The term MMORPG was rapidly becoming synonymous with 'Buggy, rushed release'. Everquest and Ultima Online both had very rocky launches comprised of lag, bugs and exploits. The now infamous WWII Online and Anarchy Online releases have become cautionary tales that developers tell their children at night. Mix into these poor launches customer bases who not only shelled out the $50 for the game, but also the $9.95 - $12.95 monthly fees and you've got yourself a small scale riot ready to break.
Experienced online game developer, Mythic Entertainment, stepped into this minefield with the launch of Dark Age of Camelot. DAoC was immediately set apart from its predecessors by being easy to install with solid game play right from the get-go. While not a complete game when launched (it is constantly being patched), its rock-solid stability and impressive initial content helps DAoC stand out from its competitors.
This review may not fit properly in the standard form for XPD8.net reviews...what can I say? I'm the new guy!
DAoC is a step up from Everquest and Asheron's Call visually. The wilderness gives each realm much of its character and at times can be quite beautiful (or intimidating). Weather effects are good, with rain beginning slowly and building up into a storm with the requisite loss of visibility before fading. The sun sets with a fiery red and orange display while the moon rises accompanied by a skyful of stars. However, the graphics aren't so stunning that the next generation of MMORPG won't be visibly more impressive.
Character features aren't as diverse as in a game like Anarchy Online, but with a reasonable selection of faces and hair styles, you won't likely look like everyone else on the server. To help offset this, armor can be dyed all sorts of colors while guilds can choose guild colors and emblems to help set themselves apart as a group.
Spell effects range from fabulous (Albion Theurgists come to mind) to bland (Midguard's Skald class). The existing creature base is excellent and there are some wandering monsters that truly startle new players. However, there seems to be a lack of unique models and as you explore the landscape, you'll find many models re-used. Mythic has been patching like crazy to add new skins and new models, so facelifts will inevitably be added.
You'll need a pretty hefty video card and system to pull off DAoC at a decent frame rate - a GEForce is recommended.
Sound is a weak spot in DAoC as the limited soundtrack can get annoying. The music itself is great and fits the mood and areas well, but the same songs over and over can drive even the biggest of fans nutty. The monster sounds range from excellent to purely annoying and, much like the models, oftentimes get re-used across many similar looking species. Hopefully in a future patch, Mythic will add some variety to their sounds.
In the Interface section, I'm going to talk about the basics of the game (location, setting, characters, etc.), so read on:
Dark Age of Camelot is a fantasy game loosely set in post-Arthurian era Europe and features three distinct realms for a player to choose: the craggy Norse-like Midgard; the green Celtic Hibernia; and the forested Albion representing the British Isles. Races are specific to each realm and range from the giant-sized: Trolls of Midgard and Firbolgs of Hibernia; the diminutive: Norse Kobolds and Celtic Lurikeens; and the classics: Midgardian Dwarves and Hibernian Elves. Being the level-headed folk that they are, the Albions are all human (although of different locales and races).
The fact that there are three separate realms is the first thing that sets DAoC apart from its competitors. Once you choose a realm you are restricted from playing any other realm on that server. This is to prevent cross-teaming and spying, as Realm versus Realm warfare is a very real aspect of this game. There are, at the time of this writing, 17 different servers to choose from (including the test server) so as long as you don't mind bouncing between servers, you will be able to get a taste for each realm (just not on the same server).
To Role-play or not to play?
There is a constant war in the MMORPG community raging between power gamers and role players, with the casual gamer caught in the crossfire. To (over)simplify the situation: power gamers are more interested in becoming as powerful as possible in as short a time as possible while role players are more interested in making the game a full-on fantasy with proper speech and attitude. The two camps are virulently opposed to one another with power gamers being referred to as d00dz while the role players are called carebears (also applicable to non-pvp elements). The casual gamer just wants to have fun in whatever setting works best without being burdened by chasing after levels or adding 'thee', 'thou' and 'ye' to their speech.
DAoC has seen the carnage and chose to sue for peace by offering three role-play only servers for the role-playing community. This leaves the majority of servers available for the casual and power gamers. When you first log into a role-play only server, you will be prompted to read a document describing role-playing basics and the rules for playing on the role-playing servers. This covers everything from proper naming to playing in character. These role-playing servers are monitored closely by an in-game staff who will intervene to maintain what has best been described as a 'Willing Suspension of Disbelief'. Intervention takes the shape of forced renaming of a character to suspension of the offending character's account.
Although DAoC is, by its very nature, a multiplayer game, I think I'll use this section to talk about game play and DAoC's unique approach to player versus player combat.
The game play starts out simply enough: you choose your realm and then, from there, create a new character. The realm you chose will determine the races available for you to play, as well as the professions.
