Massively's Darkfall launch week diary: Day two

Massively's Darkfall launch week diary Day two
I'm doing Darkfall Unholy Wars wrong.

See, I'm one of those sandbox carebears who could not care less about PvP. I'll attempt to defend myself if attacked, and I'll add another body to the zerg if I'm in a clan or whatever, but I don't seek out conflict with other players. I mention this because that attitude obviously informs everything I write about Darkfall, which, at its core, is a great big high fantasy murder simulator.

Yes, the game has crafting, harvesting, player housing, and better PvE than it's given credit for, but on some level all of this stuff exists to power the FFA PvP meatgrinder that in turn attempts to satiate the bloodlust of Aventurine's target demographic.

And would you believe that despite that, Darkfall is still one of this carebear's favorite MMORPGs?

Darkfall Unholy Wars Sanguine shrine
I'm going to attempt to use the rest of this week's Darkfall Unholy Wars launch diary series to explain why a player like yours truly loves a game like this. I don't know if I'll manage it because on paper it doesn't make a lot of sense.

Anyway, let me backtrack on something I said yesterday. Aventurine hasn't completely blown up Darkfall after all. My first hour or two with the title was full of WTF-is-this moments, mostly due to the UI and the skill/prowess system. And the racial avatar regression remains a bit off-putting. Once I got acclimated and got out into the world, however, I realized that in a lot of the respects that matter, this is the same old Darkfall.

Darkfall Unholy Wars sunset
Let's talk first about the presentation. Darkfall Unholy Wars won't be winning any visual awards, and yet I find myself deeply satisfied to be back in Agon and filling up my screenshot folder with reckless abandon. Objectively, the new game is a marginal improvement over the old game in terms of aesthetics. The water effects seem spiffier, for example, and there's a bit more detail on the avatars.

Subjectively the world feels very much the same, which is fantastic. Agon still reminds me of a graphically updated Morrowind mod: It's got that 2002 vibe about it, and the animations are flat-out terrible. That said, there is a lot of hand-crafted detail, and for lack of a better word, atmosphere. Atmosphere and its cousin immersion are hard things to define, but I know them when I see them, and I see them in DFUW just as I saw them in classic Darkfall.

Agon is vast and largely seamless, and the game's limited quick travel and realistic movement speeds accentuate the sense of an actual world as opposed to a series of quest hubs. The terrain and topography varies greatly as you travel around the continent, and the day/night cycle is something all MMOs should have by default. Night in Darkfall is actually dark, and given that it's a challenge to spot players and some mobs in the daytime if they don't wish to be seen, Agon after dark is a thrillseeker's dream.

The only real negative in terms of presentation comes courtesy of the new GUI. While Darkfall's interface is much improved over its predecessor's, my enthusiasm is dampened by a chat box implementation that is, at best, inept. It functions, but it also lacks most of the niceties that made their way into MMO chat systems around the turn of the century.

Darkfall Unholy Wars crafting
In terms of my itinerary for day two, I logged around four hours, during which I completed a bunch of newbie feats. These feats are basically quest/achievement hybrids, and the first few you encounter do a passable if somewhat uneven job of introducing you to the game's major systems. I also did a bunch of harvesting, crafted some items, and farmed many a mob spawn for gold and items. These were all well off the beaten path, of course, as my objective was to both avoid random PvP and scratch my exploration itch.

In terms of mechanics, DFUW's PvP -- and really combat in general -- feels very similar to the original game mechanics even with the presence of the new skill and ability wheels I mentioned yesterday. Once you've wrapped your brain and your muscle memory around the ALT-RMB or ALT-LMB actuators, your survivability will increase enormously. It never feels easy, though, and that's by design. Darkfall's combat has always been a challenging mixture of RPG stats and action dexterity that rewards mechanical knowledge, situational awareness, and smart tactics moreso than most other MMORPGs.

While it's too early to say whether Aventurine's new skill and prowess systems will curb the power imbalances found in the original game, the company has wisely opted to preserve the feel of Darkfall's combat.

Darkfall Unholy wars skill level up
If you're a curious carebear like me, or you're a hunter-killer salivating at the prospect of my kind running around your playground, it's worth taking note of the game's new safe zone mechanics. They seem to be tied to major cities, and your presence in them is denoted by a green shield below and to the right of your minimap. Exiting the safe area gives you a warning that you'll be attackable in short order, and the icon changes to a white sword on a red background two seconds after you cross the invisible line. Re-entering the protected area isn't a get-out-of-jail-free card either, as you'll have a 20-second cooldown period after re-entering during which you're still fair game.

Anyhow, apart from my harvesting and wholesale goblin slaughter, I spent most of day two wandering the wild. Agon is an explorer's paradise, and to be honest I'm already toying with the idea of staying on after this week's launch coverage is done because I never get tired of living a fantasy nomad's life. There's something relaxing and almost therapeutic about stockpiling resources and occasionally venturing back into town to craft, salvage, or deposit my stuff and sell some of the bounty.

And Darkfall's FFA stylings occasionally make pedestrian MMO tasks like going to the bank or calling to a bind point into a white-knuckle process. While my gameplay tendencies likely bore the bejesus out of most of the people reading this article, the fact that Darkfall supports them along with the more common FFA PvP lifestyle is a feather in Aventurine's cap.

Darkfall Unholy Wars bridge
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.