Ever had the overwhelming desire to wield a sword or cast those magic spells that you have used in the pencil and paper Dungeons and Dragons games? Or just wanted to experience life in those mythical times?
Then Mythic Entertainment’s Dark Age of Camelot (DAoC) may be the game for you. The latest entrant into the rapidly growing number of MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing games – impressive title huh?) lets you, and a couple of hundred of your closest friends experience life in Realms of legend. Combining Norse and Celtic Mythology with the legends of King Arthur and Camelot; DAoC allows you get into that medieval, rowdy age up close and personal!
The minimum requirements above are from the official pages of Mythic Entertainment. Realistically, I would not try and play it on anything less than a Pentium III (or 100 percent equivalent) 500 MHZ system with 256M of high-speed RAM and a 64 MB Video card (such as the GForce 2 series of cards). Not a requirement by any means, just this reviewer’s opinion.
The graphics are good, but then any game developed today would be expected to have good graphics. I will not attempt to go into the mechanics of how the game works as that can best be experienced online. Suffice it to say that with a little practice, again as you would expect in any new game on a grand a scale as this one, you will be slaying critters of all sorts in the lands of DAoC! My only operational gripe is the function that allows you to rotate in place does not always work very smoothly. Many times I have hit the key to rotate very briefly to just adjust my heading a wee bit and end up facing 90 degrees from my original position. Not a biggie but annoying enough to be mentioned. Aside from that minor glitch my gaming time in DAoC has been a ton of fun to date.
You will need a pretty robust internet connection. I use a cable modem but understand it also works just fine on a decent 56K phone modem. To play this game and you will need to create an account on their game servers in order to play. A free month of play is part of the purchase price and after that there is a variety of schedules dependent on whether you want to pay monthly or for multiple months at a time. If you cancel during the free first month then no charges will be made to your credit card.
At the start of your first session, after you have created an account and downloaded any new files released since the copy you installed was created (Yes this is a dynamic world that changes and gets updates quite regularly – as do all the current MMORPG games) you will be faced with a selection of servers. The only caution here is that you can only play characters from one realm (there are three in the game) on one server. So you can not have a character from Albion (King Arthur’s Camelot) and Hibernia (the land of Celtic mythology) on the same server. Each server is a complete, duplicate copy of the land on the other servers, just populated with different characters run by different people. After selecting one of the servers you then need to select a realm to play in.
The whole premise of DAoC is based on the existence of three different and hostile realms in the lands. Each realm – Albion, King Arthur’s Camelot – Migdgard, Land of the Vikings – Hibernia, land of Celtic mythology – has its own ‘safe zone’ or area where new characters (up to around level 30 or so) can adventure and grow without having to keep a constant look over their shoulders for enemy characters looking to do them harm.
Once you hit the higher levels you then get to adventure in the ‘no mans land’ between the realms where not only aggressive creatures of all sorts reside, but also aggressive enemy players from the other realms can be waiting to do battle as well. When you get a group of higher level (exact levels depend on the group makeup and such) players that feel VERY feisty, you can launch into realm VS realm combat – which in theory will pit large coordinated forces from the various realms against each other in combat for key keeps or other landmarks. The essence of DAoC is this realm VS realm combat, the thing that every MMORPG has tried for with differing levels of success. DAoC is still in it infancy so time will tell as to whether they achieve this noble aim. My characters are not high enough to even think about venturing into ‘no mans land’ but will eventually – Muhahahah!
At this point I could go into more detailed explanations of game mechanics but feel that a comparison to one of the current largest MMORPG games – EverQuest – is in order. In this way I will talk about some of the game mechanics and give people familiar with EverQuest (and other games like it) a feel for what is new and different about DAoC.
In general: I would say that Dark Age of Camelot is ‘EverQuest Light.’ By this I mean they have taken what folks dislike most from current games and made it easier in Camelot. What they end up with is a game between Diablo II and EverQuest in complexity. A few of the details will be hit on below. As I have said before, at this time none of my characters have made it out of the ‘safe areas’ yet and I have had no taste of the RVR ( realm VS realm) side of things.
Lets start with the strong points of DAoC.
Binding (this is the ability to change the point at which you come back after death: Yes, despite your best efforts, death will happen in DAoC) – Any character can bind in any of a number of locations in each realm. Each realm has a different shrine for their bind points that are easy to see. Albion has a large stone with distinctive carvings on it surrounded by four other carved stones. Hibernia has a slightly larger than human height center stone surrounded by good sized mushrooms. Midgard has a large rock leaning on a smaller one with two rune-covered pillars on either side (pretty hard to miss any of these).
Cash: Automatically accumulates into the larger currencies as you attain it. In EverQuest, if you are beating on critters that give you copper (the lowest level of cash in the game) you will accumulate large numbers of copper pieces that will weigh you down. You will need to go to the nearest bank and change to the higher currency in order to reduce the weight of all that copper. This is automatic in DAoC, yet you still have banks that can store cash and items not needed right then.
Spells: There is no ‘recovery time’ for spell casting (this is the time it takes to be ready to cast again after casting any spell). Chain casting (casting spell after spell very rapidly) is a way of life in DAoC.
