Darkfall: Unholy Wars going F2P and other problems sink it

June 20, 2014

Darkfall and I have had an interesting history (the fact that I heard about the first game from Tobold entertains me to this day), and unfortunately I think this post marks the final chapter. The game is going in multiple directions that don’t appeal to me, the community has lost those who make the game worth playing overall, and comical developer incompetence and corruption was the final little push I needed to finally move on.

Let’s start with the game itself. Recently a cash shop was added, which sets the stage for the game’s F2P conversion coming ‘soon’ (it’s already F2P in Asia). I was asked here a while back if I would continue to support DF even if it went F2P, and at the time I said I would not. This is made all the easier since buying more than just fluff is already in the shop. You can pay AV $5 for a prowess (XP) reset, which is pretty ‘convenient’ when you have a game in constant flux due to a massive combat overhaul and general developer indecision about balance and the direction of the game. How many times will someone accept their current build being nerfed into the ground and told they can fix it for just $5 before they get fed up?

Plus how many times have MMO players heard the song and dance from developers about not selling power when F2P is announced, and a few months later the cash shop is offering you the One Ring? When things get dire, devs get desperate, and DF:UW’s core issues persist to this day.

And what are those core issues? The main one is the game is still an oversized arena PvP game, rather than an MMO. There is no reason to PvP other than for the sake of PvP, and this is reflected in the quality of the playerbase. Where games like EVE have people like The Mittani creating content for tens of thousands of players, those key people have long since left Darkfall, and in their place stand directionless ‘leaders’ providing little if any content. Even DF1 was able to initially attract some of these valuable players (Manus, Glut, Osium, etc), which is what kept that game’s meta interesting for the first two years or so. But as they saw the state of DF:UW’s beta, and the general design flaws of the game, they never even bothered showing up on day one. Inq to this day mocks me about trying to get them to give the game another shot.

The above is also why DF:UW gets laughable indifference from so many EVE players. My alliance would always wonder what I see in a game with no long-term plan, goal, or point, and admittedly I look a bit foolish now with my “they are working on that guys!” enthusiasm, because nope, they really aren’t. So why grind up to play in an arena when you can play a better version of exactly that in games like Chivalry or even your MOBA of choice. At least those games understand what they are, rather than awkwardly pretending to be something they clearly are not capable of delivering.

A more recent core problem has been the combat overhaul. To say it’s a surprising disaster would be unfair, because if you didn’t see it being a disaster pre-release you must be painfully blind. Imagine if CCP, in the name of ‘player freedom’, allowed any ship to fit a doomsday on it, and the balance explanation provided was that since everyone can use it, it’s balanced. That’s what AV did with DF:UW recently. I wish I was joking, but I’m not. They took armor, weapons, and skills all previously designed and balanced around fitting into classes, and just removed the concept of classes without the overhaul to everything needed to make it work. At least in DF1, which had the same ‘everyone can be everything’ system, balance was attempted with that in mind since day one. It was bad, but not “lulz doomsday spam” bad.

The result is not just the expected FOTM lameness that happens in every MMO with such a system that has poor checks and balances, but that combat overall is a cheesefest of who can come up with the cheapest AoE/CC combo to drop people with because nothing was designed with this system in mind. Imagine DAoC roaming 8s cheese but turned up to 11, and that’s DF:UW. The only reason the abuse isn’t nearly as bad as you might expect right now is because of the above point; the playerbase doesn’t have the top-tier talent to create the best builds quickly, but those who remain will eventually get there.

The above are further hurt by the still woefully pointless economy, made more comical by F2P-forbearing gimmicks such as double loot weekends. Having a ‘full bank’ in DF:UW is trivial, and once that happens, it’s just another brick stacked on top of the directionless mess that the game is overall. Again, imagine playing EVE with limitless ISK and you get a good idea of what DF:UW offers once you grind it out for a month or so.

The final and minor side note is how AV handles their community. The most toxic members are left unchecked, especially in-game, where global chat will drive away anyone who has evolved beyond 8th grade gym humor and the lowest of internet meme trash. On the forums the moderation team is all over the place, at times deleting an entire and often valuable thread due to one post, while at other times leaving a cesspool up no matter how low it gets.

When members of the community would try to work with moderators in a productive manner, the end-result was as likely a temp-ban for the one making the effort as it might be for those destroying it, depending on which moderator you happen to get. Double-speak excuses were put forth when confronted about this regardless of how far someone escalated things, which ultimately resulted in many once-helpful people leaving the game in disgust.

To list just one sad example, the head community manager specifically stated that since they somehow can’t verify the content of personal messages on their own forums (yup…), they won’t take any action for that content. If you ever want a place to throw out death threats without consequence, Darkfall is your place. Hell, it already has an Erotica1 clone running rampant, without that pesky CCP getting in the way of those community-building torture sessions.

