Darkfall Online: The Review
"This game is not for everyone "
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Introduction
Hey! It’s finally here. On February 25th, almost 7 years after the project began, Darkfall Online, Made by Aventurine inc ..an independent developer of MMO games, was released for the masses. Darkfall is also referred to as DF or DFO, and is one of the most highly contentious MMOs to be released in years

I was fortunate to have been brought in to the beta prior to this game's release. I saw the dramatic changes as this game went though closed beta to release. I am going to forgo the travesty of the release process for the smoke still hasn’t cleared. But I will say that many players considering this game have raised concerns because of its launching difficulty. It is my intent to give those players insight as to what to expect, what to do, and perhaps where this game will be 3, 6, 12 months down the road. No, this game will not immediately die from failure like many forum trolls have flamed. Darkfall will grow and mature …but not in a way we have grown accustomed to in the post-WoW era.

This article is about what to expect from Darkfall Online...a bit more than what you get from FAQs or boards, an in depth look at my experience playing this game. I am not for or against Darkfall. However I understand that there are significant factions on both sides of that argument ..I probably will offend both. My viewpoint will be straightforward and as unbiased as possible …addressing why the highs aren’t so high, nor the lows so disasterous

You will find that I talk and relate aspects of Darkfall to mainstream MMOs like WAR or WoW. This is intentional. It is not because I believe these games represent the standard for MMOs, but it is a standard on which most MMO players have experience with and can relate to. However understand that Darkfall is a non-linear Sandbox MMO. This is a concept quite unfamiliar to most MMO players. Darkfall and traditional MMOs are like apples and oranges. They may both be in the MMO family, but most similarities end there.

So, with that introduction, let’s begin.

Into the Game
Once you are able to navigate the online purchase of an account and download the 9 gigabyte torrent, you ought to be able to enter the game. Some players might receive an Error 14001 with the first running of the client. This is easily overcome by running the vcredist_x86.exe in your darkfall installation folder (c:\program files\darkfall).

The initial startup screens of the game does seem more like a beta, than one of the mainstream polished products (WoW, WAR, etc). The graphics are not as crisp (See more in the graphics section below) , there is no fancy multimillion dollar cinematic movie, it displays unnecesary information like server status for GMs and admins. It is here, where you find yourself realizing that Darkfall isn’t about fluff, it isn’t about charm.

Server Selection
When you first start you will find that there only one server to chose. Although many players see this as a sign of a game’s weakness …I was pleasantly surprised. Recent mainstream MMOs like AoC And WAR opened their doors in 2008 with too many servers (a la Starbucks) …then found themselves in a painful contraction and server merging process in less than 2 months. Aventurine likely anticipated this issue. It plans to start small and move upwards with demand …not a bad decision given the state of the world’s economy.

There are no server types: no Roleplay server, no PvP server, no standard server, no deluxe a la mode server. The sole server (and all servers that will follow) will be one all encompassing neapolitan server type. Anyone can do anything with few rules to hamper you. This is similar to EvE online.

As there is only one server (Based in Europe) you will often meet and fight with players from other countries. You will see a lot of French in the chat. I like this about Darkfall. Plenty of players worry about pings from North america to the EU server. This was not an issue in game. Pings were generally about 120- 180 and didnt seem to effect PVE or PvP at all.

Character selection
You select the server and hit play. A few graphic splash screens later and you are in the character selection screen. Again, here is where you must abandon any previous expectations of traditional MMOs. There is only ONE character slot. You make a character and that’s it, you’re done. No changing sides, no alts. Once you choose dwarf, you’re a dwarf-4-life! Gender challenged players will have to chose a side as well. Although many players do not like being so restricted. I find that one character per server brings something to darkfall that other MMOs often lack. It is the basis for true commitment to your character. You choose a race and you now are committed, you have investment. This is lacking in many games like WoW, EQ, etc where you could play either on the same server. However, you can always delete your sole character and start anew.

There are 6 races to choose from. Human, Elf, Mahrim, Dwarf, Alfar and Ork. Each has racial advantages as well as racial alliances. Humans get along with Dwarves and elves, whereas Orks and Mahrim like eachother but are at war with humans and their friends. Alfar are the isolationists who dislike everyone. Your screen can move between races where they display a typical male and female model in front of typical dwelling. One enlightened aspect of Darkfall is the GROIN PLATE ARMOR. Both males and females have their jewels well protected. It makes WoW’s shoulder-pad focused fashion sense look silly. Aventurine knows what’s important!!!

