Choose My Adventure: Special treatment, or how I learned to stop worrying and love the gank

Well, so much for the theory that the Darkfall community has banded together to ensure I only see the good side of the game. This past week was an interesting one, and despite an encounter that most players would probably consider griefing -- as well as various and sundry inconvenient ganks -- I remain enamored of Agon.

Aside from recurring instances of the Darkfall version of "special treatment," much of the week was spent leveling greatswords on my public main and crafting/harvesting on my private alt. In between there was a NEW-sponsored PvP event, a kracken run, and various dungeon excursions, not to mention more exploring than I've done in my last three MMOs combined. Finally, I'm also beginning to see the grind that a lot of current and former subscribers complain about.

Join me after the cut to see how I dealt with it as well as a recap of week two.
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Alfar casting
Due to the Thanksgiving holiday here in America, I played a little bit less last week than I did in week one. I still managed to log over 20 hours, though (fairly evenly split between my two characters), and engaged in a good mix of PvP, PvE, character building, and tradeskilling.

About that community

First things first. A few of you have voiced your concerns that this column isn't giving an accurate picture of what life is like for a Darkfall newb due to the fact that my character has hung out with some of the game's elite guilds and PvPers. This is a bit of a misconception, though, simply because the folks whom I mentioned in my previous article hang around the clan city of Hammerdale whether I'm there on my public main or not.

In fact, that's one of many reasons that Darkfall newbs are missing the boat if they don't join the NEW clan (or really, any established group that makes a point of helping rookies). Everyone gets to rub elbows with these guys, not just me, as all of the dungeon groups that I've run have featured a gaggle of three-day-old NEW recruits, a couple of veteran NEW councilors, and a couple of high-skill PvP guys who run around and help everyone survive. I touched on Darkfall's community in last week's article, and this week was also indicative of why folks who assume Aventurine's playerbase is composed mostly of griefers and social misfits are dead wrong. Based on my two week tour, I'd even go so far as to say that Darkfall has one of the best and most helpful communities I've encountered in all my years of playing MMORPGs. Is that because everyone knows I'm the "Massively guy?" No, because it happens on my anonymous alt just as frequently as it does on Swiftsnout. There does seem to be something of an organized movement afoot in Agon's community, but it's a movement to provide a welcoming environment for all newbs, not just a single reporter.

That said, it's easy to rag on a FFA/full loot PvP title's community. Stereotypes exist for a reason after all, and if you play Darkfall for a couple of hours, you'll no doubt run across a few. The forums, for example, are something of a cesspool where even the worthwhile discussions often feature enough testosterone and locker room posturing to fill a supertanker seven times over. In game, racial and alliance chats are sometimes similarly off-putting. Really though, if you've only played the trial for a couple of days or spent a week soloing goblins, you don't really know the game's community.

SwiftsnoutThis is not to say that everyone in the game will welcome you with open arms. It's an MMORPG, after all, and there are people who will kill you, repeatedly, even though you've got nothing to offer them in the way of gear, gold, or items. There are also trade-gankers, clan spies, and the occasional I'm-going-to-mess-with-you-because-I-can personalities, just like in every other game. The difference between those other games and Darkfall is that you have the opportunity to either a) return the favor or b) go somewhere else, as the world is simply vast.

In terms of losing your gear or time investment, yes that does happen. I'm not here to sugar-coat things, but the reality is that getting into a clan like NEW mitigates most losses, as the clan's vets will normally stop what they're doing and either a) gank your ganker -- and you'll end up getting better gear -- or b) they'll give you new gear.

At the end of the day, Darkfall's community, like so many other things, is what you make of it. If you're running around solo, expecting everyone to come to you, it won't be terribly enjoyable. Similarly, if you're adept at being a victim instead of being proactive and taking ownership of your situation, you'll likely end up frustrated. For all the supposed harshness of this harsh realm, though, getting into a good clan largely does away with a lot of the risks inherent in the design, at least until you're wearing endgame gear that isn't easily replaceable. At that point, though, you should be more than capable of fending for yourself (and a much smarter and more situationally aware player).

If anything, Darkfall's unforgiving mechanics make the community better than that of your average themepark title, not worse. People tend to band together, and the result is a sense of camaraderie and trust that is absent from your typical DIKU game.

The week that was

As I said in the intro, a lot happened this past week. Most of it was a blast, but Darkfall isn't a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, and a few of its shortcomings started to rear their heads. My PvP skills are, unsurprisingly, rather lacking at this point. I've never been particularly adept at the playstyle, and that, combined with Darkfall's learning curve, has conspired to leave my kill/death ratio sitting at a paltry 5/18. If you're counting at home, I'm not including zerg ganks that I've taken part in; I'm talking purely 1v1 situations. The death total is slightly inflated thanks to a particular player who devoted a portion of his Friday morning to ganking me seven times in the space of about 30 minutes as I attempted to use my clan bank. After a couple of valiant attempts at defending myself, it became apparent that poor Swiftsnout's gear (and his puppet master's PvP chops) weren't up to the challenge. Fortunately for me, the Hammerdale bind stone is about 20 feet from the clan bank, so I continually rezzed and went about the business of sorting my inventory in between quick trips to the cloner courtesy of my newest fan. Eventually he got bored, I'm assuming, and I include this here just as an example of what can happen to you in Darkfall if you let it.

His gear was apparently good enough to withstand the zaps from the city guard towers, and I had no friends or online backup of any kind due to the early morning (and post-holiday) time frame. It's my impression that a lot of would-be Darkfall players are turned off by exactly this sort of scenario, but after going through it, I can say it's honestly more humorous than it is game-breaking. Again, it basically boils down to your attitude and realizing that no matter what happens in the game, you're still in control of the situation. I could have switched to my alt, for example, or done something other than stubbornly continue my sorting mission.

