Darkfall: Unholy Wars – Peaks on top of peaks on top of peaks

April 29, 2013

Readers here know that I like MMOs (hence, you know, this here MMO blog). And unless this is the first post you are reading here (hi), you know I prefer my MMOs to be more sandbox/virtual world than themepark, and I express that opinion often and generally with examples. This is one of those posts. Enjoy.

One difference between playing a themepark and a sandbox happens even before you log in. In a themepark, you pretty much know what you are going to be doing that login, be it a quest, a raid, some instanced PvP, whatever. And short of a miracle, odds are good you are actually going to do what you logged in to do (and if you logged into WoW, you will succeed, 100% of the time).

In a good sandbox, before you log in you will have something you want to do, but sometimes the sandbox will have other ideas and you end up doing something completely different. Those moments are usually memorable too. You head out to mine and you get ganked. You go to farm some mobs and a clan war breaks out. You log in to find your Corp has been war-decced. Someone did some really crazy stuff with the local/world economy. Etc.

The themepark model relies on giving you a consistent drip of fun, and the longer you play, the higher the dosage you need just to get the same high. Many confuse this with burnout, but really it’s just the core flaw in the model. A good sandbox is a continuous set of peaks and valleys, and those memorable peaks justify the mundane valleys. Blowing up a Titan is special because a lot of time was spent shooting a mining laser at a rock to build it. A city siege is an event because some clan spent hundreds if not thousands of game-hours building it up, living around it, and planning the virtual lives of its members around that location.

This weekend was an unusual string of peaks for me in Darkfall.

The first such peak happened when a group of OTG members got on a boat to go be pirates; we geared up and sailed out looking for other ships. Our ‘tracking method’ was to fish while sailing, and based on tiles empty of fish, we tried to pinpoint where a fishing ship or two might be located. It was an inexact science, but still fun.

After sailing much of the eastern ocean with little luck (but a lot of fish), we meet up with another ship from OTG and decided to sail back home to Cairn, splitting up so that we covered two tiles as we went. The ship that I was on and piloting had two of our members recall out, and with just three left we decided to pack the ship up and just recall back ourselves. As the others recalled, I despawned the boat, accidentally cancelling their recalls and setting off their timers (the boat disappearing caused them to fall into the ocean, whoops).

As we floated in the water, I spotted a boat sailing towards us. It would be just our luck that as soon as we despawn, a target comes along. The others quickly swam towards that boat and began shooting arrows and magic at the captain, causing him to attempt to dodge, which is a very slow process in a boat. Over Mumble I called out the target, and our other boat began to sail towards us in an attempt to cut them off. In a “wonder if this works” moment, I tried to spawn our boat from the water and much to my surprise, it worked. Climbing quickly on board, I sailed in pursuit.

After about two tiles of chasing, our second boat finally got itself into position, and the two members on board started shooting at the enemy captain. The more he dodged, the closer we got, and eventually his fate was sealed and he went down, leaving his boat floating in the water for us to claim. +1 pirate success!

Later in the weekend, I was riding around exploring on Cairn when I came across a random iron node. Needing to read something on my iPhone, I figured why not and started mining. About ten swings in, I heard the sounds of a mount approached, and turned to see if it was an alliance member or someone about to gank me. It was an enemy, and since I had just basic gear on me, I decided why the hell not and attacked.

Oddly, he turned to run immediately, even though our prowess levels were about even and he was a skirmisher in better gear. I chased on my mount, not expecting much to happen since unless someone makes a mistake, you can’t really catch up when both people are mounted. To my surprise, he started fleeing directly towards the ocean (mounts swim slower than players, so it’s never a good idea to enter water on a mount when combat is a possibility), and even more surprising, he jumped in and began mount swimming.

I got to the shore, jumped off my mount, and chased after him. A quick pursuit swim later, I was able to kill his mount with my starter staff bolt spell. He kept swimming, and I kept chasing. Then, he dived down deep into the water. I figured he was luring me into a deep underwater fight, and being a skirm, he would have the advantage, but since I had little to nothing on me, I figured what the hell and dove down as well. Rather than turning to shoot, he kept swimming, eventually leaving my line of sight. Lost him.