Even the once-productive MVP forum has so many like-minded people included now that it really serves no purpose, especially since AV has stopped sharing key details and instead are now just throwing out pie-in-the-sky ideas (alignment system, one-off quests, etc) without following up. Even small, silly things like there recent survey, with all its mistakes, could have easily been improved with some feedback, but they don’t use the resources available to them for whatever reason.

Much like Shadowbane and other PvP focused MMOs that have come before it, I think future developers can learn a thing or two from this experiment, and hopefully MMOs like Pathfinder take some of these lessons to heart to become successful titles. This was a good run, with at least as many highs as lows, but with F2P lurking and things overall not improving (the number of bugs and exploits in the game right now is almost back-to-beta bad), it’s time to put DF:UW down.

#DF:UW #F2P


DF:UW – Day of reckoning

June 10, 2014

Today Aventurine is releasing their class removal, combat overhaul update to Darkfall: Unholy Wars.

If the next few weeks aren’t a complete balance cluster, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Worst-case here IMO is that a build that completely trivializes PvE is left unchecked for weeks and further sends the economy into the toilet. I fully expect cheese builds/combos to rule the day for a while as well.

If combat diversity goes up and more skills are used tomorrow than yesterday, I’ll be shocked. MMO history has shown that the more ‘freedom’ you give players related to character options, the more players will gravitate towards a FOTM build while avoiding false-choice options. A game being focused around PvP means you either adapt or perish (bonus point if you get that reference), so ‘doesn’t work as well but it’s fun’ builds reduce you to a loot piñata.

Ultimately however if the game is more fun to more people and the population increases and is able to sustain/grow, that’s all that matters. We’ll know the answer to that in a few months. The ‘new’ AV, if IMO a bit misguided, at least seems very committed to making the game work and putting in the time to make that happen, unlike what they have done in previous years. Hopefully that’s rewarded, and today’s major gamble works out for them.

Edit: Just noticed an item shop (prowess reset and name change currently) is also included. Yay…


Double cheese weekends

June 4, 2014

Quick one for today, which I think is going to build towards a more substantial post: is anyone else highly bothered by an MMO doing “double XP/loot/whatever” weekends?

I think I’m primarily bothered by it because such events bring “this is a game” to the forefront over “this is a living world”. I guess if your MMO is already highly ‘gamey’, not that big a deal, but the closer your MMO tries to be a virtual world, the more this bothers me. Especially when it’s done with a very broad brush, like “all loot sources doubled” vs “this particular type of mob is now 50% more likely to drop X”.


A fresh start, or a kick out the door?

May 29, 2014

When do you wipe an MMO?

That question has been floating around Darkfall for a few days now, sparked by the massive dupe-fest that required a 5 day rollback, but grounded in the fact that the game has had major systematic changes over the last few months, and will continue to dramatically change with the upcoming removal of skill groups/limits.

Rather than focus on Darkfall for this post, I’d rather talk more generally on the pros and cons of wiping, along with some history and different ways to reach a similar conclusion.

Pros:

A fresh start is a notable PR event that gets picked up by gaming news sites and generates buzz for your product. The degree can vary, but news about your game, especially news that is new-player friendly, is always good.

You wipe away past mistakes such as duped items, exploited characters, and whatever other side effects bugs produced while your game matured. You also allow your game economy to work as planned NOW without past imbalances impacting it, and if your previous economy was poor, this can be very significant.

A fresh start is new-player friendly. Those on the outside looking to jump in have the perfect reason to do so, en-masse, on the day of a fresh server. This kind of event is important because those new players jump right into a world that is highly active, with everyone else doing similar activities. This helps get them into the flow of the game and stick with it, compared to starting on a random day on a server that is well-established and mature.

Cons:

Some portion of your current playerbase is going to be upset. This will range from mildly annoyed to frothing ragequits. If you lose more players than you gain, taking long-term into consideration, that’s obviously a major problem.

Player trust is tarnished. I’m not big on this one, but some feel that if a dev team is willing to wipe once, what’s to stop them from wiping again? Why work on and build towards something in an MMO if tomorrow it might be wiped?

The gains might be minimal. The power gamers who got ahead the first time are still going to power-game and get ahead again, so a ‘level playing field’ is only true for the first minute or so of the server being live. A similar statement can be made about economic problems; if you haven’t fixed the root issues, your economy will return to a broken state in short order. Also no MMO is bug-free, and every update brings the possibility of new exploits. Wiping after every bug or exploit is exposed isn’t feasible.

In summary, when or even if you should wipe is a tough decision that requires the consideration of many, many factors, some which can’t be measured.

