Massively's Darkfall launch week diary: Day one

Darkfall Unholy Wars loading screen art
Darkfall Unholy Wars' April 2013 launch was quite a bit like Darkfall's February 2009 launch. For me, at any rate. One crucial difference was that this time I was actually able to purchase Aventurine's fantasy sandbox title even though I wasn't able to log into it.

Four years ago, finding a digital copy of Darkfall was damn near impossible. Fast forward to the present and AV has improved its billing apparatus but certainly not its delivery mechanism. After nearly three hours, DFUW's patcher managed to pull down 90 MB out of 6487. I switched to the torrent download, and while it was faster, I still had to leave it overnight. So technically this is day two impressions even though it's day one for yours truly.

Massively's Darkfall launch week diary Day one
As first impressions go, Darkfall Unholy Wars' are a mixed bag. See, I quite enjoyed the original open-PvP-and-FFA-corpse-looting sandbox, warts and all, and from what I can tell after a brief bit of newbie gameplay, the devs have pretty much blown it up.

The rude awakening started with character creation. Some of you might remember my Darkfall Choose My Adventure from 2010. The six weeks I spent as Swiftsnout TheCrotchety, a fledgling Mahirim who trekked across the wilds of Agon to join the NEW clan, are some of my fondest memories from 15 years of MMO gaming.

The Mahirim were Darkfall's answer to werewolves or wolfmen or whatever you want to call an anthropomorphic cross between humans and wild canines. In short, they were bloody awesome, but with Darkfall Unholy Wars, Aventurine has dispensed with the wolf part and basically offered up a human with an extra-hairy face. This might seem like a small thing if you're coming to Darkfall for the first time or if you're a PvP vet who just wants to gank and be ganked. I found it pretty disappointing, though, and I spent the first five minutes of my DUW experience tabbed out looking at my old Mahirim screenshots to make sure I wasn't losing my mind.

Nope, he actually was an armored wolf with a sword and a greatstaff. OK, moving on.

Massively's Darkfall launch week diary Day one
Character creation proper is pretty standard MMO stuff. There are a few presets for skin color, hair, and facial accessories (goatees, eye patches, etc.), and then it's on to Darkfall's new roles. There are four to choose from: Warrior, Skirmisher, Elementalist, and Primalist. Warriors seem like your usual heavy-armor-wearing brutes, and they're not my thing. The Skirmisher help text mentions something about cunning attacks and stealthy ambushes. Also not my thing.

Elementalist, ah, now we're getting somewhere. Arcane discipline, mana reserves. Mmhmm, that's what I'm talking about. Wait, what? He can wear only light armor? Well that's different. My original Darkfall Swiftsnout could basically do whatever he wanted if he chose to skill it up. I'm not sure how I feel about this but I suppose I should wait and see how it plays out in the game. Oh yeah, there's also Primalist, which sounds a bit too much like a necromancer for my taste. Elementalist it is, then.

There's some sort of weird bug that has apparently disabled my keyboard and rendered me unable to enter a character name. Rebooting doesn't fix it, but I am able to click the generate-a-name buttons. So much for Swiftsnout TheCrotchety.

Unlike Darkfall 1.0, Darkfall 2.0 takes a stab at a tutorial. You'll spawn in a newbie area and be walked through control basics by a left-aligned coaching window that you can minimize or maximize with your Z key.

The camera is initially fixed behind your avatar in third-person, and the main controls are easily grokked if you've played an MMO before. There's WASD to move, C in concert to move while crouched, and shift to sprint. You know the drill by now. The R key sheathes and unsheathes your equipped weapon (and also brings you into a mandatory first-person view with ranged weapons), while the mouse wheel scrolls through available weapons, and when clicked, equips them.

Left-click swings, the V key parries, and holding down the left button notches an arrow or readies a mage blast. I go through these motions with a few training dummies. Arrow physics mean you have to take distance and gravity into account, which is as fun and as challenging as I remembered.

Darkfall mage staff and mountains
You spawn with a sword, a bow, and a mage staff, and this third item is noteworthy because it was my first experience with the game's new skill selection mechanics. As in the old game, R unsheathes your staff and the left and right mouse buttons fire bolts of whatever. Now, though, you can hold down the ALT key and the left or right button to activate the ability wheels you see at the bottom center of the main UI. For example, if I want to cast a healing spell on myself, I need to hold ALT and the right mouse button, and then move the pointer over Heal Self at the one o'clock position on the wheel. Releasing both buttons places Heal Self in the active slot of the right-hand wheel; pressing the right button again casts it.

At this early stage, it's pretty simple to run around switching between an offensive magic bolt and the healing spell, but later on, when both wheels are full of various abilities and PvPers or mobs are bearing down on me with ill intent, I imagine that switching and firing abilities (never mind aiming) will get pretty hectic and enjoyable.

The escape key enters the game's GUI mode, and it's here that I get another rude reminder that this isn't my daddy's Darkfall. While the original game's UI was much-maligned and deservedly so, I enjoyed the Ultima Online-style bag and inventory mechanics, which were the closest I've ever seen a game come to the haphazard hamhandedness that I imagine is inherent in a real adventurer's backpack. Darkfall 1.0's inventory screen was basically a free-flowing pane in which you could drop anything and everything you wanted as long as you could bear the weight. There was no order to it save for what you made yourself. If you dropped a bunch of crap on top of a bunch of other crap, the latter pile of crap was well and truly buried at the bottom of your bag.

This was probably a nightmare for gamers raised on orderly themepark inventory screens, but I dug the rough-around-the-edges simplicity, and dare I say it, the immersion that grew out of being able to meticulously organize your stuff or dump it wherever. DUW's inventory bar is cleaner, but it's lost a good deal of charm.

Anyhow, I'm out of time and space for this first edition of Massively's Darkfall Unholy Wars launch-week impressions. Each of these journal entries is basically an off-the-cuff accounting of my playtime as it happens, so don't rage too much if I don't cover absolutely everything in a particular installment. Until next time.

Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?

This article was originally published on Massively.