State of the Game: Dark Age of Camelot

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Dark Age of Camelot (DAoC) is a game that many new gamers have never heard of. Why? It is undeniably old, released in 2001 by Mythic Entertainment. Though old, DAoC has an alive and booming server still, because of one reason: Realm v Realm (RvR). No, not that RvR in Warhammer – but real RvR, because DAoC has three realms instead of two, something that I think current game developers have overlooked. You may think that it’s all well and good, but there is no way that DAoC could still be a viable PvP game after all this time. Wrong, in February of this year, Ten Ton Hammer rated DAoC as #1 pay-to-play PVP game. Whether you are a DAoC veteran who hasn’t played the game in years, or a new player, who like many of us, are unsatisfied with PvP and the current MMO options, I will attempt to bring you up to speed on the current state of Dark Age of Camelot.

The Graphics:

Is it too old for those of us spoiled by the new graphics that improve every year? I find that usually the biggest turn off to new players is the UI. While you can customize it, and this helps a ton, it can be very hard to get used to compared to something like World of Warcraft. That being said, after a short period of time you will get used to them (as in any different MMO) and it will seem second nature.

I cannot recommend enough, that you use some sort of custom UI. Many of them these days are more than just a style, but instead give you options to change every aspect of the UI to look in different ways and styles. Bob’s UI is a good example. It is important to note that you can only change the way the UI looks, but the UI  cannot do anything like WoW.

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Here is an example of changing from the newer icon style (top), to the old school (preferred) style.

I may be biased, but I don’t find the actual graphics of DAoC to be that bad. DAoC’s graphics hold a sort of dark realism that I haven’t found in another game worth playing. In the older zones, the age in the game shows itself, but in newer zones, the environment looks quite beautiful .

An Elf Enchanter using a debuff and nukes on a Champion.

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The dark realism of DAoC in a character model. No cartoony fingers here.

The one thing that does bug me with the graphics is that sometimes a style animation (or part of a spell one) will not fire when that ability kills its target. It’s been around in the game for a long time and you don’t notice it often. It’s important to note that, if you happen to be a veteran that really liked the old school player models, you can adjust the in-game settings so that any race/gender combinations you want will appear in game in their old style, but this includes their armor as well.

Leveling:

If you had help via friends or power leveling, and knew what you were doing, you could level to 50 in a single day. Most of us veterans that don’t want to pay someone in game or have means to power level ourselves can still get to 50 in under a week. There are a vast number of ways and places to level, which I will not cover here, but the point is that leveling in DAoC has become much easier to do. The game is focused (primarily) on what you do at 50. Which brings us to RvR and PvP.

The RvR/PvP:

Undoubtedly, this is what keeps DAoC alive. There are three realms (Midgard, Hibernia, and Albion) which battle throughout the frontiers and various other zones. One of the huge draws to DAoC PvP is that almost all of it is considered open, and none of it is instanced like a Warhammer or WoW battleground. Each realm has a frontier equipped with plethora of keeps and towers.

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A fully upgraded keep of Midgard.

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A fully upgraded tower of Midgard.

Taking a keep and its surrounding towers allows your realm the ability to teleport to that keep from home, opening a gateway for your realm to invade your enemies frontier faster. If you take enough of the right keeps, you can open your enemies Relic Keep(s), which house a relic. If you capture your enemies relics you can achieve +10% melee or magical damage/healing for your entire realm for every relic in addition to your own. That is until they take them back.

In general, there are primarily three modes in which people collide on the field of battle. There is the zerg – massive amounts of players on opposite sides swarming across the battlefield. Some people really enjoy this aspect, though others prefer a more equal setting and we move to the famous 8v8. This is when it’s purely one group versus another, and has inspired a huge range of competitive PvP videos. Then there is the solo game, or small man action. Many complain that these days, the solo game is dead. This is probably because there are a lot of people on the single server. Approximately 2000 to 3500 at a time, this is quite a bit more than a single server used to hold back in the day. There is also more 24 hour action because Mythic opened up free transfers from the European servers shortly after they merged all the servers into one.

