It was the single most epic experience available in a role-playing game of any nature. Additional texts also within...
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If you are unfamiliar with Dark Age of Camelot, it is recommended that you first read and/or watch the Gamespot review with Greg Kasavin. This will help you to better understand the game's play mechanics and overall structure.
When Dark Age of Camelot (DAoC) was released back in October 2001, it was quite an interesting re-visioning of the Massively Multi-player On-line Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) genre. While the game broke North American sales and subscription records for an on-line game in its time, most of its potential player-base had no idea of DAoC's existence. However, for its niche market of about 500,000 subscribers, DAoC offered a sense of awe, exploration, and epic conflict.
My time spent with DAoC began as a beta tester shortly before the game's release in late 2001 and ended one year later. The following review, story, and epilogue are written in hindisght.
For its time, DAoC was the clear next-gen MMORPG succeeding the likes of Everquest and Asheron's Call. While the aforementioned games each include similar end-game encounters of slaying great foes and hoping to score their loot, DAoC does not focus solely on this aspect. Instead, it also hosts an amazing scenario for massive Player vs. Player (PvP) and Realm vs. Realm (RvR) conflict -- more on that later.
Regrettably, DAoC’s decline was the result of its subsequent expansions that served only to knock the original game from its impossibly-high pedestal. The expansions focused on high-end player vs. environment (PvE) content such as beast-hunting and dragon-slaying. These types of encounters are fought solely against scripted and computerized foes.
The expansion sets also added tedious grinds to power-up weapons and equipment. These grinds were intended to keep the players continually paying a monthly subscription fee, but it backfired. Players who suffered through the grinds would be the dominant force in PvP or RvR conflict. Meanwhile, the concepts of RvR were more or less forgotten as the retail expansions never deeply expanded on the player conflict.
However, the decline of DAoC did not become apparent until nearly two years after its release. The events that happened before then were nothing short of amazing. While it is possible to play DAoC on a classic server (which takes place before its catastrophic expansions were ever released), significant revisions to the core game have been made.
DAoC consists of three completely unique and warring realms. Each of these realms is a fully realized game-world of if its own with unique races, classes, and topography. Players can level up and explore within their respective realms without the risk of being killed by enemy players from the other two realms. To truly experience DAoC for what makes it unique, the player must step beyond the heavily guarded fortifications of the inner-realm and into the frontiers.
Epic battles, siege equipment, keep assaults, armies of war, and an endless struggle against enemy players await all who dare to set foot into the frontiers of DAoC. The frontiers are literally where everything that is epic and memorable about DAoC takes place. They are the untamed landscapes between one's inner realm and the distant enemy strongholds. Much like the inner realms, there are places to explore and monsters to hunt. However, there are also enemy players in an oft kill-or-be-killed, fight-or-flight situation. The ultimate objective for any of the three realms is to assault the enemy realms and capture their relics, of which each realm starts with two. If a realm is able to successfully capture an enemy relic and return it to their own relic keep, the relic will increase the strength or magic of every player in the victorious realm. To complicate things a bit, if a realm's relic is successfully taken back to its captors' territory, the felled realm has to go there and get it back. Finally, it is possible for one realm to hold all six relics, and the relics themselves never reset back to their original owners. In other words, prepare for some virtual bloodshed.
The capturable keeps and seizable relics fuel the never-ending battle between realms. Players can choose to invade an enemy realm or defend their own, though a high-level character is recommended to venture into an enemy’s frontier territories. Contrary to a description fitting for “glorified capture the flag,” the sheer depth of it all is immensely engaging.
Players can teleport to an allied stronghold on the outskirts of one of their opposing realms via a ceremony repeated once every ten minutes. The ceremony is conducted only from a single location within each realm. This game mechanic adds an element of risk to PvP, as penalty for death from enemy players varies considerably by situation and location. This adds tremendous value to player self-preservation as well as resurrection spells. Since each realm has multiple unique races and classes of its own, a player would never fight against an enemy player with all (or even close to all) the same abilities. This means that a Sorcerer of Albion will never cross paths with an enemy Sorcerer, because the two other realms simply do not have the Sorcerer class.
