Dark Age of Camelot Preview

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Publisher: Vivendi Universal
Developer: Mythic Entertainment

Platform: PC
Official Site: darkageofcamelot.com

Dark Age of Camelot is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) set after the fall of King Arthur's court. In this troubled time, three realms find themselves at war. The realm of Albion is the British core of Arthur's empire and is populated by various races of humans. The magic-infused realm of Hibernia is an Irish scene featuring human Celts and a host of fantasy races. Warlike Midgard is patterned after Scandinavia and is populated by Norsemen and some uncommon fantasy creatures. Realm vs. realm (RvR) combat is the center of the game design, and players are not allowed to fight members of their own realms. Rather, players in the same realm are at every turn encouraged to work together – even form in-game guilds – to defend the realm from monsters inside the realm and enemy players from without. To that end, players may only play on one realm per server in order to prevent people from using characters in different realms as mere spies on the enemy. What's more, players from one realm have no in-game way of communicating with members of the other realms. There will be NO negotiations for surrender! Camelot may also be enjoyed solo, although not every class is equally suitable for solo play. You may also play Camelot without ever encountering the other realms by staying deep inside your borders, questing and exploring dungeons, but you will lose out on some of the special perks offered to defenders of the realm.

Projected Release: October, 2001


Rob de los Reyes

These are my impressions of Dark Age of Camelot based on my involvement in the beta test. The beta permits you to play characters in each of the realms, notwithstanding the single beta server, in order to facilitate testing. I have played a bit in each of the realms so that I may give you a more complete look at the game, but this means I haven't as yet taken any particular character to advanced levels. Take my comments subject to that advisement. Permit me to issue one more standard disclaimer: Nothing in the beta is set in stone; everything is subject to further revision. That said...

The Realms and Their Inhabitants

The world of Dark Age of Camelot is divided into three realms – Albion, Hibernia and Midgard – and the difference is everything. Each of the realms is vividly distinct from the other two in terms of foliage, architecture, native monsters, and, most importantly, player races. Albion evokes the classical Arthurian England, full of gently sloped countryside, small farm-houses, tudor architecture and stone castles and keeps. The player races of Albion include Briton, Avalonian, Highlander and Saracen. Your choice of race matters because not all races can choose to pursue every character class (profession). All the Albion races are human, but each has a distinct appearance and base ability ratings. The character generation screen lets you choose your race, gender, hair color, face and height. Gender selection serves no game role and is strictly a matter of aesthetics/role-playing choice. While player characters in Albion are limited to the human race, Albion offers more class paths than the other realms and is generally well-balanced between magic and melee characters. For my first character, I chose a Saracen fighter (later, Mercenary – I'll explain below) named Idrahort after the leader of the Saracen forces in Egypt in Torquato Tasso's Renaissance epic Gerusalemme Liberata (Jerusalem Delivered). See, Mom and Dad, that degree in Renaissance Studies wasn't a waste of time after all!

The realm of Hibernia is loosely based on Ireland and takes from that isle its bright green hillsides and dirt paths running through tightly-grouped patches of deciduous trees. The architecture of Hibernia has rather more of a fantasy feel to it, as this Hibernia is the ancestral home of regal Elves, tiny Lurikeen, giant Firbolg and Celtic humans. Hibernia is bright and cheery with low hills and a sandy coastline. A nice vacation spot but for all those little monsters trying to kill you. The overarching characteristic of Hibernia is its affinity for magic. Of the three realms, it is the most heavily slanted towards magecraft. This is not to say that the Hibernian fighters are weaker than other fighters, it just means you're likely to see fewer of them around. For the sake of simplicity (and just to be different), I created a Firbolg warrior (later, Hero). To the right you'll see my character in his starting town of Howth. The Firbolg are the least magical of the Hibernian races, but the biggest and strongest. Fear him for he is Justice. Or something. The picture to the left also hints at one of the nice small touches in the game already–rain. Not only does the weather vary between sun and rain, but the rain comes down in different strengths. In a hard rain you can barely see a few feet in front of you, but as the rain slows down, your field of vision expands. Compare the visible fields of this picture and the one above it.

The third realm is the realm of Midgard, loosely based on a Viking Scandinavia. Midgard is darker and more mountainous than the other realms. And colder – blankets of snow cap the upper elevations. Also in marked contrast to the other two realms, towering dark conifers form the core of the foliage. Buildings are relatively uncarved timber and stone affairs to establish the more barbaric or tribal feel of Midgard. The denizens of Midgard include Norsemen (humans), giant Trolls, stocky Dwarves and the small blue Kobolds (don't worry, they are bigger than three apples high). Midgard emphasizes melee classes, but, as in Hibernia, this does not mean that Midgardian spellcasters are nonexistent or necessarily weaker than their counterparts in other realms. Breaking my initial pattern, I chose to create a Norseman Seer (later, Healer). That's my character, Siv, to the right standing in a marketplace in Jordheim, the largest city in Midgard. (By the way, I didn't know when I named her that there was a quest related to a spirit named Siv built in the game.) The pure healer class is largely a support class, though reports on the beta message boards seem to indicate that some people have found them to be perfectly viable soloers. In my limited play to date, I have found the healer to be significantly more fun to play in a group, and usually welcomed by all.

The Class System and Character Design

Choosing your character's profession is a multi-step process. First, you must choose a realm. The character classes in each realm are distinct, though all are based around the familiar core class types of Fighter, Mage, Healer and Rogue. Next you must choose a race. Not every class is open to every race, and some races may have a natural attribute advantage in some fields over others. The Avalonians of Albion, for example, are thin fellows with attribute bonuses that aid magic, but tend to make them somewhat weaker for melee combat. That said, it has to date been Mythic's position that the base attributes (Strength, Quickness, Piety, etc.) are less important in the long term than where you assign your skill points, i.e. which weapon, spell and special skills you choose to develop. To the right, you'll see Siv demonstrating the most basic of Healer functions... well... healing. On a side note, it's difficult to capture in a still shot, but the spell effects are wonderful to see.

