Thursday, March 12, 2009

Darkfall Second Impressions

Okay. So maybe I was a *little* harsh on Darkfall last entry. In my defense, I was pretty pissed at the installation and setup of the game more than anything. At any rate, I certainly didn't suggest the devs stomp on the sourcecode with cleats, soak it in gasoline, and hurl it in a flaming blender off the White Cliffs of Dover like I did with my Warhammer Beta Review. Darkfall has a few interesting dynamics going on inside it, and with a few hours of unhindered play last night, these started to peek through the clouds at me.

Then they saw me over the hill, stormed up on me, and gang raped me.

I actually had a pretty good time playing DF last night. Saying the game is still 'slightly wonky' is putting it lightly. I really don't like the whole 'right clicking' interface design (but am getting used to it), and there's another 'you can't do that with your weapon out / you need to have your weapon out to do that' thing going on that just feels cumbersome. I also realized there's a few basic game flaws built into the UI that punish those that just don't know about them.

Case in point: When you kill someone, a gravestone appears that you loot. You have to put away your weapon, and then 'use' the gravestone to bring up the loot window. Once up, you need to manually drag each item from the corpse into your own inventory. Fine. But, if someone else and I were trying to quickly loot the same corpse, I noticed every time that by the time the window even opened for me, it would be just in time to see the last object disappearing from the bag. Turns out there's a 'fade in' graphical effect that can be accelerated thru graphical UI options, and it's labeled something archaic like "clustering UI" with a slider bar. Why you would want that particular animation to be anything other than instantaneous is a mystery.

Regarding the 'pull out your weapon / put it away' thing, I really didn't do myself any favors last night by remapping a few buttons on my mouse just as I was getting used to how it worked.

It was a simple change:


I basically just swapped my sheathe and sprint buttons, because I realized there were times when I wanted to be running and left clicking at the same time. By pressing run with my thumb, I freed up the fingers to click. Simple, but my brain is old and took a while to adjust. Totally not the game's fault, but I just don't understand why if I push the 'magic missile' button, it doesn't just pull my stupid wand out for me. NO, YOU CAN'T HEAL YOURSELF. PULL OUT YOUR STAFF FIRST. IT'S COOL, I CAN WAIT. Things like talking to an NPC give you a YOU MUST PUT YOUR WEAPON AWAY FIRST. It's annoying like in WoW when you want to take a flight, and the game doesn't just dismount you first, it demands you do it yourself, then retalk to the NPC. Dumb, but hardly limited to Darkfall.

Anyway, on to the gameplay. Now that the game just fucking loads, without giving mysterious error messages, I was able to actually get around to playing it. I did a few quests that involved killing goblins and gathering wood, and generally went about game. In the starting area for each race, you're loosely 'all on the same team'. You can kill one another, but it's generally frowned upon, and will flag you as a free kill for anyone who wants to exact revenge upon you. So everyone behaves, but the danger is still there. At any moment, someone could just decide they don't mind being flagged for a few minutes, because there's no one else around. Or you could die to AI mobs, and they just waltz over to your body and take all your shit, rather than bother to revive you or whatever. When someone dies, you have the choice to pick them back up, or basically bash their face in. These are the 'revive' and 'gank' skills, respectively. I laughed when I saw someone begging for someone to revive them in chat last night, saying they'd give someone gold for a revive. Maybe it didn't occur to them yet that once they were dead, anyone was welcome to anything they had anyway...

So you tend to have this hoarding mentality that forms early on. You run around and kill a few things, then run back to town and sell any vendor crap, and bank your gold, and maybe a spare chestpiece you got.