I swam a little further in the general direction of the pursuit and was about to swim back when I noticed something far off in the water. As I swam closer, I realized it was a player gravestone. Swimming closer still, it displayed the name of the player I was chasing. The guy hadn’t escaped; he drowned himself.

When I opened the gravestone, I figured out why he had panicked and run. He had a treasure map on him. Looting it and the rest of his (pretty decent) gear, I double-clicked the map and my assumption proved true; his treasure was very close to my initial mining spot. Very, very close in fact; just over a ridge and near the general flight zone of the local red dragon.

As I attempted to pinpoint the location, I noticed a player grave in some lava. Because “why not” was the theme of the day, I jumped in, got some nice burns, and looted it. Another treasure map, more decent gear. My lucky day! Oddly, this treasure map was nowhere close to Cairn based on the blinking, so this seemed like just a random death.

The fire dragon corrected me on the random part.

The ‘fun’ thing about the red dragon is it has a giant agro range as it flies high above. Sometimes it notices you and says hello, other times it keeps flying. Just as I was getting out of the lava, the dragon decided it was a good time to fireball me. That hurt, and flung me a good distance (luckily, not back into the lava). Not content with as single scorching, the dragon then showed me it also has a streaming breath attack that really, really hurts. Down I went. My guess is the gravestone in the lava was some poor soul that also experienced the above, but was additionally unlucky and died in the lava (insta-death). I simply had to wait out the revive timer and pray no enemy came by to gank me.

My luck held, I got up, and shortly after located the initial treasure and dug it up. 3k gold richer, I rode back to our bank and called it a day.

Finally, on Sunday I started my day by farming some ogre bullies just south of the human safe zone. Most (all?) ogre bully spawns are a PvP hot spot right now because completing their feat is worth a good chunk of prowess. As I farmed, another player ran into the spot, and I turned expecting a fight. However, when I looked at his prowess total I saw he was just at 4k (I’m at 17k), so rather than instantly attack I waited to see what he would do. He ran up, stopped next to me, and sent me a “hello” message. I said hello back and we grouped up to share the spawn.

About three mobs later, an enemy skirmisher that I’ve actually died to before ran up and started attacking. My new friend and I fought him for a bit, but the guy was good and eventually we both went down. Since I was bound to a chaos stone close by, I ran back to my corpse to see what loot was left. Luckily, the guy only looted some ore off me, leaving all my gear. After re-equipping, I went back to farming the bullies.

A few mobs later, the guy was back and attacked again. As I still had little of value on me (a bit of gold off the bullies), I figured more PvP practice never hurt and fought him, dragging the fight out by ducking behind trees to make it difficult for him to hit me with arrows and forcing him into running into melee range. The strategy worked in terms of delaying him and forcing him back, but I could never finish him and he was always able to dash away and recover. This cat and mouse game continued for a good bit of time.

Then someone on Mumble asked if I wanted to join their group that was about to start farming the bullies. I told him sure, but first we would have to take care of this enemy skirmisher. A bit more delaying later, they arrived and eventually killed the guy after a lengthy chase both in and out of the water. Recovering my previously looted ore and gold, I went on to finish the ogre bullies feat with the alliance group. Double success!

As the safe zone was close, and since I needed to do a bit of crafting, I said thanks for the group and headed north. Between me and the safe zone boarder was a small water inlet, and because this was just that kind of weekend, I spotted a boat sailing directly towards me. I called it out on Mumble, the ogre bullies group scrambled towards me, and I did my best to delay the boat with some archery shots.

The boat, with just two people on board, started to turn back towards the safe zone, but then suddenly stopped and just sat in the water. After the ‘wtf’ shock wore off, I climbed up the side of the boat and killed the mage who was not the captain (not much room to run on a boat). I then figured out why the boat had stopped; the captain had crashed/disconnected.

I waited for him to log back in, and when he did I fully expected a fight. Surprisingly, in a panic move, he instead started to steer the boat, no doubt hoping to hit the safe zone. He never even got close as I hacked him down. +1 boat, +2 graves!

And to top everything off, a SECOND boat had made its way down the inlet and got caught by my alliance group.

