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Platform: PC Publisher: Nexon
Genre: MMORPG Developer: Nexon
Format: Donwload Only Client Released: 2003


Review
3/27/03
Brian Cavner
Brian Cavner

Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) have never quite been my forte. But since having the opportunity to sit down and play a few of them, I have started to find the appeal. I enjoy playing RPGs, and the concept of being able to play with hundreds or even thousands of other people from all places across the globe is quite an enticing concept. If playing RPGs is fun, and playing games with other people is fun, then playing RPGs with other people must be double the fun.

At least, that's how it would work in theory. Unfortunately only the good MMORPGs look and play like normal RPGs. The bad ones are nothing more than glorified chat rooms that you pay for. My experience with Dark Ages Medenia has shown to me that it is not only a bad MMORPG, but a bad chat room at that. The game is most certainly the prime example of everything to do wrong in a MMORPG and even more so a pointer on how to leach the fun out of an RPG.

Fun and deep…but then again, so is a spiked mallet to the face

I tried hard to get into the game, I really did. But not only did the character I was playing have no life, no story, and no personality, but the world in which he wandered was totally bland and lifeless. I tried in vain to spark conversation in some NPCs, but most would either try to sell me a very small list of what appeared to be totally useless items or would implore me to go on some inane quest for no apparent reason. Then, even worse, upon finishing the quest I would be rewarded with experience or an item of seemingly little worth without so much as a thank you. As boring and cliché plots like, "Please find the potion so I can heal my dying father!" are, I would much prefer one of them over, "Gather sticks, please". Why do you want me to gather sticks, you strange man? And why on earth do you deem that a slime mold is a suitable prize? Oh I know, because a slime mold happens to be exactly what I need for my next fetch quest.

And this brings me to one of the worst features of Dark Ages. I could not find a single quest that wanted more of me than to gather some mystery item from some random location. These simple fetch quests were not hidden in fancy prose or even by a shallow back story, it was simply gather object A to earn object B that you give to another person for object C, and so on and so on. This might be fun if it were not for the fact that even normal, mundane life had more depth to it. I play games to escape reality, not to be plunged into something even more boring and pointless.

Even worse is the fact that these fetch quests are difficult. Not figure-out-a-puzzle difficult. Not even slay-the-mighty-dragon difficult. These quests are difficult simply due to the human factor; they are so frustrating and boring that you are not willing to devote any time at all to trying to find whatever item it is. Let me give you an example: One of the very first quests in the game asked me to gather sticks. I was told that the sticks were located to the south of the inn. After a few minutes of wandering and asking around, I finally discovered the inn. It then took me about ten minutes to discover that south actually means right, not down as one would think. After that, it took me a lot of wandering and frustration to finally discover that "south" means mostly east. After finally gathering the sticks and bringing them back, I am told to gather some random item and told that they are usually on a certain creature. I asked around for the location of the creature. When I was finally told, I had to continue to ask around for directions to the place. Eventually I got there and discovered that, not only was the cave I had entered packed to the brim with adventurers just like myself, but the creature that I was hunting was so rare that simply finding it would be a chore. Frustratingly enough, there were so many people surrounding me that almost every time I actually found one, someone had already beaten me to it. When I was finally able kill one of my own, I learned the harsh truth that dropping the item I needed was an extremely atypical occurrence. Half an hour of aimless wandering later, I finally got the item I needed.

My original quest giver tells me that I need to use the item in a field full of wolves to lure them away from the cows. Simple logic will tell me that the wolves are probably causing a problem for the cow herders of the village, but it would be nice to be told exactly why such a massive quantity of wolves was penned in with the cows in the first place and how luring them half a screen away from the cows would do anything. But, nevertheless, I did it anyway. I dropped in the corner opposite the cows as instructed (which was quite a chore given the amount of corners in that pen) and returned to the original quest master who refused to acknowledge that I had done anything. And to my horror, the item that I had dropped was gone. Back to the cave go I to try to get a second one. Believe it or not, it was much harder to get the item this time.

Two hours to complete the very first quest in the game only to earn an item that was exactly the same as one I had already found? And it did not stop there. To my sheer enjoyment, each and every quest I encountered after then was plagued with the same problems. It might have been a little bit more bearable if I had any clue the direction that I was supposed to go in. Maybe, oh I don't know, one of the NPCs should point me in the right direction? Heck, one of them could even tell me to go south when they actually mean east, as long as they would tell me something. But it looked like another few hours of mindless wandering was in store for me.

Dark Ages totally lacks any story at all. Even if the story was bad it would at least show some attempt to entertain the players, but it seems like Nexon would rather flip an obscene gesture at their players and force them to fend for themselves.

Mediocrity is unattainable...We'll settle for substandard

Dark Ages had a good idea in the fact that they force character interaction. In order to succeed in the game, you must be in close communication with the other players in the world. In theory, this concept would work marvelously and all the players would coexist in harmony and help each other. In practice, everyone is too busy leading their own lives to stop and care about yours. All the fun things that were promised with heavy character interaction simply were not there. Maybe I just tried to make friends with the wrong people. But when it seems as if every player has a virtual stick up their virtual butt, a good player community cannot possibly be made.