The starter weapons suck ass, so I felt all bold and went and bought two knives to dual weild. This was weird, because the item itself had a description describing it as being two one handed blades, but the tooltip said 2 handed weapon in red. I wasn't sure if I didn't have the proficiency to weild this item yet, or what? But I bought it anyway for 52 gold, and was pleased to see that no artificial limitations like that really exist in the game. There's no "oh, gee, I'm a paladin, I can't use a staff" crap in place. With my two new daggers, I was mowing down goblins, and feeling pretty bad ass about it. I also noticed that pretty much EVERYONE else was using the default crap starter weapons. That's a point that keeps comingup in the discusson of the game... everyone thinks 'well, if I could lose my gear at any instant then why bother using anything nice?' but the point is that those that DO bother to use anything nice stand a way better chance of not dying in the first place, and hence, not losing their nice stuff.

It's a tradeoff, and it makes you acutely aware of what you've earned thus far.

With my two knives, and a chain chest and legs that I got via questing, I headed off into the wild to find my fortune (or lose it horribly). The biggest point that I can't really stress enough is that you feel it as you walk around in the wild. The fact that I just quested for an hour or so to get some lame padded leggings and a chainmail vest, only to be acutely aware that at any second some fucker could just come over the rise and do a driveby on me... mounted combat is in the game, and someone with conceivably high enough gear could probably mow me down in one or two good whacks, fuck if it flags them or not. Who cares when they could just as easily probably chop up anyone that decided to stand by my side, not that anyone would. You also feel the same amount of excitement when you do actually kill something, check the corpse, and find new shoulderpads on them. One other kooky thing to note, though, is that much of the game takes place in first person, so you don't get to check out your new stuff really. The only way I found to actually look at my loots is to pull out my knives, which puts me in 3rd person (but still won't let me swing the camera around to look at myself fron the front), or 'rest' which has me sitting down (and does allow the camera to swivel).

When you're out in the bush, mobs aren't as liberally sprinkled around as in WoW, where leaving Ogrimmar has you confronted by 200 boars that respawn every 45 seconds. You have to actually go find shit to kill, and when you do find it, it's usually because two of them ran up behind you, one is off in the distance shooting arrows at you, and you're fucked.

There's something wonky with the sound engine, as well, as no matter how far I am from someone getting attacked, it sounds like it's happening right beside me. This freaked me the fuck out on more than one occasion. I'm lurking along in the forest, off the beaten path, birds are tweeting, and nothing sounds out of whack, when CLANG CLANG OH GOD HELP ME PEW PEW PEW --I'm convinced that 800 fuckers on pigs just found me and are killing me. I check my health; no... it's not ME dying (phew), but where the hell is that coming from? Fifty percent of the time I never even do find the source of the commotion. There's no big red nametags for people, so you have to actually pause and scan the horizon for action. Standing in a bush before ou sit down to rest is a viable tactic. WoW needs this kind of thing, like BAD. When you can spot someone's NAME a mile away, it's pretty dumb.

A related incident happened later in the evening, when I was investigating some stonehenge looking set of ruins, looking for armor chests or weapon racks (the Darkfall equivalent of finding a fel iron bound chest), and I noticed in the tree line ahead someone running around and pew pew pewing. Someone screamed out HELP ME, which means someone just died. I got curious, and edged closer, tryin to figure out if this was OMG world PvP, or just some guy biting off more than he could chew PvE-wise. Either way, he was about to leave a corpse behind which meant free lewts if I could get over there safely to check it out.

I saw some mobs running around (Dire Ghouls, or whatever) and so I chalked it up to PvE, and came out of the cover to see what was going on. Bad idea. It turns out that while yes, there were mobs involved, there was also a 5 pack of dog man dudes (the "other faction") that were raping both the mobs and my fellow faction. They saw me, and I stopped cold. They began sprinting for me, I was fucked. Turning and running isn't a very useful 'tactic', but I noticed a river nearby, and remembered how it actually had a current to it that 'swept' me along with it as I swam across it earlier. I thought maybe if I could make it to the water....

I didn't.

Gang raped by dog men, whack whack whack.

