Overview & Story
Video games based on Arthurian legend are everywhere. The concepts of noble knights, men standing ahead of armies, and facing down evil magic with strength of will alone are some of the best ways to draw a potential game player into a digital story. In Dark Age of Camelot (DAOC), this concept is expanded to a point of potential complexity that could have easily spelled disaster for the fledgling massively-multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG) that launched in October 9, 2001, particularly given that this game was intended to be the alternative for the time sink that Everquest had become.
The premise of the game revolves around the three realms of Albion, Hibernia, and Midgard, all three at war with the other two. In the beginning, the lands were populated only by humans--those in Albion, the Norse to the far north, and the Celts in Ireland. But something happened, and the great Veil, which separated the magical folk from the mundane folk, dropped, flooding the lands with all sorts of amazing things.
In Albion, you'll find a realm of humans, all recently mourning the losses of King Arthur and his most trusted adviser, Merlin, leadership of Camelot left to King Constantine. Along with the departure of the great leaders, monsters of all variety started creeping out of the ground--undead beasts, faerie pixies, the walking spirits of Romans long-buried, and many other variety of monsters taken from British and Celtic mythological history. While wandering the lands, you're likely to encounter landmarks you recognize from maps of Briton, such as Stonehenge on the Salisbury Plains and the open expanses of Cornwall, bordered by the Lost Lands of Lyonesse. You'll see rolling plains, dark forests, and the Black Mountains. Snow to the north, swamp to the south.
The people of Albion are very honorable, taking their cue from the Knights of the Round Table, and King Arthur himself. Magic and melee capabilities are evenly based throughout the classes&emdash;only one or two on each side of that line perform only those capabilities, such as the Armsman (a master of polearms, blades, and the crossbow with no magical capability) and the Wizard (a cloth-wearing spellcaster, brought to his knees if taken to blade).
Races available in Albion1: Avalonian, Briton, Highlander, and Saracen.
Classes available in Albion: Armsman, Cabalist, Cleric, Friar, Infiltrator, Mercenary, Minstrel, Paladin, Scout, Sorcerer, Theurgist, and Wizard2.
In Hibernia, you play a character close to nature, and the land reflects that. Emerald green hills and valleys, deep, mystical forests, and magic in the air so strong you can taste it. There exists only a small chance that a character in Hibernia is not at least magically-active. These are the people from beyond The Veil, which separated the humans from the elves. Tiny Lurikeen and giant Fir Bolgs wander amongst the Celts, the humans who lived in this rich land, sometimes called Ierne by the Celtic bards of old, today called Ireland.
The Hibernians are a nature-loving people, eager to reacquaint themselves with all that is grown, and their magic shows that--using light to attack, and summoning animals and trees for protection. Their mystical homes dot the landscape, each looking like the dwelling was grown there by the strength of Gaea alone.
Races available in Hibernia1: Celt, Elf, Fir Bolg, and Lurikeen.
Classes Available in Hibernia: Bard, Blademaster, Champion, Druid, Eldritch, Enchanter, Hero, Mentalist, Nightshade, Ranger, and Warden.
Midgard, the frozen lands of the Norse, is full of things people talk about but have never seen: glaciers, fjords, and trolls. With its dark and brooding forests and blindingly-bright snowy peaks, Midgard is a study in extremes. While wandering around in Odin's Gate or pondering your existence in Jordheim, it's easy to imagine that the people of Midgard have the ears of the gods of the Norse--of Loki, the trickster, of Odin, of Thor--and the magic of the land shows in this. Dark runes are used to summon the most potent of magic to aid in battle.
Primarily, Midgard is full of melee-oriented character classes, with very few purely-magical choices. Even the healers of the realm are noted not for their prowess in reviving the nearly-dead, but for their excellent spells in smashing down the living, and the following it up with smashing them further with hammers.
Races available in Midgard1: Dwarf, Kobold, Norse and Troll.
Classes Available in Hibernia: Berserker, Healer, Hunter, Runemaster, Shadowblade, Shaman, Skald, Spiritmaster, Thane and Warrior.
