In late 2001, a lesser known game company released a massively multiplayer game that impacted the burgeoning MMORPG genre profoundly. When Dark Age of Camelot went live with its unique blend of Player vs. Environment
adventuring and Realm vs. Realm combat, the gaming world took notice. Mythic Entertainment, the game's developer, quickly became a prominent front-runner in the industry and Dark Age of Camelot became one of the leading
persistent worlds on the market.
Since that time, Mythic has released four expansions for its flagship game, two of which have been at no cost to the player community. As Dark Age of Camelot celebrated its third anniversary, the team at Mythic was
busy working on the next addition to the game, as well as the developer's next massively multiplayer title. Mythic has not taken its success for granted, as seen in the commitment the company has shown to the game, the
community, and the genre.
When imagining the creative environment in which the people responsible for Camelot are housed, the mind conjures up all sorts of fantastic settings, but aside from a couple of suspended braziers at the entrance, the
two floors Mythic occupies in its northern Virginia home are remarkably unremarkable. There are the wall decorations and realm maps and game boxes found in almost every office and cubicle, all of which remind the
visitor that the business of this place is far removed from that of an insurance agency or a law office. Aside from this, however, it's merely an office staffed with regular people performing their jobs.
"We're just a bunch of guys and gals making games," says CEO Mark Jacobs, whose office is no larger than the programmer's next door. He takes pride in noting that the workplace is not full of pool tables, ping-pong
tables or wet bars as he discusses the Mythic way of doing things. After meeting the staff and touring the offices, one gains an understanding of just what Jacobs means. These are people who love games and love making
games, and it is this corporate culture that is largely responsible for the success of Mythic Entertainment.
A Trip Beneath the Surface: Catacombs
Destin Bales sits behind a keyboard in a darkened room, typing away unseen commands to control his Midgardian avatar. He is intimately familiar with the persistent world he is navigating. The projector attached to
his system is displaying the latest build of Dark Age of Camelot: Catacombs, Mythic's upcoming expansion for its marquee title. He speaks softly, but with authority and understanding. Bales is on the content team for
Camelot and his descriptions of the various parts of the game world evince his dedication to his product. He is a fantastic guide through a fantastic world.
Catacombs is a large expansion, Camelot's fifth, and in many ways it is a reinvention of the original game. This is purely a PvE addition. "Having just released Frontiers (Camelot's recent Realm vs. Realm expansion),
we didn't really want to mess with RvR at all," says Bales, and with the exception of additional classes that will eventually enter the frontiers, they haven't. The world of Catacombs takes place almost entirely
underground and brings some highly anticipated and long awaited changes to the realms of Camelot.
The most visible change is to the character models. As Mythic has expanded Dark Age of Camelot, each release has focused on a specific area of the game. Graphics have improved significantly since the initial release,
but the look of the player's avatar has not. "The character models were the last major piece that made it look like it was 2001 instead of 2004," says Camelot executive producer Matt Firor. The new models give the
player a number of choices, from skin tone to hair color to jaw shape. The updated avatars really do bring Camelot to the state of the industry. It's more than just new faces. There are new animations, more fluid
motions, enhanced armor and clothing options. Players who prefer the older models will have the option to keep them, but it's hard to imagine choosing to do so. "They're spectacular," says Firor, referring to the new
character models, "so we're very happy with them."
There are also new character types. Midgard and Hibernia will get two each and Albion will get one. This move is in line with Mythic's recent effort to balance the population of the three realms on most Camelot
servers. "It's hard to have a game named Dark Age of Camelot and not encourage people to go into Albion," Firor says, speaking of the phenomenon of higher population in Albion. Giving the other realms an additional
class is one way Mythic is trying to accomplish this, he explains. Albion will see the Heretic, a class described as a Dark Priest/Evil Cleric type. Hibernians will have the option of the Vampiir, a spell-casting
warrior that can use magic during combat, and the Bainshee, a floating, female-only caster that utilizes a spell line based on sound. Midgard's new classes include the Valkyrie, another female-only class that
combines warrior disciplines with magic, and the Warlock, a magic user with the ability to cast two simultaneous spells. The additional classes were added in this way to balance out population, not power. These
classes are the only real impact the content in Catacombs will have on the area of Realm vs. Realm combat.
