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MMO Reroll: Dark Age Of Camelot

A Bad Trip Back To Avalon

Mitch Gassner Updated: Posted:
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Columns MMO ReRoll 0

I have always believed that World of Warcraft’s success was a product of several factors. The internet was starting to finally boom so there was an influx of online players. The level of marketing was unheard of for games at that time. And of course Blizzard already had a built-in fanbase from the Warcraft franchise eagerly waiting to jump into the new game. I have always dismissed WoW’s success as coming from Blizzard having a superior product compared to the other MMOs of the time. I may be wrong about that. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. WoW isn't even the MMO I played for the November installment of MMO Reroll.

When I first started MMO reroll a couple of months ago, a few people mentioned they were surprised I chose Final Fantasy XIV, a game that released in 2013. I was informed that 2013 was still modern - I assume because FFXIV is still popular - and they had expected me to reach way back into the catalog of MMOs and pick something really old. I’m old and stubborn, though. After a successful month with Final Fantasy, instead of going further back in time I instead moved forward and found my way to Blade & Soul, seduced by the prospect of the new Astromancer class. That romance turned sour quickly and I didn’t even make it to the original level cap of 50 before the month was up. So there I was, two months in, and I had one win and one loss on record.

After the Blade & Soul failure, I thought I might as well listen to the advice I had been given and check out what one of the OG MMOs had to offer. Even though I had always planned on getting to the ancients I really didn't know which one to pick. I haven't kept up on the happenings with 20-year-old MMOs and wasn’t familiar with which ones had shuttered their windows or moved to private servers. One of the commenters had mentioned Dark Age of Camelot and since I had never played it before I figured why not? Let's do it!

A Little Research

I started things off with a quick search for Dark Age of Camelot online and Google pointed me to the DAoC website. Websites stick around long after a game has shut down, so seeing updated news posts on the main page was reassuring. One thing I did know about Dark Age of Camelot was that it charged a subscription fee when it launched back in 2001 so, when I saw a notification that you could play for free at the top of the page, I considered it a sign and hit the download button immediately. Since I didn't want to go in completely blind I started checking out the rest of the website while the game downloaded.

Read up. This is the best visuals you will find in DAoC.

Dark Age of Camelot was initially developed by Mythic Entertainment. A powerhouse in online gaming when AOL and dial-up internet were still a thing, DAoC was Mythic’s first MMORPG. With multiple expansions for DAoC under its belt, Mythic was purchased by Electronic Arts in 2006. We all know what happens after EA gets its claws in a smaller company; after multiple restructurings and merging with other studios, Mythic Entertainment was completely disbanded in 2014. Dark Age of Camelot somehow lived on and development was transferred to Broadsword Games, a new company created by Mythic co-founder Rob Denton. Broadsword continues to support DAoC along with another OG MMO you may have heard of - Ultima Online.

The DAoC website is a great starting place for anyone new to the game. There is a beginner’s guide that covers a wide range of MMO topics. Although it only scratches the surface of each topic, it is worth a read for anyone who has only been playing MMORPGs for a few years. MMOs are a different beast nowadays and the guide does a fantastic job of covering many aspects of gaming that have been updated by quality of life improvements - aka watering down of the genre if you ask the hardcore veterans out there - that modern MMORPGs have.

The beginner’s guide also gives some DAoC specific info that will be handy for anyone just entering the game. It covers the three realms - Midgard (the best because it has Dwarves), Hibernia (tree-loving Elves), and Albion (the land of Arthurian ancestry) that you can choose from for the realm vs realm combat. It gives a brief overview of all 21 races and 45 classes, giving you an idea of the role each class will play in group combat. Yes, DAoC is of the era where races and classes were restricted, so having an idea of what type of character you want to play is an important step in character creation.

Beyond the beginner’s guide, there is also a guide focused on getting returning players back up to speed, covering character transfers from the original servers to the current ones along with a rundown of other changes they can expect since they last played. You’ll also find a knowledge section that expands upon many of the core aspects of DAoC such as character roles, master levels, housing, etc. There are even video guides for those who prefer watching over reading.

Overall, the time I spent perusing the website left me feeling pretty good about what I was going to experience once I entered the game. The basics of DAoC were well covered and current. And even though the forums weren’t exploding with activity, there were current posts and the general atmosphere there seemed friendly. I was off to a good start.

