Darkfall is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) in development by Aventurine SA that combines real-time action and strategy in a fantasy setting. The game is expected to feature unrestricted PvP, full looting, a huge, dynamic game world that evolves in response to player actions, and a player skill dependent combat system free of the class and level systems that typify most MMORPGs. The game is currently in internal beta, an external beta is now open for registration (www.darkfallonline.com/beta) and the release date is set in late 2008.
Darkfall is expected to have several features that set it apart from the majority of MMORPGs:
While certain races have friendships and hatreds with other races in Darkfall, these are not strictly enforced upon the players, and it is possible for allied clans to declare war upon both their own race and their racial allies. Declaring war against a clan will prevent players of the declaring clan from sustaining alignment penalties associated with attacking and killing players of the opposing clan, regardless of race.
It is possible to form mixed-race clans of opposing factions, but this choice comes with some disadvantages: NPCs will always behave according to their racial faction, and will thus react with hostility to racial enemies even if accompanied by and/or allied with friendly races. A recent developer journal has indicated however that the NPCs of cities built by an all-race clan will not attack members of the owning clan, regardless of race.
The races are as follows:
The Alfar are the cruel, hate-spawned cousins of the Mirdain. Abducted eons ago by their insane god-king Melek, these former Mirdain have been mutated and warped by his diabolical influence and his mother's Silver Circlet into fearless, rage-driven killers. Striking their enemies from the shadowy, spell-blasted lands of Nagast, the Alfar tear a bloody swath of destruction wherever they go, disappearing as quickly as they appeared. Gifted with an innate affinity for the magical arts, the Alfar are skilled spellcasters who draw their power from their volatile God. Due to this unpredictability, Alfar spells fluctuate in power, creating a slight variance in result with every cast. Alfar have a deep seated hatred for all other life on Agon; though they can join clans of other races, they loathe doing so.
Grim-faced, iron-strong and unshakable in courage and convictions, dwarves are trueborn children of the mountains. They are an introspective and taciturn race who scorn all gods in preference of a multi-millennial path to perfection that was laid out by the legendary founder of their nation. The dwarves follow the teachings of Ymir, a legendary mastersmith who forged many of Dvergheim's greatest wonders, as well as the nation itself. Ymir spent his final years writing a book that laid out a detailed, step by step plan for the next 20,000 years of dwarven civilization. Ymir's teachings told the dwarves what to strive for, what to practice and what to create, and he told them how and when they should approach each task.
Humans in the game live very much like their real life counterparts did in medieval times, with a feudal system, and a constant power struggle between the King and the Church. Humans are a versatile race, with no particular strengths and weaknesses.
The Mirdain are a sophisticated race of skilled diplomats and traders. They prefer diplomacy and subtle manipulation to direct conflict, but Mirdain are still brilliant tacticians whose expert troop movements and cunning ruses allow them to defeat enemies many times their number. Working deep from within their forest home of Mirendil, the Mirdain are a peaceful and cultured race in a world torn by war. The Mirdain are somewhat magically adept, and most of them are able to direct a modest number of spells. They are also skilled hunters, proficient with the bow from an early age.
A fierce race of predators from the untamed wilds of the Tribelands, the Mahirim are a race who still seem at odds with their recent move to civilization. While they have laws now, they retain all the finely-honed instincts and predatory skills of their pack-hunter ancestors. Though they have recently evolved to walk on two-legs, the wolf-like Mahirim retain the ability to run on all fours, and can easily out-pace all other races on foot and match other races' mounts for speed, whilst retaining the capability to ride other races' mounts. Given their long history of aggression and their somewhat arrogant nature, the Mahirim have few friends. They do, however, have a small degree of respect for the Orks, who are very capable warriors and equally warlike.
Until very recently the Orks used to roam the swamps like the Goblins do now: no permanent settlements, no civilisation, spending their time hunting or at war. But, an evil deity tamed the Orks and taught them how to build cities and enslave workers. Modern day Orkish society is built on the enslavement of the Goblin race, as they do all the manual labour for the Orks. The Orks also control an evil cult of Dwarves who design buildings and weapons for Orkish conquest; they live in much better conditions than the Goblins. The Orks believe that one day their God will rise from the Volcano and kill all non-Orks.
As with other MMORPGs, player characters have a set of semi-static attributes, which determine their in-game physical and mental prowess. These attributes are: strength, vitality, dexterity, wisdom, intelligence, and quickness . These attributes improve over time in response to player activity, for example, repeated use of a melee weapon will result in a gradual improvement in that player's strength statistic over time, which in turn will allow him/her to deal greater melee damage. There are also three dynamic attributes: hitpoints, mana, and stamina, which determine a player's overall vitality and capacity for physical activity and/or magic, which fluctuate in response to performing actions and receiving damage.
Receiving physical or magical damage from other players, NPCs or other objects cause the loss of hitpoints until that player is incapacitated, at which point there is a certain amount of time during which that player can choose to declare themselves dead and return to their last "bind point", or they may be "finished off" by force, or revived by another player. Unless revived, the player dies at the expiration of the incapacitation timer.
Likewise, the casting of magical spells requires and expends mana points, and the execution of various physical activities, such as sprinting, the swinging of weapons, and casting of spells expend stamina. All three of these statistics are regained over time at varying rates, and/or may be rapidly regained through the use of healing and other restorative spells, potions and items.
In terms of racial differences, the order of races with respect to the strength statistic is: ork > dwarf > mahirim > human > mirdain (elf) > alfar (dark-elf), while for intelligence, the order is the exact reverse: alfar > mirdain > human > mahirim > dwarf > ork.