Instanced adventuring is another major addition included in Catacombs. Bales' avatar runs through a dungeon and stops at a shining door. "Basically, you're in a dungeon and you'll find a new door with a nice sparkly
effect and you'll zone in alone or with your group," he explains. Upon entering, the player will find himself in a private wing. No other players are to be encountered in an instanced area unless invited by the player
or the group leader in the actual dungeon.
Players have the option to invite others from different zones into their group. This allows a group of friends in an instanced zone the opportunity to bring in others after the initial entry. If a team is halfway
through an instanced wing and another player wants to join, the team members can add him to the group and he will zone into their instance rather than his own discrete environment. The monsters in an instanced area
do not respawn, so the joining player can merely follow the cleared path and meet his comrades. Death in an instanced area will place the player's tombstone at the entrance to the area, so returning and praying to
mitigate experience loss should not be a problem.
"In an instanced adventuring wing, a resource drops called aurulite," continues Bales. "Basically, this resource is an incentive to continue to use these areas long after a player may normally user them." Aurulite
drops function similar to seals in Darkness Falls. Dropping only in instanced adventuring areas, they may be collected and traded to NPCs in the Catacombs towns for weapons, armor, and other such things.
Another type of instancing is known as instanced dungeon tasks. Taskmaster NPCs may now be found at several locations throughout each realm. Taskmasters give tasks which are geared as much toward the solo player as
anything, although groups may take on tasks as well. There are three types of instanced tasks: kill a named mob, kill a certain number of specific types of mobs, or clear out the entire dungeon. All instanced
dungeon tasks take place in chambers that are not far from the taskmaster's location. Unlike traditional dungeons, a player may not enter the task dungeon unless he has a specific task assigned. Completing the
task gives the player a nice reward of experience and money, but no items, as in regular quests. Instanced tasks are designed for the player who may not have hours of playtime. They can generally be completed
in a matter of minutes.
Bales has now switched to a Hibernian avatar and is standing in the starter city of Mag Mell. When Catacombs releases, all new players will have only two starting cities from which to choose, even those who choose
not to purchase the expansion, thus keeping new player populations more concentrated. The taskmaster at Mag Mell gives Bales' character a task and he heads off to the task dungeon just over the knoll from the town.
Upon entering a task dungeon, one notices that it looks similar to the traditional dungeons in the realm. Task dungeons are much smaller, however, and are tailored to the player's level. In fact, all instanced
environments in Catacombs are set to match the level of those entering. A level 40 character will experience a whole different set of opponents than will a level 20 entering the same door.
Aside from instanced content, Catacombs contains a good amount of static areas as well. Each realm has its own area filled with monsters and quests. Over 400 quests have been added to the game, including
mini-quests. "Mini-quests are basically shorter quests that are easier to complete, less travel involved, less time to play and mostly solo," explains Bales. "Again, we're trying to hit the guy who has an
hour on a lunch break or who has had enough of Trials of Atlantis."
In a move that is certain to bring players back to the underpopulated capital cities, the entrances to the main catacombs areas are located in Jordheim, Tir Na Nog, and Camelot City. Players will find a new
opening in each city, be it a tunnel or a crack in the wall. From there they will enter the Roman Aqueducts (Albion), the Burial Grounds (Midgard), or the Veil Rift (Hibernia). Each area has an underground
city where players can train, craft, trade aurulite, and do anything that can be done above ground. The Albion, Midgard, and Hibernia cities are the Inconnu Crypt, the Kobold City, and the Shar Labyrinth,
The static areas in Catacombs are underground, but they do not feel cramped or tight as one might expect. The new zones are large and spacious, even though they have a ceiling. Each area is populated with
opponents that gain in difficulty as one goes deeper into the zone. Content goes from 1 to 50, so all players can experience Catacombs. In fact, the Catacombs may become the preferred method of leveling.
Bales says that the team has found that people level faster in Catacombs because the content is tailored for the player. There's no real need to run across a field searching for the yellow mobs as in the
past. According to Bales, a player in beta went from level 1 to 50 purely in Catacombs and almost entirely solo.
But there's more to the Catacombs areas than just easy leveling. "As you quest throughout the game, you'll actually learn the story," says Bales. Extensive backstories have been written for Catacombs. These
aren't just cracks in the world that opened out of the blue. There's a discovery aspect to it that Mythic hopes will draw players in to the environment.