Lost my knives, new shoulderpads, and quest reward chain vest and padded leggings, BUT IT WASN'T THE END OF THE WORLD. The worst part about it was that I didn't bother to bind my hearth at either of the two towns I passed along the way, so I wound up rezzing way back at "Human Town #1" (Sandbrook). Went to my bank, grabbed the leather jerkin I had stashed there after getting my chain upgrade, bought a new set of knives, and was good to go again. I had no pants on, or fancy shoulders, but now I knew where they dropped, and set out to make my way back to the church I had found earlier with an armor rack in it, and the skeletons that dropped shoulderpads outside. I also stopped to bound my hearth at Town #3 (Copperdale) this time.

So, Darkfall...

Reading back over, you might get the impression I've fully flipped a 180, but... yeah. I'm not ashamed to eat my words, but I wouldn't call this a full 180. Maybe a 124. Lord knows my Warhammer beta reviews kept saying "this this and this sucks, and I really hope they fix that before it ships. I'd love them to make a great game, and if that's the case I'll sing its praises". Darkfall (lol, I just typed DarkHammer there) has a way to go before it's 'done'. Hearthing is performed by typing "slash bindstone underscore recall" (/bindstone_recall). You form groups by clicking on someone and typing "/formgroup". Opening the quest log takes a good 15 seconds between when you see the window open, and there's actually any text in it. It looks like it just timed out, or isn't working at all, then the 'journal page' loads, slooowly. It's like an actual website, in the game, and feels like it's loading on a 28.8 modem. These examples can't be the intended way of going about things.

But the tension you feel when you're battling a goblin, and another fucker comes over the ridge and starts plinking arrows at you (Aw shit, do I run? Can I take this?), just isn't really there in WoW. When the worst case sceanrio in WoW is a corpserun, and you know you're gonna die, you just try and run towards the graveyard to cut that corpserun down by 10 seconds. GG. When you know you're going to die in Darkfall, there's nothing you can do but hope that no one sees you die (or hears the 1 mile radius HELP ME GAHGRHAHLGH...), and hope you can make it back to your gravestone unmolested to recover your stuff. There's also tense, on-the-fly decision making where you need to decide while you still have like 60% health if you think you can finish this out, or should you make a break for it now.

That feeling alone is worth giving Darkfall a try. Being uncomfortable about dying is ... well, it's rare. When I play COD4or whatever, I take risks, and run out in the open dumping clips at people, only to get mowed down Gallipoli style. If I die it isn't a big deal. When I see a mob in Darkfall, I scan the area, check for possible adds, double check that I have arrows loaded up in my character sheet, and then go for it, all while fully aware that if I finish the fight with 10% health, I'm basically painting a bullseye on my face.

So, yes. I stand corrected.

Darkfall has redeeming qualities, but I also stand by the fact that there's still an awful lot of muck covering them up. As the game progresses, it can only get better. Patches can implement better load times for the quest log, and at this point it still feels like a beta. Whether you feel like paying 52 bucks for said beta is up in the air. I might not have bought it if offered a 7 day trial or something. I feel like this blog is pretty important to me, though, and the people that read it value my take on stuff like this, so I'm happy to take one for the team. Perhaps even more importantly: If I have any interest in making stuff like this for a living (and I do), I owe it to myself to shop around and see what's out there.

The problem is that I just keep coming back to how awesome it would be if WoW was licensable like the Unreal engine, and the Darkfall team had made a WoW mod based on this premise. Full looting of corpses, the need to drag and drop items from corpses to your own bags one at a time. Even the need to sheathe your weapon before doing so isn't BAD, it's just poorly implemented in Darkfall. Remove the entire BoP / BoE aspect on equipment. You could even keep the PvE game instanced... Go run SFK for some blues, but if someone tags you by the Sepulcher, they can loot all that shit off you. Make the bank have an actual purpose instead of just being 'that one big bag you can't carry around'. Remove nameplates, and blur faction lines. Orc on orc ganking should be an option, even if frowned on. Some mechanics would obviously need to be tuned... stealth shouldn't be AS stealthy as it is now, or casters would just be fucked by rogues. I also like the idea that in Darkfall there ARE no classes, or even levels. You just skill up abilities as you use them, and a mage could train kidney shot after enough melee practice eventually. There's no magical bullshit reason why I can't put this breastplate that I just found on my character right now.