There are many types of epic battles that play out in DAoC. Many involve hundreds upon hundreds of players warring with one another, while others entail smaller skirmishes near a point of interest. All-out blood-lust from all three realms congregating savagely in the frontiers is common as well. Or, a truly organized raid would venture out (or arrive, unexpectedly) in the wee hours of the night seeking the powerful relics. Two realms, looking to obliterate the dominating realm, can even attempt to team up for an attack unmatched in glory and destruction. The combinations are many, and DAoC brings countless epic battles into the frontiers.
Ultimately, my review ends here, though this is also where my story begins. LIVING THE LEGEND:
Welcome to what would be a handful of pages torn from my adventure, and then re-written for brevity.
I created an Avalonian Sorcerer on the Percival server and named him Erebus, a name derived from the Greek legends. He was the first and only character I ever created in DAoC. As it turns out, Sorcerers were not all that useful in groups when attempting to level-up. More often than not, my rank was better suited for nearly any other class. As such, the Sorcerer was extremely difficult to level, and very few players stuck with the class. I nearly gave up on him altogether, though an inner-drive pushed me forward.
Unfortunately, my tenacity and enthusiasm were not reciprocated by my guild-leader. I tried vehemently to convey my tactics and ideas, but was bluntly told, "You are not the savior of Albion, Erebus."
"I can be," I replied, to which I was met with her usual arrogant mockery. Within a few days, I left the guild.
With further exploration into the frontiers, I found solace in PvP. I soon discovered that fighting against other players was my reward for the difficult trials I faced when attempting to group and level-up my character. To top it off, I could PvP alone, and I enjoyed it immensely. I still had no idea of the ultimate power I would soon wield.
Weeks pass, and my presence on the battlefields was commonplace. While I always suspected it, I would find out later that players in both opposing realms feared my name. I rarely saw defeat, and earned a sincere respect from my enemies.
"NERF EREBUS! AND DO IT [RIGHT THE (explicit)] NOW!" the Camelotvault forums were abuzz, and the cat was out of the bag. Conversations were spun about me on many occasions on these forums. Every now and then, I dropped in to say a few words. The strange thing about the Sorcerer class was that almost no one played it. Its extreme difficulty in leveling and its deceptively feeble abilities made Erebus stand out as an entity unto himself.
More weeks pass and the Camelot Herald is introduced! The top ranking players throughout all three realms were suddenly known to all, and I debuted at #3. Just as quickly, I began receiving praise and compliments from friend and stranger alike on the battlefield. "You are an asset to our realm." "You play an inspiring role, Erebus!"
One week later, I jumped to #2. I was pre-congratulated on earning the #1 rank by the Scout who currently held it, citing his forthcoming vacation. Indeed, the following week, I ranked #1 on the server. I had stood successfully against more enemy players than anyone around me, in any realm. My curiosity had me, however. I meticulously checked every server in the Herald to find the highest ranking Sorcerers in the game, and indeed, I stood above them all. My feeling of accomplishment was grand, but the war was just beginning.
It was Super-bowl Sunday, 2002, and while many Americans were watching Football, I was playing a video game. DAoC had been released for nearly four months now, and I was well-known to those in all three realms. That day was to be remembered as the server's first relic raid. My realm, Albion, would be the unwitting host of this occasion.
Information was leaked that Hibernians (often called Hibs) were amassing near their outpost in the far reaches of our frontier. A few allies and I were out scouting such claims. As we approached their outpost, I felt an ominous tranquility.... Suddenly, I spot a few, then ten, then at least 50 Hibs charging from clip-range at me! I quickly turn face and sprint for the wall -- our first line of defense. While running, I'm speedily typing, "Hibs coming for our wall!!" As I approach the wall, I begin to suffer damage, knowing that I would soon perish.
If I died on the Hibernian's side of the wall, I knew there would be no chance of resurrection. Such a death would require me to run back though the frontier to rejoin the battle. It would have been too late.
Amazingly, I was killed atop our wall while trying to escape with my last breath. Looking down upon my corpse and its surroundings, what seemed like just a small handful of allied players turned into an army of our own. The war was on. Within two minutes I was resurrected by an ally and quickly hid to replenish my health and magic.
We held them at our wall for an hour, maybe two. The Hibs begin to push through, ever so slowly, and I was getting restless. I knew they outnumbered us.
