Hands-on with Darkfall's Japanese open beta

Darkfall
I'm not very good at aiming. I prefer third person to first person view. Nintendo consoles and games are my drug of choice when I'm not on a PC. I hate duels and arenas. I tend to spend my time gathering resources or crafting and want to kill only mobs or players if I must. On the Bartle test of gamer psychology, I'm 60% Explorer/Socializer and 40% Achiever/Killer.

And I loved Darkfall Online.

Aside from Aventurine's little, ah, "delays," Darkfall was always a lot of fun for me, even though the guild I joined was established years before I met its members. However, when I moved to Japan, I was region-locked out of the game and unable to check out the revamped Dark Fall: Unholy Wars until recently when the Asian open beta began. I've done my best to keep up to date on the game, but reading information and playing the game are two different things. This was not so much a welcome home for me as it was a returning to my hometown after a few years to find that the buildings and local language have changed. That may sound negative to some people, and it could be, but for me, it was an adventure, which has always been something DF offers me that other games struggle to match.

Now, unsurprisingly, it took over an hour to log in on day one during prime time, but that's pretty good for a soft launch. While I was waiting to get in-game, I checked the Asian forums. Interestingly enough, some players were encouraging people to use English for character names and clan names. Darkfall's Asian server serves both South Korea and Japan. Korea and Japan, you'll recall, have different written languages. In fact, Korea has slowly been phasing out the use of Chinese characters (which Japanese use as "kanji"), so much so that new towns only receive hangul names. Foreigners may not be able to read Japanese, and the Japanese can't read hangul, so if both sides use English for names, they can at least try to pronounce the name of the person or clan that saved or slaughtered them.

However, the first English I saw between Japanese and Koreans was... um, I'm going to put a positive spin on this and say they were "expressing their satisfaction with the appearance of their neighbors' women." Some of it may have involved calling the men certain types of animals, and this was the mildest of the smack talk. If anything, it illustrated that the PvP stigma sadly still applies in Asian games.

Still, I didn't run into this in ArcheAge, maybe partially because it was mainly a single-ethnicity server and partially because I was in the severe minority rather than fighting for the majority. Still, the game is on an Asian server, so most of the player and clan names are in Japanese and Korean, one of which I can usually read and the other... well, let's just say I'd like to go back to Seoul for some practice (and kalbi!). I could talk a little with the Japanese, but that has yet to save me (though truthfully, I've found the Tribelands belong to the Koreans). However, many land-holding guilds are using English names, such as "Shadow" or "Legend," so at least when I wander too close to some player towns, I know why I'm getting killed.

Darkfall's races aren't that original, but at least they had interesting names. However, probably because the words are already foreign, this isn't the case on the Asian servers. Orks are still orks, but Tovarr are dwarves again, Mercians are just humans again, Maharim are now lycans, Mirdain are just elves, and the Alfar(i) are now drow. Again, I haven't played the western DFUW, but I don't remember such a colorful character creation experience before. Most of the colors were more natural, and my original maharim had an auburn beard with dark grey fur since I felt the splash of red would make him look a bit more unique without screaming to enemies, "Target me!" This time though, I went with a blue "lycan," though I miss being a true wolf-man. I could have done pink or purple fur, maybe even green, but from what little I've read on the official DFUW forums (when they're not offline), it sounds like these aren't available to EU/NA players yet. I say "yet" because Tasos has said that "...any feature being tested in Asia right now is going into both games." I kind of hope there's a missing "maybe" or "possibly" in there, but let me get to that later.

Darkfall JapanThe game starts you off in a very safe tutorial zone that I could have probably finished in Korean, since my poor Japanese was barely needed to navigate through all the visuals used. However, the feats system, while useful for learning the game, felt restrictive for me as a veteran. This was my fault due to the language barrier, but I didn't realize so many feats were locked until I did the most basic of activities. For example, right out of the gate, I felt as if I knew how to play DFUW, so I just did it. I gathered, crafted, explored, and killed, and didn't realize that I had missed out on a lot of feats and potential prowess (think skill points) simply because I didn't start off by turning on the bank overlay option on my map. I'm not sure whether it's the same for the western version of the game, but this felt very restrictive for a sandbox game. That wasn't the only new, slightly odd change from the DF I knew, though.

Unlike the original Darkfall, this Darkfall ensures that safe zones are super safe. There doesn't seem to be any zap tower, but they're pretty much unneeded. You can't attack anyone inside a safe zone or have your mount stolen. You can AFK-gather in or outside of town without worry, run around fully burdened unmolested, kill mobs without other players killing you (though watch your loot!), and in general have a pleasant PvE experience. Heck, the once rare steedgrass, needed to craft mounts, dropped four times while I was editing this article one night. It almost feels like World of Warcraft, which is good for WoW players but a bit of a turn-off for me. This isn't the Darkfall I'm used to.