THAT will be the next big thing. When all of this comes together in one big package. It wouldn't need to be on every server, but having WoW "Darkfall" servers would be awesome. I just think the WoW combat engine (and art style) are top tier, and the Darkfall design team would be better served just designing, instead of mucking around with a wonky UI and clunky animations.

side note: sorry for the lack of purty pictures to look at. I like breaking up walls of text with them, but I can't access Darkfall from school (confirmed it's the school firewall, and not Vista), and the pictures I took last night at home are trapped on my system there until I get home. Will probably put little pictures in here of my fancy (now gone) shoulderpads etc when I get home. It isn't helped that the Darkfall 'screenshot' button doesn't work, and that I need to Alt-Printscreen and paste into Photoshop to get one at all.


Geoffrey said...

Are there alot of stun and similar loss-of-control mechanics in Darkfall? That's one thing I really dislike about WoW's combat.

Ixobelle said...

there's knockbacks, but the point is that any 'class' has access to the same pool of skills. the limiting factor is what skills you have access to is how far up you've leveled "using swords" or whatever... but the thing that sucks (and needs to be addressed) is asshats using macros to swing on a tree or whatever while they go to sleep. supposedly aventurine is 'on this' but yeah. It takes a long time to level archery (and you need a metric fuckton of arrows to do so), but at 75 archery (I think i'm at 5) you can unlock special shots, if i understand it correctly. but anyone that does this has access to these skills, so it's not like "only hunters can frost trap" or "only rogues can stunlock".

I've only been really rolled once, so I'm not positive what the full extent of skills are at this point, really...

Bonedead said...

yOU MAY WANT TO RECONSIDER YOUR MELEE WEAPON. Wow caps. The way damage mitigation works is depending on your defense, a flat amount of damage is subtracted from what you would deal. So if you're swinging 2 daggers really fast but hitting for 8 and it is reduced by 4 each time it sucks when compared to a 2hander hitting for 18 and being reduced by 4. One round of attacks from dual wield gets reduced twice as much. It's messed up, a lot of people wonder why daggers are even in the game, especially with their uber short range. During larger PvP fights I have enough trouble reaching people with my 1h sword, I couldn't imagine trying to chase laggy people while lagging myself using daggers.

The only archery abilities that I am aware of are knockback and then passive buffs. Like faster shooting speed, arrows fly straighter, use less stamina, stuff like that. To get those abilities for all weapons you need to hit either 25, 50, 75, or 100 in that skill and then visit a fighter trainer in a town. I got my sword over 25 recently so I am able to get either a knockback or a scorpion "get over here" thing. I don't know because usually the 25 skill is knockback but the description on the trainer says it pulls your target towards you.

You can't raise melee by hitting a tree (that I know of, that would just be like really dumb) but you can by hitting a friend. People do afk run into walls, swim into walls, crouch walk into walls, mine/herbalism/lumberjack afk though. Aventurine has been cracking down on all things afk though, they'll send you a message and you have a minute and a half to respond or you get kicked. If you get kicked a few times they may ban I believe. I haven't afked anything yet, but I may sometime.

You will start to be able to locate the far off combat noises, because you're going to need to. You should always be wary when doing combat alone in the wilderness because people can hear you from a mile away.

Wall of text etc etc

Ixobelle said...

huh, i had no idea that daggers worked that way.

that sucks, meh...

the combat noises i *get*... but there's no radius. one second you hear nothing, and then the next instant it's just CLANG CLANG CLANG. Especially in towns, it's just stupid, because anyone fighting a goblin outside of town sounds like it's happening on your shoulder.

I died again tonight, low on health, and had some guy train a few mobs near me. Then he saw I died, the mobs got picked up by someone else (or something), and he just sat over my body watching me bleed out with another person.