When you first create a character, in addition to selecting race, hair, height and so on, you'll select one of the realm's four base classes which are all named some variant of the ones mentioned above. You'll play and train as a generalist in your base class until level 5, at which point you'll be instructed to join the guild of an advanced class. The advanced classes are further specialized versions of your base class and usually involve selecting what you might call the "pure" version of your basic class or something more of a hybrid. By way of example, a healer from the realm of Albion may, at level 5, choose to become a Cleric, the classic healer with advanced aid-type spells but weak melee ability, or to become a Friar, with weaker healing and aid spells but more advanced combat skills. It is at level 5 that you will gain many of the skills that define your class and which are there for you to develop throughout your career. When you gain a level, you'll earn skill points you can invest in training your skills by talking to a trainer for your class. In addition, as you level, you'll be awarded new special skills from the guild you have joined.

Of Monsters And Beasties

Monsters, too, are unique to each realm (although some will look rather familiar). Some monsters, particularly the low-level kind, will leave you alone unless you attack them, whereas others are rather more bloodthirsty and need little prompting to launch themselves at you with full force. Most monster graphics are reused, though renamed, in order to produce monsters of the same "type" with various degrees of power and toughness. Even so, you'll find plenty of wandering monsters on which to hone your skills and keep you interested. You could, if you so chose, spend your entire career fighting monsters, but, as mentioned, at some point the real target becomes players from the other realms. Realm combat is, however, level-restricted in order to protect weaker characters. Right now the character level required for inter-realm travel is in the mid-teens, but this is precisely the sort of thing that beta testing is designed to help establish. Monster toughness is largely keyed to proximity to towns and cities. That is, the monsters close to towns tend to be easier to kill and are there for new characters to train on. In order to find the tougher monsters (the ones that offer more experience when killed) you must go further out into the wilderness–out where the city guards aren't around to protect you if you get into trouble.

The game uses colors to indicate how tough the monster is compared to you and how much experience you can expect (roughly) to get from killing it. If the dwarf brawler's name is blue, that means the monster is in my character's optimum fighting range: absent some bad luck, I'm pretty sure to beat this monster and be awarded a normal level of experience points. By contrast when Idrahort bravely challenged a puny skeleton things got riskier. The name "puny skeleton" is colored in yellow. This means that this particular monster is a bit above my level. As a guide, this means that I will have a 50/50 chance of beating this monster. In practice, some character classes can beat "yellows" on a pretty consistent basis, while others, like my healer, have a tough time soloing against "blues."

Gameplay and Parting Thoughts

Although you could spend your career seeking and performing solo quests given out by the various NPCs in the game, Mythic has made group play the focus. Solo play then is there for you when you don't have a lot of time or just don't feel like grouping, but doesn't capture all the opportunities and rewards of group play. I have long been leery of forced group play, because I have long found relying on the kindness of strangers to be a losing proposition. Having said that, Mythic has added both carrot and stick to induce group play. Camelot offers in-game, player-created associations that can offer special quests and also have unique emblems to put on shields and cloaks. Mythic has also taken a lot of the sting out of griefers by forbidding Player vs. Player (PvP) combat with players from your same realm. Moreover, when grouped, there is a function which automatically divides up the loot dropped by monsters in order to prevent players from staying away from a fight then swooping in to take the loot. Still further, when you drop something on the ground from your inventory, no one else can pick it up except for you. It is an unbelievable relief to know that when you're fighting multiple monsters you can safely let the loot drop and concentrate instead on survival.

To my mind, the main worry so far is that the quests will slip into a familiar trap. Forget the standard FedEx quests (deliver item X to person Y, then return to me), which I don't mind so much. They're banal, but helpful experience-earners to those classes that have more difficulty in solo combat. What concerns me are the quests that involve finding and/or killing someone in a vast undefined area. The various regions in a realm are quite large and monsters spawn at different times. When I received, for example, the quest to locate a wandering spirit in East Svealand, a region of Midgard, all I could do was sigh and hope that I'd accidentally bump into it in the course of my adventures. I tried looking for it, but the phrase "mind-numbing frustration" is barely adequate to cover the experience. The regions are quite large and you have no idea whether the object of search is always present or only present at certain times. Call me impatient, but running around in circles hoping to bump into something is not my idea of a good time. I hope Mythic will work to refine such quests either by deliberately throwing the object of the search in your path after awhile, or producing some distinct landmarks into the otherwise indistinct countryside in order to give you some bearing when looking for things.

There are, as you might expect some other narrow issues (chance to hit, etc) that need some tweaking, but for a game with an October target release, Camelot outwardly appears in fine shape. The server has been fairly stable, the scenery is detailed, and the character classes are already reasonably well-balanced. I am thoroughly enjoying the cooperative aspects of play in marked contrast to something like Diablo II, where I just gave up on cooperative play. I realize that the current friendliness is partially a result of the smaller number of players in the beta, but it's also a tribute to design concept. Every now and again, while playing a fighter, some healer will run up, heal me, then go on his merry way. And why not? The mana cost of the spell regenerates quickly and, since we can't fight each other, we might as well help each other, even if not formally grouped. Make no mistake, people will find ways to be rude to each other, but this is a step in the right direction.

I'm as excited for Dark Age of Camelot as I have been for any game in what seems like a long while. Camelot looks like it is on track for its October release. When the final release comes out we will, of course, do a full review. In the meantime, cross your MMOG fingers, because Camelot is looking good, real good.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on September 1, 2001 12:54 PM.

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