A player about to stab another player in the back in the ruthless world of DarkScape. Image: Jagex

We Found Civility on the 'Lord of the Flies' of MMO Servers

'DarkScape' helps us remember what we found so attractive about the genre's emphasis on working with other players in the first place.

Oct 15 2015, 12:30pm

A player about to stab another player in the back in the ruthless world of DarkScape. Image: Jagex

Stepping out of an early dungeon in DarkScape, a massively multiplayer online game (MMO) that allows almost any other player to kill another, I found someone my level hacking up my torso with seeming glee. Suddenly she backed up and stopped.

"I'm so sorry!" she said. "I misclicked!"

It's the kind of mistake that happens often in DarkScape, so I forgive her, but there is a certain type of player I'd always wanted to kill in an MMO. They're the gold sellers, the annoying temporary characters with throwaway names like "Awgwsadf" who hawk ads for in-game currency in exchange for real-world cash.

In DarkScape, they huddle in little clusters around the marketplaces in towns like Lumbridge, where non-player character (NPC) guards protect them when other players try to kill them. I tried it anyway. I ran to the nearest one, sword crashing down on the back of his skull, and a level 132 guard stepped over and cut me down like a twig beneath his boot. The damn gold seller kept hawking his wares as though I'd never been there at all.

It's been just under a month since developer Jagex released DarkScape, which shares many assets with the normal, safer version of the 14-year-old RuneScape. Sometimes you play an MMO and you just want to murder another player. DarkScape lets you do that, which is exciting, but so far it's more civil than you'd expect.

The part of town where gold sellers hang out. Imagine: Jagex

In fact, a month in, a good number of players seem to live by an ad-hoc code, which contrasts sharply with reports of mass slayings at the spawn-in points for new characters during the game's launch last month. Now that the novelty of killing newbie players where they spawn has worn off, there's a touch of civility mingled in with the chaos.

I once saw a roving band of high-level players in the lawless zones as I attempted a run from one bank to another with a fairly low-level hero, only to watch them pass within combat distance without so much as glancing at me.

"Cheers," one said as they trotted by, leaving me thankful for the mercy.

DarkScape tries to foster greed and villainy by having three separate "Grand Exchanges" where players can sell goods. Each one corresponds to world zones with either low, medium, or high threat. The higher the threat, the more lax rules are about who players can attack. Items you can pick up in one zone can be very profitable in another zone, but since DarkScape blocks teleports that instantly transport players across the map if you have literally anything in your inventory, you're going to have to hoof it if you want your goods transported to a different market.

The idea, Jagex hopes, is that this type of environment will lead to the kind of communities you find in the space-themed EVE Online, where players protect other players as they shuttle goods from one area to another in the hopes of greater profits. Other players could protect others with high mining skills as they work, and both would hopefully reap the rewards when it comes time to sell the goods.

It's an interesting idea that's meant to create a world of cutthroat capitalists, with fleeting alliances for profit and betrayal, but a lot of the trouble I ran into was by accident, like the player who attacked me when she misclicked.

The problem with DarkScape is that everyone misclicks. DarksScape relies on RuneScape's legacy model, which means that combat, interaction, and movement all rely on clicking your left mouse button somewhere on the screen. Mistakes happen, and happen frequently in crowded areas. It doesn't help that DarkScape's incessant lag leaves most encounters looking like stop-motion animation even in the low traffic hours of the early morning.

This leads to unnecessary frustration. Consider the time I finally reached the bank in a high risk zone with a piddly stash of resources in tow, and I accidentally clicked on another player who ran in front of me. Down came my sword, down came the guards to chop me down for attacking another citizen, and down went my stash on the ground for the taking. All that work, and for nothing.

As much as such encounters suck, I can't deny DarkScape's overall appeal. MMOs have grown too soft in recent years out of an attempt to hold on to dwindling populations amid an oversaturated variety of games. In its callousness, DarkScape helps us remember what we found so attractive about the genre's emphasis on working with other players in the first place.

The very chance of doing away with botters and gold sellers has an appeal of its own. To that end, I'm going to spend the next few weeks toughing out the leveling experience and building up my skills high enough to shrug off the guards.

After that, Awgwsadf, I'm coming for you.