Much to the gaming public's surprise, DAOC turned out to be so dramatically different from Everquest that people flocked to it by the thousands, and started trends that were quickly picked up by other MMORPGs across the globe. On October 29, 2001, 20 days after the opening of the game, Mythic Entertainment, developer and publisher of DAOC, told the gaming world that over 100,000 people had signed up for the game, making it the fastest selling pay-for-play game in gaming history, eclipsing the releases of Everquest, Ultima Online, and Asheron's Call.
On December 3, 2002, Mythic Entertainment released the first expansion pack for the wildly successful game now serving more than 200,000 paying customers. It was called Shrouded Isles (SI), boasting for each of the three realms all new zones, a new race (Albion: the Inconnu, Hibernia: the Sylvan, Midgard: the Valkyn), and two new character classes (Albion: Necromancer and Reaver, Hibernia: Animist and Valewalker, Midgard: Bonedancer and Savage).
On June 24, 2003, the first free expansion for DAOC was announced--a download-only program that would allow you access to the new housing zones of the three realms, called Dark Age of Camelot: Foundations. It allowed a player to buy a house, decorate that house, sell items through a merchant, and craft armor, weapons, and spellcrafting items from the privacy of their own homes. Though the 50+ MB download was heavy for many modem-users, it quickly became a necessity to have in order to play the game effectively. Eventually, a "Gold" edition of DAOC was released, which included the Shrouded Isles and Foundations expansions.
Less than a year after Shrouded Isles, on October 28, 2003, Mythic Entertainment released the third expansion pack for the wildly-successful DAOC. They dubbed it Trials of Atlantis (TOA), and immediately set about breaking the rules of successful MMORPG production. The premises behind this expansion were absolutely fresh to the online gaming community. The pack was designed specifically for higher level characters (though unlike Everquest, the level ceiling was not raised), and much of the new content was entirely story driven. The quests and items available, myriad of them, were designed in such a way as to be content- and story-driven constructs.
In addition to new items and quests, TOA broke new ground in 3D-gaming by having much of the new world set under water--indeed, seeking out the lost city of Atlantis. For a game that had, up until that point, been 3D only in name, the new system developed a whole new set of difficulties for players to deal with. Line of sight (LOS) issues cropped up, as beasts on different planes from the character occasionally could not be hit, but after several weeks of post-release bug testing, many of these issues were cleared up.
In an effort to shake up the way frontier battles were done, on June 22, 2004, New Frontiers (NF) was released, the second free expansion for DAOC (though the SI or TOA expansions were required). This expansion has revolutionized the way realm wars were done in the game. New abilities and tactics were required to defeat the enemy now. Boats, first found in TOA lands only, could now be used on rivers tracing through the frontierlands in an effort to get to a keep to defend it, or surprise an enemy not expecting an attack from the river.
Innovations & Problems
As with any game designed to appeal to the broadest possible audience while still maintaining as large a degree of playability and re-playability as possible, DAOC took many ideas from the book of MMORPG and played by the rules as often as they could. You start out as a n00b wearing stupid clothes, and the hope is that you end up, many months later, as the ultra-powerful uber death-machine wearing specially-tailored armor that shines in your opponents' faces and blinds them while you go about hacking them to tiny bits.
When the game was first released, it appeared just like any other MMORPG, but had one thing on its credit that no other game had been able to figure out: Player-killing (PK) done right. In most all the rest of the online games with the ability to kill other players, the point was to get strong as quickly as you could so that you could put up a challenge to the griefers who spent their time wandering around the n00b towns finding fresh meat to pillage. DAOC took care of this by removing PK possibilities from the mainlands of the three realms. In fact, removed the ability (save for on a special server designed specifically for these people) to kill another person from your realm at all. That means a level 50 Briton Paladin can't even attack a level 7 Avalonian Sorcerer (though in later versions, a /duel command was initiated, but neither death nor success in a duel has any bearing on experience or loot--it's just designed for bored people waiting for portals). The aforementioned Paladin can only kill players from Hibernia and Midgard who wander into the frontiers of the realms, with full knowledge that a sneaky assassin can sneak up on them and render them a pile of goo. So, the separating of the two types of gameplay (PvE and PvP) turned into one of DAOC's prime attributes. In fact, it eventually came about the the PvP aspect turned into a sort of end-game for players, giving them something to grab onto. It was also an endless end-game, because so long as people wandered around killing each other, there'd be, well, other people to kill.
