DARK AND LIGHT WANTS TO BE THE SURVIVAL GAME TO CONVERT FANTASY FANS
When the first teaser for Snail Games’ Dark and Light dropped in 2016, the initial response viewed it as The Witcher 3-meets-Ark: Survival Evolved. But while comparisons can be made to both, Dark and Light is very much trying to be its own beast; a survival RPG far less story-driven than The Witcher 3 yet far more forgiving than Ark.
“We want to find a good balance between the openness of the game, the sandbox nature, and also giving players an idea of what to do,” associate producer Jonathon Stebel told me during a recent visit to Snail Games’ Los Angeles office. “It’s daunting when you just get dropped into a world when you’re surrounded by hostile creatures and it’s pitch black out. It’s really hard to get into it, especially if you’re not already into that genre. We’re trying to figure out ways to still let players do whatever they want without having their hand held, but introduce new players to the genre who are coming from fantasy games: RPGs, MMOs.”
Dark and Light has evolved significantly since Snail purchased the IP 12 years ago. An earlier team was developing an MMO with “40,000 sq. km of explorable space,” but when that finished product didn’t come to fruition, it went through another evolution as a smaller MMO before finally entering its current form as a freeform survival game.
Snail Games designed Dark and Light so players could make the fantasy experience whatever they desired. You want to learn the 100-odd spells available in early access? You can do that. You want to focus on taming magical beasts, and learning how to transform into a dragon? You can do that too. You want to just dedicate your time to making other players’ lives a living hell in PvP servers? Go for it.
But because Dark and Light is so dependent on the player experience, it was really hard to get a full sense of the scale of its potential during a brief one hour demo session. It’s still very much in development, with some funky localization and work-in-progress elements; plus, much of the game will only be fully fleshed out once players actually get in to populate servers. When Dark and Light enters early access later this year, there will be PvP and PvE servers, with a goal of hosting 100 players per server. But Snail Games is also building toward players being able to host whatever server they want, to really form Dark and Light into the experience they want it to be.
“We just feel like [the survival genre is] the best way for players to get a real snailbox experience, which has always been Snails’ goal since Age of Wushu,” said Stebel. “We just want players to kind of be able to do whatever they want. There’s no skill cap in the game. You can have as many skills or as few as you want. There’s a super high level cap and allocatable stat points so you can sort of build your character however you want. The survival genre just allows itself to let players do anything: build bases, tame animals, kill each other.”
Dark and Light is set against a fantasy backdrop, and differs from other straightforward survival games in that it does have a base quest system. This is a world where civilization was forced from the planet of Gaia to the planet of Alpha after warring factions tried to summon a Dark Angel, destroying their home planet in the process. But there remains a magical connection between the two planets, causing aberrations on Alpha that periodically spawn dangerous creatures. The goal is to explore this new planet and claim the altars that connect it to Gaia, close off the connection between the two planets and, eventually, return to your home world.
While that is a rich source material, don’t expect a lot of supporting story in-game. There are three main factions in Dark and Light — Humans, Elves and Dwarves — and character creation can be any combination of races. The faction you choose determines your starting city and how you play the game, but the quest system will be the same for each. Essentially it’s your guide into how to play a survival game if it’s your first time picking up the genre. In-game, the quests will help players understand the lay of the land, though the development team is still determining whether they want to increase those narrative elements.
“We’re talking about whether or not we want to expand on that and create a huge narrative through the quests, or just let players do whatever they want. It’s tough to get started [in a survival game],” said Stebel. “We’re still trying to figure out if that’s something we really want to do.”
Stebel calls comparisons to The Witcher 3 “funny,” and thinks they’re mostly because Dark and Light’s base human model has the same hair style and general look as Geralt. “It’s fair in a sense, but Dark and Light really is its own thing,” he said of comparisons between the two games.
But as much as Dark and Light wants to welcome newcomers to the genre, Stebel believes the meat of the game for most players will be PvP. You can wage war against other players, team up to take down and tame massive creatures, and eventually become Lord of the City. Dark and Light is built in Unreal 4 with no FPS cap, so it’s meant to gear more toward hardcore survival gamers. Though still in development, the plan is for there to be plenty of longterm social PvP elements.
Still, Dark and Light isn’t aspiring to be as brutal as other survival games of its ilk, like Ark. You can’t drug players or drag them around, and there are systems in place to make the gameplay more forgiving. While you drop all your items every time you die and other players can loot you, there’s a respawn beacon over your corpse that only you can see that allows you to find yourself and potentially get your stuff back. Similarly, since you can potentially spend days and weeks breaking and taming a beast only to have someone else kill it, Snail is playing with a system now that will allow players to revive a creature if it dies — but, of course, at a very high resource cost.
Everything I got to see from Dark and Light was still a work and progress, and with only an hour to explore the vast world of Alpha, much of my time was spent on early quests, gathering hay and trying to create a weapon that would allow me to kill beasts and gain more experience and resources. But the potential of Dark and Light is as vast as its world, and based on what I’ve seen it’s doing the right things to offer an appealing experience for newcomers and longtime survival enthusiasts alike.
There are fun spells to play around with, like polymorphing into creatures and levitating objects to hurl at enemies, and secret areas to explore, like a labyrinthian underwater dungeon and mysterious floating islands. There’s the potential to trek across every inch of the world for hidden treasures, or settle down in a city and go into business as a landlord. Dark and Light is built on the promise that, even if you spend hours harvesting hay early in the game, you can divert your path to evolve this into whatever fantasy world you want it to be.
Stebel sums the game up succinctly by saying: “You’re going to die a lot, you’re going to lose all your stuff, and then, eventually, you’ll become a powerful wizard.” It won’t be for everyone, but Dark and Light is striving to appeal to the widest audience it can.
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