New spells: You do not have to buy any spells. As soon as a spellcaster reaches a new level the spells for that level are ready for use.
Down time: The time after a battle, or series of battles, that it takes to replenish life and mana for casting spells is quite short. It seems that the focus was on soloability (the ability to play and enjoy the game without the need for a group of similarly leveled players) in DAoC and down time has been DRASTICALLY reduced. In most cases my casters are back to full mana by the time a battle is over. And when they are beat up, rest will have you sit and regain hit points, mana and stamina VERY quickly. My characters can rest from nearly dead to full health in around 30 – 45 seconds.
Twinking (the giving of items well above a characters current level to that character normally from a higher character you run): This is virtually impossible with DAoC due to the level of weapons and armor and the decay of weapons and armor. Basically a character can only effectively use weapons and armor close to – ideally a little above – their current level. The performance degradation for using weapons and armor well above your character’s current level assures that twinking will not take place.
Quests (tasks given out by nonplayer characters (NPC’s) in game): The quests seem to be geared towards being accomplished solo and return nice experience to date.
Quest log: You can call up a log of your current quests AND they detail the next step you need to do in that quest! It’s great for those players who take no notes or write down the wrong spelling of key names.
Economy: By the nature of the game you will be buying upgraded equipment and fixing current equipment A LOT in DAoC (equipment gets beat up and wears out and there is a level associated with all items of weaponry and armor). But the economy is MUCH more realistic in this area than EverQuest. Newbie (pet name for people of low levels in a MMORPG game) equipment is newbie priced and can quite easily be afforded by the appropriately leveled characters.
Death: When you die you come back with full armor and weapons and, after level 5, you will loose a bit of experience and some points of constitution (a measure of your characters hardiness). Half of the experience lost can be regained by returning to your grave marker (placed where you died) and pray there and the constitution can be bought back from in game NPCs. Heh, heh you know when you enter a dangerous area as there are loads of graves scattered around the countryside.
Conversations with NPCs: As with Everequest the NPC will highlight words that are important. In DAoC you only have to click on the word and the next part of the discussion takes place.
Ok, on to the weak points.
Casting in combat: You can not cast while engaged in combat – which makes chain casting as the critter runs towards you, required to damage the foe as much as possible before getting into Melee. This can also quickly lead to the death of a solo caster if they pick on something they can not kill with spells before the are up close and personal with the critter.
Weapons and armor: They have virtually done away with ‘twinking’ by putting levels on the various weapons and armor items. If you use a weapon or piece of armor that is either too high or too low for you, your performance will dramatically degrade. And it has a VERY large effect on combat. My Cabalist was fighting with a ‘blue’ (lower than his level) weapon and hitting for 2 – 4 points. The fights were very close against the critters (slightly lower level than he was.) I bought a ‘yellow’ (slightly higher level than I was) and was hitting for 9 – 12 points and was able to look for critters my level to fight as well – though experience still seemed to flow better concentrating on blue critters! This is listed as a weakness due to forcing every character to constantly be aware of their equipment. This is counter to the way I like to play – which is to get good stuff and use it until I notice it is not good any longer.
Weapon and armor decay: All weapons and most armor decay over time and with use. This means you are CONSTANTLY in need of upgrading weapons and armor. Getting them repaired is not costly but just another thing to need to worry about. So if you notice that you are taking more damage or you are not hitting as hard as before – visit your local Smith or armorer and they can fix this, for a fee.
Skills: There does not seem to be any improvement (that nice blue ‘your skill has improved’ message) in DAoC. I understand that the trade skills may have this but am just getting into them now with my characters. Fighting skills seem to be strictly tied to your character’s level.
Soloing: Yep, I listed this on both the plus and minus side! Because you can solo so easily there is LITTLE incentive to group. I am sure (or hope) this will change as my characters advance in level! And I greatly enjoy a good group.
Night time: Nighttime in DAoC is like being a human in EverQuest. You can not see the end of your nose, and like EverQuest Humans – no light source seems to help much.
And just a few more things of note.
Soloing: It appears that EVERY class can solo in DAoC, in fact the game seems to be designed around soloers. I am playing a Firbolg Blademaster, Dwarven Healer and an Avalonian Cabalist and have yet to NEED to group. They ALL get critical hits and there are areas I have found in all three realms where the experience just flows non stop.
Questing: You find the critter you need to kill – kill it once and the item you needed for the quest is automatically put into your inventory. This works even for a full group all looking for the same thing – kill one critter and poof, the whole group has the item in their inventory.
I also did not dwell much on the Player vs Player (er I mean Realm VS Realm) aspects of the game. My characters have not participated in this yet, but I understand that post level 30 you need to venture into the ‘no mans land’ between realms to advance. There are reports of ‘bad apples’ hunting lower level folk in these areas (now there is a surprise – griefers!), but I am still holding out hope for the grand battles envisioned in the Realm VS Realm concept.
Summary: Even though the plusses way outweigh the minuses, if you look closely at many of the plusses you will see that they are geared only towards making it easier to level and acquire items – which is why I called Dark Age of Camelot ‘EverQuest light.’
The game is a ton of fun to play, and DAoC has well earned the 4 and a half GiN gems even though it is not number one in its class.