Character Creation

If you haven’t noticed, when it comes to character creation, reviews of any MMORPG launched in the last several years talk about all the choices you have when picking your avatar. What they really mean is once you pick your class all the choices that are pertinent to actual gameplay are done and you can focus on visual choices. Race, hair, body dimensions, makeup, and scars are all on tap, and even though you will rarely be looking at your character in-game it’s easy to spend an hour or more trying to get your avatar’s appearance just right.

What about strength, wisdom, and dexterity? All of the stats you should control during character creation in an RPG are already chosen for you in new games. The same goes for spells and weapons. Even the choice of your character’s race only affects your visual appearance and other inconsequential things like which dance moves you can pull off. Watering down or eliminating your choices during character creation makes it easier to get started in an MMO and allows players to make their choices based on personal preferences rather than racial bonuses.

So, seeing that DAoC was going the old school route, the first time I loaded into character creation in DAoC I was pretty excited. After reading through the information on the website it looked like the choices I would be making was going to have a real impact. Any time there are Dwarves, that’s going to be my pick, so I already knew I was going to be a child of Midgard. One of my favorite characters from my pen and paper RPG days was a Dwarven cleric, so healer was the way to go.

But wait a second. My rose-colored glasses slipped off for a second, and that’s when it hit me that I got lucky. What if I had wanted to be a paladin? A quick switch to the other two realms showed my only option was a move to Albion. That’s when I noticed the Albions could be Friars, a hybrid fighter/cleric class. That’s really what I wanted my character to be. But that isn’t how it was done back in the day. I didn’t simply get to choose what I wanted. No cupcakes allowed here, take what you’re given or get out.

So many classes, so few actual choices during character creation.

So I sucked it up, readjusted my glasses, switched back over to Midgard, and continued creating my cleric. For those that like spending hours adjusting every minute detail about their character’s appearance, DAoC does have some basic adjustments you can make. I wouldn’t call the system robust but, given the game’s dated graphics, I’m not sure it would be worth the effort anyway.

Once I got my character’s look down (5 minutes is all it took) I moved on to the important stuff. It was time to change attributes. Each race has unique base attributes that follow the typical fantasy setting stereotypes. Trolls are strong but slow, stuff like that. You are also allotted 30 additional points to further adjust your attributes, with diminishing returns as you put more points into a single stat.

My rose-colored glasses slipped once again and I found myself questioning the attribute system. Just like modern MMOs, each class in Dark Age of Camelot has a couple of primary attributes that greatly impact their effectiveness. Newer games automatically adjust your stats accordingly and unless you plan on gimping your character you would set them the same way. Furthermore, since you aren’t able to see how each point added or subtracted during character creation affects your in-game abilities, I ended up sticking with the game’s recommended stats.

In the end, character creation in Dark Age of Camelot is merely a shell of what newer games have to offer. All illusion of choice is swept away by the need to create a character that will still be effective at whatever role you choose to play. Be sure to let me know how it works for you when you dump all 30 points into your Troll Berserker's quickness. Dark Age of Camelot does allow you to adjust a point or two here or there but even the most hardcore min-maxer will find it difficult to see a difference in such minor changes.

The real reason recent games have moved away from stat adjustments and focused more on appearance is simply that cosmetic changes don’t allow the player to ruin their gaming experience, they enhance it. Race locked classes are shunned any time they make their way into a new game. Gender locks create even more of an uproar from the crowd. Unfortunately, in a time where players want freedom during character creation, all DAoC does is take it away.

User Interface

Although I mentioned several pitfalls in character creation, I made it through fairly unscathed since my desired outcome was available. As I took my first few steps in a new world I was hopeful. A quick glance at the user interface reassured me that most of the modern amenities were there. It was a relief to see such simple things as a map and compass. I recall playing older games that didn’t even have these simple tools. There was a menu to add and remove additional UI windows. Even more impressive was the option to move all of the windows around on the screen, something I am pretty sure didn’t exist in any game back in 2001.

The UI could be worse. Making some elements larger would make it better.

Even with those positive aspects, the UI is a bust. Everything is way too small. I can barely read anything on the map and, although you can change the size of many of the other windows, it can’t be enlarged or zoomed in or out. I have the same size complaint about your inventory. Your bags are placed in a small window with some of the smallest icons I have ever seen. The worst part is you can only view one inventory bag at a time. Please, just make a separate pop-out window for inventory.

To compound on the inventory issue, that same small window is used for all of your character information, including stats, equipped gear, spells, combat stances, groups, and non-combat abilities and skills. Each portion has its own set of windows yet only one section can be open at a time. If you’re going to put that much info into one space make the damn thing larger.

