When we were given an opportunity to check out the Darkfall Online beta, we were extremely excited. Unfortunately, we found that Darkfall is yet another unfinished MMORPG launching before it's ready.
A little less than a week ago, we here at Allakhazam were given the opportunity to hop into the world of Darkfall Online. I have to confess, however, that I really hadn't heard much of this game. Made by indie developer Adventurine, Darkfall Online is touted to be the vicious combination of freestyle PvP, dynamically intelligent enemy AI and a rage inducing 'full looting' system. Full looting, by the way, means exactly that -- players who are killed (in PvP or PvE), drop everything they were carrying, and other players can help themselves to whatever was dangling from the carcass at the time of its expiration (hell, they could have been the ones who killed him). While both Tamat and I had the chance to play, we worked very hard to keep our opinions to ourselves, thereby granting ourselves the fullest chance to experience Darkfall Online with no influence or expectations.
When I say no expectations, I mean that I really did not know anything about Darkfall or Adventurine before I trundled my way into the character creation screen. On the other hand, however, I must admit that I was expecting an MMORPG containing what I have become accustomed to expect -- gear, questing, levelling up, nice graphics, a good amount of hand holding along the way, customizable skills and the vague feeling of World of Warcraftery (but obviously different). In this expectation, however, Darkfall confused me.
First, there really are no such things as 'levels' and 'experience' in Darkfall Online -- merely the few scattered quests designed to make me hate all things Goblin-ish. Also note that I'm speculating here about the anti-goblin feelings, but I’ll explain how I came to this conclusion. First, goblin spawns in Darkfall Online are not 'scarce' so much as they are pretty much nonexistent. Tamat noted that he ran around for at least an hour, and did not manage to find even one Goblin, though he did find some markings on his map that indicated Goblins were in the general vicinity (perhaps hiding). For myself, while I spent closer to two hours in searching for Goblins, I achieved a little bit more success.
I found five goblins. On top of each other.
In this way, I was very quickly introduced to the 'dynamic' AI aspect of Darkfall Online. Not only did these five Goblins very quickly pick up on my loud Dwarfish sneaking, but they all seemed to be incapable of missing with a single arrow, even when I realized halfway through my charge, that I was going to die before I got to them, and decided to charge back to town instead. Later on, when I spent about five minutes hiding behind a tree, I managed to cull one of the goblins from the herd and steal his bow and arrows. You can be certain that I met with considerably less success than my foes in sniping contests.
What this brings me to is the combat in Darkfall Online. Now, as a dabbler in all sorts of FPS and MMORPG games, I'd really like to emphasize just how unique the fighting system in Darkfall is. A lot of the brain numbing auto-attacking-while-mashing-1-and-2 syndrome that plagues many MMOs has been eliminated by Darkfall's satisfying real time combat, but there is one glaring flaw that really prevented me from enjoying it to its fullest extent -- the controls. While I made sure to not share this criticism with Tamat, believing that I was being picky and spoiled by World of Warcraft's ultra-smooth, ultra-developed gameplay, one of the first things he pointed out was that the controls of Darkfall are clunky and awkward. At best.
Don't get me wrong, I really do have to commend Darkfall for utilizing a combat system that has the potential to create a fantastically skill-intensive game. On the other hand, however, I couldn't help but feel like I was swimming through molasses as I struggled to execute my combat strategies. While intense PvP and ridiculously difficult enemies are Darkfall's greatest assets, the entire experience is marred by the feeling that it could be so much more. To turn this into an analogy, imagine spending the entire day with Superman and the only thing he does is prevent you from turning the corner too fast because he (assumedly) sees someone who might run into you. You know there's the potential for some ridiculously enjoyable fun here, but it just... doesn't seem to be working in execution.
I also realize that there are players at top tiers who are really enjoying the PvP combat right now, but it felt like there was no incentive to get there. Typically when I start a new game, I end up getting really involved; I spend my time in classes and at work thinking about the game. With Darkfall, unfortunately, that passion is definitely missing.
In the end, Darkfall Online is an incredible concept that has a massive amount of potential. The problem again however, is that all of this potential will be completely lost if the game follows through with a bug-ridden launch. There are simply far too many glitches, problems, and, nothing to do that will really inhibit post launch interest. We all know what happens when you launch without a complete product. Darkfall Online represents a truly unique game that was developed without consulting the big book of World of Warcraft -- if they muck up this launch, it could be just another fantastic idea that died before it lived.
Christopher "Pwyff" Tom