Like the world economy, Camelot has been going through some tough times. For almost a decade a Dark Age has been virtually upon us; a trio of factions equip loyalties as weapons and engage in bloody conflict; rebellious forces threaten to tear apart once peaceful lands; for close to ten years, heroes have been called upon; champions have been created, and a new age of Camelot has been long sought after. It is time once more for me to clutch my sword, grab my cloak and head out into the lands of Albion, Midgard and Hibernia with critical eyes.
Returning to an older MMORPG is always a somber and almost depressing prospect. The slight hints of anticipation are usually punctured with desolate hunting zones, entrenched veterans and an overall feeling of neglect. In Dark Age of Camelot however, things are a little different. Herein lies a game of activity, event and life even after an almost decade long life span. It is genuinely inspirational to see a game of such age still have crowds of players populating hubs and various activity driven destinations. With this however, comes a price, DAoC is no longer the MMORPG experience it once was, the game is now busied solely with PvP, and while this is by no means a terrible thing, anyone looking to find virtual life in these lands will find little else. With further ado, let's get ready to rumble...
As is my custom when approaching any MMORPG I cannot help but weigh up the beauty of the graphical engine, leer at its curves, fixate on its shapely bosom; in short I am weird guy, however, DAoC has, through the means of various expansions, maintained a highly polished layer of visual sparkle. While you can't expect to boot up this game and see images befitting of Age of Conan, you will be very pleasantly surprised. Running at 1280X800 resolutions and with all the graphical settings turned up to the clichéd "11," this is one fine looking oldie. The game runs smoothly and after some time you will begin to forget that you are playing a game almost a decade in age. Textures are refined, character models and animations look satisfactory and overall the game looks entirely pleasant.
The biggest problem I had in terms of visuals was the incredibly ugly and unresponsive UI. Where the game gives off a relatively up-to-date and lively appearance, the interface gives the game away. The player is treated to unhelpful hot bars, frantic searches for various commands and the hell that is macro creation. As the genre has progressed games have generally refined the art of interface creation and brought it forward in leaps and bounds, DAoC is a great throw back to the old school when UIs were nothing more than an extension of the player's steely resolve to create shortcuts for themselves. While this is probably reflective of a dozen years of EverQuest II and World of Warcraft, it still remains as a bone of contention to anyone who hasn't before come across such a UI or like me, have simply gotten used to a better system.
On the whole the visual experience is modestly satisfying. The graphics are pleasantly surprising and will run smoothly on almost every machine made in the last ten years, however, the UI will have you tearing at your hair as you try to remember whether the option to quit is: /quit, /camp, /leave. Like every game of age a certain amount of generosity and patience is needed and this is true also of DAoC.
Camelot, it is a Silly Place
It is a very difficult position to find yourself in when reviewing a game such as Dark Age of Camelot. Naturally when it comes to observing game play, one cannot help but notice the flaws and blemishes of age, but on the other hand, taken at face value, this is still a very good game. It is worth noting that for its time DAoC was revolutionary- a leap in terms of the genre. In retrospect we can now see how much the Mythic developed game influenced future titles, one quick glance at its attributes: three individual factions, a workable questing system, Realm versus Realm combat; All of these elements can be found in games today and in essence, DAoC is possibly one of the most important MMORPGs ever created (that pains to admit as a recovering EQ addict) and furthermore, because of all of these features it helped introduce, its game play isn't quite as decrepit as you may think.
While the game does not have all of the bells and whistles of newer games, DAoC is still very easily playable. The environments are still imaginative and unique; dungeons are still a joy to venture into and player versus player dominance is still the ultimate pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. A tutorial guides new players into proceedings and quests in various hubs will constantly weave your adventures into the direction. This game is like going back to basics, everything you know in games such as WoW and LOTRO is here but just simplified and to a veteran player of the genre, this can be a very welcome change to the hand guided experience of newer games. Also one thing I personally found very satisfying was the sheer amount of classes and races; one thing that newer games seem to limit and in effect, limit the experience of the game.
The journey to the level cap can be sought through questing or simple grind and it is really refreshing to find a freedom of choice in your actions. While questing can be infuriating as there is no real guidance in finding your objectives (in the older zones at least) it is still functional and offers good reward. The appearance of grind is also a staple in DAoC and one that after a dozen years of solid quest based leveling, is a simplistic and almost tribal pleasure.
Crafting also appears in DAoC and like everything else it works very well. With enough patience a player can make excellent items and sell them on for a price using a very active Trade channel or through means of a house broker. Its overall functionality and lasting appeal is a really impressive feat and one that continually surprised me as I played the game, to say the least I was expecting to play an out of date and unpopular game, I was wrong.