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Dark Age of Catacombs: Catacombs

Developer: Mythic Entertainment | Publisher: Mythic Entertainment
Players: 1+ Player Game | Release Date: 12/07/04 | Genre: MMO

The Dark Age of Camelot universe has expanded once again with their third retail expansion. While the previous two packs added new, exotic lands to explore, this pack focuses on the dungeon crawl experience; it even adds new life to the old game world. Throw in 5 new classes and instanced dungeons, and you get a slick addition to an already robust game.

Why only 5 new classes? Initially there were going to be 3 (one per realm). When it became obvious that Albion had a population advantage on nearly every server, Mythic decided to give Hibernia and Midgard one extra class each to draw more players to those realms. Albion gets the heretic, a fallen acolyte who loses much of their healing abilities in exchange for offensive spells. They can also train weapons, the use of a shield, and a buffing spell-line. Hibernia's new classes are the vampiir and bainshee. The vampiir is unique in that any of the base classes can become one. Upon becoming a vampiir, the character's skin turns pasty white. With a run speed enhancement active, they begin to levitate. Vampiirs wield a rapier in their right hand and use their left hand to make magic and claw attacks, but instead of starting with a full power bar they get their power from combat. Bainshees are female only whose power is based on sound. They have screams that can make enemies flee in terror or temporarily become allies. In Midgard the warlock and valkyrie have taken up residence. Warlocks are spellcasters whose spells take longer to cast, but they are able to tack secondary spells onto the initial spell. Later on, they are also able to precast spells that are held in special "chambers" that hover over the players head and can be used as needed. The valkyrie is another female only character that is a hybrid tank. She can specialize in the use of a spear or sword and shield, and she also gets a line of spells that have a cone of effect. For the time being, none of these classes can be made using the "/level" command that lets people who have reached level 50 with a character create a new character that starts at level 20.

All the new real estate added to the game this time around happens underground. Each of the three realms has a new city that lies roughly beneath their original capital cities, where the main entrance to the Catacombs can be found. Players can also enter into the expansion through the old dungeons found in the original game. Just inside of these dungeons, players can pass into one of the Catacombs areas that acts as a connector zone that speeds travel between the various dungeons. Each of the classic dungeons also has two new doors that lead into instanced dungeons.

These instanced dungeons allow solo adventurers or groups to enter a private copy of these areas where they don't have to worry about competing with other players. Here, players can hunt for pieces of aurulite that can be traded with merchants in the Catacombs cities for equipment. It is similar to the seals that can be found in the Darkness Falls dungeon. There are also a series of instanced task dungeons. These dungeons do not drop aurulite, but they take some of the tedium out of leveling and make it much easier to find something of the appropriate level to hunt. The first task dungeons are located near the main city for each realm where most new players first enter the game. To enter these dungeons, you first talk to the taskmaster located near the bind stone to get a mission, and then you enter the dungeon. The creatures found in the task dungeons are "blue" to the player, meaning that they are slightly weaker but still give decent exp. The instanced dungeons cater more to casual players by making it easy to log in, adventure in the dungeons without having to worry about the areas being overcrowded, but still make significant progress toward their next level.

One of my biggest complaints about the instanced task dungeons will be addressed shortly with a new patch. Most spellcasting classes find these dungeons too cramped to be effective. Optimally, a casting character wants to start a fight from the maximum range of their spells to allow them to get in as many spells as possible before they are forced to enter melee mode. As soon as the patch goes live, players will have the option of selecting between winding or straight halls in their task dungeon. The other complaint is the lack of interesting equipment finds. They seem to only give out coins and generic equipment with no special statistics. With the instanced dungeons that give out aurulite, it's not a concern, but it is a letdown for the task dungeons. Perhaps giving out items from time to time as reward for completing your task would have been a good solution.

The graphics update is worth the cost of the expansion pack. It starts with players being able to customize their characters in a wide variety of choices and filters all the way down to seeing a character's fingers wiggle while casting a spell. Of all the character models, only the updated look for Hibernia's sylvans does not sit well with me. Where this race resembles the trees that they live among, the new models never seem to have enough foliage like the previous versions did and end up looking as though they are sickly. Everything else from the stony, powerful trolls to the tiny, agile lurikeens looks amazing. I'll go ahead and interject that more customization options have been added since the release of Catacombs and more will be added with the next patch. One of my favorite new additions graphically has been the cobwebs that are found in the dungeons; the way they blow in the faint subterranean breeze makes them seem alive. Even lower level monsters like the boulderlings that Albion characters typically fight early on, look better. Instead of looking like an oversized, humanoid shape with a stony texture, they now look like walking piles of rocks.

I was pleasantly surprised to see more quests had been added to the game. Quests make it easier to roleplay instead of just running out and beating things over the head repeatedly until they die. Don't get me wrong; there were a good number of quests available beforehand. With the sheer size of the game world, they felt a bit sparse. In contrast it seems like everyone needs your help now. All kinds of quests are available ranging from simple delivery quests, collection quests, "defeat a certain creature" quests, and even some quests where you must be magically disguised to gather information from an NPC.

Overall, it's a good expansion pack. Unlike the pack before it that was targeted at higher level players, Catacombs is immediately accessible to everyone. The new graphics, places to explore, quests, and classes make it a definite must for current players. New players would probably want to nab the Platinum Pack first that contains the original game, Shrouded Isles, and Trials of Atlantis to see how they like the game. That'll probably hook you, so you might as well go ahead and buy Catacombs at the same time. So get ready to explore Catacombs.

By Greg Meadors - 02/17/05
ESRB Details: Violence

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Dark Age of Camelot: Catacombs