As someone who cut her teeth on the once revolutionary creation that is Dark Age of Camelot (DAoC), revisiting this aging MMORPG is akin to coming home. The familiar lands of Hibernia, Albion and Midgard have received a steady stream of graphic updates over the years, but fundamentally the virtual world remains the same. Despite the old adage, you can go home to DAoC—but is there something here for new players, also? With October marking the 10 year anniversary of this MMMORPG, it seemed like the perfect time to take yet another look at what Dark Age of Camelot offers gamers, and whether or not it keeps up with more modern MMORPGS.
Three Realms Full Of Options
In case you’ve never given Dark Age of Camelot a try, let me lay out the abundant options available as far as races and classes: Players can choose to play Albion, which is based on Arthurian Legend; Midgard is the rough, wintery land out of Norse mythology; Hibernia is the green rolling hills of Celtic legend. Back in the height of DAoC’s popularity, players were limited to one of the three realms per server, and characters were server-specific. Each of the realms offers a different assortment of class options, which basically fall into the tank/stealther/mage/healer overviews, with multiple races available for each class. Add in the multiple choices in ability specialization, and DAoC continues to offer a considerable amount of variety despite being a nearly decade-old MMORPG.
A few years ago, Mythic decided to merge the remaining servers into one cluster in order to resolve the dwindling population on many of the original server options. This has created a much more abundant amount of interaction available throughout the Ywain cluster, and it also removed the stipulation that players could only have one realm per server. There is now a 5 minute cool-down timer when switching realms.
Countless debates have last the entire 9-year existence of DAoC, regarding the realms being “balanced.” The trio of lands each offer similar classes, such as a primary healer or the melee rogue, with enough differences between the three realms to give players a unique experience in each pair of shoes. Unfortunately, that has lead to a lot of arguments over whether or not the three similar roles are balanced and equal in advantages/disadvantages. Over all, Albion enjoys the most popularity, and has arguably the strongest classes in terms of skill points and optimal features, with Midgard and Hibernia requiring a bit more patience and networking to get the job done.
Top Notch PvP, With Access at Level 1
Dark Age of Camelot has a very satisfying PvP system, dubbed Realm vs. Realm due to the three opposing lands, and players can get a taste of this feature as early as level 1—though many players refrain until the level 20-24 Battlegrounds. Several of these Battlegrounds are highly active, and more than a few players have leveled-up exclusively in these mini-RvR zones, which allow players to quickly sate their curiosity regarding the PvP system. Gaining Realm Rank allows players to purchase bonus abilities and advantages, and a limited amount of Realm Points can be obtained in the pre-50 Battlegrounds. Some of these abilities can be advantageous during the 1-50 level grind, though the vast majority of abilities are useful exclusively during RvR.
Without a doubt, DAoC’s PvP system is the biggest lure to potential new players and wizened veterans of the three realms. It is active, especially since the server merge, and surprisingly challenging even to experienced MMORPG players. While it may seem complex and overwhelming at first, spending a few hours in several of the Battlegrounds during the level 1-50 grind can quickly equip new players for true RvR in the elaborate Frontier zones.
Graphics and Game Play
DAoC enjoys a surprisingly impressive graphics engine, which has been routinely upgraded in various expansions. Compared to many brand-new MMORPGs, DAoC looks up-to-par when the graphics are at full throttle. The user interface is terribly clunky, and at level 1 new players are greeted with a bunch of pre-set macros and ability icons in the hot bar which they may or may not figure out how to remove during their first attempt. During PvP, the awkward UI makes efficient spell casting and combo moves challenging unless the player is willing to have 3-5 hot bars scattered across the screen.
DaoC allows groups of up to 8 players, which give tremendous flexibility in party structure as opposed to the common 5 or 6-man teams in other MMORPGs. This flexibility is especially critical during RvR, when party balance can make or break your group. Many dungeons can accommodate a group of 4-8, though solo game-play or even duo gaming can be a challenge depending on the participating classes and their specialization. Buff bots are commonplace in DAoC RvR, but PvE also has plenty of idle characters standing vigil over active party members like lurking ghosts doomed to only observe.
DAoC Game Play: Levels 1-49
One legitimate complaint that both newcomers to DAoC and veteran players returning with new characters share is the lack of attention paid to level 1-49. Major overhauls to the questing system years ago, in addition to fairly frequent graphics engine upgrades, are the biggest changes to the level 1-49 grind in recent memory. The tutorial segment is blessedly brief, and questing in that zone offers fairly impressive rewards. However, once new players are unleashed on the original lands—beginning in Mag Mell in Hibernia, for example—the quests stumble and leave players without much guidance. When leveling, the specialization lines aren’t adequately explained, leading to many players searching for fan sites with more in-depth information about the spells and combat styles received in each option.
With the update to the questing system several years ago, players can now choose to either level grind in the traditional kill-everything-which-moves method, or spend their time questing to receive reasonable rewards in addition to experience. Years ago, before newer MMORPGs lured away the majority of the DAoC fan base, players had the choice between camping monster spawns and completing agonizingly dull quests. It appears that the majority of players who return to DAoC do so for the sole purpose of PvP rather than the enjoyment of the PvE zones. Newcomers will quickly find that this emphasis on the level 50 game play leads to hasty leveling and an overall ignorance of the elaborate lands in the three realms for many rushed-to-level new players.
The Labyrinth of the Minotaur is the latest expansion DAoC has seen, and it is available for a free trial but remains the only pay-to-play expansion; Catacombs, Darkness Rising, Trials of Atlantis and Shrouded Isles are all included with the basic retail purchase. With most expansions, Mythic introduced at least one new race and class to each of the realms; Labyrinth of the Minotaur gave the Minotaur race and the Mauler class to all three lands. Unfortunately, both Darkness Rising and Labyrinth of the Minotaur primarily focused on the level 50 game play, and the previous Trials of Atlantis expansion introduced zones really only appropriate for 30+ level characters. If Mythic decides to release yet another expansion, perhaps new features for the level 1-29 characters is worth considering.
The Level 50 End Game
To say DAoC has, over the near decade of its existence, become a primarily end-game MMORPG is an understatement to say the least. Although PvE groups can be found, the vast majority of them are guild mates helping to level a member’s new character or the rare an elusive actually-new player. Epic level raids are almost mandatory to keep up with the latest and greatest equipment, which can give you a notable advantage during RvR. As with all MMORPGs, the hot items from former expansions are obsolete, so returning players can expect to be greeted with whole new templates for their characters.
Several expansions in DAoC have been devoted entirely to enhancing the level 50 end game, and a few have added bonus content to levels 40+. With so much attention to the upper levels, it’s no wonder that DAoC is daunting to the novice. However, the level grind to 50 has become remarkably short, and the lack of attention to PvE means that those precious camps full of the best monsters which used to take days to claim years ago are now vacant ghost towns of available kills.
Dark Age of Camelot: Worth a Trial Download?
DAoC continues to offer one of the best PvP systems of any MMORPG, and if players take the time to explore one or all of the three realms they will be rewarded with elaborate maps, satisfying graphics and a true variety in monsters. The DAoC community continues to be helpful, active and encouraging; plenty of guilds are happy to take both newcomers and returning players. If you are looking for a flawless UI, look elsewhere; if you want satisfying PvE, bring a few friends to the game. But if you are looking for fantastic PvP with a refreshing twist, definitely give DAoC at least a free trial download’s worth of time.