My passion for MMOs didn’t spawn from the thoughts of my favorite RPGs becoming multiplayer; it came from dreams of massive open worlds where gamers could live out virtual lives. When I began to think about MMOs years ago, I thought about the sandbox, not the theme park. Some say that sandbox MMOs are only for the hardcore, I say it’s for the dedicated. Unguided gameplay, extreme amounts of effort to make something of yourself, and then it can all be taken away in seconds.
This is what drives most people away from sandbox MMORPGs, especially full loot free for all PvP titles. Those who stick with these games aren’t strictly hardcore gamers however, they are just people who were dedicated enough to figure out how the game mechanics worked, and were willing to put in the effort to see it through, good times and bad. These are the types of gamers I like, and the types of worlds I like playing in. The sad truth of it however is that there aren’t any really good sandbox MMOs, a lot of them have great potential, but all of them are missing something major to the game that just breaks the experience.
EVE Online has, so far, been enough to satisfy my sandbox needs, but I am a fantasy guy at heart and it seems like there’s not much hope for me, yet. Embers of Caerus is looking promising, and ArcheAge appears to be coming along great, but these are things of the future, and I need something now. One game, while far from perfect, seems to keep me coming back. Darkfall Online is a fantasy sandbox MMORPG with skill-based leveling, and full loot PvP. While never making a huge impact, it has sustained a small but dedicated following as players await the highly-anticipated Darkfall 2.0 overhaul.
The developers released Darkfall with a small team and very little funding, resulting in an ambitious title that couldn’t deliver on its promises. Now the developers have been ramping up their team, received more funding and have the means to fix their game. The developers didn’t want to just release a huge patch though; they decided to remake the entire game from the ground up. I have been following the development of this complete overhaul, and it appears to be getting closer to launch. It’s got me excited enough to begin playing again.
The last time I played was when I was living in Australia, trying to play on the North American servers. Now, Darkfall features targetless action combat, so shooting an arrow or casting a spell requires you to aim. Imagine doing this with 300-450ms, it’s a nightmare trying to compensate for lag, something Aussies become used to, but not worth the struggle. Moving to Holland and being capable of playing lag-free has opened a new door for me, finally I can enjoy this game, however broken it may be.
Jumping on to the European server I was faced with my first decision, start a new character or transfer my existing one over? I haven’t trained my skills anywhere significantly, so I decided to start fresh. I haven’t played much Darkfall, but I have the basics down and so my second character would prove to be a much easier experience and much more efficient. Darkfall is like many other sandbox MMOs, they offer a quick rundown on the controls, shove you out into the open world and say, have fun.
You are often left wondering what on earth you are supposed to be doing, and how you accomplish anything. It’s a flawed way of designing a game, but ultimately is intended to make you want to explore the world and figure these things out for yourself, or by interacting with other players. This is easy to overcome if you approach it with the right mindset, and that’s how I started my new character, an elf that would focus on being quick, stealthy and deadly.
Doing anything in Darkfall is generally hard work; monsters in the game aren’t weak little creatures you can mindlessly slaughter. Taking on a group of monsters in the wild takes some strategy and patience, or a few friends. As a new player I was given two quests, something of which there are few of in Darkfall, one to kill goblins and another to collect their axes. Pretty simple, except you are naked and equipped only with a cheap sword. One thing that I find true in Darkfall is you get what you take, if you want armor or weapons, go killing a person or monster for it. Hell, you can even go steal it if you want.
As a new player, I am not going to just run up to someone and try killing them. The goblins do drop some basic equipment and weapons, so with sword in hand I quickly found Goblins and began to pick them off one by one. Darkfall generally groups mobs of different strength, the key is to find the weakest and drag them away from their group so you can kill them without interference. Crouching and sneaking in Darkfall alters how well monsters can see you, so stealthy tactics are completely viable. Dragging goblins away, killing them and looting them gave me some bows, basic cloth armor and an axe.
Killing enough to complete the quests, I returned to the quest giver and received my reward of some shiny new equipment to wear. This is the essence of Darkfall really, find those who have what you want, kill them and take it. Quests will get you on your way, but eventually you will be hunting down both monsters and players who have what you need. I quickly made enough gold and found enough equipment by killing Goblins that I was able to move on from my starting area. Knowing when to move on can be difficult, facing new monsters can be a very punishing experience.
Luckily having been through this before, I knew well enough to collect a decent amount of starter gear before moving on to tackle more difficult enemies. The starting area has you run errands and meet important people in town, killing some goblins and then finally moving on to the next location. As an elf, my starting area was kind of dead and I knew a bunch of people hung around the human area where new players go just after leaving their own starting area, I wanted to be there.
This brings up the next cliff face that I ran in to when first playing, going anywhere outside a town is dangerous, but not if you are careful. The world is massive, it’s seamless and filled with all sorts of things that could either save your life or kill you in a split second. Players must keep in mind that this is a full loot game, if someone kills you halfway through the forest they can take everything you are carrying on you. I was wise enough to stash all my goods in my bank, the only safe place for anything in this world.
And so began a journey that took something short of two hours to complete, an accomplishment in itself to make it in one piece. When travelling the world, a new player has to avoid almost anything they see. You have to act like a wild rabbit in a sense, tread carefully through the grass, and then run like crazy if a twig so much as breaks in the distance. People survive on friends in Darkfall, and if you aren’t a close friend, you are an enemy, so be wary of anyone on the roads.
After a few close calls with monsters, a long run and fortunately no sight of any players in my direction, I made it to the human area and was ready to continue my journey. It feels great to be back in the sandbox, and I am ready to get back to my usual sneaking, ambushing and stealing. My final thought for today is who needs a preset rogue class? If you want to be a thief or rogue, go out and be one. Extort people, grow from nothing to power off everyone else’s backs. Or you could be the hero, march into war with hundreds of other players and save the innocent from the wicked.
Worlds like this cater for a more immersive play style that many will never understand. I for one am happy to be indulging in this genre again, if you like complete freedom in your games and you are passionate about sandbox games, stick around for more ‘In the Sandbox’ very soon. I’ll finish this piece off with a question, both to see how many of you actually made it this far and how many sandbox fans we have our there. What is or would be your favorite sandbox MMO? Answer in the comments below or over on our Facebook page.
Visit the Darkfall Online game page to find out more!