Initial overview of DarkFall’s Specialization system.

At some point in development, DarkFall lost its skill cap and players were allowed to train every available skill to 100 without any penalties. It’s not clear when the cap disappeared, or exactly why, but it’s gone and not coming back. For the first few months players wondered about the future of character diversity in DarkFall, as eventually almost everyone would have everything maxed out and everyone would be exactly the same save for the player’s race.

Then with DarkFall’s first expansion, the Specialization system was introduced for magic, with promises of later expansion into both archery and melee. At its core, the Specialization system allows you to pick one enhancement at the expense of other choices and sometimes with some additional penalties, with the ability to change this choice at any time through the same NPC vendor at varying gold costs.

For magic currently this means making the choice between +10% damage, 40% faster spell travel, the ability to jump cast the spell, or a 100% range increase. There is no penalty when making a choice other than of course the inability to select all of them. While a good addition, it did not exactly revolutionize combat in DarkFall or bring about critical decisions. Most players pick one spell as their ‘jump turn’ spell, one (if that) as their long-range spell, and the rest go 10% daamge (if the travel speed is already fast) or 40% speed.

With the latest expansion both melee and archery received some notable Specialization options, ones that not only helped define roles, but also ones with some tough choices to make. I’ve held off on going into detail about all of this due to Aventurine still making changes, but I can at least cover the basics and give my overall opinion on the system and its future.

For both archery and melee, the biggest choice currently is whether you pick specializations that limit your elemental magic or not. You either receive a bonus to your magic resistance or a boost to damage vs staff-wielders if you decide to limit your magic, and the choice comes down to player preference. Personally I favor melee and archery, so giving up my one elemental school (earth) was not a difficult decision, plus with elemental now ‘off’ I no longer need to worry about skilling those up, and instead can focus my time/money on increasing my melee or archery mastery.

In solo combat against a magic user my specializations puts me somewhat at a disadvantage, as the elemental schools not only offer damage spells, but some good buffs and utility spells as well. In group combat or PvE, my choices benefit me so long as I get team support (for buffs, healing) and put myself in the correct situations (harassing casters, trying to be the focal point of magic damage). The extra magic resistance is noticeable and allows me to survive a bit longer, while my mana shield when wielding a bow also helps absorb some damage and gives me a nice edge verse casters and other archers.

The key to the system is of course getting something at the expense of something else. Any specialization the gives me something at the expanse of my mana is an attractive option for me, but it might not be for a magic-heavy character. What’s also tough to judge currently is just how far the Specialization system will go. The advancement from the first expansion (magic) to the second (melee/archery) was rather significant. Will crafting receive specialization options (damage vs durability, selection of damage type?), will melee and archery be further specialized, perhaps limiting melee to either a 2h or sword/shield? It’s difficult to say overall, but with some tweaking Aventurine’s second pass with the system in CtS has already increased combat diversity and options, which is the ultimate goal. It’s not about creating a ‘best’ build or locked-in character classes, but rather tailoring your character to do what you enjoy best, be it melee, archery, magic, or some combo of all three.

(DarkFall-related post disclaimer/reminder. If you click the image link near the top-right of this page and buy a DarkFall account, I get paid 20% of the client cost. If you believe this taints my views and reporting on DarkFall, your opinion is wrong.)

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Combat Systems, crafting, Darkfall Online, MMO design. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Initial overview of DarkFall’s Specialization system.

  1. Coppertopper says:

    Is it really done right though? You explained how the first iteration did nothing for balance as everyone could still max all skills out with little penalty. Is archery harshly penalized for wearing bulky restrictive armor now? Do casters face a big nerf to other skills if they max out magic? I know there will always be the FOTM build, but a skill based system IMO is so that you can rebuild strengths at the cost of others as you change your playstyle. Is DArkfall moving in that direction?

  2. Visperas says:

    I’ve been reading a lot about that and skill cap in the forum and I’d like to ask you about skill decay. Do you think that could be a good thing for diversity.

    • SynCaine says:

      If you don’t have a cap you don’t need decay, and overall I think decay just leads to people doing silly things just to fend off decay. It does not encourage the type of gameplay many think it does (no decay on skills you use often, etc).

    • Adam says:

      My current thinking on skill decay-

      It would be a bad thing in a pvp game.

      If there is an imbalance in the game with a class system or a decay based system, you cannot switch your character reasonably.

      So when elemental magic nukecycling was pretty much mandatory for pvp anyone with a high level of bow and melee would’ve had to grind magic and -destroy- all the work they had done leveling up bow and melee.

      With the specialization system you can have diversity but you aren’t locked into that play style.

      With the amount of effort required to get these abilities up (which is actually at about the right amount now) trying to adjust dynamically to the flavor of the month (its something that just always happens in mmorpgs) would be a really terrible thing.

      I -really- like the ability to try out different play styles and adapt to whats going on.

      The current Darkfall system (which does need tuning) is on the right side of freedom in that way.

  3. Draglem says:

    It appears that the philosophy is truly “there is no grind” to the point that skill levels are more a indicator to the player how they play and assuming they have only played the game and not the skills then it should be a very natural progression to specialize. “Where should I specialize? Let me just check my stats and… oh yes. I shoot far more than take damage I see. Looks like I should take bonus to shooting.”

