick note: The client is huge (about 10GB), but with uTorrent, it took less than an hour to download. If you are thinking about getting Darkfall, save yourself some time by using the torrent as opposed to a straight download (and don’t forget to seed).
I fired up the client, sat through about 10 minutes of patching and then a quick character generation screen and the human, Vedis Bishop, was born and thrust into the world of Agon. The first thing I noticed was that the game looked pretty good. Granted, my standards for computer game graphics are low relative to the modern gamer and having read lots of reviews and commentary on Darkfall in the past, I had been conditioned to expect something like this (oh and name that game by the way… should be an easy one):
What I saw were decent character models and nice landscapes. I would love to show you some screenshots of my travels, but some dummy changed the default capture key on FRAPS without realizing it, so I was dutifully taking pictures, but nothing was happening. Thus, the tale of my first night with Darkfall will be unfortunately devoid of pictures.
After putzing with the user interface for a few minutes, I could walk around, use objects, equip, sheathe and unsheathe my newbie sword. I figured that was certainly good enough to start, so I walked over to the nearby Counsellor NPC and picked up my first quests — kill 4 goblins and collect their axes. Sounded easy enough. I checked the mini-map, found a nearby goblin encampment and headed warily over, knowing that at any minute, hordes of evil PKers would pour over the horizon looking to gank me and steal my stuff.
I should have been more concerned about the goblins… I reached their spawn point without incident. There were no PKers nearby and in fact, I was the only player here. In the distance I saw a couple of goblins and another within a short sprint. I figured I could easily take the straggler and then consider my next course of …
An arrow sunk into my shoulder, spraying blood all over me. The damn straggler saw me, pulled out a bow and started firing away. The first arrow had taken a noticeable, but not unmanageable chunk of my hit points, so I charged the archer, side-stepping to dodge his second arrow. I got up on him and let loose a couple of blows. He turned and ran and I gave chase, sprinting and swinging in hopes of landing a shot on his exposed back.
Too late, I realized that the goblin scout had managed to run me toward his comrades. Now the second scout had noticed me and started firing and the other fighter was on me with his sword. At this point, the fight had gotten out of control and I was sidestepping and swinging wildly. I managed to down the original scout, but was cut down.
I respawned back at the Counsellor and since at the time I didn’t know how to rest (or even that there was a rest command), I stood around waiting to get enough hit points to try the goblin spawn again. While I was delving into the help pages, I heard a zap and saw a big chunk of hit points bleed away. I fumbled around, closing the help window, re-equipping the newbie sword and looked around to find a fully armored player standing behind me. Now, I knew I was about to get my rear-end kicked, but I figured better to fight back than be bullied, I took a swing at him.
Dead again… ah well. I respawned again and though the armored guy was still around, but he had obviously had his fun and didn’t bother with me again. Time to head back to the goblins. This time, I saw a lone goblin well away from the others. I quickly descended upon him and hit him a couple of times, to little effect. He retaliated with spells and powerful blows and quickly laid me low.
Ugh… that was my third death in about five minutes. It was obviously time to rethink my technique. I knew now to avoid crowds of goblins, be careful when chasing the scouts and to steer clear of shamans for the time being. Oh… and that armored guy mining over there is a jackass, but try to ignore him.
I approached the goblin camp from the other side and found a goblin fighter. He caught sight of me and pulled out his bow. I dodged the first arrow and then crouched behind a rock. He responded by edging down the hillside, firing another arrow or two into the boulder. When he was close enough, I sprinted from behind my cover, hacking away. We fought a short and bloody battle which ended with me standing over the fighter’s tombstone.
Crap! A lousy shaman spotted the battle. There was no way I was going to take the shaman, but I wasn’t going to leave empty-handed. I put away my sword and hurriedly looted the fighter’s corpse, grabbed an axe, bow, arrows, a carrot and a handful of coins and fled back to town as the goblin pelted me with spells. My first victory!! As trivial as it was, I have to say, it felt like I had worked for it. And that felt pretty darn good.
Now, with a handful of hit points left, I just had to figure out how to rest… Darkfall’s UI is certainly different from most MMOs. Much of this comes from trying to jam the fluid aiming and shooting interface of an FPS together with the bulky, key-and-menu-laden interface of an MMO. Thus, you have binds such as right-click to switch between shooting mode and interface mode. To an FPS-player, this is second nature, but to a traditional MMOer, right click is usually used to spin your character, leading to the occasional frustrating experience of hearing a noise and trying to spin to see what is going on, only to be frozen in place and greeted by your character screen or the world map.
Other interface “issues” come from a deliberate attempt to make certain actions clunkier. For instance, having to sheathe and unsheathe your weapon to perform certain actions, or having to drag every single object from a corpse into your backpack. I am pretty sure this is by design to make sure people aren’t looting in the middle of combat.
A few issues are just clunky design, or part of a poorly conceived newbie experience. I saw no mention of the rest action in the beginning help guide, or any of the tips. None of the basic actions such as rest or recall are on your hot bar by default. So I asked and learned that you have to open your skills screen, drag the rest and recall icons to your hot bar. Then when you want to rest, sheathe your weapon, hit the hot bar item to rest, then left-click. (Quick note: Left-click is always your action button. The hot bar items don’t actually perform the action they are assigned, but instead change what your left-click does. Another example is when you put spells on your hot bar, clicking those spells just sets up what your next left-click casts.)
A little on the tedious side, but I can learn it and deal with it. It will take some practice to get some actions to be smooth in the heat of combat.
In any case, once I had gotten my first kill, things started to look up for me. I equipped the goblin axe and it did significantly more damage than my little leaf blade. Baiting and luring the goblins using cover seemed to work and if I drew two, I could use the cover to protect me from arrow fire while finishing the first enemy. At some point another player wandered by and we started killing goblins together. Soon, the field was littered with goblin tombstones and both of us were fairly rich (in that “I just started playing an hour ago” sort of way).
A couple of sorties (and bank trips) later, I had killed my allotment of goblins and collected the axes required for the quest. I had a helmet, a leather chest piece, arm guards and leggings. I had about 150 gold, a bow and arrows (though I have not tried archery yet) and a few spare swords in case I was killed and looted. As I was adventuring, I was awarded with a steady stream of gratifying messages telling me that my mastery of axes, running and sprinting had increased. I even found a random chest with two amethysts! I continued on a bit, completing a couple of the gathering quests, but then had to reluctantly head to bed.
I would rate my first night of Darkfall as a positive experience. A lot of other modern have gone so far out of their way to sanitize the low level play experience that it often feels as though you get your first ten levels for just logging in. Darkfall does nothing of the sort. It lets you learn the game by trying and failing and in doing so, reaches a balance between accessibility and challenge that I have not seen in a while. Now I realize, that it is impossible to judge a game by the first night and it is quite possible that the skill grind will eventually wear me down, or that the infamous horde of gankers is waiting for me at the next town, but I will say that as far as first nights go, Darkfall was amazingly enjoyable.
And I promise the second night will have pictures…