My first impression of the gameplay is that this game is in need of "new user experience" triage. I'm more resistant than a casual player (hey, I played Everquest and Ultima Online near their releases, so I've experienced unforgiving worlds), but I can see how this game could very quickly turn away potential subscribers.
Expanding on that... I spent my first 15 minutes in the world (after reading tips and hints), looking for something to kill. I covered a lot of ground at a very slow pace, and during this time I came across a Fox and a few rats. "No way," I thought to myself, "am I going to be killing rats in my first minutes of a newer MMO..."
Well, I tried. I hit the rat once, and then it erratically fled from me, not only over open ground, but through architecture, terrain, and up obscenely steep hills that we were both somehow able to climb. After about three minutes of pursuit and missed attacks, I ran out of stamina or whatever it may be called that allowed me to do so. Next, I attacked a fox, and we immediately began acting out the scene I'd had with the rat. Later, I attacked another rat... I hit it twice, but it got away.
I'd like to note that at no time was I in danger. But, I think I prefer danger and being able to kill something because it fights me, over perpetual pursuit of a creature that does not result in my victory.
Well, after a while, I finally found a camp of goblins. I only noticed them because, as I was trundling around the wilds, I started taking hits from arrows whose trail/arc were coming from... inside, or perhaps behind, a rock. I engaged the goblin as I was happy to have an actual fight at last.
I killed him. Then four of his friends jumped in, and I laid into a shaman. But alas, my extensive sprinting over the landscape (because going at walk speed is fairly unbearable, but hey I gained quite a few points towards... mastering running) had left me with only enough stamina to kill the first goblin, hurt the second, and then get beaten into the earth.
At this point a meter of some sort came up, and I figured it was my "time until I regain consciousness" bar. Instead, it turned out to be a bar that when it has filled, you have finally died, and are treated to a loading screen and a trip back to your bind.
I was a bit irritated that I had laid there for so long hoping to get up, only to have, I supposed, bled out.
My first impression of the art is that the art direction seems a bit uninspired. Bluntly, I'd say it's generic fantasy. Metal, tusks, fur, shiny armor, all the usual. Very little stylization to be had, or at least noticed. Everything pretty much looks like you'd expect it to.
In short, so far, the game is "overwhelming", in the sense that you really aren't given a purpose as you log in for the first time, and thus don't really know where to go, or what to do. It's not a feeling that I dislike, but it's something that I know many people are intolerant of.
As far as the "first log in experience" goes, I'd rate this below the first time that I logged into Everquest and Ultima Online - at least those games had me laughing at the sheer comedy of my situation... things like "What the crap, I can't see at night!", as I ran smack into danger. Or wandered off deep into the a forest and was harried by a Mongbat that I could scarcely see on my faded old monitor.
Those two experiences had one thing in common however; despite my pitfalls, I managed to do some things right. Darkfall thus far has made me feel like I am doing absolutely nothing right and that I deserve to be punished for my ignorance.