So, besides open field RvR, what makes the PvP so attractive? Unfortunately, this is a very big question. In a nutshell, the most important factors of DAoC’s PvP are: Three realms, 45 different classes, a hard interrupt system, skill versus gear, immunity timers and realm abilities.

Three Realms:

Having three realms adds a certain dynamic to the game, where you can have amazing three way fights in which you try to struggle to gain the upper hand. In addition, it provides a check, because two realms can easily team up on the third if it’s becoming two powerful. In addition, it provides a more interesting psychological mindset then the classic “us versus them.” Instead it’s a more fluid, changing balance of power compared to a black and white comparison of something like Order and Destruction in Warhammer.

Classes:

45 different classes! Only one of which is available to every realm. While some classes are similar to each other more than others, there are really no mirror classes. Every caster class has three specializations, which, depending on the class you can mix and match in different ways. In addition, there are three baseline spell sets that are increased in their efficiency  by speccing in the related spec line. While an Enchanter and an Eldritch (both Hibernia) might share some baseline spells, their specs are completely different. The various types of spells and utility are mixed up among the different realm so there isn’t one class that does everything (or offers) like another. Melee classes specialize in different weapons and defenses instead of spell lines. After experiencing this myriad of classes, I find it really hard to move to a game that boasts a laughing 10 or less classes.

The Interrupt System:

If you are a recent gamer, you may not know what I meant by “hard interrupts.” This is because there are, to my knowledge, no other MMOs that currently use this type of system. It’s simple, if someone is attacking you, you cannot cast any spells that are not instant. A lot of people are scared of this mechanic, but there are a few things to keep in mind. First, there is no global cooldown, and with such a system, there are not a lot of instant spells (and those that do exist have their own cooldowns). You are probably thinking that having a hard interrupt system would give melee a huge advantage over spell casters. You would be wrong, for several reasons. First, because of this, spell casting has over time become quite…potent. It may be easy to interrupt, but if left unattended, a caster or healing class can become quite a pain. Of course spell casters also have the advantage of range, and with these two mechanics combined, we get a host of tactics and strategies that are simply not present in many MMOs. In addition, DAoC has a stat (Dexterity) which effects your cast speed by quite a bit. I am shocked that so many games these days employ a melee speed stat, but not a casting one.

Skill Vs Gear:

This is where we come to skill versus gear. First of all, gear in DAoC is much easier to come by than in something like WoW, making it a more level playing field. In addition, DAoC has a cap system meaning that you build templates of gear in which you try to maximize the bonuses (stats, resists etc) you want, while trying to fit in various “toys” which are items that have activated or reactionary abilities. For example, the difference between DAoC and WoW is that if you wanted to maximize your melee damage (in DAoC via gear)  you would increase your strength by 101, your melee damage by 10%, your style damage by 10%, and for over time damage, your melee speed by 10%. In WoW however, one cannot simply just cap their strength. While there are some points of diminishing returns, gear with more stats will always be better (assuming the stats are the important ones). WoW’s system creates a larger gap between players because the range in gear is so drastic and isn’t capped. I actually find building templates to be an extremely fun (albeit hard for some classes) process that connects me to my character.

Now is where skill comes in. Without a global cooldown, the faster you are at picking and changing targets while you cast spells, interrupt, peel and assist the better you will be. There is a lot you can be doing at any given time, and the better you are at evaluating the fight in front of you and prioritizing your targets and countering their threats the better you can help your group. DAoC is, for the most part, not a solo game and as such, the more you play with the same group of people, the better you will become as a team to overcome other groups and higher numbers . Working really well together as a group can overcome almost any disadvantage from class makeup to numbers.

