Darkfall is a hard game to like. I’d thought that there was probably a lot of potential there, and now, having gotten a little taste of it, I’m sure there’s a good game inside, lurking in its shadows. But you’ll need patience and understanding to find it, because the new player experience is ass on toast.
The graphics are – well, the lighting and shadow effects are well done, and the textures are okay, but the polygon counts appear to be not all that different from what one finds in EverQuest. Not EverQuest II, mind. The end result is something of a weird melange, where the visuals looks good one moment and then suddenly appear blocky and primitive. I’m guessing that the idea was to keep framerates up when large numbers of characters are onscreen, which is a fine idea that I imagine works, but I don’t think the world comes together visually because low polygon counts are a bad fit with the game’s pseudo-realistic art style.
The overall art direction is pretty flat, with lots of blocky octagonal towers and the like. Maybe this marks me as shallow, but I’m impressed by seamless worlds – and I want to be visually impressed by them as well.
The nuts and bolts of the gameplay itself seem okay, although I found the in-combat controls somewhat clumsy and imprecise compared to roughly similar approaches taken in Age of Conan and DDO (and I don’t see that Darkfall combat is substantively better than that in either game.) I’m okay with a first-person perspective, and okay with third-person, but the way Darkfall interfaces the two seems very clumsy; you move about the world in first-person, but when you draw a weapon (which you need to do in order to fight,) you switch to third-person – unless it’s a missile weapon, in which case you stay in first-person.
Unsurprisingly, questing isn’t at all a focus for Darkfall, to the extent that if there’s a quest log, I couldn’t find it. Questing is one of the best tools a game has to get a new player into the game and the world and to show him or her the ropes before cutting them loose, but apparently Darkfall’s design is too pure for such things.
Bluntly, while I think Darkfall is in a number of respects well-positioned to undergo the steady growth of a game like EVE Online (although I would say that Darkfall’s potential audience is smaller,) it’s not going to get there without doing more to welcome new players.
I can hear the high-pitched shriek out of Syncaine already: “You’re just a tourist! You just want everything to be easy!” when actually all anybody wants is to be able to learn the game from playing it, while the chellenge level increases.
Now, there were some things I liked. The lack of floaty names, for example, I thought added immersion, and the game is generally strong in that department (although I think the shifting perspectives hurts it a bit.) The world is big and seamless, and varied from the look of the map. And the skills mechanic clearly has loads of potential, although it still needs some work.
Probably the most bothersome feature of Darkfall, though, is the vibe ig get from the community. I’m reminded of an old-timers’ tabletop RPG board, filled with constant grousing about every aspect of the game, yet where everyone is utterly convinced of its superiority, and bitching incessantly about how everyone else is doing things wrong. This is just as annoying in the MMO world as it is in tabletop circles. I simply don’t want to be surrounded by people like that.
One other thing I noticed: when Vanguard launched its free trial program, or even when SOE would offer free time to lapsed subscribers, the newbie areas would be teeming with people. Even as late as last Septerber or so, when nothing much was going on, I’d pop into Vanguard and see a dozen or two people in the starter areas. Darkfall seemed deserted – maybe I’d missed everybody by not playing until the second day.
All in all, I’ll not be continuing with this now, especially not with having to buy the client for $50. In another year, if the client is free or at least cheap (the EVE client effectively costs $5, which you get charged for in the first month of a new account,) and if the new player experience is said to be at least somewhat improved, maybe I’ll have another whack at it.