Pretty unreal weekend, and a very high peak in the sandbox.

DF:UW – Zerging Massively

April 28, 2013

Niche, yo.

(This weekend has been ridiculously fun in-game for me. Monday should have a great post or two. Yarr!)

DF:UW – Review after two weeks

April 26, 2013

(Note: I write this sitting on my just-crafted boat, fishing away far off the Agon coast. Let’s see what I end up with at the end.)

MMO sequels are tricky. When you create a sequel, you generally do so because you can’t fix/patch/expand the original game to get it where you want it to go, and instead have to start fresh. The fact that EVE is 10 years in and without the need for a sequel is just another rock on the mountain of its amazing design, but then there is only one EVE/CCP.

Darkfall 1 was a great but greatly flawed game. For everything it did right (combat, seamless world, atmosphere), it was dragged down by design mistakes (increase-by-use progression system), bugs (rigormax), or exploits/hacks. It was a very harsh game right from the moment you logged in, and posed a giant hurdle for new players to catch up, not only in the skills needed to compete, but with complex UI scripts and keybinds. Near-forced overnight macroing did not help either.

Based on just over one week in, Darkfall: Unholy Wars is everything good about DF1, with most (all?) of the major negatives fixed or removed, and a lot of great stuff stacked on top of that solid core.

As previously described, the prowess system is wonderful. It truly rewards you for just playing the game, and allows you to progress in different ways. If you want to PvE, you can PvE and see progress. If you want to focus on harvesting/crafting, you will progress as well, and not JUST as a crafter. The game also rewards exploring Agon in many ways, be it random chaos chests, hunting down treasure maps, or simply finding resource/weapon stashes.

Combat has that DF1 feel, but is improved with the addition of the four roles (classes you can switch between at will) and the skills they bring. For me the biggest improvement is that unlike DF1, you don’t have half a dozen hotbars full of abilities, but instead 6-8 core skills you use, and those are easy to access with the base UI. Combat still gives you that huge adrenaline rush, and you still need to manage your stats like in DF1, but you can jump in and be effective much sooner, and without having everything maxed like in DF1.

Graphically the game is a better looking version of DF1. The character models are still average, but get the job done. Some of the animations could use work. The world itself is, IMO, one of the best-looking virtual worlds out. Not from a purely technical, poly-count high-rez textures way, but in terms of how you interact with the terrain and what it means. Seeing a giant spire in the middle of a lava field is not just a fancy instanced dungeon entrance or some “focal point” of a zone you quest to once and never see again, but a logical spot in a world that can be used for a number of things (siege stone location, epic PvP battleground, dragon farming encounter).

The lighting and shadows really add a lot of atmosphere to the game, and the musical score is a somewhat subtle but great addition. The sound (finally fixed just as of today) is as great as it was in DF1. You can pinpoint the location of someone based on noise, and keeping quiet is actually important when sneaking up on someone for PvP.

The starting experience is improved not only by a brief initial tutorial that shows you the basic controls, but with the inclusion of PvP-free safe zones around the starting NPC cities. These areas will allow new players to learn the ropes without having to worry about being ganked as soon as they leave town, and will also allow them to do some basic PvE to get their characters started and deposit some wealth in their banks. The decision on when to venture out and expose yourself to PvP is now up to each player, rather than some 24 hour newbie shield.

I’m sure I’ll cover more aspects of DF:UW as time goes by, but to wrap this post up I’d say if you enjoyed DF1 for what it was, I can’t imagine you won’t like DF:UW as much or more. If you missed DF1 but have interesting in a virtual world done right, and don’t rage-quit over FFA PvP, I’d recommend the game. Currently there are many clans open to new players, and overall the world is populated and lively.

(Two ocean tiles fished out from my boat. Gained 250 prowess, fished up two small treasure maps, and a ‘boatload’ of fish.)

SimCity MMO still going strong

April 25, 2013

Looks like the 2.0 patch for SimCity the MMO is a huge hit.

In EA’s defense, running an MMO is really hard, and they are new at this, so lets just give the little guy a chance!