Now, all of these things are fairly insignificant and easily overlooked on their own. I’ll even admit that I was expecting far worse than I was seeing. But a couple of hours of straining to read the small text is too much.

Questing And Combat

When it comes to questing everything is exactly what I thought it would be - bland and boring. That isn’t really a knock against DAoC, though, but more an issue with MMORPGs in general. No matter how developers try to hide the fetch and kill nature of questing, that’s all there really is. DAoC does a horrible job at disguising the quid pro quo quest structure behind any type of decent storyline and I quickly stopped reading any text and relied on the journal entries to give me my to-do list.

Even worse, combat is very unsatisfying. With the holy trinity of MMOs - fighter, tank, healer, with crowd control thrown in -  alive and well in DAoC, so much of what combat has to offer is based on grouping up. With whatever player base there is all huddled together at the end game, I rarely ever saw someone to join up with. When I did find someone to group with I was able to utilize my cleric’s skills to good effect. Otherwise, most of my spells went unused after my initial self buffs were in place.

What you are left with in the early levels is pulling single foes out from the pack with ranged weapons or spells and then standing there smashing the one or two combat skills on your bar. I thought maybe a fighter class would be more entertaining so I tried out a Berserker for a few minutes. As soon as I realized each weapon type had the same set of skills I switched back to my cleric and used him for the little remaining time I spent with DAoC.

For anyone looking for any kind of action during combat, I have bad news. I’m not sure what the later levels will bring, but in the early stages all you get is bland fighting. Your character and foe simply stand there facing each other. Every few seconds you’ll take a swing at your opponent or vise versa.

Combat. Less action than Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out

Dark Age of Camelot is a player vs player-focused game, though, so the PvP should offer more than the PvE does, right? I really don’t know. At the early levels, the battlegrounds are empty. I tried to find a fight a couple of times before giving up. It’s obvious that any low-level players are only trying to grind through the early levels to join whatever PvP there is at level cap.

Final Judgement

I could go on and on about all the little things that make Dark Age of Camelot an outdated product, a true step back into the dark ages of gaming. Graphics quality, UI issues, boring combat, the list goes on and on. When you add all of it together I really don’t see why anyone would want to play something that has aged so poorly. I couldn’t even make it 15 hours without giving up. There are too many other games, both single-player and MMOs, to occupy my time.

I wish I could attest to how great the realm wars and battlegrounds of DAoC are. They could be the best thing since sliced bread. I’ll never know, and I doubt many new players will ever make it that far. If the character class selection and PvP that DAoC offers are your main draw, I would suggest checking out Camelot Unchained. Still in development with Mark Jacobs (co-founder of Mythic Entertainment) at the helm, Camelot Unchained is considered the spiritual successor to DAoC. Anyone wanting to gain access can do so by buying your way into the beta, or you can follow the development at the CU website if paying for access to a work-in-process isn’t your cup of tea.

Low polygon count as far as the eye can see. And that isn’t very far.

Next Steps

It’s been another month and another failure to make it deep into the MMO of choice. Where should I go next? With WoW launching their Shadowlands expansion, maybe that’s something I should look at? Nah, I’ll let the dust settle there before I try to tackle that beast. I have a couple of ideas on which game to head to next, but there is still time for you to weigh in and point me in the right direction. Just do a better job than others did by suggesting DAoC!

One last thing before I head out. It’s time to update my MMO Reroll rankings. I’m sure you won’t be surprised by where Dark Age of Camelot lands.

  1. Final Fantasy XIV - Square Enix still holds the crown out of this trio of MMOs. FFXIV still the only game that gave me a good time as I leveled through the early areas and a strong community to keep me playing.
  2. Blade & Soul - The action combat of Blade & Soul gets even higher marks after the time spent in DAoC. I expected B&S to stay at the bottom of this list for a while but it only took a month to find a game that fared worse.
  3. Dark Age of Camelot - Full of potential for anyone wanting the holy trinity of MMO classes, DAoC hasn’t aged well. Horribly slow and boring combat, an unrefined UI, and tedious questing could use an update. Dark Age of Camelot is better served being remembered through rose-colored glasses than being seen in motion on your computer screen. Maybe Camelot Unchained will be able to take what players back in 2001 liked about DAoC and give it the spit and polish it needs to be relevant in 2020, or whenever it finally releases.

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Mitch Gassner

Part-time game reviewer, full-time gaming geek. Introduced to Pac-Man and Asteroids at a Shakey's Pizza in the '70s and hooked on games ever since.