I climbed to the top of the wall and glimpsed over it to see no less than 100 Hibernians swarming our barrier. I held my breath and prayed for a bit of luck...
I leaped from the wall to the flank of the swarm of Hibs and just kept running. I saw Rangers turn to face me while nocking their arrows. I just kept running. I saw a few Hibernian players break from the formation and give chase. It did not matter; I ran for a good minute and eventually lost them. With my heart pounding, I knew that I was on their side of the wall, alone. I hid out in the brush and trees far from the action for about five minutes, though it felt like a half-hour.
In a nearby camp, I used a charm spell to capture a Templar (which in game-play terms is similar to a Warrior) NPC. I now had my favorite "pet" and was ready to battle.
I began to inch my way back to the action keeping to the tall grass and looking in every direction. The wall eventually came into periphery, and the hordes of Hibernians were meticulously lined up, making a 'T' shape with the wall. By now there were about 150 of them, and it was clear to me they were organizing a charge.
With very little time remaining, I said to myself, "I'm going to die," and sprang forth from my cover. I targeted the entire mid-section of the Hibernian line and began casting mesmerize spells. After a few moments, the entire mid-section of their army was stunned for the next several seconds. I immediately followed-up by sending my mind-controlled zealot into the fray.
Now, I just had to make it back through to our side of the wall with half the Hibernian army staring at me in disbelief. I sprinted towards the wall knowing I was still quite vulnerable. I was immediately hit with a fierce spell from a Hibernian Champion that drained my maximum health to the point where I would die in a single, forthcoming hit.
In a flash, my intuition told me who was responsible. As I sprinted for the contested passage through the wall, I thought to myself, "Rondel." He, however, is a completely different story, and one of my most skilled adversaries.
Somehow, I made it through to the Albion side of the wall -- alive. "Touchdown," I whispered as I thrust my hands into the air.
My Templar continued to wildly attack the Hibernian forces as I typed "Charge them! They're mesmerized!" completely fueled by adrenaline. I called my Templar back to my side to prevent it from being killed. After only a moment of hesitation, the Albions began to strike more aggressively against the Hibs. They began to spread the Hibernians out from their battering ram formation.
In an attempt to keep the situation chaotic for the Hibs, I sent my Templar into the back of their army. Unfortunately, my pet was quickly killed. For a few moments, I was able to cast life-draining and damage spells on my foes in an effort to prevent them from getting through the wall. I, too, am killed in a matter of seconds.
However, in that final moment at our wall, we drove the Hibernians away. Their raid against us was unsuccessful, leaving the Hibs empty-handed. I later learned that not only was Rondel the leader of the Hibernian’s assault, but also the leader of the massive guild who executed it. EPILOGUE:
That was merely one of countless epic adventures I experienced while playing DAoC. While a fun story and easy to tell, it was more of a tale of subtlety than a moment of glory. That day inspired and compelled me to push the limits on what was possible.
I've been the sole guardian of keeps, the slayer of entire groups, and even the love interest of a woman who played in an enemy realm..... I've been trapped inside a captured enemy keep with a few allies as we staved off an entire army -- twice. I've been accused of cheating (never have, never will), though those claims were quickly withdrawn. I have been among the ostracized and the elite. I have lived the legend.
For a wealth of complex reasons, and a few simpler ones, my adventures ultimately end in decline. Never did I find happiness in a guild, and the lack of new PvP content grew tiresome. In the end, I sold my character to a person who never played it. I never returned to DAoC.
Dark Age of Camelot has brought me joy, sorrow, fame, loss, love, tears, and glory. It was incomparably the greatest gaming experience I have ever had.
I have always hoped that the latest and so-called greatest MMORPGs would live up to the masterpiece that was DAoC. Unfortunately, they have yet to even come close. I feel this is the direct result of trying to make MMORPGs accessible to the masses. Indeed, World of Warcraft set the standard in both its relative simplicity to learn and complex competition in both raid and player arena settings. However, in this transition, much of the subtlty in the MMORPG game experience has been lost. Guild elitism has long since replaced realm pride. Objectives of significence with world-altering effects have been reduced to one-note instanced minigames with a negligible impact on the game world as a whole. The list would continue, but I have written a blog entry on the Gamespot site that you can read.