Thursday, April 4, 2013

NDA Lifted: Beta Tester impressions of Darkfall Unholy Wars

AV lifted the NDA this morning on Darkfall: Unholy Wars and the release date is set for April 16th.  You
can expect me to be posting a lot more actively now that I can speak freely about the game I have been beta testing for 5 months.

Yes, a 5 month beta.  Normally in these types of posts you get "first impressions" of a game.  My first impressions were gone many many months ago.  To put this in perspective, I played the original DF1 for 3 months so my "beta" experience with Unholy Wars is already 2 months longer than the original game.

It was a long beta and Tasos had one ask as he lifted the NDA: to comment on the game as it exists today and not on issues that were addressed earlier in beta.  I think that's a very fair request.

The first month will be incredible.
The second month may start to stall.  And by the third month, they better have something new or anyone without a strong vision for the game is going to lose interest.

In other words, par for the course with every other MMO that has launched in the last billion years.  That said, I'll make a caveat -- that first month will be worth the price of the game.  If you like PvP, it's going to be fun times and worthwhile.

Also, it's worth pointing out that interest isn't going to start waning immediately and mileage will vary depending on how actively you play.  Also, there are pieces expected at launch (dungeons, in particular) that could be introduced to keep players interested longer than I'm anticipating.

Not enough sand in the sandbox...
The problem, in a nutshell, has nothing to do with the "hardcore" nature of this game. I'll speak to this in a future post but this is mostly a red herring thrown out there by people who would never truly enjoy a game like Darkfall.

The problem lies in that progression is very fast for "characters" and mind-numblingly slow for everything else. This is incredibly ironic if you were at all familiar with the original Darkfall, but the net of the problem is this..

In these types of conquest games, players need things to do when they aren't out conquesting. Right now, the potential problem is that there simply isn't enough interesting things "to do" when not sieging to keep people logged in.

This isn't inherently obvious to someone who hasn't spent a lot of time in the latest beta round that introduced the new "prowess" system for character advancement. All due respects to Syncaine and his opinions, but I'm fairly confident that I have logged 4-5 times the hours he has in this latest beta (having played it full-time).

For many players, the biggest "thing to do" draw is improvement to become more viable at PvP.  Early game, the new prowess system is going to be a big draw and feel very rewarding.  It's also going to create a lot of competition for important mob spawns. This is going to make for some fantastic PvP and a real sense of accomplishment during the first month.

And then that will end.  Around 100k prowess, there will be an effective prowess cap for your role that means you'll gain very little benefit for further character improvement.   In other words, you will still have choices but the level of effort required will likely not be worth the gain.  [EDIT: To be clear, I'm not implying this is "grindy" -- I'm saying you are effectively almost "maxxed" within that role for the purposes of PvP.]

There are still other choices, of course, what gear to wear, what to siege, and so forth but the main motivating force that keeps people logged in will be minimized.  That's a problem.  Because in order for you to have PvP, you need to have people.

A game of conquest!
The counter-argument you will hear is that Darkfall is about conquest, sieges and crafting.  Crafting, in it's current state, lacks the "bones" in which to build a strong economy.  That's the backbone of EvE, but it's not the backbone of Unholy Wars and needs considerable work if that's the intent.

On sieges, I absolutely agree and these are extremely fun.  That's not the issue.  The issue is -- players will log on for a siege -- then log off once it's over.  Any "spontaneous" PvP will be virtually non-existant and largely consist of 15 bored guys rolling into a city that has 2-3 semi-AFK harvesters.

And to be clear, PvP is the goal.  The content that needs to be added should drive PvP and come in the form of "hotspots" that bring people together for a fight.  My criticism here is something needs to be added that is rewarding in such a way that people will congregate in areas that will allow PvP to flourish.

On Aventurine...
I want to comment briefly on AV.  It's obvious this isn't a big budget company and I admire what they are able to accomplish with limited resources.  It requires a different approach, one that is more iterative in that pieces of the puzzle are slowly added into the mix.

You do need to be comfortable with the idea that the game will always be a work-in-progress. That's true of all MMOs but particularly true here where the budgets are small.  This approach does work and I do think it results in a better game but it requires patience from players which is often in short supply.

Fortunately, I do have patience and do believe in the vision.  It's a fun game and I do plan to continue playing many months after launch.  But I'm also not most people..

And thus, my prediction that unless something new is introduced (which is possible) players are going to hit the same "lack of content" wall that they hit with every other game.


Anonymous said...

100k prowess is a lot man. I don't think anyone but the 24/7 crew will hit that in the first month.

But yea, I agree with everything else. Hopefully AV does as well and the stuff that is not in right now comes sooner rather than later, and sustains the population at a decent level.

sid67 said...

I threw out 100k because that's the number assuming that the utility on skills increases. Which, based on what Tasos said recently, sounds like will happen. In current beta state, there isn't much point to go beyond 50-60k depending on role.