When you start the game, you are considered a peasant. Then at any time during the game, you pick a player to become your guide and you then become his or her class. Of course, you will have likely picked a favorite class and simply find a player of that class to become your guide. So what is the point of this system? It is a mighty good way to feign player cooperativeness.

After asking around for a long time, I eventually found someone who was willing to "guide" me in the ways of the wizard. We did our little ritual, I was proclaimed a wizard, and he left never to be seen again. Maybe he was supposed to teach me what to do or something, but I found myself lost. It was only through a series of cryptic and random hints from other players that I eventually figured out what I was supposed to be doing as a wizard. Dark Ages obviously expects players to teach one another how to play properly, which is evident by their total lack of any sort of informative help menu or tutorial. Unfortunately most players I encountered would rather watch me flop around and laugh with their in-game buddies.

Players can choose between the classes of warrior, wizard, priest, rogue, or monk. All five of which enjoy a linear set of abilities, most of which are simply clones of the other skills that are found in the other paths. The only real point I found to class selection was a different coat that you receive upon taking that class. Other than that, the variety just was not there.

One might assume that the class you take would affect how you would build your character. Upon leveling, you are given three points to distribute among your statistics any way you see fit. Unfortunately, since there was absolutely no explanation as to what each statistic is, I just had to blindly assign points. Since I had plans to become a wizard, I gave emphasis to intelligence and wisdom. Much to my enjoyment, I discovered that the spells that I could buy could only be used if I had gained a certain number of points in given statistics. Furthering my sheer joy was the fact that all the spells I discovered required high levels of strength, dexterity, and constitution. Well, it looks like I will have to level quite a bit more times before I could start using spells. Me and my poor little wizard self continued to mindlessly hack and slash at the same old enemies for a few days until I finally earned the statistics necessary to purchase my first spell. It took me about 15 swipes of my dagger totaling in about five successful hits to defeat an enemy. With my newfound magical prowess, I should be able to decimate them in no time.

Shock and rage ensued when I realized it took seven castings of my fire spell to fell a single rat. The rage was replaced with deathly frustration when I noted that, due to the amount of lag between one spell and the next, it took me almost twice the time to kill an enemy using magic. Of course, your magic spells gain levels with use, but the amount of improvement is so miniscule that it barely warrants destroying all will to live by endlessly casting the same spell over and over only to watch your opponent shrug off the attack as if you were a mage reject from the worst magic school in the country.

It took me forever to figure out how to make money, days pass before I could actually gain a level, I am still not quite sure that I understand the rather haphazard method for distributing your stat points, and I spent far too long leveling up my poor fire to a strength which rivaled my mighty dagger. Dark Ages thrives on forcing the players into hours of level building, statistic calculating, and skill rising. Last I checked these were the parts of RPGs that people dreaded. Yet this game insists on revolving around them.

I can take a nonexistent story and a mound of threaded and boring fetch quests as long as playing the game is somewhat fun. But when the game is not fun and there seems to be neither a point to your progression nor any consequences for your actions, you begin to ponder exactly why you are submitting yourself to such bland torture. The boring parts of even a mediocre RPG contain more enjoyment than the brightest spots of Dark Ages.

Freeze scenery! Don't move!

I get to take a break now from my complaining to only mild grumbling. At least Dark Ages is able to provide something here that most other games lack. It is true that the graphics of this game are not horrible, but they are really nothing to gawk at either.

The highlight of the graphics comes in the fact that the scenery is vivid, colorful, and diverse. Almost every area seems to have an entirely different palette, and each one is bright and exciting. While many caves and dungeons fall prey to an overuse of brown and grey, many locations enjoy a wide array of colors. While the entire game may look like something that could be found in a Gameboy or a Super Nintendo game, at least it looks like a pretty decent one.

Unfortunately these colors are put to waste. Characters and enemies move, but everything else is entirely static. While I could forgive stationary water in fountains in the early NES days, it gets harder and harder for me to buy a 'frozen fountain' in an era of games that can so realistically portray water that you can scarcely believe that it is fake. Trees do not sway, waves do not crash, grass does not rustle, and I am not impressed. I would take simple animation that uses only two or three frames over totally static surroundings. I feel like I am wandering around in death. The game does not entertain me at all, so at least try to incorporate some graphics that can.

Back on the plus side of things, though, it is nice that there is such a wide variety of character looks possible. Because your face, skin color, hair, and hair color are all selectable, there is a nice, wide variety of characters in the game. In addition, because each piece of equipment is realistically portrayed on the character avatar as you wear it, there is quite a large number of different looks to achieve. Now if only the characters animated well?/p>

The graphics of Dark Ages are definitely its highest point. Unfortunately, the graphics are not that good. This should definitely tell you something about the quality of the game in other areas.

Shh...I can hear my teeth grinding

Some PC games decided to give you the ability to play MP3s within the game so that you could enjoy your favorite music while playing. This is an option I never chose to use simply due to the fact that I often enjoy the immersion created by the ambient music in a game. Unfortunately, Dark Ages does not give me this choice. Instead, it is my music or nothing.