Another interesting innovation was the extra stuff packed into the frontiers. The frontiers are more than just big open expanses of trees and hills and guards rushing around killing realm enemies. The frontiers (4 zones for each realm, at launch, though it changed critically with the release of the NF expansion) were where the keeps and castles of each realm were kept. Seven keeps were peppered around these zones, introducing siege warfare with catapults, rams, and other keep-taking weapons into the game. Initially, the keeps owned by any realm determined what incredibly high level guards would exist at the relic keeps (more information later in this paragraph). For example, if Albion controlled Caer Hurbury, then the high level guard, Hurbury Knight, would be among the protectors of both of Albion's relic keeps. Later, when a new giant dungeon called Darkness Falls was installed, with entry portals located in each realm, owning keeps for reasons other than relic stealing became more important. The realm with the most keeps flying its banner could go into this dungeon, home of demons and other chthonic nasties. Lots of money to be made there. With the release of NF, additional bonuses were created for owning more keeps than the other realms, such as increased cash loot drops, faster crafting speeds, faster attack speeds, and others, but these were not initially in existence.
The first benefits available through realm wars were the Strength and Power Relics, which each realm had one of, housed in one of the two Relic Keeps (RK) in each realm. These relics meant nothing if you only had the two your realm starts with, but the moment you get another, the entire realm benefits. For example, if Albion has the Sword of Excalibur strength relic, and decides to rally up a few hundred citizens to go take Thor's Hammer from Midgard, and they succeed, everyone in the realm gets an additional 10% damage bonus. If they went on to Hibernia and stole Lug's Spear of Lightning, everyone in the realm would have a 20% bonus. Fortunately, taking a relic is incredibly difficult to do, and they change hands rarely. Unfortunately, throughout the run of DAOC, as large-scale relic-stealing groups of hundreds of attackers and hundreds of defenders, the lag on the servers became often intolerable, making such attacks even more rare, or happening very late at night (on US clocks, that is--DAOC began as a US game, and didn't launch in other countries until much later, and on completely different servers) to avoid large amounts of defenders, save the NPC guards who stand watch all the time.
An additional field of interest giving reason to enjoy the Realm vs. Realm (RvR) system is the accumulation of realm points (RP), which give you high levels in realm ranks (RR) and, in-turn, give you realm ability points (RAP) which you then use to train realm abilities (RA). Sound complex? Here's an example: Joe the Wizard is a RR1 level 50 Wizard. He has accumulated only 1 realm point, because he's never been involved in an RvR battle. He decides to go out onto the frontier, and finds a stray Kobold wandering around. After an intense battle, Joe defeats the stray Kobold, and is awarded 25 realm points. He is told that he now has sufficient realm points to be level 2 of RR1 (RR1L2), and is awarded one realm ability point. He can then go to his trainer and find a special RA skill, such as augmented acuity (which raises his INT by 6), or he can save up his realm ability points for something more costly. Each RA has multiple levels to purchase, and have a variety of useful passive and active effects. There are ten levels in each RR, and there are 10 RRs, the highest level requiring 8,208,750 RPs.
Dark Age of Camelot broke no new ground in its gameplay, essentially sticking with the third-person default view of the back of your toon wandering around, doing its thing. The interface was designed specifically to be simple, with a quickbar with 8 slots and 8 pages (later upgraded to 10 slots and 10 pages) to place spells, combat styles, macros, &c., and tab-driven pages for your character's stats, inventory, skills, magic spells, combat styles and group status. But, then again, it is not a wise thing to break with tradition on roleplaying games. People know what they know, and it is difficult to convince them elsewise.
