October marked the 10-year anniversary for Dark Age of Camelot (DAoC), which many would consider to be an impressive milestone for any MMO to achieve while still enjoying an active player-base. We decided to take another look at this classic title, and how the community responded to the call for an anniversary celebration.
A video blog from DAoC producer Stuart Zissu kicked-off the events in a post on the game website, in which he announced a rather considerable bonus to experience, crafting speed, realm point awards and bounty points throughout the month of October. But is DAoC still worth visiting into November and beyond?
Anniversary class changes, balance issues and bug fixes
While I wish I could report that DAoC no longer suffers from some pretty obscene class imbalances, bug issues and latency problems, that simply isn’t the case—though it does seem like the game team is still at least somewhat dedicated to keeping updates moving forward. Still, it’s obvious DAoC isn’t likely to see another expansion, so progress towards fixing such problems has been slow going at best over the last few years. Patch 1.110 from late October offered class balance changes for all three realms, and an alteration of some sort for almost every class. These changes ranged from minor tweaks to combat styles and recast timers, to the new edition of debuffs, self-buffs, pulsing charms and group heals to various classes.
The Battlegrounds (BGs) received tweaks to experience rewards, and the Aurulite reward crystals—the previous items used for buying supplies from merchants within the BGs—were removed, and replaced with Bounty Point scrolls. Considering most players opt to complete the quests within the BGs, this improvement to armor, weapons and accessories was a welcomed upgrade. The majority of the BGs are busy these days, something I missed back in the era when only Thidranki, Molvik and Leirvik seemed to have a regular crowd of folks.
The tutorial process also received an overhaul with this patch. As someone who just took two characters and four friends (who were brand-new to DAoC) through the leveling process I can certainly attest to how much better the tutorial system is than it was at the origin of DAoC a decade ago, though there are still some improvements to be had. The interface is still clumsy, and overwhelming to more than a few new players; it’s certainly less shiny and user-friendly than several of the other popular MMOs of today. This enhanced “New User Journey” update is a step in the right direction, and having gone through the tutorial just a few weeks before this patch and once after the changes went live, I’m impressed with how the game designers are still striving to make DAoC more welcoming to new players. New quests, realm lore, rewards and attention to the original “starter zones” like Mag Mell certainly have improved the process, and I’m glad to see some Epic Encounter options for these lower-level characters.
One of my favorite elements of the “New User Journey” upgrades and patch 1.110 is the improvements to the skill/item delve system, and the information listed when you hover over an icon on your quick bar. Delving and understanding all those shiny buttons in DAoC has always been a bit awkward, and even as a returning player I noticed all my icons had changed once again, leaving me to explore the changes to my class abilities via the delve system. The new version is infinitely better, though I am sure many will point-out that there is still plenty of room for improvement. One could argue these changes are nine years overdue, but I will take it as a good sign that DAoC is still delivering positive updates instead of sitting stagnant without any hope of improvement whatsoever.
Naturally, you can read more details about these updates, upgrades and tweaks over on the DAoC website in the official patch notes. You can also view the anniversary artwork, featuring familiar imagery from each of the three realms.
The Halloween festivities
DAoC is one of many MMOs to offer seasonal events for the player base to enjoy, including Halloween festivities. Since October is also the anniversary month, returning players got to enjoy both the spooky, seasonal events in addition to the game changes and updates for the 10-year anniversary. This included a returning quest in which players had to visit pumpkin patches in the frontier zones for each of the three realms, with a fairly nice helmet has a reward. The moon overheard was once again converted to a glowing Jack-O-Lantern, and the NPC horses used for travel within the mainland zones were ghostly instead of tangible. In housing, pumpkin patches once again sported Jack-O-Lantern faces, and players could even purchase potions in the capital cities to be converted to pixies, spiders, and other spooky things.
These updates were in addition to the experience and other rewards mentioned above, and while the temporary, cosmetic changes might not seem like much, it was nice to return to familiar festivities for Halloween in addition to the anniversary affair.
The DAoC Community
One of the biggest complaints I hear from folks testing-out DAoC for the first time is how PvP-oriented, and even “elite” minded, the community has gotten over the last five years. Sadly, it does seem as though most groups running 8-man teams (commonly referred to as 8v8 or “small man”) out in the New Frontiers are going to stick with players they know, who have complete templates, voice-chat already installed, and a realm rank of 8+. I would argue this is even truer in Hibernia or Midgard, where players are outnumbered by Albion 2 or 3-to-1 on most nights. Sure, optimal gear and voice-chat are crucial for maximum efficiency, but quite a few returning players coming back for the 10-year anniversary commented to me that this shift from a fairly Pick-Up-Group (PUG) friendly community to “a bunch of unfriendly elitist” is a huge deterrent for staying beyond their 14-day freebie pass. Still, can this really be avoided in an MMO that has become 90% PvP?
There are still some casual guilds out there, but returning or new players will likely have to dig through the community a bit to find them. Leveling-up in the BGs is a great way to meet some active, RvR-oriented new guild mates, and there are still a few websites offering DAoC-oriented forums for networking out of the MMO itself. I was pleasantly surprised by how many players I encountered with tales of returning after years of absence, simply for the sake of the 10-year anniversary or to sample all of the changes going live with the latest patch. More than a few shared stories from the “old days,” their first years on the game and their intention to stick around for awhile to see if DAoC could satisfy their MMO needs once again.
DAoC: Looking Forward
Without a doubt, DAoC isn’t the MMO for everyone. It hasn’t yet gone to F2P, which actually surprises me as someone who has returned to the game here and there over the years while testing F2P waters elsewhere. PvE is all but dead unless a group decides to slay the dragon(s) or run the Master Levels for nostalgic reasons, excluding the kill-task sort of quests available in the BGs. Still, RvR is alive and well, and I have rarely found a PvP system I enjoy more than the three-way war present between Hibernia, Midgard and Albion over on DAoC. Unfortunately, now that everyone is allowed to play all three realms on the same server—something very much disallowed and ban-worthy back when I played DAoC regularly—the amount of cross-realming seems to be at an all-time high, since anyone can log out of one realm and go play on the winning side.
The core game and all of the DAoC expansions are free for subscribers now, so players have the full spectrum of class and race options available even with the 14-day free trial. But are these things enough to justify a monthly subscription, or is it high time DAoC shifted to F2P—or would you rather see DAoC II be put into the works? It worked for Everquest, but I find myself very doubtful that players will see an announcement of DAoC II anytime in the near future—or ever, to be honest. Crafting and player housing are still in-demand and in-use, even if the market has inflated considerably over time as games without an auction house are especially prone to do. The 50+ PvE content has been streamlined, especially the Master Levels and other Trials of Atlantis expansion content, so there aren’t many 5-hour raids to be had these days. But if you’re looking for quality PvE, DAoC isn’t likely to hold your attention for long anyway.
In the end, DAoC is still an active, enjoyable MMO option for players willing to endure a monthly subscription plan. While it is far from perfect, the amount of returning players visiting for the 10-year anniversary—and vowing to stay indefinitely—proves this one isn’t yet dead in the water, and it certainly fulfills on the PvP end if not so much in the PvE department.