Why Darkfall Online will fail.

Darkfall is having a few teething problems at the moment. From the server failure yesterday, to the 6 hour queues for their single server that have been common for the past few weeks, there have been so many problems that they’ve had to stop selling the game to new players. All that is frustrating the users, and could lead to Darkfall’s failure on its own if not rectified, but this post is about how I feel Darkfall is doomed in the mid-term, even when it is working as designed.

First, I need to try to explain a bit about Darkfall’s alignment system.

There are three racial groupings. You might be tempted to think of them as your team, as in WAR, but that would be extremely unwise. Everyone not in your racial grouping is considered a racial enemy, and thus red to you.

A blue named person is thus someone in your racial grouping, with positive alignment.

Killing any red gains you +1 alignment. Killing any blue gets you -1 alignment. When you hit -10 you yourself become red. (The numbers might be a little off, but that’s the general nature of it anyway).

It is thus trivial to regain a blue name after committing a few murders. The common methods of doing so are to either go perform a massacre at one of your enemy race’s newbie areas (new players are not granted any form of protection), or if you are a team of murderers, repeatedly kill eachother.

Moreover, you can kill anyone in your group with no penalty at all, which has led to an entire industry of tricking people into your group then butchering them. You can loot other people’s kills without any sort of alignment hit. You can also jump in front of someone who is fighting a monster, causing them to accidentally hit you. You may then murder them without penalty.

The net result of all this is that blue on blue killing is rampant. Anybody who is not in your guild or alliance is considered a target.

This would be a lot less of a big deal except for one thing. Darkfall is full body looting. Just as in Ultima Online, everything upon your person may be taken by your killer. Ultima Online had a well-thought out murder system that meant that someone who made a habit of attacking innocent travellers would not be able to easily return to being blue. That is the price you pay for viewing your countrymen as a harvestable resource. Darkfall, on the other hand, has no consequences for such unsociable behaviour.

Because of this, I do not see communities forming in Darkfall. There will certainly be clans, and clan-alliances, but everyone outside of them will be considered either a threat or prey. As the social aspect in MMO is the main thing that keeps players playing in the long-term, this is a bit of a problem. I do not see roleplaying surviving either, outside of clans.

There is also nowhere safe you can go. Towns have a little protection, but you can still be killed quite easily there, unlike other PvP games where town was considered a safe haven. Having to be constantly on twitch-ready guard is fine in a game like Quake where you just play for short bursts, but it is terrible for an MMORPG. It’s too darn stressful, and could probably drive you paranoid in the end.

Crafters and merchants need somewhere safe where they can trade and craft. We are familiar with being attacked in the wilderness, while harvesting. That is the dangerous part of the job in UO, but if you can be killed at the forge, or mid-trade at the bank, and robbed of all you’re carrying, it renders the whole playstyle unworkable. There will still be crafting going on, especially in-clan, but folks for whom being an independent crafter is the main part of the game will find only pain.

The self-styled hardcore PvPers are against a murder system because it would prevent them from running around surprise-killing whoever they like, “diminishing their freedom”, but people do not like being prey, and it will not be too long before all the non-PKing folks have either moved on, or become PKs themselves. Not everyone wants to play a homicidal maniac. As the advantage in a fight always goes to those who strike first, those who do not strike as soon as they see someone will die over and again. They will either also start striking first, or they will leave.

As it stands, the only playstyle that Darkfall really works for is the full-blown PK. Everybody else will be driven from so “hardcore” a game, and the hardcore folks will say good-riddance.

The Hardcore crowd though, is more diverse than it admits. A small portion is genuine, and enjoys the thrill of combat to the extent that they care not whether they win or lose. A far larger portion just enjoys getting easy kills, but when the “sheep” have left, they will find they more often than not are the ones getting looted, and they will not like that. Of course, the largest portion of the Darkfall hardcore crowd is not hardcore at all, but just pretends to be for fear of being labelled “carebear”, a label like “hardcore”, which is so mutable as to be meaningless. When these people start dying more than they can kill, they too shall move on.

Which will leave the truly die-hard player killers, and a few large clans who are self-sufficient and enjoy the gang-warfare aspect. These will probably all fit on a single server (which is lucky as that is all there is right now anyway) with room to spare. As the only people who won’t kill you are members of your clan-alliance, things will tend towards these becoming ever larger. Soloers and small independent clans will mostly have either left or merged by then. Aventurine themselves may not actually see this result as failure, as they have frequently stated that they want Darkfall to be extremely niche, but I find it doubtful that their investors will be quite so impressed at the idea of deliberately driving customers away.

If a decent murder point system, such as UO’s, were to be dropped into Darkfall, that might save it from the fate I foresee, but I think, given the speed with which Darkfall’s developers work, that any such change would arrive far too late.

I am probably going to give Darkfall a miss (though I thank my friends for letting me borrow their account to have a fiddle around), and will wait for Mortal Online to find some way to horribly disappoint me instead.