There are a few of us in the Game on Aus community that have been playing games together since we were kids. My favourite genre of games, and where some of our fondest gaming memories come from, is Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs). We are going to take you down our memory lane as we explore our origins playing MMORPGs from the late 90’s through to today in a multi-part series. In this Part 5 I will be exploring more of the second generation of MMORPG’s with Mythic’s Dark Age of Camelot.
Dark Age of Camelot (DAoC) was released in October 2001, developed by Mythic Entertainment and published by Vivendi Universal Games. DAoC was a 3D MMORPG along the lines of EverQuest, Asheron’s Call and Anarchy Online, however the graphics were a big step up for 2001. This was possible because most of the game’s code was stored on Mythic’s servers (120 dual-processor Pentiums!) whilst the user’s client files focused more on powering graphics and texture loading.
DAoC’s story is set in the Arthurian era after King Arthur’s death. His kingdom is split up into the three realms of Albion, Hibernia and Midgard, who are in a constant state of war with each other. Each realm featured multiple unique races suited to the lore of each realm. Albion had an Arthurian lore theme with such races as Britons, Highlanders and Saracen, Midgard had a Norse mythology themed races of Norsemen, Dwarves and Kobolds and Hibernian’s had Irish Celtic legends of Elves, Lurikeen and Sylvan.
PvP in previous MMORPGs traditionally had two sides fighting each other, whether it be Guild v Guild, Order v Chaos or basic ‘Reds v Blues’. DAoC’s three realms all had their own independent PvE zones as well as designated Realm v Realm zones, or RvR as it came to be known. Here the three factions fought for control of Frontier Keeps (outposts) spread across the RvR zone of Agramon (these days has been revamped and now known as Ellan Vannin) with ownership of “relics” from the large Relic Keeps being tied to faction-wide bonuses.
The RvR zone was a free to roam map where players had the choice of where to attack, when to attack and with how many players. This is a very different feel to PvP in other MMORPGs which are based on equal numbers. In DAoC, strategies evolved to deal with and avoid exceptionally skilled groups, large groups and those that camped choke points such as the realm gates named in the picture above. “Stealthers” (classes with the Stealth ability) not only played a role with interception of reinforcements and stragglers, but more importantly provided good intel on troop movements to commanders – and hunted enemy stealthers to prevent them doing the same. There were a lot of tactics involved.
As each realm had different races and classes available to them, to be remotely successful in RvR, you had to form a solid group of 8 players. A typical group would require a buffing class (one that can cast spells to strengthen and protect all players in the group), a Bard which had a run speed song, crowd controllers (casting stuns and mesmerise), damage dealers and healers. That sounds broad but in groups of 8, if you didn’t have these core class roles covered, you were destined to be steamrolled by often perfectly formed groups from opposing factions.
Stuns were critical, especially with our Aussie lag and melee classes trying to hit the enemy with upwards of 800ms-1000ms pings in fights with lots of players on the screen at once. What this meant was if we made our character use an attack skill, the server would register that key-press 0.8-1.0 seconds after we press the button and then communicate back to the game client on our PC that it either succeeded or failed. In this time, and often when playing against US players who have a much lower ping of around 80-100ms, they have run away from our hit or even belted us a few times before we can react. It was frustrating, but we had to learn to factor that lag into our we played – essentially stun them so they were stuck on one spot, then wail damage onto them hoping we take them down fast.
“Optimal” groups could come in a variety of forms and varied between realms due to the different combinations of abilities each class had. The “melee train” was a common variant where all damage came from melee classes that focused their attacks on enemies 1 by 1 in a “train” while the enemy characters were crowd-controlled with stuns and mesmerise spells. There were also more caster-focused groups including the infamous “MoC bomb” relying on Mastery of Concentration – an ability from advancing in Realm Ranks that enabled a caster to cast without interruption. This meant they could cast very high damage PBAoE (Point Blank Area of Effect) spells to eliminate masses of clustered enemies very quickly in a high-risk high-reward gambit. They were the bane of poorly coordinated “zergs” (groups of characters moving as a swarm, like Zerglings in StarCraft).