Luckily for me, leaving the safe zone doesn't take too long, and there's plenty of space outside of it to explore. Maybe it's because it's the start of the game again, but beyond the safety of the cities, there's plenty of chests and empty mob camps, especially in the center of the map where the good loot is. However, on my travels, some of my old haunts were under control of other players who were partied up and didn't want to practice their English (or deal with my poor Japanese). This is where I was really feeling the impact of the lack of "friendly fire." In the safe zones, you don't notice it because people can't hit each other in the first place, but out in the wild, where the game really becomes Darkfall, it's jarring.

In DF, melee have two options for their default swings: a wide horizontal swing that's easy to hit with or a more precise vertical swing. Before, if several people ganged up on me and swung wide, they'd be killing each other. They had to give me some room or use a more precise attack, which meant I could move more freely and possibly escape. Grouping up and using a wide swing was a newbie mistake that I as a smart(er) but not-so-skilled player knew about and could exploit and had done in the past. I had taken out zergers before they eventually killed me, but the battles always won me some respect and sometimes my stuff back (in one case, I actually got rewarded with some better gear!). However, without friendly fire being on, blocking just delays the inevitable, and zerging rules the day as in any other MMO. At least being able to rez if you're left alone is awesome; one time I died in a good hiding place and my attackers were unable to find and finish me off with a gank, so I was able to keep my precious onions and the mandrake I'd found. Still, the change is an unwelcome one for me, as I'm sure it is for DFUW more hardcore community.

Darkfall JapanInterestingly enough, I haven't noticed many place name changes. Darkmoore, Sanguine, White Claw... all the same, just in katakana. A few have changed, and I can't remember all the old names, but something in the kanji (like the one for "moon" being used with one I think that means "field" in one of the Mahirim areas) makes them vaguely familiar. In fact, the in-game signs still show the English names of towns. It seems the developers are in on the language compromise too, which is funny for me. When I recently visited Seoul, I noticed that unlike the Japanese, Koreans will rewrite English brand names (like Oreo) in hangul, while the Japanese will just adopt the English spelling (but still use katakana when writing about it). The map and UI change based on your language settings it seems, since I somehow changed my in-game language to Korean at one point, and then somehow to English on another day. The latter was actually a bit inconvenient because it then rendered all Korean and Japanese text as squares, so the language barrier became even more difficult, and I realized how much you could be missing when you have zero access to the texts.

Socially and politically, one thing I really like about the Asian server is the language divide. Again, this may sound odd to some people, but Darkfall's original launch with a single server for all players made it feel like a truly international game. While I've played with people from other countries in past MMOs, the original DF had a stronger sense of an international community, so much that I nearly did my master's paper on its potential for language learning.

What's an interesting curve ball here is that there are some English guilds. For example, an English guild that's broken through the IP ban invited me to join it, especially since the members already hold a city. I haven't done so yet since I'd like to meet some of the locals, but I know they're in a unique situation. Early on in DF1, some of the various language groups tried to ally up and defend themselves, while others joined international alliances. The single-language alliances were among the first to fall, sometimes to neighbors who were also composed of non-native English speakers who happened to have joined an English alliance. In the game, as in the real world, English is a lingua franca, a common commercial language utilized when two other language speakers run into each other and need a common tongue to communicate with. Since the game's servers were in Europe, English being the dominate language made a bit more sense, especially since, despite the game being produced in Greece, it's aimed mostly at English speakers.

However, for the Asian servers, English-speaking countries are region-locked out of the game, including Australia, which has had a strong representation in-game since the original launch but has never had its own servers. It'll be interesting to see whether English guilds, being able to utilize the language that is mainly being used to insult other players of different nationalities, will have an advantage in politics or will find themselves losing territory to their neighbors who can speak one of the more dominate languages. (Assuming, of course, the IP ban doesn't get stricter and locks them out.)

From what I've seen on the NA/EU forums compared to the beta I'm in, the Asian game's fully up to date. Yes, the Duelist is live over here, though I die so quickly that I can't really tell you much about fighting against them. As I mentioned, the friendly-fire off option really does make the game seem different. After almost two weeks, I'm going to say that the localization's been a success, though. Towns are fairly full, and the safe zone nodes tend to be pretty empty. The population seems to have grown, though the more dangerous areas of the game are still (in some ways) safer than anything near a protected town.

It's a far cry from the Darkfall I left behind years ago, but at least for this region, it may be a good thing. How this will affect the EU and NA servers is anyone's guess. Those who don't like purple hair or enjoy friendly fire being on may want to enjoy DFUW in its current form, just in case.

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This article was originally published on Massively.