Giving Darkfall a Try

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.

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7 responses to “Giving Darkfall a Try

  1. Er, the newbie quests are literally 10 feet from where you start. And there is an extensive quest journal, under, lo and behold, the journal tab.

    Methinks you’re too used to simple games, and you didn’t even try with this one. The newbie experience was hardly even a stumbling stone for people who haven’t touched WoW.

  2. Just a note about the community, the talk you describe in the general channels only popped up after the trial started, before no one really debated how DF stacked up to MMO X before. And because the overall volume was lower, new players were actually better able to ask questions and get a serious response.

    Another plus have having tourists visit though, they don’t care to actually become a member of the community, so they just try to get 5 minutes of attention by being an ass in a chat channel before drifting off to another game.

    But yea, DF, not for everyone 🙂

  3. I played the game for about a hour and I came away from that with what I had already known, the game is not for me. I didn’t pay attention to the chat, but every player I met in game was really nice and helpful, so that was good.

  4. It’s interesting reading your impressions after having my own DF Trial experience this weekend.

    I think we agree on some points and disagree on others. The in-game help was certainly lacking. My first day I think I spent as much time Googling things as I did playing the game.

    That said, the graphic engine assessment is grossly unfair. Some models could have used some more detail but I wouldn’t call the game flat — nor did it remotely resemble EQ quality. I was struck by more similarity to Warhammer if anything.

    Although, in fairness, perhaps your starting area was dramatically different than mine.

    As for the community.. within 5 minutes of logging in, someone gave me decent one-handed sword. The next day, another guy gave me a mount. Every question I asked in Racial was answered quickly and without snarky remarks.

  5. @Tobias: Okay, so there’s a quest log and I missed it. The point – that the Darkfall newbie experience is pretty lousy – still stands. “Simple” has nothing to do with it. Darkfall is a game that makes EVE look newbie-friendly, when it’s infamous for being the opposite.

    @sid67: I was very careful about my criticisms of the graphics; in particular, careful not to claim that the game “looks like EQ.” I said it looks like it has similar polygon counts to EQ… which it certainly does. (To be still more clear: I have no idea whether the actual polygon counts are similar to EQ’s or not. But they look like they are.)

    I was also very clear in not saying that the game looks like absolute ass; it doesn’t.

    Overall visually, DF actually reminded me more of Vanguard than anything else – which is in some respects a compliment. The landscapes, like the character models, see to lack polygons, but overall the excellent lighting and shadow effects save it. And also like Vanguard, the things added to the landscapes – buildings and such – look under-designed. I did like the human starter town, which looked a lot more like a little town than you’d normally see in most other games.

  6. Pingback: Reaction to DF Trial reactions « Hardcore Casual

  7. @Tobias:
    In reponse number one, you wrote 4 sentences, and each one of them was snarky, or sarcastic, or patronising. I don’t think that will win friends for the game, and I’m glad I didn’t meet you in-game when I needed help. Thankfully, I met helpful people who didn’t talk down to me.