Crowd Control and Immunity Timers:

Crowd control is not as harsh as it used to be in DAoC. This is mostly because more players can afford Purge (next section) and other methods that reduce CC. Players that still complain that there is too much crowd control in DAoC are just bad. There I said it. However, what is important about DAoC’s CC are the immunity timers. Instead of a diminishing returns system (like WoW), in DAoC you receive a real, lengthy immunity timer to various types of CC. The different immunity timers are for mesmerize, stun, near sight, and root/snare (spells). The only CC that doesn’t have an immunity is disease, which while important, is not as debilitating as the others. For mez, near sight and root/snare, after the effect is broken or expired, you receive a 60 second immunity to that type of CC. With stuns, you receive an immunity timer that is 5 times as long as the duration of the stun. So a 9 second stun will yield a 54 second immunity (even if you purged the stun and only sat through 1 second of it.) What does this all amount to? You’d better not waste your CC. If you mez a group, and simultaneously break all their mezzes, you’ve just given them immunity for a minute. This is why it is important to calculating in your targets and decisions lest you waste the tools you have. In other games with diminishing returns, there is a lot more room for mistakes – and as such, the slaying of an enemy has never brought me the same feeling of accomplishment as in DAoC.

Realm Abilities and Rank

Finally we get to the achievement system of RvR. If you played Warhammer it is very similar, except Warhammer’s version of RAs is extremely watered down. In DAoC you receive realm points primarily from killing enemy players. You can get some with PvP quests, and some from taking keeps and towers, but not enough for serious advancement. Shockingly (sarcasm) you actually have to PvP for these PvP points. There are 13 realm ranks, and 10 levels per rank, usually denoted as 7L4 (Realm Rank 7, level 4). For each level in a rank, you achieve one realm ability point which you can use to buy Realm Abilities (RAs). There are passive abilities and activated abilities, and each class has a access to various amounts of each (but not all) in addition to a class specific free ability at RR5.

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An example of the RA choices for a Valkyrie (Charplan)

Realm rank, and gaining realm points is the primary goal (outside of the pure enjoyment) for PvP. You actually earn something that can greatly benefit your character (not just in PvP) and there is no way to rush/buy/powerlevel the progression. Unlike Warhammer, where after only a couple of months someone hit the highest rank, there have only been a handful of players that have ever achieved rr13 in DAoC.

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A graphic showing the curve of realm points vs. realm rank (Bob’s UI)

The higher your RR, the more you can afford passive bonuses (like an additional 55% chance to crit) and buy more powerful usable abilities (how about un-interrupted casting @ 75% effectiveness for 30+ seconds every 10 minutes). These turn your character into something quite powerful and your own.

The Disadvantages of DAoC PvP and Game play:

One of the major problems with DAoC RvR is that new players feel overwhelmed. It’s hard to compete against a group of RR10-12s, and now after many years, there are a lot of people that have RR10+ characters. While it is challenging, it’s not impossible, and there are many people (we call them “bads”) that have achieved quite a high RR but are just terrible. While it is very possible to take down such groups at much lower rank, I recognize that it can be hard for new players. In addition, players are rolling new characters all the time, and they have to start at low RR just like everyone else.

Getting groups can also be rough. It’s much easier for casual zerg RvR, but if you want to 8v8 or roam, it helps to get your name out there and make friends.  At the very least, PvP with a tight knit group of players on a regular basis. Finding guilds is not difficult, but as with any game finding the right guild can be tough.

Learning the mechanics and the classes is important. As with many things, knowledge really is power in DAoC. The more you know how a class operates and how you can use the game’s mechanics to your advantage the better you will be. Unfortunately, that is quite a lot of information and experience that DAoC veterans such as myself often take for granted because to us, it’s just second nature. New players have to not only learn to recognize classes based on their actions (there is nothing in the game to tell you their class), but what those classes are capable of and how to counter them.

