DarkBlood Online – Button-Bashing, Generation II
By Jake “Kibeth” Winters, OnRPG Journalist
As Outspark’s latest hack-and-slash acquisition, DarkBlood Online has set aside the usual MMO ‘meta’ in lieu of something quite unique. The days of mundane combat rotations and routines have been replaced with a frantic and action-packed button-basher.
Set in the world of Atarsia, your hero takes up arms against a demonic horde from another dimension. The war is bloody but humanity prevails and pushes the demons back to their hellish fortress. You, the hero – along with four allies – take the fight to the enemy. The last stand is fierce, and as the final sacrifice your allies decide the best thing to do would be to hurl your character five hundred years into the future. Landing in the small town of Elwood, it is your job to once again prepare for a new demonic invasion.
What passes for a ‘hero’ is quite unremarkable, however, and DarkBlood doesn’t seem to have pushed the boat out when it comes to character creation and diversity, with only four rather standardized classes available (each branching in two at level 20).
The Warrior serves as the high-damage melee class, able to use axes or swords to slice apart enemies whilst taking only moderate damage in return. They branch into the axe-wielding Breaker or the sword-swinging Berserker.
What Knights lack in offensive power they make up for in raw defense. Like the Warrior, they use melee combat along with a shield to pulverize enemies in a flurry of combo attacks. They branch into the mace-wielding Paladin or the sword-using Crusader.
Hunters fight from afar with bow and arrows. While defensively weak compared to Warriors and Knights, their ability to evade damage whilst attacking from afar make them dangerous combatants. They branch into the long-ranged Shooter, or the short-ranged Trickster.
Last – but certainly not least – are Mages, adept magic-users able to damage, debuff, or support allies from afar. While incredibly versatile, they lack defense and fight best at range. They can become the incredibly powerful Sorcerer or the more supportive Magician.
Sadly, the limited character creator does not end there. Characters are gender-locked, with Warriors and Hunters being male-only classes while Knights and Mages are female-only. The range of customizable hair and facial styles is slim, and both hair and clothing dyes are features only accessible later in the game.
Chest size is important for any female Hero. Right?
The initial tutorial shows you a high-powered character with all skills unlocked, and you are able to slaughter demons with ease. This teaser, however, lasts mere minutes and post-tutorial you wake up naked and without skills in Elwood. Everything past this point feels like a bit of a drag, and the story is incredibly slow to start. The most glaring flaw is just how hard the game is to lose yourself in. The test of a good, immersive game is looking at the clock and seeing that nine hours have passed without you realizing, as you sit in your underwear wondering what you’re doing with your life; or maybe that’s just some of us. Either way, DarkBlood certainly does nothing of the sort.
The button-mashing combat makes a change from the drab hotkey and rotation styles of other MMOs.
Quests don’t feel like they have a purpose: kill some bears; rescue an NPC; kill some rabid monkey-eating zombie donkeys; it just doesn’t have a story line. The only way to see the story is by looking at the supporting website, and even that feels like a mish-mash of 4 AM semi-intoxicated ideas put directly into print. DarkBlood struggles with translation issues, and that mixed in with poorly worded NPC dialogue makes the game hard to play at times out of sheer frustration. Even the quests that do work are often monotonous, with half of them simple ‘delivery’ or ‘talk to’ quests despite the second NPC standing right next to the first.
And on the topic of immersion: loading screens! Nobody likes loading screens, and while some games rule the market beautifully by being able to keep the world dynamic (World of Warcraft, for instance), you’ll be hard pressed if you don’t see a loading screen or game pause every 30 seconds on DarkBlood. Elwood is split into five or six different zones all separated by an annoying interval, and every dungeon is equally fragmented; it feels like the game was designed for a handheld console like a PSP rather than a desktop computer.
Welcome to Elwood, otherwise known as Loading Screen City.
The actual dungeons themselves work quite well, and have been designed to cater for solo players or larger groups. Because each dungeon has a range of difficulties (with rewards being scaled up for harder content) it can sometimes be worthwhile running the same dungeon a number of times for the sake of loot. With that said, the number of dungeons is actually quite small and many of them look very similar; that on top of quests sending you to the same place four of five times means that dungeons become incredibly repetitive.
For all of its flaws, DarkBlood does look and feel incredibly fun when you actually get stuck into a fight. The graphics – while a little lacklustre – look very arcade-esque, with damage numbers and combo counters exploding across the screen.
Dungeons are ranked from SSS to D. Higher scores mean better rewards.
Combat is the game’s biggest selling point, and it does away wonderfully with the days of repetitive hotkeys. Hotkeys are available, of course, but the combat is often so rapid that you find yourself hitting whatever button lights up without thinking too tactically. Indeed, slamming one’s head against the keyboard probably would have the same result as actually trying to build a rotation. Not that the game is ‘faceroll’, per se, and some dungeons offer challenges that take overly confident players by surprise. For more experienced players, the game can also be played like a beat-em-up, with certain combinations of arrows keys and button presses executing skills rather than simple hotkeys. Players brave enough to fight using this method are rewarded with significant mana cost reductions, adding another level of difficulty (and reward) to a game that already boasts so much varied content.
Aside from facerolling dungeons, a large part of combat is DarkBlood’s PvP community and ranking ladder. PvP players like a beat-em-up (think Street Fighter or Tekken on a 3D plane), and this is a step-up from the already exciting dungeon running. Not that the game can’t be played without PvP, but with so much focus on competitive play, anybody avoiding it might as well only be playing half a game.
Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A. Oh wait, wrong game.
A shout out should be given to the other game features including the Auction House, an achievement system, and a weapon and armor ‘reinforcement’ system. None of these are particularly spectacular, however, and seem to be available in most new MMOs. DarkBlood also offers ‘life skills’ (akin to ‘jobs’ or ‘professions’ of other MMOs), and these allow players to craft unique ‘avatar’ items that can be equipped on top of equipment to change character appearance. These avatar items can also be affixed with gems, which are found in numerous places including – unsurprisingly – the cash shop.
Some of the less loved features include ‘stress’, DarkBlood’s way of stopping players from playing too much. Each game activity (such as dungeons) raises a character’s stress, and reaching the cap severely hinders further gameplay. While some might argue that this helps to combat botters and keep the ‘hardcore’ players from getting too far ahead, the system feels archaic and more of a hindrance than a help.
DarkBlood isn’t a bad game, really. Anybody looking for something to dive into for a few minutes here and there might enjoy the lack of immersion without getting overly tired of the repetitive dungeons. Its arcade-style combat and button-bashing, high-paced PvP certainly shine through the grim hotkey-and-repeat style of other MMOs. While the story is lacking, it doesn’t ruin the game and DarkBlood still has enough to offer to make the game worth trying. Accounts are free so why not sign up. While you’re there, why not check out OnRPG’s latest video review of the game too.