Darkeden Review

When a veteran MMO player (like all of our Ten Ton Hammer readers) logs into a new game, there are a number of things that you come to expect: Character creation, a tutorial of some kind...
When a veteran MMO player (like all of our Ten Ton Hammer readers) logs into a new game, there are a number of things that you come to expect: Character creation, a tutorial of some kind explaining the gameplay features, and a somewhat safe new player experience that eases you into whatever game you're checking out. From time to time, there are games that miss one or two of these initial categories either because of the design of the game or because the game was made when these options weren't entirely necessary. Unfortunately, I had an inkling that the next MMO on my gaming review list, a horror-based PvP-oriented title named Darkeden, would probably skip over a few of these crucial steps.

If you die in the game, you'll be met with a horde of item sellers.

But that didn't keep me from getting excited about the game. At first glance, Darkeden hearkens back to the days of top-down viewpoint RPGs; games like Diablo, Baldur's Gate, and Fallout come to mind when you take a look at the Darkeden screenshots located on their webpage. That sort of style had really been calling to me over the past few weeks, and Darkeden was potentially the game to fulfill that desire. I've also had a decent amount of exposure to one of Joymax's other MMOs, Silkroad Online, and despite a few translation issues, I generally enjoyed the gameplay throughout that fantasy MMORPG.

So by the time I settled on Darkeden as my next game to review, I was pumped up and excited to hit the servers running. However, instead of racing into the world at a dead sprint, I had a Charlie Brown and Lucy moment where I was running, running, running and then got tripped up right before I kicked the ball. After downloading the client and quickly installing the game, I popped into the world and tried logging in with my Joymax ID only to be met with this message:

"This account is abnormal. Please contact support center. (http://www.joymax.com/darkeden)"

Bouncing over to the Darkeden website, I looked around for anything that looked vaguely similar to a support page, but couldn't find what I was looking for. Finally, after several minutes of searching and pounding my head on the keyboard, I noticed a small button on the sidebar that read: "User Agreement." Crossing my fingers, I clicked on the button and sighed in relief. Like most free-to-play games, you have to "agree" to play the game via the web page portal, but I hadn't initially seen any buttons on the website to press, so I had forged ahead with my eyes closed. While most online games sport a "register" page or something of that nature, the use of "User Agreement" was a bit baffling.

You'll find some horribly translated dialogue in Darkeden.

With all that behind me, I finally got into the meat and bones of Darkeden. Or at least, what should have been the meat and bones. At character creation, you’re given the option of selecting three different races – Ouster, Slayer, and Vampire – each of which has its own particular playstyle and advancement system. While Vampires use a level-based system to advance, Slayers progress by gradually building up their skills through weapon usage. Ousters are like a combination of the other two classes. From the outset, it’s made readily apparent that both the Ouster and the Vampire – at least in the beginning – grossly overpower the Slayer. When you select the Slayer, the game informs you that you’re going to have a tough time, at least in the beginning, and they’re not kidding around. In the very beginning, Slayers won’t be able to take on a Vampire in a one-on-one battle. Even after a week of training, I still wasn’t able to down a Vampire with my Slayer. While it doesn’t help that Vampires seem much more prevalent than your Slayer friends, it also seems impossible to find anyone willing to form a group at any time of the day. I had one instance of grouping offered to me. Everyone else simply walked away.

And that’s not the only thing that makes the beginning of Darkeden difficult. The initial NPCs have such horribly translated dialogue that it can take several minutes to actually deduce what the NPC is trying to tell you. I think it’s great that Joymax tried to get players to understand the storyline of the game, but to do so in such an amateurish manner really was hard to understand. Why go to the effort if you’re only going to do a half-assed job of translating? Some of my favorite bits of dialogue include:

I will expect the bests from you!

Let me see. Hmmmj; It is almost broken! Why you didn’t come to me earlier!?

I will drop by you next repairing.

I have been grown up in Eslania all my life.

Although storages are little expensive, it is free after one payment.

After you’ve grimaced your way through the initial dialogue, you’re basically released into the world. While this may sound exciting for some, being a helpless Slayer with only a few skills isn’t necessarily the best way to enter into a PvP-based game. Combat is what you’d expect from a game that looks like Darkeden. You click on your opponents to attack them, and you can intersperse your clicks by using one of your skills and/or abilities. Although Slayers have a whole slew of skills to choose from, the really magical folks are the Ousters. If you’re looking to get one-shotted out in the open world, just go looking for a high level Ouster. Movement is also click-based, so be careful where you’re clicking if you want to attack something and not move halfway to Timbuktu.

