Rise and Shiny recap: Dark Ages

Dark Ages screenshot
Some games grab you from the moment you see them. Sure, I get grabbed a lot, but I know when a game appears to be different or interesting. As I watched Adventure Mike play Nexus: Kingdom of the Winds on MassivelyTV over the last few weeks, I knew that I had to play it. But wait! Mike was playing it himself and doing a good job of exploring the game for the viewers. I couldn't just take that first impression from him and claim it as mine!

So I looked up KRU Interactive, found out its cool history with Nexon games, and decided to try Dark Ages instead. It looks similar to Nexus, so I thought I would be in for a great time.

The very first thing that I came across after logging into the game was a description of waking up in an inn room. It was a mysterious beginning, and I loved how the moment reminded me of how often our characters are just thrown into a world without much of a cutscene or explanation.

Dark Ages screenshot
The graphics are adorable and a bit intriguing. I love 8bit or retro graphics, but I'm not entirely sure why. Is it because they truly shine when done well, showing just how much you can do with good art design? Perhaps they remind me of the time I played those old Nintendo games for hours and hours... wait, I never did that; I was generally out playing drums or building my own fort. I think maybe I like older or 8bit graphics a lot of the time because they are the gaming world's equivalent to an impression on canvas. 8bit developers cannot make a character with incredibly realistic eyes, so instead they make an impression of detail. The world is drawn in basic colors, so time must be taken to give the impression of a tree or the impression of a rain storm. If done well, the impression can be quite powerful, often more powerful than a literal image.

So I loved all of the details in the world of Dark Ages. I enjoyed the atmosphere and the fact that my character came-to in his underwear! Well, the impression of his underwear anyway. The music wasn't half-bad, and the community seemed to be active.

The problems started coming once I was out of the inn room and tasked with going through a short tutorial. I eventually figured out how to move effectively and how to attack a monster with my sword, but I ran smack into a huge speed bump when I was asked to go practice a magic spell. I did practice it, once, but was shortly out of "will" without any hope of recharging it. It seemed as though my mana or magical juice was empty after using the spell once, and I could find no way to ask the chat room. It was a busy enough chat that I knew answers had to be there, and it's very possible that the chat controls were explained to me somewhere, but I couldn't figure it out. There were no other players around me in the tutorial area, players who would be in the hearing range of my basic local chat.


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I left the tutorial even after being warned by the system how many goodies I would get if I just stuck around and completed it (that's easy for it to say!) and found myself back in the village. I walked around, saw a lot of new citizens coming from the same inn that I did, and tried to find something else to do. I talked to NPCs and found nothing. Many of them offered me information and even offered to send me back to the tutorial, but I declined.

I had to break down eventually and found a fansite that listed off many of the newbie quests, so I started from there. Sure enough, I had missed a few areas to explore and was sent to kill different insects in a small dungeon. There were quite a few other players inside, and I had some fun finally getting my hands covered in pixel-guts. I also leveled up and used some of my skill points to seemingly raise my mana pool. Excellent, I thought, now I will be able to finish that tutorial! Not so fast -- the tutorial gave me the same issue and would not let me complete the magical leg of it. I didn't know whether I was even doing it correctly because some of the NPCs gave me a completed message and others did not. I skipped the whole thing.

Dark Ages screenshot
The great thing about older games like Dark Ages is that they remind of us a time when we had to find our way through these artificial worlds we love. Back then, we didn't have an overhead map or an arrow pointing us to where we needed to go. We had to walk, explore, and hope that we didn't take a wrong turn. The bad thing about games like Dark Ages is that many of us older players don't want to play that way anymore unless the game is well-designed like Wurm Online or Mabinogi. Players like yours truly aren't asking for an easy stroll down a digital themepark walkway, but it would be nice if we knew whether the tutorial was even working as intended.

While many players would say that navigating a game like Dark Ages is easier than not, I would say that most of them are speaking with the hindsight that comes from playing for a long time or from the fact that many, many players had come before them to make websites that actually explain what the heck it is we're supposed to be doing. It's not that Dark Ages, even with its many, many years of existence, is a bad game. It's not. It appears to be a roleplay-heavy classic. The problem is that I just do not care for games that do not at least answer my basic questions. I am comfortable enough in my love of sandboxes that I can handle a few helpful tutorial steps or popups; they won't ruin my day, and I won't be looking over my shoulder in case anyone spies me while I'm reading them. Set me down in a massive, scary world, sure, but at least let me know whether I'm navigating the game correctly.

Dark Ages is still intriguing to me, but I get the feeling as I watch Mike play Nexus that I picked the wrong game to play. I'll switch titles for a bit and see whether there's a difference. Next week, however, I'll be switching to Seven Souls Online. Be sure to watch me on Monday at 5:00 p.m. EST as I stream the game live. You can also keep an eye on all of our livestreaming schedules. Until then, go log in and have some fun!

Each week, Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play, indie or unusual game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. I welcome any suggestions for games -- drop me a note in the comments or email! You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook!

This article was originally published on Massively.