How you execute a wipe is also another discussion. The obvious option is to take your current server, delete everything, and put it back up, but that’s not your ONLY option. You can put up a new server while keeping the old one(s) up. Those that want to stay can do so, those looking for a fresh start can also do that. If the old server(s) end up mostly empty, closing them down is a much easier, less impactful decision. If the new server has population problems, you made a major miscalculation in terms of needing a wipe/restart.

Partial wipes (just items, just gold, just holding, etc) are also options, though I think they get very messy very quickly. The one exception I would make is character names; I think there is a lot of value in allowing current players first dibs on their current character names.

Certainly an interesting topic IMO, and one that I think will see more traction as MMOs continue to age, change, and figure out ways to keep current players happy while gaining new ones.


Dupes and dupes?

May 27, 2014

Finally back from work travel and a short vacation; has the genre fixed itself yet? It hasn’t, has it?

Darkfall just had a fun bought with a massive dupe bug, one that apparently was very easy to reproduce so lots of people took advantage. AV did a three day item rollback (which missed some of the impact of the dupe), disabled the source of the dupe (markets), and has started banning some accounts.

I’m now just of the opinion that the game needs a full and complete wipe once the class removal update is put in. So many economic factors have been changed, this isn’t the first dupe bug to be abused, and with the upcoming updating has already had a prowess respect announced. Bite the bullet and full reset AV, there isn’t a whole lot to lose at this point.

Moving on, Jester did his outgoing post about ESO, stating what a lot of us have stated; ESO is an online sRPG. Certainly around blog circles that’s not what most of us are looking for, but I do wonder if that opinion is somewhat limited to ‘hardcore’ MMO players. Would I be shocked it ESO sub numbers are tanking right now? No. But would I be surprised if they aren’t as bad as the blog circle suggests, because there are a lot of casual players who enjoy an online sRPG of ESO quality (again, it’s a good game, just not a good MMO)? Not that surprised, no.

I find myself wishing some of the kickstarter MMOs would hurry up already, which is depressing on so many levels. For now it’s down to skill training my main pilot, stomping zombie skulls in Dead Island, and playing my daily LoL rank game. Save me Steam summer sale, save me!

#DFUW #ESO


DF:UW – Sacrificing the game at the altar of false choice

May 13, 2014

I’ve hinted at this before, but now AV has made their plans for revamping the ‘class’ system in DF:UW public, and rather than post this to the limited audience of Forumfall, I’d rather it get more exposure here on this blog.

The change is a classic example of sacrificing some real choice to create more false choice due to the illusion of freedom. If you have played a few MMOs, I’m guessing you know where this is going.

It’s important to understand what is first being sacrificed by this change. Currently all four roles (Warrior, Skirmisher, Primalist, Elementalist) are seen in-game. Additional, almost all schools (sub-roles) and all abilities are used. There are a few exceptions, but easily 90% of all roles/schools/skills are used and are viable. No system is perfect in terms of balance, but based purely on variety and usage, what DF:UW currently has is very solid.

I’ll use one of the roles (Skirm Deadeye main) I currently play as an example. To farm certain monsters that are best killed at range, this role works very well. I also use that identical setup for PvP. The range allows me to stay alive longer than a Warrior, and the ult (Salvo) is a very useful AoE ability for large-scale combat.

After this update goes live, this will no longer be the case. For PvE I’ll be wearing light armor (+dmg) because for PvE where the failure state is simply a time delay, time-to-kill is king, and +dmg is what best increases that (even if the attack speed bonus is better, durability loss per attack would still make this choice inferior). I’ll also replace more PvP-oriented skills with skills that either make PvE easier directly (self-heal, stat regen, etc), or increase my chances of escaping PvP (movement abilities, more on those specifically later).

For PvP, I’ll have yet another build, replacing abilities that work best in PvE with PvP-based ones (most likely AoEs for damage, and filling the rest with escape/utility).

If you believe the system increased choice, you are missing the boat. Sticking with the above example, I still have one choice for PvP, and one choice for PvE, but post-patch those are two different things, and in a world PvP MMO like DF:UW, that’s not a plus.

When everyone is out in the world farming with PvE-specific builds, attacking people at a mob spawn isn’t going to be much fun. Either you smash them due to running a PvP build against someone with a PvE build, or they escape because their PvE build includes enough of those abilities to make it possible. For a clear preview, see EVE PvP when you jump a mission runner in low-sec. At least today in DF:UW when a fight breaks out, just based on builds the field is more level, not a fight decided by the fact that one guy has a warp scram and the other is only cap-stable vs NPCs.

