Choose My Adventure: Time management and the AFK game

Choose My Adventure - Darkfall
Welcome back to Massively's Choose My Adventure. As I'm gearing up for the fifth week of my excursion through Darkfall and the lands of Agon, I've settled into something of a groove based on my own personal playstyle and the schedules of folks that I've met in the game. Aventurine's sandbox is a game that sucks you in in a number of different ways. It's a game that you can (and really should) play a lot, and it's not a game that I'd recommend to folks who are dabblers and game-hoppers or those who have a ton of additional demands on their free time. This isn't solely because of the skill grind, either, but also because of the large degree of freedom a player has to choose his own goals, path, and endgame.

Ultimately, Darkfall is a pretty large middle finger in the face of the popular notion that MMORPGs are casual games. In fact, Aventurine said as much several months ago, and this attitude informs just about every aspect of Agon. Though some might consider this a negative, I've thus far found it to be quite a bit of fun as well as a refreshing change from the vast majority of the disposable MMOs I've played over the past half decade.

Join me after the cut for a look at time management in Agon as well as my weekly recap.
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Choose My Adventure - Darkfall
First things first: Let's talk briefly about last Friday's patch (and the addition of offline leveling to the world of Darkfall). I wrote last week about aspects of the skill grind as well as my uncertainty about if or how that might change after Aventurine published its latest update. After playing around with the new mechanic a bit over the weekend, I'm here to tell you that it's really much ado about nothing. That may change over time, of course, if the devs tweak the formula, but as of today, offline skilling isn't going to impact my gameplay at all.

For one thing, it is very expensive and takes money directly out of your in-game bank vault.. For another, it's not particularly prudent since it doesn't seem to raise your character stats like skilling up the old-fashioned way (and these stats are a huge part of being viable in Darkfall whether you're talking about PvP or PvE). I think Aventurine's long-term intent is to reduce the grind, but for me at least, this particular implementation isn't potent enough to bother with at this point.

Time management

Anyhow, back to the time management aspects of Darkfall. This is such a large topic that it's difficult to pin down let alone decide where to start. As with all pseudo-sandbox games, the world of Agon doesn't direct you down pre-scripted questing paths, and floundering about trying to get your bearings is expected. There are a few quests here and there, and as I mentioned a couple columns ago, grabbing the title quests in your racial capital should be pretty high on any newb's priority list.

Humanlands temple interiorAfter that you're pretty much on your own (at least until you find a clan). Since you can literally do it all in Darkfall (i.e., there is no skill capping, so given enough time your character will be a ridiculously self-sufficient Renaissance Man), the choice is not what to do but what to do first. Once you've decided on an initial focus (for me it was leveling greatsword skills), deciding how much of your playtime to spend on your first goal is the order of the day. My aim is to be somewhat competitive in PvP in a few months as well as master two of the game's crafting disciplines. To that end, I try to spend a couple hours each night leveling my primary combat skills as well as some of the healing spells that I've been told are necessary to survive higher level fights.

Crafting and harvesting progression is a different ballgame, one that requires much less conscious effort aside from occasionally checking your surroundings or finding another node. This is probably going to rub some people the wrong way -- or turn them off completely -- but it still bears mentioning: Darkfall is a game that you can play while AFK.

I'm not talking about the infamous AFK swimming trick or the fact that many people macro their way through the skill trees. That kind of stuff will go on forever unless Aventurine reduces the grind or players decide that they can enjoy the journey as much as they think they'll enjoy maxing out. Neither is likely to happen any time soon, though, so for my purposes, discussion of Darkfall's AFK-friendliness is limited to tradeskilling.

In my view, Darkfall's implementation isn't a bad thing at all (in fact, for personalities that thrive on juggling and multitasking, it's actually pretty awesome). It reminds me quite a lot of EVE Online in that you can make real progress with one eye on the game and the other eye on a book (or in my case, this article). Combat (both PvP and PvE) is of course an all-hands-on-deck affair, but much of Darkfall proceeds at a stately pace that you can adjust to your liking depending on how much stuff is going on concurrently.