Character Customization
The character models and dwellings remind me of old DAOC graphics. More about this in the graphics section below. Each race has a blurb so you know a little about the background story, and what races are allies and foes. Once you choose your race and sex, its off to customize your toon. In the end, I don’t know which is worse, male elves that look like females or female dwarves which look like males (just kidding).

The customization offered in darkfall is limited compared to other MMOs (Like AoC, CoX, etc). However there is enough to ensure everyone isn’t an exact clone (like what happens in many asian MMOs). There are 8 basic hair colors and 4 basic skin tones. However the slider within each color allows you to manipulate such that thousands of color combinations can be created. Then you select a desired face (about 15-20 faces). The faces are preset and cannot be altered. They basically vary by the placement of tattoos, face paint and gobs and gobs of mascara (For the ultra goth look). Various piercings can be placed in the lips, nose, forehead, ears and chin as well as forehead circlets. Close to 2 dozen hairs can also be selected …some straight out of Dragon Ball Z. The number of options for male and females are about the same, except females don’t get to choose facial hair (although I didn’t check the dwarven women)
Darkfall Review
Props to Adventurin to allow characters to use both first and last names! Now we can all be named Legolas!

Game Settings and performance
There are a number of game settings that can be adjusted for maximal playability on your system. As a PvP centered game and one which has no zones, I suggest that you adjust your settings down initially. You do not want to lose a fight because you lagged. Here are some suggestions to start with.

One in game there will be a menu in the left upper corner of the screen. One box is labeled ‘Options”. If you don’t see this menu then right-click to make it pop up.
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-Disable mouse smoothing. This will speed up your mouse movements tremendously.
-Minimize the fade-in/fade-out time for GUI
-Disable the Post Screen Effects option. This will increase your FPS.
-Minimize your vegetation density
-Minimize your blood splatters
-Minimize your dynamic lights
-Minimize your shadow options
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Now, I understand that you don’t want to strip down graphics to such a point that you’re playing Tetris. However, start with these settings and then move them up slightly as you gauge a sense on how your system handles the starting town. If you run the starting town smoothly, you will be able to handle any big fights ok as well.

Graphics
Graphics are not this game’s strong point. Not by a long shot. I told you that they began creating Darkfall 7 years ago …it looks like they haven’t updated their graphics since inception. Honestly, the character models look like those of DAOC in 2004. Anyone coming to this game from AoC is in for a shock (and likely PTSD). If graphics are important to you, DO NOT play Darkfall.

However, there are many studies that have looked at this. Graphics are not the most important aspect of a game. In my studies, I found them to be 4th in importance (See the most important features in an MMORPG graph). If the gameplay is good, most players are willing to accept lower end graphics.

Darkfall is banking on this. Aside from the character models, the mob models are little better. The best graphics in the game are the terrain, which is superb. The terrain shadows are also very impressive ...but it only goes so far. The water effects are ok at best. The spell effects are abysmal.
Darkfall Review 2 Darkfall Review 3 Darkfall Review 4

PVE Gameplay
PVE gameplay is a lot different in Darkfall than other MMOs. Prior games like WoW showed experience for every kill and quest, with bars showing your progress through various levels. It was easy to tell if you progress is good or bad in those games. Darkfall is a non-linear MMO ...it doesn’t have levels. Killing a giant is no better or worse than killing a snail (Although the loot would be better). In Darkfall what are important are skills. Skilling up is how you measure your accomplishments in this game. You can increase your skills fighting giants or snails...your choice.

Skills
There are numerous skills to practice in Darkfall. Multiple weapon types including sword, axe, 2-handed axe or bow (among others), archery, and various schools of magic. Any of these skills can be trained and achieved in any combination by any player. There are no classes in darkfall. No one is predetermined to be a tank, melee dps, caster dps, or healer. You can be any one of those , or any combination. For example, you can be a caster in plate armor or a bowman healer. In addition you can be none of those and devote your entire time to crafting (see below).