Darkfall departs from the conventional MMORPG paradigm of character levels as the main form of character progression, favouring instead a broad skill-based system, similar to that found in games such as Ultima online and EVE online. Skills and skill proficiency determine a wide range of a character's capability in the game, including weapons and weapon skills and special attacks, spells, and archery, stealth mechanics, all aspects of player crafting, as well as more basic facets of gameplay, such as the ability to swim, climb vertical surfaces, and to ride and control mounts.
Many skills may be learned from NPC trainers in the game, however certain skills will require other skills as prerequisites, and/or may only be learned through specific quests and/or NPCs in remote/hidden areas. Without exception however, skills are improved (raised in power) through actual usage in game. The possibility for players to teach other players certain skills once a certain level of mastery has been reached has also been discussed by the developers.
Whilst the breadth and depth of the skill system has been frequently referenced in developer reports, only a few skills have been specifically named and described by the developers. Despite the relatively small amount of information available on player-learnable skills, developers have reported there will be approximately 500 skills and 500 spells in the game at release.
The ability to fully loot other players is a significant departure from the other contemporary MMOGs, such as World of Warcraft, in which the quest for ever better gear is the primary driver of player character improvement once maximum level has been attained. In Darkfall, character skills are the primary driver of character improvement, and while gear is expected to have some influence in determining a player character's overall power, it will be of greatly diminished importance than in other MMOGs.
From the Darkfall character FAQ: "Turning evil is easy, although it doesn't make for an easy life. Killing other characters unprovoked will get you there fast and this will make most guards, clans and other players attack you on sight. Changing your alignment towards good is a challenging and difficult process."
Almost all MMORPGs implement the concept of player stealth by allowing players/NPCs to become pseudo-magically "invisible", thereby permitting stealthy movement, and surprise attacks. Typically, this "pseudo-invisibility" skill is a fundamental game mechanic that provides the core functionality and/or defining trait of a limited number of player classes.
In Darkfall, stealth is accomplished by playing stealthily, employing real-world stealth techniques such as moving in darkness/shadow, employing camouflage, walking silently, and using world objects as cover; that is, stealth is not "auto-magical", and not restricted to any particular class or subset of players . Since Darkfall is a class-less MMORPG, any player is able to acquire the various stealth-enhancing skills and to follow a stealthy playstyle.
This feature of "true steath" also comes with semi-realistic limitations - wearing heavy metallic armour emits audible clinking sounds, and reflects light, and moving more slowly decreases the volume of footsteps. True stealth in Darkfall is also made possible through the deliberate lack of "player radar" and use of first-person perspective for ranged combat and general movement, combined with realistic, dynamic weather and day/night cycle.
The world includes a wide range of diverse terrain types, including forest, plain, desert, ice, jungle/tropical, swamp, and wasteland areas. Every part of the Darkfall world has been handmade by the developers and not computer generated. Darkfall developers have stated that any/all terrain can be accessed and traversed by characters possessing the appropriate skills, e.g. mountains may be climbed by those who possess sufficiently high climbing skills; islands may be reached by those who possess a suitable watercraft.
In addition to its much-discussed PvP aspects, Darkfall will also include a wide variety of PvE monsters scattered across the world of Darkfall. Unlike most contemporary MMORPGs which involve timed, static spawns of monsters throughout the game world, Darkfall's mobs aggregate with each other to form groups, and when left unopposed will grow to form larger encampments. In addition, computer-controlled mobs will attack player cities if nearby, and will also fight nearby enemy mobs. Monsters range in innate aggression levels and social dependence, which affects their likeliness to initiate attacks with other players/mobs, run away, call for help, etc. NPCs in Darkfall are also known to have their own kill-on-sight lists, and will loot player corpses of items they can use. NPC camps whose numbers are repeatedly thinned through player actions will eventually relocate to other parts of the world that satisfy their preferred habitat.
The combat AI of NPCs has been said to parallel that of Quake bots with respect to the level of challenge they are intended to present to the player. An indication of the quality of the NPC AI is shown by associate producer Tasos Flambouras by repeatedly referring to combat with NPCs as serious "practice" for PvP.
Darkfall is expected to feature a wide variety of monster types typical of the high fantasy genre, for example, goblins of various types, undead, such as skeletons and zombies, as well as various dragons, golems, and demons. Further examples of these may be found in the Darkfall bestiary
As is typical of any fantasy MMORPG, Darkfall will feature an as yet unknown number of dungeons and underground areas, many of which will be heavily populated by monsters and monster bosses. Some underground areas are also available for players to colonise and build cities within. Both the Alfar and Dwarven racial capital cities are located predominately underground.
A major design goal of Darkfall is its support for large-scale territorial conflict between player clans (guilds). To this end, empire building through the construction and conquering of cities/forts/castles is expected to be a major part of the game. To promote such conflict, the developers have stated that there is a finite number of geographical locations (around 87 locations) within the world that are able to support city building.
These city-building sites are spread across the entirety of the world, and vary greatly in location, surrounding terrain, access to nearby resource nodes, and consequently, their ability to be defended by the owning clan. The developers expect certain sites, such as underground cave sites hidden by a waterfall, or a precipitous mountain-side location with a precarious one-way approach to be more highly coveted than other sites, adding to the potential for territorial conflict.
Player clans have full diplomatic control over their relationship with other player clans, and can declare war on other clans unilaterally. The "At War" diplomatic state is preceded by some unspecified amount of time in the 'Weary' diplomatic state after which time players of clans that are at war with each other may kill each other freely without alignment penalties. The declaration of war also allows player-built cities to be freely attacked and sieged as a prelude to complete capture or destruction of the enemy city. To this end, Darkfall contains a variety of different siege weapons such as trebuchets, catapults and ballistae, all of which are player-crafted. There is a limit on the rate of destruction of a captured city of 1 building per day, however any number of buildings may be disabled at any time by bringing their structural integrity to zero.