Darkfall and Travel

Travel versus teleportation. The age old argument of fun versus realism couldn’t be better represented than in this subject. “To teleport or not to teleport?” seems to be the question every developer has to answer eventually. Because massively multiplayer game worlds are so massive, most will get mighty bored of spending the majority of their gaming hours watching their character’s sculpted derriere bounce on down the road. The way I see it, this is sort of a ‘bite off more than you can chew’ scenario where we initially wanted this huge world, and now we have to walk it, realizing that we don’t really wanna.

This is where teleporting or fast-travel comes in. For most of us who spend more than just a couple of hours a week playing these games (we’re paying for them monthly, damn well better be playing often), trekking about becomes redundant over time. Instant – or at least significantly shortened – travel starts looking like sweet succor after hours of running along a dusty path. Being able to sit back and let the game take you to where you want to go sure is nice.

Of course, this can also cut out a lot of challenge from a game. For those of us who have played a certain MMO (and I’m assuming it’s nearly every last one of us), remember how convenient it was to be able to get to almost any main city or region by simply throwing a few silver pieces at the local griffon master and leaping across a comprehensive web of set flight paths, high above any potential danger on the way. It was quick, affordable, and provided you with a nice view for the length of the ride. Or how about even the ground paths themselves? Unless you were much too low level and had no business wandering through a certain zone, traveling on the beaten path was rarely a problem. Even on the PvP servers, where if you happened to be ambushed by an enemy and the odds weren’t on your side, escape was only a hearth stone or – in a worst case scenario – a graveyard away. Now that was some convenience. To hell with uncertain conditions and lurking danger; I’ll fight on my own time. Yes, like a tasty spoonful of mom’s homemade apple sauce, it really put me in the zone.

Now, sarcasm can sometimes be hard to type, even for a gent like me, so understand that I’m clearly bashing the level of comfort that said game provides its players. Yes, I remember looking forward to the release of WoW, like a kid waiting for Christmas morning. And I do recall giggling like a little girl when I bought the collector’s edition, complete with six months’ game time. But in the end, it was a gift that I soon came to loathe, like a Tickle-Me-Elmo that lost its appeal after I saw every other kid in school with one.

Anyway, enough with the cheesy metaphors and biased ranting – back to the topic at hand: When Claus explained Darkfall’s teleportation system, he suggested that it won’t be as easy to blink about the world like in other games. A shame, the days of luxurious pioneering seem to over. Teleportation will require a lot of planning, time and caution; the runes used for it will be subject to looting just like any other item, which means that you have to keep from getting killed if you want to be able to teleport anywhere. So it’s a given that players will be doing a lot of their traveling by foot or by mount and – from what we’ve been told – it’s a huge game world out there. Some don’t like that idea. Some will grow to hate it, for sure, and that’s just a fact of life. Over the years, humanity has been spoiled and pampered to the point where some would rather take a cab to their own backyard than walk. Ehm, well, you get the point…

That said, we know what we’re getting into when playing a game like Darkfall. And I mean the ‘we’ of us who want to play the game for the same reasons the developers wanted to create it. It’s a more realistic and dangerous – one could say challenging – game compared to the other, more player friendly ones. When it comes to any activity save maybe staying cooped up in a guarded city, you’ll be taking risks, and even travel starts to feel like a game itself when you face peril at every turn. Going from point A to point B won’t simply be an act of hitting the auto-run button and making sure you don’t jog off any cliffs. Delivering trade goods becomes a serious undertaking requiring maybe even the aid of a few guards or mercenaries. Or, at least, this is what we’ve been told.
Now, there are other ways to go about traveling without bumping into too many problems, but they, like any other investment, take time and materials to acquire. Ships are a great way to get from one (coastal) area to another, as you’ll find that most creatures and players will try to avoid chasing a target into the ocean. Of course, as we all know, no place on Agon is really safe – not even a boat at sea. Sure, you can lean over the starboard side of your vessel and taunt the seething groups of orks on the shore, but keep an eye out or next thing you know, you’ll be turning to face the cannon side of a pirate ship with naught but an oar in hand. On the other hand, a player skilled in stealth might be able to stow away on the same ship for a free ride. It all depends on your inclination. And the pirates’ ineptitude, I guess.

With Darkfall, no longer will players be able to do their homework or feed their pet snakes while hitting a preconfigured set of bound keys and grinding the evening away. To some gamers’ collective dismay, this game will require us to stay sharp, stay focused and actually play it. The things that will take time and effort will be the ones worth pursuing. The most clever and resourceful players will be rewarded not just for their skill points acquired, but for their own skill and smarts displayed. And if making a simple trip from one town to another is what needs to be done, then those who survive the journey will be the first to reap the benefits.

I won’t lie to you; I’m as impatient as the next guy and would choose instant gratification over hard work most of the time, but at the end of the day, an accomplishment is no accomplishment if it didn’t take an ounce of effort. There are limits to that rule, of course, and I’ll be the first to denounce repetitive grinding and farming as a worthwhile activity. Sometimes enough is simply enough.
I guess what I’m saying here is that the key to balancing fun and realism is hard to find, and also varies for each person. If done right, in any game, it can result in a memorable experience and years of dedicated gaming. If done any other way, things get old real fast. Personally, I look forward to immersing myself in a war torn medieval fantasy world where the dangers aren’t limited to blundering, randomly spawned murlocs or skeletons. Challenge is what makes a game fun. I say don’t spoon-feed us safety, even in measured doses. I say let the bandits, the ambushers, the pirates come try to spoil my voyage. Let them taste steel like all the others have. And if I happen to get my hands on one of those prized teleportation runes, I’ll guard it with my life.

This is the Darkfall I’m looking forward to, and I don’t think I’m alone in this. True, it won’t be for everyone, but them’s the breaks kids, and if you don’t like it, you can go play Ragnarok Online. Plenty of teleporting going on there.

-Darius Black

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