Over the past few days I’ve been sinking my teeth into the Das Tal alpha test. And it’s been fantastic – not because the game is anywhere near launch ready but because the groundwork is laid for an incredible and innovative MMORPG. This is a game that turns combat, player interaction, and leveling on its head. It resembles multiplayer survival games like Rust and ARK: Survival Evolved combined with a two dimensional combat mashup of League of Leagues and Guild Wars. Unfortunately, while Das Tal evokes a refreshing blend of many successful multiplayer games, it falls short of delivering a great multiplayer experience. But it’s just an alpha test, and after playing it I’m excited to see where this game ends up next year. Believe me, that’s not something I say very often about alpha tests.
Das Tal advertises itself as the MMO where MOBA meets sandbox. Character movement is controlled via WASD instead of a mouse typically used in top-down MOBAs like League of Legends. At first I wasn’t a fan, but combat turned out to be slower paced than expected. The WASD controls allowed for more precise attacks, which is critical for oh so many reasons.
First, there are no auto attacks in Das Tal. Every attack must be manually aimed. Lining up an attack, especially a ranged shot, can be difficult between all of the character movements. Second, all abilities hit all targets in an area whether foe, friend, or self. This really takes positioning to the next level. One of my favorite PvP fights was against a mage channeling a healing aura. I blinked into his aura, stayed close, and let him drain his energy on healing both of us. Without any remaining energy for abilities, my opponent fell easily. All of the positioning and manual aiming makes combat rather challenging in a group. Or at least, I assume it would. Das Tal’s group support is absolutely abysmal at this stage and is one of the game’s biggest flaws.
As far as I can tell, there is no way to actually form a group with other players. You can’t trade directly with them either. Really, the only way you can interact with another player is to attack them. It’s incredibly frustrating to find players willing to cooperate who simply can’t because the game doesn’t allow for it.
Throughout the game world, resource points spawn which can be claimed and contested by players. These points, along with enemy drops, are the only source for materials needed to level up, craft new gear, increase abilities, and advance your character in any way. Thus, one might feel that grouping up to secure these resources would be a smart survival strategy. In Das Tal, the only way to facilitate that is to let one person claim the points, split the loot manually, and then drop it on the ground. This isn’t 1998. These features are simply not optional for an MMORPG of any kind. Das Tal must create mechanics that not only encourage grouping, but actually allow it. History has shown that everyone is a target in an open, survival PvP MMO. If players can’t band together to survive then it’s going to be a sad, lonely road to /uninstall.
Clans are supposed to serve as the primary social interaction. Events seem to run frequently and territories lay in wait to be conquered, all of which serve as endgame content. While that’s great, I ascribe to the belief that the core gameplay elements must first and foremost be enjoyable, clan or no. It’s also worth noting that individuals in a clan will conquer resource points for their clan instead of themselves. I believe this allows anyone in the clan access to the resource point’s loot. So that’s sort of a way to group, but it’s like asking me to get married on the first date.
Where resource spawns succeed is in creating dynamic focus points to engage players with one another and/or against local mobs. Every few minutes, messages display alerting the player of a nearby resource spawn, with each unique area providing distinct resources. So if multiple players want obsidian to craft a better staff, the scarcity of spawns will create natural conflict. The winner after five minutes of this king of the hill battle will earn solo access to loot the resource point. Of course, Das Tal offers full looting of player’s corpses so sometimes the real danger doesn’t begin until trying to store one’s glittering prizes. The player’s stash is the only place safe from antagonistic interference.
Speaking of which, the stash is a very strange device. There are many potential stashes littered throughout the world’s makeshift towns, but a player can only store items in one of them at a time. This gives off a nomadic vibe, as players must constantly seek new homes in search of higher quality resources and better skill trainers. And the full risk of a nomadic lifestyle comes with it as players can lose all of their items transporting them to a new stash. You can imagine my surprise when I first found this out, trying to drop off some loot in a place far away from my home base. Luckily, I didn’t encounter any aggressive players on the road to town. In town was a different story.
While trying to stow away my inventory (the managing of which is rather cumbersome), I discovered that absolutely nowhere is safe in Das Tal. Another player, hidden in a bush, assaulted me. I managed to dance around long enough to store everything, but the writing on the wall was clear for such a feature. I’m not looking forward to the griefers’ inevitable camping of stash spots if the current system remains in place. Small safe zones simply must exist for players to craft, manage items, and talk without fearing death. I love the tension that Das Tal’s open rule set creates, but tension is only fun with an even ebb and flow. Constant tension does not make good game design.
My other complaints were pretty minor. Some resources spawned in inaccessible points. Level notifications took up too much real estate when they popped up in battle. Players were oddly split between two servers, despite relatively low populations. The insane frequency of mob spawning often frustrated when simply trying to loot the last five dead mobs. The benefits of each increased ability level are completely unclear. Visuals, sound effects, and animations reminded me frequently that I was testing an alpha product. But despite all of that, Das Tal exhibits a certain charm that many of today’s top MMOs lack.
Player levels don’t matter that much and only serve as a maximum power mark. What really matters is the ability levels of the selected weapons and armor skills, which combined act as the player’s class. Like Guild Wars, players are limited to equipping only a select number of abilities (up to 10). This creates no shortage of decision making when building a synergistic skill set. I spent most of my time wielding a staff and switching armor between robes and leather. Both armor types felt different, fun, and viable. It’s the perfect trinity. Learning and advancing skills requires particular resources but never felt like a grind because of the skill based combat, player threat, and frequency of drops. The best thing I can say about my experience during Das Tal’s alpha is that it felt rewarding.
Das Tal is not going to be a mega popular hit. Its hardcore, open world PvP will appeal to a niche audience. But that’s not something MMORPGs should shy away from. The days of a one size fits all MMORPG are long gone, with nearly every online title including some form of MMO gameplay. Das Tal realizes this and never tries to misrepresent itself as something it’s not. The only question is whether they can create a system that is still fun for weaker, newer, or clanless players.
Those interested in the game can still try it out for a few more days. Registered users can get a free Das Tal alpha key from mmorpg.com. The alpha test runs through the end of the week. If you’re reading this too late for that, first you should follow us on Twitter. Second, you can visit the Das Tal website to sign up for future alpha tests.