Some Assembly Required: An anniversary look at Darkfall's fifth year

MJ Guthrie
M. Guthrie|02.28.14

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Some Assembly Required: An anniversary look at Darkfall's fifth year
Gimme five! Five years that is, in honor of Darkfall's anniversary. This week the PvP-centric sandbox celebrated its fifth year of bringing murder, mayhem, and fun to friends and foes alike in the brutal world of Agon. And while it may seem as though you could pretty much sum up the entirety of Darkfall's last 12 months in two words (Unholy Wars) and call it a day, there's actually been much more to the game than just the reboot's long-awaited release. In fact, that was only the beginning. The game has continued to expand and develop even after the initial launch of Unholy Wars, shaping it into the experience that it is today. That's precisely what we're here to toast together -- the ups and down of 52 weeks in Aventurine's hardcore sandbox. Be sure to leave your favorite memories from the past year in Agon before you go!

Unholy Wars largely defined this past year for the game, first in its absence and then its appearance. The year actually started off a bit disappointingly when the fourth anniversary went by without the release of the reboot. Players had to wait another two months: The new iteration of Agon didn't go live until April. When it did hit the servers, however, it offered a whole new experience to both veteran and new players. (I myself had the opportunity to take part in this very experience as a newbie during my Choose My Adventure run just after launch.)

When it eventually opened its doors to player, Unholy Wars introduced many new things that were not a part of life in Darkfall before. There were new roles like the healing Primalist and new features like salvaging, ability wheels, dyes, and achievements. A new Prowess system changed the way players developed their skills (removing the AFK "blood-walling" method of advancement), and new safe zones afforded players a respite from the PvP. Of course, the new UI was a very obvious and immediately noticed change.

Some changes were not especially appreciated by the whole community. As one of our very own found out on launch day, the impressive Mahirim wolf people were reskinned from basically canines to simply hairy humans. In fact, all of the races became very homogenized.

Not all was changed. The world still had much of the same feel, and other systems returned from the original game but were just improved upon, like naval and mounted combat. And although you could no longer AFK skill like before, you could actually semi-AFK your way to some combat skills by just harvesting, thanks to the new prowess system that awarded standard points you could spend wherever you wanted.

What about the months that followed? After the reboot, the upgrades didn't stop, though they may not have been as frequent as players might have liked! A number of updates focused on other elements of the sandbox besides the PvP. As the months wore on, Aventurine added new dungeons (the only real PvE experiences in the game) such as Broadherne and Sinspire Cathedral. New crafting masteries -- cooking and shipbuilding -- made their way in as well. July saw the addition of a market system to the economy; no longer must wares just be hocked via the chat channels. Improvements in functionality (especially alterations to the chat and the UI) also sprung up.

The naval scene saw some more loving all around, both for the PvE and PvE sides of things. In fact, it almost felt as if a major update couldn't go by without at least one new ship! From a fishing trawler that harvests new fish in deeper waters to plenty of new warships, those who liked to play on the water kept getting new toys. In June the game even introduced harbors and shipyards to clan cities.

Since we're talking about PvP, there have been a number of changes for those who prefer to fight by land. Did you know that cities could add cannon to their defense or that sieging hostiles could deploy some on the battlefield to tear through ranks and walls alike? Those beauties came in the big December patch. Less than two weeks ago, Agon saw more changes in how villages are captured (allowing any clan to acquire one, not just clans who own the territory) and how funds are collected or stolen. A new dueling system was also implemented at the end of January.

Unholy Wars was not the only time Darkfall introduced new classes to the game. Later in the year, the Slayer and the Duelist joined the combat ranks (in July and September, respectively). The Primalist also recently got a third school, called Chaos. Even the existing classes have gotten some attention. Obviously, in a game that is centered on PvP, class balance is an important issue; in October the Aventurine team made three major changes to re-balance the power in the game.

No MMO ever goes completely smoothly; there are always some blunders. Perhaps one of the strangest ones to occur this past year came when an August patch actually changed everyone to an admin. Official word from on high said that the powers were never really granted, that it was just a graphical glitch that popped the little admin tag onto everyone. Either way, there's no doubt that at least some players tried to discover the admin command codes before the fix was implemented!

Another blip for the year was the fact that the studio moved to bigger offices. While not necessarily a negative, the disruption affected the update schedule (and even nixed the August vacations of the devs!).

Unlike new releases, reboots can have a disadvantage for recruiting new players, especially when the game has a reputation. And Darkfall definitely had a reputation as a very cutthroat, hardcore game. So how do you get people to take a fresh look at the new game that is Unholy Wars? This past year Aventurine reached out to a wider audience by offering Darkfall on Steam as well as enticed players with various sales and deals. The game also expanded into Japan, with open beta in November.

Once in a blue moon, Massively's Jef Reahard and MJ Guthrie take a break from their themepark day jobs to delve into the world of 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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