Skillups are obtained by killing monsters or other players in battle. Simply using a skill allows for a chance to improve in that skill. Killing a goblin with a sword may increase your sword proficiency rating, then healing your wounds might increase your healing skill, then change to your bow to kill a second goblin for bow to improve. Every so often you will attain a skill level that allows you to purchase a new attack/spell/ability (at levels 25, 50, 75, etc). These generally lead to increased damage or add new abilities like knockbacks. Surprisingly there are few CC abilities in Darkfall.

One of the hardest aspects of Darkfall is finding an enemy to skillup on. Camps (especially in the beginning areas) are hugely overcrowded. It’s easy to find 3 or 4 people trying to kill the same goblin. This is unfortunate, because credit for killing a mob is only given to the person who performs the killing blow. When the mob dies a gravestone appears. That gravestone is what holds the loot and ANYONE (even those who haven’t damaged the creature) can loot it. This leads to two fundamental problems …kill stealing and loot stealing. Darkfall , however does allow you to kill anyone. You can take matters into your own hands, kill the offender and loot everything off him ...if you don’t mind the alignment hit (more on alignment below). Also don’t be surprised if people hit you while you are engaged in battle against a mob (often by accident, sometimes not). Mobs circle strafe all over the place. I give kudos to Aventurine for giving the mobs some moves that players have been using for years.

Quests
Quests in Darkfall are available at some of the vendors you will find in each town. However, these quests are not elaborate or well though out. There is little immersion in darkfall. Roleplayers or those who enjoy lore and back-story will be disappointed. The quests are of the standard type, Kill mobs, Harvest materials, bring some object to some person, and Kill <X amount> of mobs within a certain amount of time. Most quests (least in the beginning) are local. No major trek to go from one place to another. When you receive a quest, your minimap will display where you need to go. When you’ve completed a quest, the minimap will show you where you need to go to turn in.

Crafting
I would say that the biggest aspect to Darkfall (aside from the full loot PvP) is the importance of crafting. Unlike traditional MMOs where the best loot only comes from raids and crafted equipment is always laughable, crafting is the main way players get weapons and armor in Darkfall Online. Every weapon, armor, and item can be crafted. This makes sense, because players are going to be losing everything in PvP. The best way to restock is to be able to make the items again. This importance is really played out on the chat channels which are just spammed with people looking to sell and buy. It seems unusual, however, that this game puts so much weight on crafting, yet does not have an auction house, a mail system or even a channel dedicated to trading. Once an item is made, there is no way to alter its appearance (dye, etc). I would expect one or all of these to eventually be implemented. At this point of the game, some crafting skills are near useless (Alchemy) while some are used often and a lot (armor/weapon crafting)

Gathering
Gathering is tedious and profitable (like every other MMO). Find a node, harvest that node by left clicking till your carpal tunnel explodes …move on to the next node (and use your left hand). Each node has common, uncommon and rare elements that can be harvested. There is no level specific nodes. Any harvester at level 1 can harvest any node. However, the higher your skill at harvesting means you harvest quicker and have a better chance at getting uncommon and rares. Thankfully nodes are abundant throughout the world and there is little competition for resources. Because some crafting professions are not useful, some gathering is better than others. Stone and wood cutting seem to always been in need. Harvesting is only good for the rare drop. Fishing….I hate fishing.

Ship and City Building
Guilds with enough cash and materials can build cities. With these cities you can gain access to harvesting nodes, special crafting areas and more. Boats can also be constructed for sea warfare. Player housing was also to be a major aspect of Darkfall, but this feature has been pushed back.

PvP GamePlay
This game is made for PvP. It is the core of the game. Thankfully the PvP is fun. There is a sense of excitement and danger every time you leave the confines of the city. Trust me, the first death and looting of your corpse stings. This is why a lot of players have turned to crafting, in order to build up reserves or cash, armor and weapons. Honestly, I think this is the wrong way for a Darkfall player to go. Everytime you die, you respawn with the beginners weapon. That alone is enough to grind back up to some armor and weapons within the hour. However, in darkfall, joining a guild is highly recommended. You don’t have to, but your future prospects may become limited if you exclusivly solo.

