Darkfall Online (Darkfall 1) was at absolute best a cult game that attracted a tiny audience most of which refers to themselves as "hardcore". What Darkfall Online mostly boiled down to was a tremendous learning curve with a massive 3-6 month grindfest to get yourself to the point where you are able to compete in the games only worthy feature, clan driven wars and territory control. If you could stick it out long enough, get through the grind and abuse of being a newbie in a game that loves to kill newbies, Darkfall Online had a strong end game waiting for you. It was with this backdrop I went into Darkfall Unholy Wars and as such I really wasn't expecting to like it at all.
Hats off to the developer Aventurine for recognizing that while they had spark of brilliance in Darkfall 1's territory control and clan warfare mechanics, it wasn't enough to make it a worthy play for all but the most sadistically dedicated of gamers. Unholy War flips the table over and makes improvements in pretty much every single area of gameplay with a lot of very well thought out and rarely seen designs like the Prowess System, The Role Swapping System and most importantly clan based mechanics that allow both large and small clans to be competitive and have a place in the territory control mechanics.
I love this game for countless reason, at the top of that list however is the prowess system. One of the oldest and most dated methods of advancement is "use a skill, improve a skill" mechanics. On paper they make perfect sense and give the game a sense of realism and immersion, but in practice its effectively a system where the only way to get ahead is to use macros and AFK grind. It was like that in Ultima Online, Its like that In Mortal Online and it was like that in Darkfall 1. If you have to use macros and AFK grind with batteries carefully placed on a keyboard while you sleep to get that sneak skill up, its shit design. All games have a grind, but a good grind is one you don't need to actively persue and the prowess system allows this to happen.
With the prowess system you simply go do whatever it is you feel like doing and no matter what you do you will slowly gain prowess. When you gain that prowess you spend it on any skill, attribute or ability you like. You build the character the way you want, playing the game the way you want. Its pitch perfect and exactly how a game should be, designed to be played.. I haven't spent a single second in this game grinding anything. I go where I please, I do what I want.
The second thing I immiediatly fell in love with is the role-swapping system. No longer do you need to create "crafting alts" or "mage alts" in order to enjoy various aspects of the game. All the skills, All the abilities, all classes and all roles in those classes are available to you and your one character you will ever have to make. You can change your class and roles whenever you feel like it and as such you can develop your character for those swaps. This eliminates so many issues other MMO's have with alt characters, with missing core classes in groups and other like minded things. Need a healer.. no problem, swap your class and your a healer. Done! Lets rock. Again, a mechanic designed for play.
Finally the clan wars and territory control. Again I can't say enough about the systems involved. PvP in its own right is awsome. Its responsive, its tactical, its team based. It just works so well. Yet PvP is given a purpose with the territory control system, but unlike DF1 and many games like it (Mortal Online, Eve Online, Shadowbane... etc..) territory control and clan size aren't mutually exclusive. You don't need to be a huge clan to get involved, you don't even need to be in an alliance. The system is designed in such a way that any clan with a bit of smarts and timing can take command of a village or hamlet and while politics does sometimes play a role I love the fact that me and my 7 friends where able to form a clan and take territories on our own. This is possible do to a combination of a number of mechanics but also do to the fact that their are so many control points which include everything from small villages to large fortresses that even the largest clans can't hope to defend them all. Sure sometimes as a small clan you get over run, but PvP is always fun and truth be told, if they are defending that small village with all their forces someone is going to take advantage of it elsewhere on the map. The result is that the large clans focus on the larger cities and fortress while the smaller clans fight over villages and hamlets. It works really well and yet again is a design made for play.
There is so much more to say about the game including its awsome exploration of a vast and variety landscape (120 hours into the game In which I have spent most of my time exploring I have uncovered about 10% of the map). There is the great crafting system and the player driven economy that just works so well.. resources are hard to come by, people are careful about what they sell so competition is minimal but stiff, prices are high and this ensures people work for themselves. The ships and ship based mechanics are just fantastic, nothing like a sea based battle between two clans and two ships.
The game is just fun and yet despite that the game gets a lot of flak from its community but its worth mentioning that almost all negative reviews come from the DF1 community, this hardened and very sadistic cult following of a game that simply didn't work for most people. These people hate DF2 because its just not hardcore enough for them... they want a game to punish them, to be impossible to get into and to succeed it... they want this because they are willing to put in the thousand hours to get ahead.. most of us are not.
Cant recommend this game enough, one of the best PvP MMO's on the market today.