It's here that I should confess to being madly in love with MMORPG crafting, and really no system is ever going to be too deep, dense, or complex for my tastes. Darkfall falls short in this regard, as crafting is simply a matter of possessing the proper tool, acquiring the components, and waiting on a progress bar. Even so, there's something quite enjoyable about the game's tradeskilling implementation. I think it's the combination of being able to make (and use) almost everything in the game with little to no restriction, plus the fact that there's a real sense of accomplishment due to both the long progression curve and the fact that gathering materials carries more risk than gathering in your average MMO.

Humanlands statueSo, in addition to combat skilling, tradeskills are something you'll probably want to factor into your planning. Both of these considerations -- and many more -- are augmented by the need to manage your inventory (I easily spend between two and three hours a week hanging out at the bank sorting bags). There's also socializing, seeing the world, and of course dealing with inconvenient PvP (assuming PvP isn't the sole reason you play). Although my first couple of weeks were relatively tame in terms of encountering PKers, I've seen a marked increase in PvP activity over the last few days. I can't attribute this solely to the fact that I'm ranging further from Hammerdale, either, as there are certain low-brow gank squads that have stepped up harassment of the city and its NEW recruits recently.

To be fair, this is usually a good time. Saddling up with fellow recruits and a NEW councilor and riding out on a mission of retribution is a blast. The adversaries are skilled enough to give newbs a fight (but not skilled enough to completely faceroll a party like Darkfall's truly elite players could). Occasionally, though, the interruptions can be annoying. If you've got very specific goals for a particular play session, realize that you may have to alter your approach a little bit, either to protect yourself or offer assistance to your mates. This is one of the downsides to Darkfall's world-before-game stylings. If you're ever of a mind to simply log in and craft or cleave your way through a few hundred solo mobs and their loot, you may not be able to if a group of players has other ideas.

So that's a brief look at a few of the things you'll need to consider in order to maximize your Darkfall playtime. Obviously it's different for everyone, and a lot of people no doubt ignore the carebear aspects I've mentioned and focus solely on the bloodletting. The fact that you can do either, or both -- and get a tangible sense of accomplishment -- is one of Darkfall's greatest strengths.

The recap

This past week was two parts fun and one part frustration. I got a fair amount done in terms of skill gains (mostly greatswords, as well as some gathering and crafting), and I was introduced to a nifty new hunting ground with mobs that are just challenging enough to keep me honest. It also doesn't hurt that they drop a good amount of gold and reagents (thanks to Iceshot for this one).

I also turned in another title quest, and the journey to the NPC was a thousand times more harrowing than the lengthy quest itself. In a nutshell, I had to come up with a bunch of stone, wood, and fish (if memory serves, between 100 and 200 units of each). All that stuff really took a toll on my allowed inventory weight, and getting poor Swiftsnout from the bank to the NPC (who was located across town in Red Moon, of course) while loaded down with all his plunder was pretty nerve-wracking. I'm also guessing it was quite humorous for anyone in the audience. Turning in this particular quest was easily the most stressful event of the week, as my avatar's plodding slow-as-molasses gait was an open invitation for an opportunist to gank, loot, and basically reset my lengthy gathering quest.

Happily, that particular adventure turned out OK. The rest of the week was a mish-mash of harvesting runs, bite-sized crafting sessions (tailoring seems to be the quickest and cheapest skill to master for newbs, and mine is well on its way to max), and the aforementioned skirmishes. The week also brought about the sobering realization that the column is almost done, and some decisions will need to be made as to my main character for continuing my Darkfall adventures after the conclusion of this official Massively run. On the one hand, I really don't care for the visuals of the Mahirim race and would much prefer my alt. On the other hand, it's going to be hard giving up the progress I've made on Swiftsnout. I may opt to keep both accounts active, but as I've illustrated this week, Darkfall is enough of a free time black hole with just one character.

These are good problems to have though; my current predicament sure beats being bored to tears with my 3,720th themepark. I'll be back next week for another Agonian recap and the fifth installment of Massively's Darkfall-themed Choose My Adventure.

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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.