DF:UW – Now out on Steam

April 25, 2013

Darkfall: Unholy Wars is now on Steam.

Good timing by Aventurine, as the last patch they put in greatly increased performance. It’s almost odd playing DF:UW without load lag. Also interested in today’s patch fixing sound. Up to this point the sound had been a little off, and a bit too quiet. Hopefully today’s patch returns things closer to DF1, where sound played a huge role in gameplay and was one of the major strengths of the game. I miss pinpointing someones location just off surround sound.

DF:UW – The pace of progression

April 24, 2013

The early ‘controversy’ in DF:UW right now is progression. Specifically, some are very upset that those with more time and more efficient farming methods are ahead of them in prowess. Yes, people with more time and skill get more done than those just looking for a handout. Shocking huh? The most laughable are those asking for a return to macro/exploit ‘progression’, or for a pure P2W method of just buying prowess.

In any MMO, a balance must exist in between short-term viability and long-term progression. This is especially important in a PvP-focused MMO like DF:UW. If it takes too long to become viable, new players will be discouraged that they can’t catch up. If overall progression is too short, players will ‘cap-out’ and one of the core activities MMORPG players enjoy (character improvement) will disappear. Countless MMOs have hammered home how disastrous it is when players cap-out too quickly, and only a fool would miss the link between EVE’s ‘endless’ progression and the fact that the only MMO still growing after 10 years.

DF1 was too heavy on the long-term. Progression was very lengthy (which is good), but new players faced a huge wall once vets had complete characters. On top of this, most early vets gained those completed characters through dubious means, and new players had little choice but to jump on the macro train if they wanted to compete in a reasonable amount of time.

I think DF:UW is in a much better spot right now. First and foremost, we are not seeing exploit-fueled god-like characters running around, nor are all of the top clans holed up under the world macroing. The biggest ‘offenders’ so far have been Zealots; who simply figured out the best mobs to farm in beta, and using that knowledge to get ahead in week one. The most common reports of macroing are the ‘potato farmers’; people running a simple macro to dig repeatedly for them. AV should still ban them, but the gains from that are minimal and the act itself is pretty laughable.

The overall time to ‘finish’ a role (50k) is also a very low hurdle, and all but the most casual players should be able to accomplish it within a month or two. At the same time, with AV being able to add new roles (and likely new classes in expansions), total progression length can always be extended to give everyone something new to work towards and spend prowess on.

Point blanks, when the major complain from some Darkfall players is that there is too much PvP over mob spawns, YOU ARE DOING IT RIGHT!

Now, there are some tweaks that need to be made.

I think the diminishing returns cap at 6k prowess needs to be raised to somewhere around 20-25k. It makes little sense to slow someone down at 6k, because at that point they are just starting to put together a character and invest in skills/stats. At 20-25k, you are rounding yourself out and finishing some things up in your first role, which would be a more logical spot to start slowing things down.

Diminishing returns DO need to exist however. They slow vets down, which helps new players, they delay the ‘maxed out’ characters, which helps retention, and they help put more emphasis on finishing feats which in turn get people out and doing different things. Tweak them, but don’t remove them completely.

I’m not as against the 150 kill feat as others, but I agree that something between the 30 and 150 feats would help keep player momentum up and smooth out the progression a bit. Right now finishing a major 150 feat (or double feat, for something like giants) is a huge power spike that can create a have/have not gap. Again, not THAT big a deal, but something that could be smoothed out.

Revealing the hidden feats would help as well. They are a big source of early prowess, and would help those that don’t scour the forums to map out an efficient prowess path.

Finally, I think post-150 repeatable feats should be added so that mob spawns don’t lose 99% of their value once you have finished the 150 feat. The repeatable feat should give perhaps 25%-50% of the prowess the original feat gave. That way, you can keep farming one spot, but the system overall still encourages and rewards moving around and killing different mobs.

As I stated earlier, the system overall is working beautifully. Players are fighting over mob spawns, different areas of the world all have value, and both short and long term the progression system is reasonable and sustainable.

DF:UW – Weekend update

April 22, 2013

I had a very busy weekend in DF:UW. Here are a few of the highlights and what I’m liking so far.