The alignment system
One of the aspects of this game that sets it apart from others is collateral damage and friendly fire. You can hit your foes and you friends. Because of this Darkfall has an alignment system. If you hit a friendly ally (your race, or an allied race) once, you get tagged as a rogue for 10 seconds. If you hit an ally during that 10 seconds (while flagged as rogue) you are flagged rogue for 2 min. Being rogue means anyone can attack you without being flagged rogue themselves. They can kill you, loot you and not worry about turning ‘RED”. If you ambush and attack a friend eventually killing them you are then flagged ‘RED”. Once red you can not return unless you kill an enemy race or another red player. Obviously that takes a lot of effort. While you are red, anyone can attack , kill, and loot you dry without any worry of repercussion. You cannot interact with any merchants and guards will kill you on sight. Upon going red, you will be automatically bound to remote bindstones in the wilderness.

Being red is tough. Tough enough to prevent Darkfall from becoming an all out gank fest.
If you enjoy a challenge… you know what to do.

Note to the bow and casters. Because mobs dance around so much, and numerous players are attacking them (see PVE gameplay above), using ranged weapons almost always hits a friendly player and sends you rogue. Take real care in your shots.

Mounts and Combat
In Darkfall there is mounted combat. You can fight off any mount you own. They are all the same and no mount is better in combat than any other (at least right now). On a mount you can attack with any 1H weapon (so its always good to have some 1H weapon skill). The weapon does 250% of damage. You can also make the mount buck. If you are hit while riding you are not dismounted. Your attackers can target you, or target your steed. Maneuvering while riding a mount takes some practice, however you do get a full 360 view of the world. It takes 6 seconsds to get off yuor horse, during that time someone can attack you or jump right on and steal your steed. Be very careful where and when you mount and dismount. The world of Darkfall is a rough place.

Flaws of Darkfall
Not for the refined
Darkfall is rough and unpolished. There are missing descriptions of NPCs, in game displays that are raw (Like a weapon’s damage listed to 6 significant digits …i.e Weapon Damage 31.0162), entire lines of crafting which give little reward for the work, etc. Players who have become accustomed to refined mainstream games like WoW, EQ, LOTRO will easily see these issues and probably not like it. This will be a big issue, because many players come over with a guild or collection of friends …I wager 8 out of 10 will not stay.

Don’t hit that button!
The commands in Darkfall are just unintuitive. Commands like /annotation_add, /bindstone_recall, /gui_persist_save, and /partycreate are all important commands that most players don’t know anything about. Many of these commands were simple clicks and buttons in other games, here you need a list stickied to the top of your computer screen. Player generated macros are not in yet. I expect that when they are, this will become much easier.

It is difficult to navigate in Darkfall. Forced into 1st person point of view you do feel confined. Having to sheath and unsheathe all the time to interact with a merchant or loot a kill leads to erratic gameplay. The addition of autoloot would be very welcomed.

I hate you, and all others like you!
There is a lot of corpse stealing and kill stealing. Although you can kill anyone you want, the repercussions of going red (especially early on) is just not worth it. You just have to work as fast as you can to loot your kill ASAP. Also, because of the dynamic combat, it is easy to accidently turn rogue. There are players who sit around scanning for that to happen and then POUNCE on you when it does. They have 10 seconds to kill you ..and they will.

Note to new players: People may attack you even if your not rogue. If someone spies you with 25-30% health, they may decide "I dont mind being red" and pick you off. Dont let your health get down too low. I would consider stopping and resting the moment you get below 50% health. Some large guilds make it easy for players to return to blue status, thus their members can kill allies with little ramification.

Party like its 1999
Well it’s not that bad, but the graphics are far behind all others. These graphics are akin to those in 2004. Terrain graphics and shadows are great…all else is …gah! You really have to look past graphics in order to enjoy this game. If you cannot, you won’t last long.

Magic is weak.
I actually enjoy this. For far too long Magic casters have been uber damage dealers over all others. Not so much in Darkfall …at least not until much later on. Players who enjoy pure casters are going to have to up their melee to survive early on. Higher level magic is more powerful but not by a tremendous amount.

Chat is trouble.
For one thing, all main channels are one big trader channel. Also, there is no sound or alert when you receive a message. Because of this it is very easy to miss a tell from a friend or guildemate. In fact in your normal mode of travel and combat you cannot chat at all. You need to disengage by right clicking then select the chat group. Because of this being in a guild with vent is a must for communication.