While lag is no different than any other games, the game does produce something we call “lag ghosts.” This is when you see a player or pet that isn’t there. They can be stationary or moving, and, after a time, are fairly easy to spot because if they are moving they won’t slow down or change direction, and if they aren’t moving as soon as you are in range your spells won’t start to cast. It is a unfortunate bug, though, because it can indicate that someone is in the area or what direction they might be coming from.

The buff system in DAoC is very important to the gameplay. So important, in fact, that I would guess that one in three players has a buffbot. A buffbot is a character on a separate account that is leveled and used primarily to buff several other players. This is, in itself, probably the biggest turn off to new players once they understand that in order to compete in RvR you have to have at least the basic buffs. That being said, you don’t have to have a bot. A lot of people do, so it’s easy to join a group without one, or play with friends that have one, or guild members. They have also recently added NPCs that for almost no cost will give you fairly decent buffs, though they are not as good as the player casted ones.

Game Improvements:

Despite the age of the game, and the opinion that there is only what is commonly referred to as a skeleton crew at Mythic to oversee the game, we are seeing steady improvements as well as other interesting developments. In addition, new players interested in the game will be happy to note that all of the expansions are now free.

For example, currently, and since the beginning of the game, you could only see a maximum of 21 buffs/debuffs/effects that were on your character. The problem was that if you were affected by newer debuffs, while you might be able to visually catch what just hit you, you wouldn’t be able to see the icon on your buff/debuff bar. In a recent patch they allowed us to change the layout and the order of those buffs, but it was still capped at 21. It seems that the newest patch to hit the test server a couple of days ago will finally be lifting the maximum well beyond 21. They are also revamping the training window in the next patch both so that you can plan out your character in game (as opposed to an outside character builder) and to speed up the training process which is currently rather slow to prevent error.

We also just had our first live event that was actually run by Mythic employees which featured new rewards and some good fun. There are few games that I know of, where 300+ people can be fairly close together and the lag isn’t actually that bad (depending of course on your machine too). I was only able to attend part of one of the events, but from what I witnessed there was a huge turnout of players.

The Community:

The community in DAoC has its upsides and its downsides, as I would imagine any game has. I have found that DAoC tends to, in general, have an older population then most MMOs. A lot of people that started young have grown up since its release and kept playing. I group more often with married couples then with teenagers, and that can be a real blessing. We also have in my opinion, a wonderful international community. I have grouped (and talked in vent) with people from England, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Italy, France, Spain, Australia, and Brazil to only list a few. The one major stain in our community is that over time, players have formed different types of elitist groups. There are varying degrees of what I describe as elitist, but the point is that some players know each other very well and are not very open to others. That being said, there are plenty of open, welcoming people out there, just don’t frequent the VN boards and you’ll enjoy the game more, I promise.

Conclusion:

There is a lot I could still tell you about DAoC. There are many other methods of advancement beyond RAs and reaching level 50, such as Master Levels and Champion Levels. There is a whole range of crafting from weapons, armor, alchemy, gems and more. There are actually some interesting PvE encounters, though DAoC is a RvR focused game – you won’t find a single guild calling itself a raiding guild, though many do host raids for new players or getting some of the better gear. There are new methods of currency (recently introduced) beyond gold in order to help newer players get certain gear and abilities on their own.  While DAoC is anything but perfect, I feel that is the only game worth playing for PvP that I have experienced.

10 Comments

  1. Thanks a lot for posting this.

    DAoC was my first real MMO (other than MUDs). I haven’t played in years. I never achieved top level, but I had a crap ton of fun in the ‘Battlegrounds’. I think ‘Thidranki’ was the name of it or something.

    Anyways, I was hoping WAR was going to have the sort of PvP fun I had in DaoC, but it didn’t come close :(

  2. DAoC was one of those games I always wanted to play, but never did. I thought RvR in Warhammer was decent, so now I feel like I missed out on RvR in DAoc.