I ran back, saw one at low health alone, and picked a fight with one of them to try and recover some gear. I realized after i shot my first MM that I hadn't rested up enough mana, and ended up looking like a jackass and sprinting off to rest.

A few min went by, rested up, and went back for the kill. Got it, but now I'm like flagged red.... was killed within 5 minutes of that happening, and now I respawned at the chaos stone out in the wilderness. naked. with no access to my bank. That seems kind of strange, that my shit is just locked up with no way to get back to it, but thems the breaks, i guess. I gotta kill an orc or something to go back to being blue.

The whole faction / alignment thing is new to me, but it puts an interesting twist on things.

Bonedead said...

Man I just typed up a big long response and clicked publish my comment and blogger errored ftl. Ugh. (like 5 friggin times now, zomg)

The red thing happened to me when I was starting out as well. Luckily while roaming the lands around the chaos stone (while heading towards human lands, since I'm an ork) I ran into a human miner low on stamina. Pretty lucky. After I was blue again and died I respawned back in newb town.

I promise you that soon you will be grateful for the sounds. If you ever have to make long treks alone and on foot it is your first line of defense.

Sneaking is extremely possible though. I turned around once and didn't see anyone. A minute later I turned around and saw a guy probably 300 feet away stop moving and crouch down. When he crouched I noticed he sort of blended in, I assume he had been following me for some time. People are a lot harder to see when they don't move.

Oh yeah, if you know a bowyer, get some iron ore and some wood. I know that 200 of each yields about 16-1700 arrows. That is still on my list of things to do.

I was standing over some newb who died in towns body with about 3 other people once. The dead guy was blue again because his rogue status wore off and someone looked like they were going to Gank him (which would've made the guy ganking turn grey/red I believe). So I'm getting ready to attack that guy like crazy and instead of ganking the guy he rezzed him. That must've felt good for that guy.

Oh and I don't know how viable of an option this is, but camping the chaos stone and waiting for a weak ork sounds like an idea I wish I'd used before.

Kyir said...

This is good to hear, might pick this up once it stops being so beta-y.

Is there the standard monthly fee?

Ixobelle said...

yeah. 52 bucks US for the client and one month free, then like 14 bucks a month or whatever? It's all done in euros... I honestly wasn't paying too much attention, and am out the door right now to run errands : /

Cap'n John's Blog said...

Ixo, this is a bloody awesome review. I liked the last one, too, where you tore DF a new arsehole, but this one is well written too. Very funny in parts, while still also giving some great information about the game and how it plays.

Can you (or anyone else) tell me about archery/ranged attacks? Do they home in on your target if it's an accurate shot? Or do you have to lead your target?

Or do arrows fly fast enough that dodging them takes nimble figures, a low latency, and a top notch Video Card?

Klepsacovic said...

Do you ever try to photoshop a picture but end up just messing around with filters and color balance and whatnot, until eventually you crank the contrast up so high that some parts of the picture blind you, while the rest appear to be actively hunting down photons to eat? That's your Darkfall reviews. :P

Based on the two, I will definitely have to try it out if there is ever a free trial, or maybe even just a price reduction to $25 or so; if they patch up some of the problems.

Ixobelle said...

you do have to lead targets with arrows and spells.

Arrows arc, while magic flies in a linear path. I've easily dodged a few spells thrown at me, but those were 'mana missile number 1'... maybe later in the game better spells fly faster? I don't think I've ever had an arrow even shot at me (unless into my back), so I've never tried to dodge one.

It's very rare to have someone be a 'caster' or 'archer' (that I've seen, anyway). Mostly people are in close with swords, etc, and then switch to arrows/spells to hit a target trying to run away, or get a few whacks in on a target running towards them.

Kyir said...

Have you joined a guild at all? I hear parts of the game are really centered on that.

Ixobelle said...

I actually have joined a guild (Keen and Graev's guild, Haven), but have yet to meet up with a single other member... The chat system splits everything into separate tabs, so you can't watch guild and general at the same time. My timezone isn't helping either, I'm sure...