Darkfall's community, like so many other things, is what you make of it... for all the supposed harshness of this harsh realm, though, getting into a good clan largely does away with a lot of the risks inherent in the design.

Aside from that little adventure, there is also the matter of the game's considerable skill grind. I managed to pick up Greater Magic this week, which is a spell school that opens up various offensive and defensive abilities. It required grinding Lesser Magic to 50 (100 is the basic skill cap in Darkfall) and then dropping a couple hundred gold at the trainer NPC. After a day or so of grinding a couple of the newbie Greater Magic skills on kobold and undead dwarf mobs, I decided that greatswords were more to my liking, so I started focusing on the knockback and bleed skills that I picked up from the Hammerdale fighter trainer. Getting my skills up around the 75 plateau (which seems to be the "reasonably competitive" benchmark) looks like it will take quite a bit of focused grinding, and as that's not really my playstyle -- particularly in a sandbox game like Darkfall -- I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a couple of disheartening moments when viewing my skills tab.

The good news is that skill ups are happening as I'm running around doing whatever, but I certainly won't argue with Aventurine when it implements offline skill gains or any future advancement accelerations that might be under consideration.

In terms of a character build, I'm still conflicted on that, which is why I'm kind of raising things willy-nilly as it suits me (jumping from magic to greatswords, for example). Several veterans have indicated that most of the competitive PvPers use hybrid builds, and I see a lot of them switching between greatswords, healing magic, and offensive magic on the fly. Many of them will probably also be taking a hard look at Aventurine's upcoming prestige classes before settling on a final character build. At this point, that level of competency seems very far away and also a little bit mysterious as I'm still in the throes of the game's considerable learning curve.

There's also the question of whether I'm building a character for PvE, PvP, or some combination. Many Darkfall players have the ultimate goal of skilling up absolutely everything, and I suppose with enough time and perseverance, you can actually do that and become something of a demigod. For my own purposes, I'd prefer to be great at a couple of things rather than a jack-of-all-trades, and the trick is figuring out what those things are. Aventurine seems to be adding quite a bit more PvE content to the game, but the title's veterans are understandably more interested in PvP, clan warfare, and player politics.

"My character is where I want it to be, and I want more of a reason to fight and for people to get out in the world. The fluff is a bonus," says Erock Darkhollow, a member of Zealot and one of the regulars on the newb-helping circuit in and around Hammerdale. "This game is the best, though, so don't get that wrong. I can't play any other game; it doesn't compare," he says.

If it sounds like Darkfall is a title in the midst of some growing pains and maybe even a bit of an identity crisis, it is, and while this is almost unilaterally a good thing in terms of growing a game, it's also something to bear in mind if you're just starting out and planning a character or a clan.

Monkfield towerPvE and PvP

Aside from skilling up, week two of Choose My Adventure featured a number of fun events put on by NEW and various allied players. There was more Gardoroc killing to be done, courtesy of a dungeon run led by NEW's Aletheides Lightcrown. I also got three long looks at Darkfall's infamous kraken (and even a killshot and the associated journal entry), courtesy of a seafaring expedition led by NEW's Supreme General Princess Syna and ship captain Shazzta Atzzahs.

Finally, I took part in a Hammerdale PvP tournament supervised by Plague captain Green Chili. While I was the first combatant to go down (see my crappy PvP skills above), it was nonetheless quite enjoyable engaging in running skirmishes around the city, to say nothing of blasting open a strongbox and attempting to grab (and bank) the goodies therein before being killed and looted by fellow contestants.

Once again, all of these events are freely available to NEW members, so if your Darkfall experience is lacking by comparison, join up and make your way to Hammerdale for 30 days of fun (after which time you'll be dismissed and encouraged to find your own permanent clan).

In addition to organized events, I've also taken part in several smaller PvE groups (which, because it's Darkfall, also end up being PvP groups). The most memorable featured a rafting excursion led by Princess Syna and Almost Famous, and the pair brought me to a remote isle south of Hammerdale for a gollum and blood knight hunt. My archery skills went up a fair bit as I filled the gollums full of arrows while my companions smacked them around at close range, all of us keeping a wary eye on the horizon for incoming players as well as tell-tale load lag. We left our mounts and the raft moored at what we hoped was a safe launching spot should the need for a quick getaway arise, and we also disposed of two players who had similar gollum-farming ideas, availing ourselves of the contents of their bags. In another example of the type of mechanics that set Darkfall apart, we had to pick and choose what to keep and what to leave behind, as we each did a bit of inventory juggling to manage the considerable weight of our gear, mounts, and the newly acquired plunder.

Later on, the three of us ran across an unfortunate gold farmer on a different part of the map, and quite the merry chase ensued. Due to our superior mount speeds, we eventually overtook the poor chap and had a good chuckle as he tumbled off the side of a cliff during his clumsy escape attempt. After Famous finished shooting his mount out from under him, the farmer proceeded to go after my mount on foot, swinging his greatsword to and fro in a desperate attempt to inflict some damage before succumbing to the inevitable. There was also some tomfoolery (and further archery skill gains) courtesy of a forest gollum -- basically a really angry Treebeard -- as well as a bit of mourning for a mount that I lost on account of being a boneheaded rookie.

All in all, it was another memorable week. There's still plenty of enjoyment to be had in the world of Agon too, and I look forward to four more (official) weeks of bringing you news from the front.

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Join Jef as he morphs from a ranty writer into a grindy action hero in a Choose My Adventure directed by you, the Massively readers! Add Jef in-game to play along, or simply follow the column every Wednesday for a recap of the week's mischief. When six weeks are up, we'll spin the wheel of fate and do it all again.

This article was originally published on Massively.