So, with little fanfare, apparently Darkfall’s released now! The store is open all 24 hours that most days have, and if you want to buy it, by cracky, it seems you can. So I did. After a long download, and a long install, and a long patch, finally, I was ready to master the game of Darkfall. AND MASTER IT I SHALL. verily.
I decided, given the recent foofrah about another website that dared to say unkind things about the One True PvP Game, that when writing these updates, I would follow some basic ground rules. To wit:
I would keep an open mind. Sure, Darkfall has already become almost legendary in its community’s ….uncompromising attitude, but forum hijinks and what occurs within an MMO are almost always two different things. (See: Shadowbane) By god, if there is enjoyment to be had, I would find it! Note: I enjoy killing people in video games, so this shouldn’t be that hard!
I would be an anonymous player. No trading on net.fame here! (Although given the history of this blog and Darkfall, it may be more of a self-defense mechanism.)
I will walk through the valley of the shadow of virtual death, but Ayu-chan will comfort me.
And most importantly, I would listen to appropriate music while playing. This was difficult. What is the most appropriate soundtrack for the dark, harsh, brutal lands of Darkfall? Evanescence? Mercyful Fate? Epica? Type O Negative? Nightwish? Mayhem? Finally I settled on something I felt would help me keep the proper attitude. I would not play Darkfall without listening to music by the Empress of Tokyo Pop, Ayumi Hamasaki.
With that, it was time to play Darkfall.
Or at least, try.
The patcher for Darkfall is… let’s just call it finicky. Perhaps it’s the first step in the long culling process to make sure you’re really ready for Darkfall. Sometimes it would display that it was patching. Sometimes it would display that I had a position in the queue (despite there not being a queue, that I could tell). And sometimes, it would just say, well, this:
Mind you, this is with no “browser and instant messaging applications” open. I was kind of at a loss here for a bit. I checked Darkfall’s technical support, but Darkfall doesn’t have any, nor a technical support forum (even though the in-game help refers to it), nor any apparent CS that I could find, or a manual, or even a README.TXT file. Clearly I was on my own for figuring this out. Fine, I’m hard core, I’m PLAYING DARKFALL. Well, not really, yet. I’m trying to. But, this is another test, and I CAN HANDLE IT. I did have Ayumi’s “Rainy Day” playing in Windows Media Player. Perhaps Darkfall didn’t like “Rainy Day”. I switched to “Step You” and Darkfall launched fine. Fine, everyone’s a critic.
Oh, HELL no.
The next step involved creating a character. Choices involved picking between the ugliest race ever to be seen in an MMO since Mythic decided undead gremlins would do well for an expansion – and of course, the description tells you that they are dark, emo elves that hate EVERYONE. Well, that’s nice. Then there’s the nice light elves, that I probably should have picked because they had a 0.5% archery bonus or something, but, yeah, elves. No. Then you had the Mahrin, which look like just the thing for aspiring PKers who want you to be killed, then raped, by a huge furry bear. This would be amusing normally, but I already have a Second Life account. So I just picked human, and went through my customization options, which mostly involved piercings.
I made a female character, because if I’m going to play Darkfall, I’m going to by god PLAY DARKFALL, and ensure that the rape references I was fully expecting when breaking my “keeping an open mind” rule would at least be heterosexual in nature. I named her after my favorite NPC in Everquest, and we were off!
I logged in, and was completely naked save for a leather bikini and a dagger that was helpfully called useless in the mouseover. Yeah, this is going to be fun. HARDCORE FUN.
In the grim world of Darkfall, there is only leather bikini.
So, after a few minutes of goblinsmashing and wrenching items off of their carcasses, here you can see some good things about Darkfall. The world itself is pretty well rendered, with nice use of shadowing. You can also see damage modeling where goblins violently objected to my stealing their things. So far, so good.
Then you have the not so good parts. (Note to Darkfall partisans eager to yell EUROGAMER in my face, some notes: yes, this is only after a few hours of play. Also I know that the forums have helpful newbie guides that are only somewhat wildly out of date. Also yes I know you are supposed to join a guild within seconds of opening a Darkfall account or you are a loser and should pray for death. Also yes I know only newbs use anything besides archery and magic missile. Also yes I play World of Warcraft and enjoy it. On an RP server. Eating roast piggeth.)
What, you needed to know MORE? Carebear.
First is the polish. Or rather, the lack thereof. I’ve already hit on the difficulty in just getting Darkfall to launch. A good portion of the user interface has “This button is temporarily disabled” placeholders. Others, like taking screenshots within the game or shifting camera angles, apparently don’t work. A disturbing amount of in-game text is misspelled or otherwise grammatically mangled. The animations… um… humans don’t move like that. It’s very distracting when in third person view and watching your character have such a strange gait that you want Dr. House to tell you it’s not lupus. The combat animations are… clumsy. Compared with the well-executed world art, it’s quite dissonant.
Of course, that has little to do with gameplay. I’d like to tell you about the gameplay, but I can’t do a good job of it, since I simply don’t know that much. The in-game documentation consists of a helpfile that is enough information to get you into combat mode and little else, although it does helpfully tell you about cannons and warhulks and mechanaughts or whatever the hell else it taunts you with, but it neglects to explain the magic system, beyond a very cursory “drag the icon to your hotbar” introduction. Even with the low bar set by ‘documentation’ in other MMOs, this sets a new low.
What you do learn quickly is that Darkfall’s interface is complex. Or, put another way, cumbersome. To attack something, you unsheathe your weapon with the R key, and then swing/shoot (Oblivion-style, in real time – which is a point in its favor and seems, at least with first experimenting, to work well). Once something dies, it spawns a grave. You then press R to sheathe your weapon, then highlight the grave, then press F to open it, then press B to open your own backpack, and then hurriedly try to drag each item, one by one, into your backpack before someone else opens up the grave and helps themselves. I’m sure there’s a perfectly valid justification for this involving slowing down player looting and realism and tactical decisions and whatnot, but when your first experience is fumbling around pointing vaguely at a gravestone while other goblins whale at your back and other players helpfully loot your kills for you, there tends to be fewer second experiences.
"someone else" knows what's up.
One problem with the client is the fact that most of the interface is actually a web application. This means that there’s a significant delay when opening a dialog and seeing the browser instantiate in the dialog box, and also that the dialog is usually focused on, say, the bottom fourth of what you’re actually looking at, and you’ll need to resize the dialog and scroll around to find, say, a guild listing. This is, like much else in Darkfall apparently, serviceable after a fashion, but only just. The irritants pile up quickly.
Of course, I’m sure most people reading this and having followed the Darkfall saga here, you would probably expect me to regale you with tales of random PKing, abusive “suck it up” tells, and the like. Well, that didn’t happen. The few users I saw while playing were… quiet. Also obviously not new, since they were in full armor as opposed to my leather bikini and using arrows with wild abandon whereas I had to painstakingly collect mine from goblin corpses (I suspect they were there to harvest them). They did loot my kills whenever possible, but didn’t try to flag or otherwise be griefy. I suspect they really didn’t care enough to. Not as dramatic, but more realistic. What, are they going to steal my goblin axe?
But of course, the fun in Darkfall is in joining a clan, right? And laying waste to your enemies! I bet that’s lots of fun, especially as a level zero character that specializes in running away. We’ll see. But for now, enjoy some Darkfall theme music.