Players: 1+ Player Game | Release Date: 09/01/01 | Genre: MMO
Sporting three separate but well-balanced realms (Albion, Hibernia, and Midgard), Dark Age of Camelot does something good right off the bat that other massive multiplayer games did wrong; they handle the controversy of player killing by incorporating it into the gameplay. Instead of having to worry about being slain by another player while you were away from your computer answering nature's call or eliminating the ability to test your skill against human opponents altogether, Mythic designed the game so that you can only fight players from one of the other realms. (Rampant PK was one of the things that kept me from liking Ultima Online.) While some players will not want to take part in the realm versus realm (RvR) combat, there are incentives to taking part in the action. Combatants earn points which can be used to gain Realm Abilities that can strengthen their characters. Each realm also has a set of relics that need to be held, or everyone in the realm is weakened. The converse is also true. You want to nab relics from the other realm's strongholds to increase your power. On top of that, the realm that is currently holding the most number of forts gains access to Darkness Falls, a dungeon filled with many dark dangers and golden treasures.
As I mentioned earlier, DAoC offers three realms for people to play in. Each of the realms has its own strengths and weaknesses. Speaking in the most general terms, Midgard's classes are more primal and less sophisticated making them better as melee combat; Hibernia's classes bond with nature and their surroundings giving them more magical abilities; and Albion is something of the balance between the earlier two. Don't make the assumption that I'm saying a mage from Midgard can knock a fighter from Hibernia around with his staff; it's not going to happen unless there's a huge level difference in favor of the mage and maybe not even then.
After selecting a realm to play, players are given the choice of what race they would like to play. Each of the realms has a human primary race with near identical appearances. While Albion has only the Inconuu as a non-human race of the five racial selections for each realm, the opposite is true for the other two realms. For the most part you'll be able to pick from a wide array of character sizes; Hibernia's Lurikeen is tiny, quick, but weak, and Midgard's Troll is enormous, slow, but frighteningly strong. In realm combat, your size matters. A troll can't really hide behind anything short of a huge boulder, but a lurikeen can disappear into tall grass or behind a tree.
Each realm has a good variety of classes available to it based on the traditional fighter, mage, cleric, and thief of Dungeons & Dragons fame with advanced classes that are a hybrid mix of these base classes. Instead of choosing your class for the rest of your career right off the bat, you begin as a starter class that, in most cases, has the option of picking one of at least two other classes at level 5. For example, Albion's acolyte can choose to become either a cleric or a friar (cleric/fighter combination). While it sometimes seems like it takes forever to reach that golden 5th level, this system does give players the chance to explore their options before they are locked into one set path. At level four, your trainer will give you a quest to meet with all the prospective guild representatives that are open to your initial class.
While it feels like Albion, which contains Camelot, was given more emphasis during creation (not to mention the lion's share of the credit in the title), all three realms stand out like living, breathing worlds. Ambient sounds carpet the 3D-rendered landscape which undergoes a transformation between day and night. In addition there are moving weather systems which will drop rain or snow depending on the climate. A hard downpour will realistically cut down visibility making it hard to navigate unknown territory ?Äì not to mention the fog that sometimes rolls in. No, the game does not look as good as some of the newer single-player RPG games, but more priority has to be given to keeping the latency down with as many people as DAoC can support. It does however look much better than Everquest or UO (especially after the engine update through the Shrouded Isles expansion, but we'll talk about that another time), but it isn't on par with some of the newer games like Asheron's Call 2 ?Äì close enough not to complain about.
I should take a moment to say that the world is staggeringly huge. I've heard that each realm contains about eight miles of territory (not including the expansion). Though that doesn't sound like a lot of ground, you should keep in mind that your character is generally on foot not zooming down the highway in a car. For example, when you first see the main city in Albion (Camelot), it will take another couple of minutes to actually reach said city. As for things to fight, they tend to radiate out from each city or town. Immediately outside of most them, you'll run into low level monsters for new characters, but as you level up you will need to venture farther to find things to fight. If you are having problems finding things to fight, you can ask for a "kill task" from a named guard (Guardsman JoJo or whatever).
DAoC makes it relatively easy to figure out what equipment and what monsters you should be fighting with a nifty color-coding system. Click on something (monster, item, or even a person), and their name will come up with in a color ranging from (lowest to highest) gray, green, blue, yellow, orange, red, and purple. Fighting gray monsters or using items of that color is pointless; you gain no experience for the fight, and the items degrade quickly. Blue means that the item or monster is your level. In a solo fight most classes are doing good to take out blue and yellow critters. Groups depending on their strength can take out anything up through purple, but a purple monster could also be many levels higher. A group of two can generally take out most orange monsters with ease. As far as equipment goes, you want to try to buy, find, or have something crafted for you that is orange or maybe red to you and worry about trading it in once it is on the verge of turning green. As a rule of thumb, quest items, unique items found in loot, and player-crafted goods are much better than what you can buy in a shop.
Crafting is totally independent from gaining character levels and experience. It simply requires time to practice and a decent sum of gold to get started. If a level one character was given the money, he or she could become a master craftsman without ever entering a single fight. Crafts include tailoring, armorsmithing, weaponsmithing, and fletchering. Only certain classes can take up each of these arts as their primary skill, though they can also raise the other skills to seventy-five percent of their primary skill. Once the skill hits 100, consignment tasks can be received your trade master. These tasks consist of creating a particular item and delivering it to a particular non-player character (NPC) who pays you for your services. Once you have your skill up fairly high, you can sell items to other players. Craftsmen seem to make a good living by selling items just below what other merchants charge.
Most games always seem to have a few drawbacks, and DAoC isn't any different. First off the game is addicting, but the same can be said for other games of this genre. It takes time to build up your character, so you end up putting a lot of effort into the game. Targeting things to fight could be simplified. First you have to hit the target key (F8 by default) then hit the attack button (F6) once the target is in range. You can also click on the creature to target it, but it is sometimes hard to select it with other group members in the way. Once you get used to the setup, it's not too tough. Finding out information about items is confusing at first. You have to right click on the item, then hit shift+I to bring up the information window. The distance between various places can be a real bother at times, but there are horse routes that can help get you from place to place faster. At times it would be nice to have more horse routes.
One of the biggest setbacks to a new player is getting lost. Unless you have a map handy and keep paying attention to your compass, getting lost happens in a heartbeat especially in wooded areas. You'll usually run into something nasty that you really didn't want to find too. I've hiked in the woods many times and have a good sense of direction, but it is really easy to get turned around in the game. Getting separated from your group can also happen too easily unless you are actively following them. You turn around for a moment to scout for trouble, turn back around, and you are all alone.
Overall, Dark Age of Camelot is a blast. There is always something to challenge, and you can explore for a long, long time before seeing everything. The game isn't overly crowded, so you won't have to set up a base camp to just be able to find anything to fight. It offers combat against monsters and at later levels against other players from different realms. While death hurts in terms of experience loss, you don't have to worry about losing your equipment. If someone asked which of the MMORPGs that I would recommend, DAoC would be right at the top of the list.