    At first I skeptical of a system that permanently limits choice as the mean will do anything to keep that option to have something unattainable over an immediate advantage, even at cost to one’s self. There is a reason the bird in the hand proverb is. Though I took a step back and realized that other games tourists may hail from do this up front before you even get into the game. I can only hope with optimism that this specialization is truly only the beginning, and not just this level, but perhaps another that gives rise to further diversity. Then as a player advances their character they have no room to complain as they are, yes tailoring, their avatar to their style. The only potential cravat could be new specializations sounding too alluring and the players not having the options available to them, other than your general balance complaints that you have even in DF.

    Any rate, sounds like a fun alternative to the painful loss associated with decay.

  4. Actually, one of the biggest changes in the previous patch to bring balance to spell casters versus melee/archer type characters was the change to heavy armors IMO.

    Previously, whether your preference was to be a caster or melee, everyone wore the same suit of bone armor (medium physical resists and good magic resists with little to no penalty to spell casting). The patch took the heavy metal armors (Scale, plate, etc) and practically doubled the magic resist stats. It makes sense, because now melee/archery characters can wear heavy armor and get increased protection versus magic. Melee is not penalized from wearing heavy armor, and the penalty to archery is much less than the penalty to spell casting. Casters still wear bone because it has the least casting penalty, but now when they fight melee/archer characters in heavy armor they find themselves hitting a more fortified target.

    The other major change which Syncaine didn’t mention here is the addition of global cooldowns on certain spells. Previously, magic users with multiple elemental schools trained to 100 would cycle through the 1 or 2 hardest hitting spells from each school effectively ignoring the cooldown. By the time they cycled through the 2nd and 3rd schools, the 1st would be ready to recast. This allowed mages to essentially chain cast the highest damage spells without ever stopping. With the global cooldown in place, mages are now forced to use lower ranked spells which aren’t as devastating. It allows players who focus on a single line of magic to compete against players who have multiple lines.

    • SynCaine says:

      Two very good points, although in my view the GC and armor change was more of a ‘fix’ to an imbalance, while Specialization is the system AV is going to use to allow some diversification for characters. The ‘confusing’ part was we got both at the same time with Conquer the Seas (which is a sick job of balance considering the massive amount of changes).

      It’s funny, but because CtS added so much, and with such success (naval battles?), I find I’m waiting for their NEXT move even more now, as I don’t feel anything is currently ‘missing’ from DF, so whatever they add next will be somewhat of a bonus rather than a “we finally got around to fixing/adding” this feature you knew was coming.

    • Draglem says:

      So now the poor mages still have to wear heavy armor because the big scary melee gets to bash them into a pulp due to no CC. I bet they do not even have cloth armor that gives bonus to casting. The picture being painted is one of a nonsensical spell caster; though I do get the armor bonus to mg def: Hit a firefighter with a fireball and he just gets a nominal amount of damage

  5. bonedead says:

    Nice to see some small wooden ship being added to the game, Heyoooo.

  6. Quietside says:

    The specializations are pretty cool, and the ability to swap them out as you try them is nice. Just wondering Syncaine, how/what do you think will attract new blood to the game as time goes on? As the population in the game ages what will DF be able to add to draw in a steady influx of new(er) players?

    I’m loving the game, and would hate to see it go the way of Darktide or Sartok as the initial population ages.

    • bonedead says:

      For EVE I think the stories of mass espionage and betrayal helped attract new players. I’m sure big stuff will be happening in DF soon enough, if they haven’t already, but will someone write about it and show it to the masses? Who knows.

    • SynCaine says:

      I think right now, even though it’s ‘complete’ and all, DF is still finding itself and ironing out some of the overall themes. Once everything related to sieging is rock-solid (warhulks, ships, cannons, strategy, player importance) AV is going to be able to expand the game in different ways. EVE’s dev history is a good study in regards to what you can do to add layers to a sandbox.

      Maybe we will get a massive economy-related expansion, maybe something for crafting, or PvE. Who really knows, which is kind of why I’m as excited for the games future. Almost everything in the game right now ‘works’, so whatever AV does next is just going to add to what is already great.

  7. keystone says:


    I think with the sandbox genre Darkfall can add plenty of horizontal growth to characters to keep them retained.

    Shit, I still do upgrades to my house in Ultima Online after 9 years; the house upgrades do *nothing* to improve my character in a vertical fashion.

    So, to answer your question they could add things like more PvP objectives, more housing options, additional land (if needed) and maybe even further specializations.

    I just believe it’s easier to add content when that content doesn’t have to be tied to a level, so I think Darkfall will retain most of their Customer base and atract new Customers by the annoucement of more fluff.

    Also, a ggood marketing campaign could go a long way for Darkfall.

    • Quietside says:

      Good point about the horizontal development, and I agree with Syncaine as well about the game being pretty much complete at this point. The skill cap and relative power of developed characters versus noobs is not nearly as bad as some of the game i’ve played and really enjoyed over the years (AC in particular).

      It would be nice to see some of the original concept ideas make their way in, like the prestige ‘classes’ concept. Preferably done as some sort of rare drop or tied to structures in player cities, or both

  8. theJexster says:

    My favorite thing Darkfall has done for MMOs is make it worth while to hunt mobs in game again. In most games killing random mobs has become pointless (with players grinding on the mob that gives them max XP only). In DF it seems like every item that drops has a use, someone wants or needs it, or you yourself need it. This gives me motivation to hunt and kill anything. It’s something small, but something that can keep me on a horizontal path just playing the game. Not to mention I naturally skill up from it.

    • Adam says:

      Yes this.

      The way I explain it to people is that Darkfall is a game about resources and not about blues and purples.

      It has a flavor of real-time strategy game.

      It’s awesome that most things are useful even later in the game.

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