Moving to a higher level, there is basically zero chance that post-patch 90% of all abilities are viable. That means more skills go unused, which wastes their art, their animation, and the diversity they bring to the battlefield. So while technically the game will have more possible skill combinations on paper, in-game you won’t see nearly as many skills used, and most likely, you also won’t see as many viable skill combinations used. Would I be shocked if there is basically one flavor-of-the-month build for PvP? Hell no. And that build won’t be some fun ‘Paladin’ build or whatever. It’s going to be a tank-mage that chucks AoEs, heals, and exploits movement abilities. If you love playing an AoE-chucking tankmage ala most of DF1’s prime, congrats, DF:UW is going back to that. If you enjoy the current real options and diversity seen in-game? You’re outta luck. Viable options have been replaced with false choice, sorry.

Some other points.

PvE is going to be trivialized with this change even more, as player power is going up while mob difficulty will remaining the same. Worse-case, there is one FOTM PvE build that is broken-level powerful. As with the PvP aspect, hope you enjoy that playstyle, because if not welcome to gimp-ville.

Movement abilities are either going to be grossly nerfed across the board, or make unwanted PvP impossible. To go back to EVE, imagine roaming around looking for PvP if every ship was immune to warp scram and that’s going to be post-patch DF:UW with movement abilities. Going out to dig up some treasure chests? Your ‘class’ is now one where you stack movement and escape skills to reduce the risk of map running to zero. Scouts? Same thing, zero risk build ahoy. Worst case, post-patch the game becomes an arms race of who stacks more movement abilities or exploits them best. That would actually make me miss the bunnyhopping idiocy of DF1.

This change will have massive economic impacts. Some people are going to be royally screwed and will be very upset about it. I don’t want to fully dive into this now, but again if you have played an MMO or two I’m sure you know where this is going.

This change also dramatically increases how much prowess (XP) you must earn before you become PvP viable, which hurts new players most. Currently that point is around 40-60k, but post-patch it will be much higher. Having 100 in all four stats will be far more important, as will having access to all boosters. You will also need to max more skills, especially if the expected PvE and PvP builds vary so much.

Additionally to a longer grind to viable, the system as described is also more complex and arcane. How intuitive is assigning your Wisdom stat to a Greatsword to get access to better Greatswords? Oh and then assign your strength stat to cloth armor so your swing with the greatsword hit for more damage. What sense, even in a world where people throw fireballs, is there in leather armor allowing you to cast spells faster than other armors, including the wizard-looking cloth armor?

So yea, I’m not really looking forward to this. In fact, it’s basically taken most of my motivation to play away. It’s just hard to keep building in something that you know is going to fall off a cliff, and off a cliff is exactly what this update is. Sad really, especially given the big steps forward AV took with DF:UW from DF1, and even with more recent patches.


DF:UW – Fear and fun in Agon

April 30, 2014

Following the development of Darkfall is far more stressful than actually playing it for me. I have issues, most likely stemming from having more than one MMO I enjoyed crapped on by the developers. Whether it was Tammel in UO, ToA in DoAC, ‘accessibility’ in WoW, or 1.2 in Rift, I’ve played too many MMOs that started good/great and turned into something I no longer liked. I have that fear, constantly, with DF:UW, mostly because of the idiocy cesspool that is Forumfall and AV’s past history of making decisions based off that noise. Again, issues.

That fear is subsiding however. Lately AV has been hitting it out of the park. They have acted decisively to try to fix the economy, ignoring the loud nonsense coming from Forumfall, and that area of the game has seen improvement. They stopped adding one-off content and have started delivering stuff that is sustainable and either improves the core game (AoI, levy) or adds additional layers to it (armor dyes, daily/weekly feats). The upcoming combat changes, something I once feared would bring back the core flaws of DF1 (everyone playing the FOTM), look on paper as a solid, logical step forward for character options while being mindful of past mistakes and pitfalls.

They are also communicating on the forums more, which is at times overrated (I’d rather they act more than talk more, ultimately), but when combined with solid patches that hit deadlines, it works and helps calm some of the lunatics down.

More important than increased communication, they are interacting more with the game and the players, from the very successful 1v1 tournament they recently ran, to the upcoming free weekend and rumored GM events, the ‘new’ AV seems to actually get it and care. It hasn’t really felt like that since the first two years of DF1. Even the soon-to-start mentor system is well thought out and should really help the game retain new players.

For me personally I’m really enjoying the game right now, and having as much fun with it as I’ve ever had. PvP with Last Call (my clan) is very enjoyable win or lose, we PvE in groups and as a clan nightly, and every patch of late has given us new stuff to do or new features that improve the game for us. Good times.

Edit: DF:UW one year anniversary news post + video.

Second Edit: Buddy keys have also been added. If you would like one, contact me via email (top right corner, front page).

#DF:UW


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