Some Assembly Required: Can Darkfall and The Repopulation end the sandbox drought?

Jef Reahard
J. Reahard|04.13.12

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Some Assembly Required: Can Darkfall and The Repopulation end the sandbox drought?
Some Assembly Required - Catching up with Darkfall and The Repopulation
It's not often that we use this space for news recaps. Generally MJ and I have a particular topic (or game) in mind for Some Assembly Required's biweekly rotation. This time, though, I figured we should highlight some of the recent goings-on with a couple of pertinent sandbox titles simply because Massively news posts don't offer enough space to expound on anything other than the basics.

Join me after the break, then, for a rundown on what's new with Darkfall and The Repopulation.

The Repopulation is one of those games that really has us excited. Some of you may recall that MJ got a pretty extensive tour of Above & Beyond's sandbox opus during last month's GDC. Since then, the devs have released not one but two new gameplay videos. The first was a two-minute look at pre-alpha footage, complete with some stunning Hero Engine landscapes and a wee bit of combat (both ranged and melee).

The clip also sported some character creation details, a glimpse of underwater environments, and a very brief look at structure placement. That was just the tip of the iceberg, though, as this past week the devs dropped a 12-minute video on their unsuspecting fans.

This latest clip delved deep into The Repopulation's city-building system. It also shined the spotlight on object placement, interior and exterior decorating, and cooperative structure placement as it relates to the title's nation-state mechanics. Along the way, we got to see the UI in action as well as a brief bit on the game's alliance management options (around 8:20 in the clip).

Finally, Above & Beyond gave us a lengthy state-of-the-game update in late March that detailed all of the new content going into the alpha. Highlights here included the new tracking and repair systems as well as grouping improvements. While all of this stuff is pretty exciting, the videos (in particularly the city-building clip) really raised our eyebrows. Not since Star Wars Galaxies have we seen a game so focused on non-combat feature sets; if you're not already signed up for The Repopulation's alpha, there's no time like the present.

Look for much more on the game in upcoming installments of Some Assembly Required, as both MJ and I will be bringing you plenty of impressions from the alpha as soon as we're given the go-ahead.

That brings us to Darkfall, and before I get sidetracked on a PR-focused rant, let me say that I'm a huge fan of the game. I'm not a fan of the run-around Aventurine has been giving its Darkfall faithful for a year or more, but considering the state of the economy in Greece and given the general hardships inherent in building an indie sandbox, I'm inclined to give the company the benefit of the doubt rather than bust on it for content-light blog posts.

Happily, the last couple of blog entries have featured some useful nuggets, so let's start with the March 30th post by Tasos Flambouras. Flambouras mentions that Darkfall's new project manager just completed his second week with the team, and if you know anything about software development or project management in general, this probably sends up some warning flags.

Changing PMs (or adding an additional one) in the middle of a huge push like Darkfall 2.0 has got to be stressful for all concerned, and it could explain why it's taking so long (and why there have been so few community updates).

Flambouras also touches briefly on the game's much-maligned UI, but he doesn't offer any details as to how the new version is being improved. He does mention a new points system that sounds like some sort of cross between achievement and progression mechanics. In fact, Flambouras mentions an achievement system proper further down in the post. As for the points system, it's prevalent in both PvP and PvE and "provides a tangible reward that can be used to open up new possibilities and exciting new paths in a character's career."

My first thought was that such a system seems somewhat unnecessary in a sandbox environment where players are expected to be creative and make their own fun. Upon further reflection, though, I think Aventurine may be on to something here, particularly if the system calls attention to Darkfall's under-appreciated PvE content. Most of the Darkfall virgins I've talked to are surprised when I tell them that the game isn't a total gank-fest. On the contrary, the world of Agon played host to some of the most engaging and immersive PvE experiences I've had to date, and I'd love to see AV capitalize on the huge world it's created and lure in a more diverse playerbase.

The April 6th Darkfall blog update is fairly short, but it does talk a bit about the 2.0 crafting revamp and how the process differs from what you're used to in the current build. For one thing, crafting tools no longer exist. If you want to make an item, you need nothing more than the component materials and the appropriate crafting station (yay for extra inventory space).

For another, crafting failures have changed substantially. The failure rate has been increased, but AV has also tweaked the failure mechanics so that you don't necessarily lose your materials if the RNG gods rule against you. You may lose some of your mats or none at all, and on rare occasions you may lose everything. Such is life in Agon, though, and I can't wait to get my hands on Darkfall 2.0's new tradeskill implementation.

And that's all she wrote for Some Assembly Required this week. I know it's been a tough couple of years for sandbox fans, but cheer up folks. There are some gems in the (re)making, so check in with us next time to see what's new in the world of emergent systems and player-generated content.

Every two weeks, Jef Reahard and MJ Guthrie take a break from their themepark day jobs to delve into the world of sandboxes and player-generated content. Comments, suggestions, and coverage ideas are welcome, and Some Assembly Required is always looking for players who'd like to show off their MMO creativity. Contact us!
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