That's right. There is literally NO music to be found in Dark Ages. I tried playing the soundtracks from other RPGs in the background, but to my surprise, it did not make the game any better.

While lack of music is certainly a stupid decision on any front, it is more forgivable than the lack of any sound effects. Because, you guessed it, Dark Ages foregoes sound effects as well. Well, perhaps that was a slight overstatement. Swinging my dagger does make a noise, but this is the only sound effect that I have been able to discover so far. One. One sound effect. In the entire game. One. No, I'm sorry; this just does not work with me.

Maybe the decision to not include music or sound was done in order to focus more attention on making the game itself fun. However, since Dark Ages isn't, I guess that hypothesis goes out the window. Nexon may as well have had a continuous "F--- you" looping in the background, because the decision to be so lazy as to not care about the audio part of a game says just this to me.

It's like playing a game in mittens

Fetch quests are not fun. Boring gameplay slaughters any hope of enjoyment. Static imagery makes me feel as if I am in an empty world. Lack of sound and music further heightens this feeling. What could make it all worse? Well, an irritating interface and a frustrating control scheme, of course.

There are far too many gross oversights and mind-numbing errors in the interface to pick apart each one piece by piece. Should I pick on the fact that there seems to be no explanation whatsoever as to what each of the buttons in your interface do? Might I complain about the inclusion of a gem that changes color and seems to allude to something, but it never explained and just takes up space? Shall I point out the menus that insist on opening and making themselves a hassle to navigate or even close? I cannot even figure out where to begin there is so much wrong. The interface of Dark Ages is like trying to look through a pair of dirty spectacles. Perhaps if there was something nice to look at on the other side I would try a bit harder, but Dark Ages makes me want to do nothing more than take their blasted spectacles off never to don them again.

To make matters worse, the control is unintuitive, gummy, slow, and a pain to learn and use. Even walking around is a hassle, and given that it is impossible to turn to face a direction, you are often left straggling behind an enemy as you struggle in vain to attack it while it simply moves away from you. In addition, it seems like there is a half second delay before each command is actually executed; meaning that you move around in ways that you don't intend to and are often left swinging at empty space long after the monster has wandered away. The entire system of controlling Dark Ages can only be described and sluggish and jerky. They make a frustrating game even worse as you struggle to direct your character.

Then things managed to get worse. The collision detection of Dark Ages makes movement in crowded areas simply unbearable. Due to the half second delay, it is nearly impossible to prevent crashing into a player character. And when you do collide, both you and the other player are shifted one square back from where you collided. Often because you are engaged in movement, you will continuously fight for the same square until one or both of you realize you are not getting anywhere. Often times this means that both of you will wait for the other one to move and, upon noticing that they are waiting for you, both move in concert to claim the same space again. I have had to fight with the controls on many, many occasions to try to work my way around another player. In even worse cases when multiple players are involved, you can expect to waste a great deal of time as you continuously move forward and are pushed backward again and again and again.

And surprisingly, it continues to get even worse. If a character is stationary when you collide with him or her, only you are pushed backward and the other character remains in the same spot. This is not so much a hassle until you realize that when paths are typically only two squares wide, that two characters can totally impede your progress if they decide to stand still. In addition, a single person can stand in one area and make it absolutely impossible for you to enter a building. And with the high number of people who seem to idle in the game, this could get irritating fast. There is nothing worse than having an entire area inaccessible just because one player cannot find it in his heart to move for you. Is this an oversight on Nexon's part? Perhaps, and I may have forgiven it if it was the only error. But given that there are so many things wrong with the controls, I can only imagine that they just don't care.

The bottom rung

The amount of problems with Dark Ages that I did not have the opportunity to cover irritates me. I simply could not find enough room to list and discuss all of the blatant problems in what I consider to be the worst MMORPG I have ever played. Dark Ages lacked any appeal to me and seemed to make my experience even less fun than the alternative of starting at a blank screen for hours. At least my black monitor would not irritate and frustrate me with the amount of problems that plague Dark Ages and turn it into a festering hole.

I cannot find it in my heart to recommend this game to anyone. Those who have never played an MMORPG and are looking for a place to start should not consider Dark Ages. In addition, even those who are diehard fans of the genre should pass. There are absolutely no redeeming qualities to Dark Ages whatsoever and the game has accumulated more wasted hours from me than any RPG in recent memory. If I can dissuade just one person from subjecting themselves to this torture, then my pain and suffering was worth it. Pass on this game. Definitely pass.



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© 2003 Nexon, All Rights Reserved.
Graphics: 64%
Sound: 2%
Gameplay: 59%
Control: 49%
Story: 48%
Overall: 44%

Reviews Grading Scale

Click to Enlarge
The colors of Dark Ages are bright, colorful, and varied...
 
Click to Enlarge
...however, things that should move, like this fountain, are static.
 
Click to Enlarge
The irritating interface makes the game frustrating to play.
 
Click to Enlarge
It is next to impossible to move properly in a crowded area.
 
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