In DAoC you initially choose a class for your character. Not all races can choose the same classes, so this will help determine what you will eventually become. At level five, you will choose your 'House' - this is to say, you will choose the career for your character. If, for example, you decide that you'd like to play a Troll Berserker in Midgard (taking the majority of my experience as an example here), you'd actually start off selecting the Viking class. Once you'd reached level five, your Viking trainer (whom you meet the first time you log in) will provide you with information about what paths are available for you to follow and who can train you for that career. In this case, you would choose to become a Berserker, following the Norse God of Modi.
Experience in DAoC can be gained in the usual way: killing monsters for experience. However, this is only one way to gain xp. An ongoing complaint from MMORPG players is that all available games end up becoming little more than leveling treadmills. DAoC doesn't do much to solve this problem, but there are a few novel touches that give DAoC an edge over existing games. For example, instead of just killing the same kind of creatures over and over again, you can ask the various merchants and NPCs in the towns for tasks. Some will give them to you and the tasks vary between hunting down specific monsters to running errands. Tasks are a great way to gain both money and xp while also getting a chance to explore the landscape.
Another way to gain xp and, oftentimes, excellent magic items is to take part in quests. You will find that by talking to your trainer and the NPCs in towns, you will occasionally be offered a quest (usually based upon your level). Some of these quests can span levels and be quite involved, but usually wield great rewards once completed.
There are many monsters in the game that will drop interesting items without an associated quest. They can be found in the several static dungeons or wandering about in the wilderness. Mythic has been itemizing all the existing dungeons in the game, meaning that the dungeon inhabitants will drop items instead of just cash when they are killed. As this is done, more interesting weapons and armor are appearing in each of the realms.
Solo players and group-oriented players will both find a home with DAoC, but the focus tends to revolve on grouping over soloing. It is very possible to solo all your xp but it can become bland and tedious quickly, especially at the higher levels. Grouping allows you to take on a wider variety of monsters, delve deeper into the static dungeons and gain xp faster and, more importantly, safer than solo. Mythic has included an in-game tool that allows you to find group leaders as well as people looking to group. However, the tried-and-true method for finding groups is to ask around.
Realm Vs. Realm
As many of the experienced Everquest, Ultima Online and Asheron's Call players who migrated to DAoC can attest, PvP when done well can be a real asset to a MMORPG. PvP when done poorly can cause cancellation of accounts.
Mythic has taken a new approach to the PvP issue by creating RvR, or Realm versus Realm, combat. When you are in your realm, you cannot attack your realm mates, rendering PvP non-existent. However, there are two other realms out there filled with enemy players just looking for a taste of you. Head out into the frontiers of your realm and you may find yourself hunted by invaders looking to gain some Realm and Bounty points (a system of points gained by killing invaders and which can be used to purchase new items in Realm Stores or kept as bragging rights). Take a trip into the frontiers of the enemy realms and you may find yourself in a pitched battle for an enemy keep (fort).
The mother lode of RvR are the Relics. Each realm has two relics, which give realm-wide bonuses to Power (for casting of spells) and Strength (for melee). Each Relic is kept in it's own Relic Keep surrounded by mean NPC realm guards. An invading army can take the keep (very difficult, but it has been done on some servers) and steal the Relic. Then they must carefully run the stolen relic back to their own realm's Relic Keep. Once done, the invaded realm loses their applicable bonus and the successful invaders gain an extra bonus to either their Power or Strength, depending on which Relic they stole.
Mythic is very strict about RvR: cross teaming (two realms teaming up on a third) or spying (opening two accounts and maintaining characters in two realms on the same server for the purpose of divulging information) are punishable offenses, which can lead from temporary suspensions to outright deletion of accounts.
One of the things that Mythic nailed on the head was a working trade skill system. It is very possible for a player to head to a capital city of their realm and while away the next month becoming a master weapon smith, armorer or tailor. It's not easy, and it's not the all that exciting, but it can definitely be done.
Why would one do such a thing? For starters, player-made equipment is of a higher quality than what can be purchased at a merchant. You could make yourself an invaluable member of your guild by supplying them with much-needed weapons or armor upgrades. Also, you could help your realm defeat your enemy realms by building siege equipment in the field (such as battering rams and trebuchets).
By working off the task system described in the game play section, one can literally gain no 'real' experience but increase their trade skill by hundreds of points, all while getting paid to do so. In fact, getting paid is a major consideration as the base materials for all trade skills get very expensive at the higher levels. It is also possible to amass a large amount of gold and just power-level your trade skills, but you'll eventually find yourself broke.
Let me esplain
is too much, let me sum up:
Realm vs. Realm combat: a fresh approach to PvP
Solid and addictive game play
Great replay value
Useful trade skills
Built-in support for Role Players and Power Gamers alike
Leveling treadmill still a factor
Lag still an issue in large cities and battles
Sound / Models re-used too often
Manual lacks depth
Highly recommended for people looking for a new MMORPG addiction. Those of you tired of MMORPGs whose main focus is gaining levels won't find too much different in DAoC.