On Friday I spent most of my time trying to finish up kill feats for the mobs available around our chaos stone. I managed to wrap up goblins, skeletons, ghouls, and trolls. The nice thing about the easy spawn camps is that as soon as you finish looting and skinning, the next wave spawns, leading to little downtime and a quick pace to finishing your feats. They may not be worth a ton of prowess, but every bit counts and these type of camps are easily soloable with just basic (mob-drop) gear.

Friday night I was in a clan group farming a spot when two enemies came by. As we had five in our group, we fought them off at the spawn and gave chase when they ran. They fled across some water onto an island containing a portal chamber (fast travel location you need a portal shard to activate). The island is fairly small, and has a circular path up to the top where the portal itself sits. Along the path up there is a fallen tree that blocks your way, and you can either crawl under it or go to the side and jump over. Our enemies fled up this path, dodging arrows and spells.

Just as I jumped over the fallen tree, they sprung their ambush and suddenly two fleeing enemies became multiple (5-6?) people ready and looking for a fight. On top of the element of surprise, they also had our party a bit separated due to the chase, and the fight quickly turned into a slaughter thanks to the tight confines of the island path. Pretty cool little ambush I must say, and very clever use of the terrain (the fallen tree made it almost impossible to get away quickly).

Saturday started off very similar to Friday in terms of farming mob camps and responding to PvP calls, although the frequency of the PvP was much higher, resulting in much slower prowess gains from farming.

We also had a larger, more coordinated attack on the chaos bank itself that resulted in a near-total wipe after what must have been a 30 minutes, back and forth battle. Even in defeat it was still a blast.

Saturday night a clan member was offering a trip up to our city in the dwarf lands via his boat. A few of us took him up on the offer, and rode out to the coast to catch a ride and do some fishing. The cool thing about the cheapest boat (Wherry) is that it’s actually fairly large, and with its flat deck, makes for the perfect fishing boat.

I also learned that fishing is a great source of prowess, since the body of water you fish in has a lot more resources than a standard node (rock, tree, bush), and each fish yields just under a point of prowess. Better still, treasure maps are worth a nice chunk of prowess, and once dug up provide thousands of gold and rare crafting resources. I’m certainly going to either buy or craft my own Wherry to go on some trips.

Sunday I spent exploring the dwarf lands around our city, seeing what spawns were around and the best paths into the safe zone. Finally being back in a safe zone, I refined some mats and did a bit of gathering to finish up some more feats.

Sunday night consisted of farming a very active ogre bullies spawn, fighting off multiple waves of player attackers, and ultimately losing the spawn when a much large force rolled in. The weekend ended with another boat fishing trip, putting me at just under 8k total prowess.

Compared to DF1, progression in DF:UW is much smoother and more enjoyable. Since launch I’ve just been playing the game rather than focusing on progression at the expense of fun, and I don’t feel like I’m behind or gimping myself because I’m not at a bloodwall or afk swimming overnight. I don’t need to cycle transfers at all times to skill them up, and I’m not fighting players with exploited skills and impossible gains (rigormax).

I also believe that long-term the prowess/progression system is going to hold up very well. The time it will take to near-max a single role is not long (I suspect I’ll be there within a month), but after that there will still be a lot of things to spend prowess points on, and being able to switch effectively amongst roles will be a huge bonus that will give my character some great gameplay variety (but not pure power).

Even right now at lower prowess levels, PvP combat is a lot of fun. It’s a great mix of DF1 in terms of the pace and how it feels, but the special skills and abilities the different roles bring add variety without forcing you to max out everything like in DF1. The few very powerful (30k+ prowess) characters I’ve fought have beat me handily, but aside from simply hitting harder and having more HP, those players were also just better skill-wise (great aim with a bow, better skill usage, doing all of the little things that add up in DF), and I have no problem losing when I’m out-played.

A final note about the in-game population; right now its booming. There are dozens of players in the NPC cities I’ve visited, and world PvP encounters are very frequent. OTG always has dozens of actives in Mumble, and I believe we are just under 200 characters in the clan (recruitment is closed atm). It’s a bit scary to think what is going to happen population-wise once DF:UW is released on Steam.


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