Let’s just say that within thirty seconds of stepping outside of the starting gates, I was set upon by a player-controlled vampire and quickly eviscerated. Falling to the ground, I waited for my body to respawn back at the starting area.

I waited. And waited. And waited some more.

After searching my screen for several minutes, I eventually found a randomly placed button and when I scrolled over it and clicked it, I was respawned in the middle of town. While “town” may sound innocent enough, it isn’t your starting area, and being dumped into the “town” is like being moved from the known into the unknown. As a veteran MMO gamer, I’m used to respawning very close to my death location, and it was disappointing to find that I had to walk for a good minute or two to get back to my area of initial demise.

It turns out that after a bit of investigation on the official Darkeden website, there's a special training ground that's been built for players that are in their beginning skill progression levels. Unfortunately, there's nothing in the game world that indicates where a player should go to find these areas. In fact, the beginner's guide on the Darkeden website only lists this particular area in a pair of sentences in the middle of the guide. By the time I discovered the training area, I was already well past the levels that I could use the area.The graphics are a bit below average as well. Although I still hearily enjoy playing all of the isometric RPGs of yesteryear, Darkeden's graphics really weren't anything spectacular. In fact, I'd wager that they're actually worse than what players are used to in Baldur's Gate II and Diablo II. While 1024x768 resolution is supported, you'll quickly grow tired of seeing the same tired mobs and player characters that appear incredibly similar. Even when it was released, Baldur's Gate at least had enough variety to keep player from getting bored with the landscapes.

A horde of vampires.

And the game really doesn’t get any better after that. There’s almost a persistent lack of information in Darkeden. While some games don’t expect their gamers to learn every in-and-out of the interface or the statistics, Darkeden almost makes it a point to leave every process in their game up to the imagination. The user interface has plenty of buttons that leave you scratching your head, wondering what that particular button is used for an how it could come in handy. Some of my initial questions included:

What happens when I die?

Why can’t I respawn somewhere besides the middle of town?

How important are items to the strength of my character?

Where can I find more quests?

Why are there so many high-level players around the starting town?

How do I get rid of my “bloodsuck” debuff that turns me into a Vampire?

The last question, and one that I saw often from new players, was probably the most problematic for me. If you are drained of your blood by a player-controlled Vampire out in the world, not only do you die, but you gain a debuff that turns you into a Vampire if you don’t get rid of it in 12 hours. That’s not in-game hours – that’s out-of-game hours. So if you’re looking to go on vacation or take a nice weekend holiday, you’d better not leave your debuff on your character, or you’ll return to find a nice vampire staring at your face instead.

As far as I can tell, once you’ve been turned into a Vampire, you’re stuck that way. Slayers may have the potential to become the most powerful characters in the game, but without a doubt the starting levels are incredibly difficult to navigate. You’re given very basic weaponry (Vampire don’t require any weapons to kick your ass), a crappy set of armor, and pushed out the door. Some players don’t even know what their statistics mean when they “roll up” a character, thus making them completely worthless in the beginning of the game.

To make matters worse, people that play Vampires in Darkeden are probably the most childish, ignorant bastards I’ve ever encountered in an online space. Besides the constant “noob” comments being tossed around by the resident twelve-year-old, they’re constantly belittling you wherever you go, and sport such quality names as xxPwnYouxx. They run up to you with either their mohawked or incredibly bulky Vampires and proceed to beat you to death with their fists. The Ouster and Slayer players are a bit better in there attitudes, but there’s definitely some idiots on both sides of the coin.

Here's a nice picture of some guy calling me a noob. Bastard.

Perhaps the one redeeming quality in Darkeden is the leveling / progression system. Although gamers will be constantly dying, there doesn't seem to be any major experience loss or debt, and actually earning a level in this nasty, free-for-all world is something to be proud of. Every time I progressed in my skill set, I felt a sense of achievement that I really haven't found in most of the modern MMOGs. This sort of feeling hearkens back to my days in EverQuest, where earning a level really meant something.

But that's one of the few redeeming qualities I found. After several hours of toiling through this game, I have to say that it ranks as one of the worst online experiences I’ve ever encountered. Between the constant dying, the initial confusion, the community interaction (or lack thereof), and the disregard for simple player concerns, Darkeden seems like a game that could use a severe overhaul. Maybe underneath all of my complaints, there is actually a fun game worth playing, but until Joymax fixes the translation, imports a solid tutorial and new game experience and clamps down on some of the idiots in the game, there’s no way I’ll touch this game ever again.

(1 / 5 Hammers)

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