The world itself is broken apart by zones, sewn together as close to seamlessly as possible. The fastest way to get around in the game, initially, was by horses, which ran along specific horse routes all throughout each realm, except into the more dangerous areas--you must walk there from the nearest stable. As the game progressed, horse routes became more plentiful, and now it's easy to reach nearly any destination by horse, with as little walking as possible. And that's a good thing, given that the world is unimaginably huge. Walking from the southern-most tip of Albion, in Lyonesse, all the way to the northern most point outside the frontiers at Snowdonia Border Keep would take, quite literally, at least an hour, particularly if you did not know precisely where each zone met another. That route would take you through, including the starting and end points, 9 zones. And along the way, it would be likely that you would meet some mob that decided to take an interest in removing your head.
The Magic System
In keeping with most modern RPGs, the ability to cast a spell is determined by the amount of power available to your character, which is, in-turn, determined by the intelligence (INT) character statistic. The higher the INT, the higher the power pool.
Spells are cast by dragging the icon of the spell onto the quickbar, and then clicking or typing the number associated with that slot. The spell takes a set amount of time to cast, modified by a character's dexterity (DEX) to speed up the cast.
The spell system is largely list-based--that is to say classes with magical ability put skill points3 into magic skills to gain new spells of specialization. All characters of a particular class receive the same base magic skills. All wizards, regardless of specialization, for example, receive the basic shield spells to increase armor factor (AF) and basic fire and ice offensive spells. That character can choose to specialize in any of his available spell lines (in the case of the Theurgist, for example, the available spell lines are earth, ice, and wind) for advanced, more potent and useful spells.
The Melee System
The melee system is based, chiefly, around weapon styles. Any character can pick up a weapon (though there are restrictions on type based on class--a wizard cannot, for example, pick up a bastard sword) and swing it at an enemy and have a chance to hit and do damage. Specialists in weapon type, the fighter-type classes, put skill points to their preferred weapon type to gain weapon styles. These styles use endurance, which is a static amount for all characters, to increase damage on your opponent. It does not regenerate during combat (unless you've picked up special Realm Abilities (RA) to do so--see the innovations section for more information on RAs), so if you use up all your endurance during a fight and the monster is not dead, you must rely on the simple swinging of your weapon in the hopes it will be enough.
Unlike magic spells, there are no base weapon styles automatically assigned to characters. They can only be learned through using skill points on a weapon type. By using specialization points in a weapon style (it is customary to stick with one style, to master one type, rather than being mediocre in all), you not only gain weapon styles, which increase the damage output of your weapon when used, but increase your overall damage when you do not use the style.
The classic DAOC game, without any expansions, will run on virtually any PC manufactured in the last 5 years. An Internet connection is required, obviously, and modem users will find that, though occasionally lag occurs, it is not something to be overly worried about.
SI requires slightly more power on the machine. According to Mythic's technical support, Windows 98/ME/XP are supported, while Windows 95/NT are not and DirectX 8.0 or later is required. A Pentium III 1.4GHz or AMD Athlon equivalent with 256MB RAM and a 3D-Acceleration video card with 32MB of video RAM or better is also required, though for full effects, the bigger, the better.
TOA, because of advanced video routines, requires a slightly more powerful machine to run it. According to Mythic's technical support, the operating system requirements are the same, though DirectX 9.0 or later is required. They recommend a Pentium 4 2GHz or AMD equivalent, 512MB RAM and the nVidia GeForce 4 Ti series 3D video card with 64MB video RAM for full enjoyment.
1. Races and classes listed are limited to the ones available at the launch of the game. New classes and races have been added via two pay-only expansion packs, Shrouded Isles and Trials of Atlantis.
2. You will note that Albion has more classes available than the other two realms. This was a design choice by the developers to make Albion a more well-rounded realm rather than a specifically magic- or melee-style realm.
3. Skill points are assigned at the beginning of each level gained, and the amount is determined by the class. A purely spell-casting class, the Wizard or Eldritch for example, receive 1xlevel in skill points, so that when a 31st level Bonedancer reaches level 32, that character receives 32 points to assign to the skills available. Melee classes often have more than that available each level, as they often have special needs to train. The Minstrel, in Albion, for example, receives 1.5xlevel skill points each level, as that class has added utility not only in weapon styles, which are important, but also in instruments, shield specialization, and stealth, giving the character the chance to make a specialization unique. Not all minstrels are the same, and their uniqueness is determined by their specializations.