This may be attributed to the lack of rhyme or reason to the world, which verges on random placement of flora with little in the way of lore to tie it together. It may also be tied to the fact that there's very little to see. On many occasions I'd turn and wander in a particular direction, leaving the auto-run key on and navigating past things in the hope that I'd run into a town, or a dungeon, or possibly an angry pack of lions to save me from my torment. Not even the occasional flash of a badly-worded skill-up could serve to bring joy to my heart.
On one such jaunt, I walked for around six minutes through green pastures, found a dock, and began swimming, only to reach a gigantic ice cap - a dissonant, frigid mess in the middle of a bloody field. Exploring further, I was promptly murdered by hobgoblins and sent back to my bind point.
Sadly, this is only the tip of the iceberg of Darkfall's problems. The developers have taken the classic stance when faced with the echoing cries of "you barely have any content", and claim that the "core" of Darkfall is clan warfare. Players can build "camps" and "towns", and fight each other in "epic" wars. This is, as you can probably imagine from the screenshots, rather more underwhelming and frustrating than the hyperbole would have you believe.
You see, anyone can kill anyone. For the most part, your first ten or so hours in Darkfall are spent dying, repeatedly, at the hands of either the AI or a cyber-bully in a wolf-suit. In fact, past that mark, it feels impossible to avoid the clammy hands and bloodied sword of somebody who has specially allocated part of their day to griefing.
Even when you become semi-capable of operation without constant death, there's little to enjoy. The quests are repetitive kill-X-of-Y monstrosities written with a six-year-old's understanding of English. There are none of the intricacies of World of Warcraft or Warhammer Online, and there's none of the charm of old-world EverQuest. The world is bland in the extreme, with no definition in areas except those where you spawn as a newbie - and even they echo with a distinct lack of life. It doesn't even have the basic features that make up even the most lackluster and dull cookie-cutter MMOs, such as a simple experience system, or some form of tutorial.
Darkfall even lacks the basic lore that even the worst games have. There are wolf people, orks, humans, elves, and dark elves. There hasn't even been an attempt to construct a faux-story - you pick a character, and you're dropped in a drab town with a leaf-blade and 20 fewer Euros in your pocket.
Many avid fanboys defend Darkfall by saying that it's 'just not made for the average or casual player'. In reality, this is just an excuse for Aventurine's inability to create a balanced, playable game. When I swing a sword, I want to be able to hit something. When I start my first quest, I don't want a three-minute run to kill goblins, only to get killed by a six-foot wolf called BarBArIaX WooFKilLer. If you give me a sandbox, by God, give me something to play with in it.
I genuinely wish that this was a case of me not getting what Darkfall is trying to do. Sadly, it's all too obvious. Its skill system is like a twisted version of EVE Online's, without the intricacy or CCP's talent. Its mise-en-scène is somewhere between the grittiness of Conan and WAR's orcs and humans. Underneath the lack of originality, there's a hole where the game should be: a loose, incongruous mess of bad controls, horrible user interface, and broken combat system.
While other MMOs have relied on their players to fill in the content to an extent - Star Wars Galaxies being the most notable example - few have abused the sandbox mentality so readily as Aventurine. It's the emperor's new clothes of 2009: such a marvellous game that only an idiot wouldn't realise the beauty of the gaping holes in its content, its wonky control system, and its seemingly decade-old engine.
Even if you were so inclined to take part in this painful experience, it's rather difficult to actually buy it. The subscription page is buried within the forums, apparently hidden from public view in the hopes that internet loud-mouths would leave it well alone (the few Darkfall servers Adventurine is running have been mystifyingly over-subscribed). In fact, the only clear description I could find was from an external site that linked to the subscription page - which was not available through the official site. We'll spare you the link. Use your credit card at your peril.
2 / 10
Darkfall's developer has responded to the Eurogamer review, and we've posted a blog on the subject explaining our position.