  3. I played Daoc for years from the SI expansion and on. Back then the population on the EU servers was high. It’s the best MMO I ever played for the reasons mentioned in the article. When WOW came out it killed the population, and the servers died. If people still played daoc I’d definately come back, but there is too little action now.

    I’ll never forget my Thidranki battles and all the fun I had (sigh). Those were the days.

  4. Great article, you did the game justice. Unfortunately, all the servers are merged into one now, and the game seems to be gradually slipping away to its deathbed..

  5. Guys – great news. The good times are not over. There is an alternative to the vastly out-leveled retail version. They made this game free to download many years ago, still requiring you to pay by month. Tons of players left the live version at the fairly early release of Trials of Atlantis. There is now a free server at normal xp/cash rates replicating the state of the game in early release. There are no massive zones that spread players across the world, making it impossible to find groups. There are also tons of new players and returning players starting at level 1 every single day. It is an international server, which means active 24/7, and at peak has almost as many players as live (around 750)! I highly recommend coming and checking this out if you need a lapse from lame ftpmmo’s and hope a lot of people have a chance to read this. Also, it’s not illegal:)

    Download the client here: http://l3-cdn2.nap.eamythic.com/daocpatch/installer/DAoCSetup.exe

    Server here:http://www.darkageofcamelot.com/download/

    Classic Patch here:http://www.uthgard.net/index.php?option=com_remository&Itemid=68&func=fileinfo&id=5&lang=en

    and Patch Downgrade here: http://www.mediafire.com/?ypa1xieq0nlzfha

    Seems like a lot, but its one time and not difficult at all. Install the client, install DoL (Dawn of Light), apply the patch downgrade, in DoL go to client>set active client>(location of install) and then client>mod manager. From the mod manager, drag and drop your classic.dmm you downloaded from the classic patch and drop it there, check the box, and click install^^ Creating an account is easy, just enter a name and a password, and choose the server Uthgard! Look me up, Ixxie of Midgard – I can help you with anything you need!

    Again, not a lot of work and well worth it!! This is a well maintained server that some would say is a bit more friendly than live. And that is the State of the Game!

  6. I came back to DAoC about 3ish months ago after 6 yrs of playing other mmos (WoW, WAR, Aion, APB), and have been having fun pvping since then. The game is a bit different than it was when I first played (2002-2004), but I’ve adapted to it. I still think it is the most fun pvp mmo out there right now, and with games like SWTOR (and possibly Rift?) focusing on instanced combat, I will most likely stay in DAoC for a long time.

    I only know of Rift and SWTOR because I fear that DAoC is on the decline, and at times I get frustrated with the game. I love to solo, but grouping is also a lot of fun–the only problem with grouping is that it is very, very hard to find good 8man groups on Albion (ywain server). Some of the groups with rr12s in them suck after years of playing–which is ridiculous–and the rest already have set teams. Finding a serious 8man isn’t as easy as it once was, which is a major disappointment. To be honest, the community on my old DAoC server (Percival-RP) was more friendly than the combination of servers that became Ywain. I find that people don’t care as much about realm pride these days–and that is mainly because there are a good amount of people that have characters on multiple realms–and that is due to teh servers being merged–you can have your albs on Ywain1, your hibs on Ywain2, and your mids on Ywain3–and change between them in a heartbeat. For someone like me that has played Alb the entire time, it is disappointing.

    But you know what, even with the current DAoC feeling like a mere shadow of pre-ToA DAoC, I still find it better than anything else out there. I wish DAoC2 would come out…I have a feeling anything else would fall short.

  7. Just download DAOC, and hit up uthgard.net to play on a free server. Instructions and a forum are there for you to use. Just do it. It’s free, population is decent, and you can play again. Freely. ;)

  8. Hit up Uthgard.net. It will let you play this game in a sort of classic time (pre-ToA) and is 100% free to play and download. Great server and great community! Check it out!

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