Putting the Gamer Back in Gaming – A Dawntide Preview

There was a time in our industry's "ancient" past when one golden statement explained everything you were supposed to do each time you logged on to play: anything you wanted. Whether you chose to
There was a time in our industry's "ancient" past when one golden statement explained everything you were supposed to do each time you logged on to play: anything you wanted. Whether you chose to aid a local Baron, murder your neighbor in cold blood, run a virtual crafting shop, or go off into the wild blue yonder in search of glory and riches, you were free to choose for yourself. The idea was to create a living, breathing world that was driven by the goals of its players instead of funneling them along a pre-established path. Dawntide is a new classless, skill-based MMOG currently in early beta and the team developing it seems hell-bent on bringing that old school style of play back to the mainstream.

Shortly before (and during) the heyday of EverQuest, Ultima Online was the game on every geek's lips. The game may have been two dimensional, but it was a living world where anything could happen. One minute you were a brand new mage trying to figure out how to kill a cat and the next, you were a ghost running around looking for your corpse because some asshat decided to gank your noob behind. The game may have been brutal, but for those who stuck it out, it blossomed into a marvelous landscape full of wonder, excitement, and intrigue. A number of players, a larger group than some people might believe, sorely miss that type of gameplay. For proof, just look at the player excitement driven by the development of titles such as Darkfall and Mortal Online. While the former failed to meet player expectations, and the latter has yet to release, there's no denying that general player interest was (and still is) intense.

Dawntide is still in the early stages of development, but it has the one thing gamers want to hear more than any other. It has potential and tons of it. The developers seem to believe so, too. Sure, we’ve all heard about the development team that had a dream, but this crew has more than just empty words to back them up. These are the guys who created Shards of Dalaya, the most successful EverQuest emulated server in existence.

Dawntide seeks to put the feeling of personal accomplishment back into the hands of the players. The land of Cieve (meaning The Cage) is a harsh and unforgiving series of island continents surrounded by impassible mountain ranges and reefs. Players will be responsible for settling the land and progressing the story forward by discovering hidden treasures, unlocking mysteries about the Dawntide races, and searching for new resources to use. Building ships and exploring new landmasses while participating in (or attempting to avoid) ship-to-ship combat will be an integral part of this process. Dawntide’s developers, WAI (Working As Intended), have envisioned a world that is completely player driven. Settlements, government, laws, wars...everything revolves around the players and the world they create.

During character creation, players choose from four races, each with their own cultural and historical backgrounds. After that, players will choose a set number of initial attributes and skills to train as they bring their character to life. The skills and attributes they choose will begin at a higher number. This in no way affects the ability of a character to pick up and learn any other skills, it merely provides a starting point for a character's path in the world. After their character's training, players will need to work on any skills or attributes they wish to improve.

Want to get better at Brawling? Then roll up your sleeves and sock a goblin in the nose. Just don't be surprised when he grabs a club and tries to bash your brain in for the effort. All the skills in the game will be raised the same way. If you never practice swinging a sword, don't expect to pick up that new epic longsword you just found and use it skillfully. Earlier this year, I weighed the advantages and disadvantages of skill-based games. Systems like this are awesome on paper because of the way they naturally support a gamer's play style. If someone likes to get in the face of their opponent and swing a mace, they can. And as they do, they'll continually improve their abilities. The same goes for any other play style a person chooses. This system also avoids the issue of character regret since any skill can be learned without having to completely start over. Let's hope the Dawntide team can keep hacking, botting, and general exploiting to a minimum, as this tends to kill this style of freeform game quicker than any design decision possibly could.

The game recently moved into Beta 2 and testers have already been allowed to begin posting screenshots and blogs on the official forums. After my own trip inside the game to see what has been going on, I have to admit that I'm certainly intrigued. With the massive amount of skills available to each player, the characters emerging from such an open system will be interesting to say the least. During my play time, I couldn't resist creating my vision of a fallen knight who made a bargain with forces of darkness to empower his fighting further. I'm sure one of our math loving geeks can figure out exactly how many "class" combinations could be made with the system currently active in Dawntide, but it's safe to say that it would be a number of staggering proportion. Players should no longer complain about not feeling unique from one another.

The world of Cieve is dangerous, but it's also beautiful. While there's no arguing that eye candy alone cannot make a good game, I'd be denying my inner graphics whore if I tried to claim it didn't play an important role in my enjoyment. The WAI art team has done a good job in bringing a virtual world to life. Even this early in development, the world of Dawntide feels as though it's "real". The world has a very natural flow in its topography that many other AAA MMOG titles currently lack.

Dawntide may be brutal--life may be rough, and your adventures may be harrowing--but they will be *your* adventures to experience as you choose. Will you seek out the mysteries of Cieve, become a great warrior and create your own city-state, or experience something unimagined until now? It will be interesting to see how this particular title shapes up as the date of its release draws ever closer. Here's hoping WAI can bring such an ambitious vision to fruition. And if they can do it in style, all the better.

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