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Dark Age of Camelot Previews: Dark Age of Camelot Battles On!

By Dana Massey on April 04, 2005

Article based on tour of Mythic HQ on March 30th and a series of interviews conducted on April 1st, 2005 in Fairfax, Virginia.
Written by Dana Massey

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Last week in Fairfax, Virginia, Mythic Entertainment held a press gathering to show off Imperator Online and the improvements to their crown jewel Dark Age of Camelot. Camelot is several years old and has survived several onslaughts of new games to retain its place among the most popular online RPGs in not just North America, but also the world. In fact, not until the release of World of Warcraft did Dark Age of Camelot lose its foothold as the pinnacle of MMOs in Europe. Now, with thousands of new players who have entered the MMO arena with the massive success of WoW, DAoC seeks to cash in on the influx of new players and grab a few for themselves.

Over the past few years, Mythic has consistently been the most generous MMORPG company. For your monthly fee, they often provide free content in the form of downloadable expansion packs. This has earned them a lot of good press and made the various retail expansion packs a lot easier to justify when they have provided so much other content that they could easily have sold free of charge. Now they are taking this a step further, albeit less glamorously. This year Dark Age is moving away from free expansion bundles towards highly focused patches. Not only will they continue to address balance and bugs in their periodic patches, but each one will also have a very tight content focus. On Tuesday, a brand new low-level experience, as well as improvements to realm vs. realm combat will accompany the usual round of fixes. Beyond that, guilds are at the top of the list and it will not step there. The Executive Producer for Dark Age of Camelot Jeff Hickman and Content Lead Destin Bales mentioned that they have many content goals planned out over the next long while; although they would not yet share plans for other improvements.

Hibernia Before and After Shots

Before

After

Before

After

Before

After

Tuesday’s Patch
This week’s patch will hit players this Tuesday. In addition to the bug fixes, the focus is on the newbie experience and improvements to the tower system in realm vs. realm. Mythic’s sharp increase in new subscribers over recent weeks has taught them a valuable lesson. New players were often lost in the newbie experience and they needed to address that fact. To facilitate this they have taken several steps:

  • Introduction Movie: A two to three minute movie will get players into the game and give them an idea of what Dark Age of Camelot is all about.

  • New Tutorials: Each realm features a new tutorial. It was on display in Fairfax and provided players with a very straightforward introduction to the basics of the game. Veterans can blaze through it and collect the level you earn during it in a matter of a couple minutes. New players should find this an invaluable resource. The Hibernia one on display started you in a keep outside a tower besieged by enemies from Midgard. You completed a series of tasks that quickly moved you forward and explained everything that you needed to know. It included voiceovers that were extremely well done and the brief glimpse of the siege put on a good show. For those who do not care to do a tutorial, you can skip it.

  • Improved 1 to 5 Experience: When you leave the tutorial instance, the improvements do not end there. Mythic has taken a myriad of steps to improve the first five levels, before you choose your eventual class, in each realm. Content Producer Walter Yarbrough explained what they did:

    • Originally, players started in several places around the realm. They consolidated this into one city per realm. They then took this a step further, with great artistic enhancements to each of these cities.
    • All the 1-5 starter quests have been refined and honed to provide increased focus. They seamlessly, but strictly, guide players through their first five levels. My concern is that this less liberal experience will create a very repetitive early level experience. Walter, Jeff and Destin all invoked the new taskmasters from Catacombs that provide players with instanced content at all levels. These people sit, along with the Shrouded Isles gates, in the newbie towns. The consensus was that there is variety there for those that want it, but structure for those who need it.
    • By consolidating the towns, they have created gaps; areas that were for newbies existed all over each realm. Now they have retooled them to meet higher-level needs. The goal is to allow you to move down the road as you gain in power with towns further away from the starter area acting as the hub for higher-level experiences.
    • They retooled many of the older quests, while some, beyond repair, were removed. Walter mentioned that many they had done two or three years before simply were not as fun as what they did in Catacombs and thus they completely removed them. Again, this left me concerned that those who did not purchase the last expansion will be in the dark, although it did appear to be a much better structure from what existed before. That said the game play and visual improvements have moved the overall experience forward. More seasoned players may need Catacombs to extend replayability, but to be honest, there would be no reason to provide the expansion if it did not address a need.

  • Tower Razing: Towers were the biggest problem they say in the Realm vs. Realm experience. Players did not have much motivation to take them on. The reason? The defenders, typically people with ranged combat, had a huge advantage and siege weapons were under-utilized. To even the playing field, they have introduced the concept of tower razing (see movie). This allows invaders to destroy the tower. Falling damage will hurt those inside, and while the defenders have the advantage before the invaders destroy it, the melee people then take charge in an open field battle after it comes down. The towers can be rebuilt and repaired, and provide a much more even playing field for both sides, adding another dimension to realm vs. realm.

  • RvR Missions: Clustering has restored some lost vigor to the eternal three-way war that is Dark Age of Camelot. With RvR Missions, players now have new goals, new rewards and increased direction. Some missions intentionally guide players to enemies, to ensure that players always find real people to wage battle against. There are also new goals like caravan attacks and guards, tower razing and keep sieges. Jeff Hickman hinted that this is the first step forward, and based on what they observe, more may be done.

  • Midgard Before and After Shots

    Before

    After

    Before

    After

    Before

    After
  • Casual Player Mini-Quests: To facilitate players getting in, having their fun, and getting out, Mythic has introduced a host of new quests, many of them shorter. This means casual players should have an easier time getting some fun in on a tight schedule. This happened in the last patch, will happen more on Tuesday, and is an ongoing effort.

  • Graphical Improvements: Catacombs brought in new playable graphics. Shrouded Isles improved the environments. Now buildings are getting the attention of Mythic. Before and after screenshots show the great efforts to bring Dark Age of Camelot into the modern era of graphics and so far, the results are impressive. Is this EQII? No, it is not, but it is pleasing to the eye and does not make you think about how old the game really is. It is a fresh wind to keep the game graphically competitive with other games on the market and extend its life cycle.

I have been greatly impressed with what I saw and heard during my visit. Any concerns that Imperator Online will hurt the development of Dark Age of Camelot are gone for me. The company is ramping up, and by the end of the year should have over two-hundred people working on the two games. The transfer of some established names over to the new project has allowed others to step up and breathe new life into an older game. Their commitment to free content each patch may one day (I hope) become an industry standard.

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