Mind on my money and money on my mind
As Darkfall is a non linear MMO. There are no levels. The main limiting step for achieving most goals is money. Skill up something long enough and then buy spells/abilities/materials etc. As such, should any gold farming industry have success in this game it can wreak havoc. Darkfall , more than most MMOs is susceptible to the effects of the gold farming industry. Hopefully, if it remains a small MMO, gold farmers might overlook this game.

There goes your Carpal Tunnel
Click , click, click ..what that sound? Thats you playing Darkfall. A lot of left clicking to do pretty much eerything in this game ....especially gathering. Unattended macro-ing is illegal in Darkfall ONline. I suggest that you use attended macroing and save your wrist. I wager there may be plenty of scripts and bots eventually in this game. It remains to be seen how Aventurine will combat this (if at all).
UPDATE: Due to numerous player requests, There is auto-harvesting now for instances. NO more need for macros. However, skilling up of things like magic and archery (By shooting endlessly into the air still requires numerous manual clicks or a macro)

Partisan Politics
Various Forum boards from the official Darkfall forums to MMORPG.com are chock full of threads about Darkfall. The forums, like the game, is PvP. Those who post on the forums  are often  radicalized (both pro and con) and the true measure of the game's players fall well into the middle. In the end, just as with RL, the playerbase is a mixture of good and bad.

Hurry up and wait
One big issue these days is actually being able to log into the game. You are put into a huge queue that can take up to an hour to get through. Queues are not unknown to the MMO industry, however in other games there was always another server to log into that didnt have a queue...not so here. So plan ahead. Get your spot in the queue, then go watch a good movie.
Update 3-17-09: Queues have significantly been reduced and at non peak times non-existant. Many players reporting only 10-20 min queue times.

Tips tricks and hints you need

When fighting Mobs in PVE hit the T button. This will change your swing from a slide slash (which hits a lot of things in front of you) to an overhead hack (and thus less likely to hit an ally).

Don't take ANYTHING out of the bank that you're not fully prepared to lose. Bank everything you can. Return to the bank often while harvesting and adventuring.

Archery is very powerful early on. Much more powerful than magic. I highly recommend getting your archery skill up. Remember, Arrows must be manually aimed and are effected by gravity. If you are shooting at a moving target, make sure you lead the target and to aim above them.

Resting in this game is very important. Even thought you may be fighting a mob that you can easily beat at half health …you never know when another player will attack you to steal all your stuff. Always ensure you have enough health for that possibility

There is directional sound in Darkfall that can aid you in telling what direction an attack is coming from. However you need to use earphones.

Summary
--PvP is the core of the game. If you don’t like fighting other players, this game is not for you

--This isn’t 'Darkfall Online', its 'Darfur Online'. The world is ugly and might makes right. The devs are not here to protect you from groups of jerks …they encourage jerkiness. Be prepared!

--The best way to play Darkfall (some say the only way) is to join a clan. My experience is that life in Darkfall becomes a lot more pleasant when you have friends with large polearms at your side, making jokes and watching eachother's back.

--How Aventurine improves the commands and GUI will vastly improve the number of players who stick with this game

--The server seem stable over the last several days and they took the load of 5-10K players well. No crashes in the client since release. Aventurine had better impliment new servers soon, else they risk alienating players who truely want to play. 1-2 hour queues make this game unplayable to many. Update 3-17-09: Queues have significantly been reduced. Many players reporting only 10-20 min queue times.

--Crafting and harvesting is immensly important in Darkfall. If you hate the thought of crafting, make sure you find a friend / guild who crafts. Crafting itself is not complex or challenging, but high level crafters will enjoy wielding power and influence.

--Darkfall has an ‘IT’ factor that is missing from most of the new MMO and expansions over the last 2 years. There is a true feeling of danger in this game. You worry about your character and feel a true sense of hate against your opponents and loss should you be defeated. While most MMOs are trying to mimic another game's success, Darkfall is truly attempting to push the envelope ...this hasnt happened in a long time.

For more in depth guides for specific classes.
Take a look at these Professional Darkfall Strategy Guides

There is also a great Darkfall Skills guide thats a HUGE help to get ahead quickly!!



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I agree with much of this article and would add
My experiences have been different in this way