You can see that Albion forces (red) have taken some Keeps and Towers within the Hibernian RvR realm (green). Emain Macha used to be the most active RvR area when we used to play. You were almost guaranteed a fight whenever you ventured there. As I was logged into the game taking these screenshots I could see status updates as Hibernian forces slowly captured back some of these keeps from the Albions. Whichever realm claimed ownership of the most outposts gave an increased percentage of XP gained for your faction in PvE. In addition to this, that realm would also gain access to a unique dungeon in the game called Darkness Falls (DF).
Darkness Falls is attuned to the power of each Realm which means only those members of the Realm that hold more territory than the others are allowed entry. The allure of Darkness Falls is the loot you can only get from killing mobs in this dungeon. The monsters here drop jewel-like Emerald, Sapphire and Diamond Seals that when taken to specific Seal vendors, yield various magic items for your character. As such, it was important for a realm to do their best to capture as much of the RvR lands as they could, so they could open Darkness Falls for their realm.
Often, we’d be hunting deep within Darkness Falls and another realm would capture enough keeps claiming ownership of DF. This would close the entry into DF for our realm and we would potentially be swarmed with players from opposing realms. This was a chance for some additional RvR action, however usually when this happens there would be 10-20 players rushing in at once, so your chances of survival were slim and none. However, the threat of solo and small group stealthers could persist for a long time after ownership change which kept you on your toes. You would think you’re in the clear and then up pops a red-named player and backstabs you while you’re in the middle of fighting monsters.
A feature that is prevalent in MMORPG’s of today are PvP Battlegrounds (BGs), and DAoC is amongst the first MMORPGs to feature them. The main difference with DAoC’s BGs compared to the current MMORPG’s BGs is that you could have 50-100 or more players within that level bracket in that BG at any one time. Whereas the modern version of BGs has instances of limited numbers of players on each side (eg. 8v8).
Players could practice RvR in these battlegrounds where you can fight other players to try take the central keep and earn experience and Realm Rank points. There are a very small number of monsters to kill in the BGs, however if you had the patience and mental fortitude, you could purely level up your character to max level 49 solely from PvP in these battlegrounds. This was a cool concept for those times, however for us Aussies and our time zone, the BGs were sometimes empty or only had a couple of players in it so in some of the BG brackets, levelling up via PvP was just not as viable as standard PvE.
The BG’s were broken into the following level brackets:
- Proving Grounds (Levels 1-4)
- Lion’s Den (Levels 5-9)
- Hills of Claret (Levels 10-14)
- Killaloe (Levels 15-19)
- Thidranki (Levels 20-24)
- Braemar (Levels 25-29)
- Wilton (Levels 30-34)
- Molvik (Levels 35-39)
- Leirvik (Levels 40-44)
- Cathal Valley (Levels 45-49)
My favourite BG was Thidranki for levels 20-24 (pictured above). We were so excited once we dinged 20 that we’d hit ‘Thid’ as much as we could with the hope of seeing players to kill. We had the most action on Saturday and Sunday mornings which was prime time in the US. This is where playing a stealth-based class like the Scout with bow/arrows was viable. You would stealth up and be invisible to other players unless they ran right by you. You would often ‘scout ahead’ for your group to see where the enemy were located. You also got a damage bonus if you landed a critical strike with your bow from stealth, so you could be a lethal weapon for your group. We had so much fun in Thid that it was a shame when we earned enough XP to ding level 25 and once we left we couldn’t return. We would often roll new chars and get them to level 20 just so we could play in Thid again.
Dark Age of Camelot would go on to release seven expansion packs. I still have the boxes for the first three expansions – Shrouded Isles (2002), Trials of Atlantis (2003) and Catacombs (2004). In addition to adding multiple new races and classes, other expansions included Foundations (2003, free) which added player housing, New Frontiers (2004, free) which changed the landscape of the RvR zone, Darkness Rising (2005) which added Champion Weapons, player mounts and Champion Levels and Labyrinth of the Minotaur which added a variation of the Minotaur race for each realm, a new hybrid class, a new RvR dungeon called Mythrians (similar to Darkness Falls) and additional Champion Levels.
I started playing DAoC prior to release in the European beta test. Back then the game was very simple and by this, I mean there was no handholding and very few quests. To level up my character I just had to venture into the forests and kill anything in sight. I remember it took me about 2-3 hours to get to level 5 and I was loving every minute. I enjoyed it so much that I ordered a copy in from the US (the game wasn’t available in Perth game stores) shortly after the official release at the end of 2001.
The levelling process was a major grind in this game at release. As you gained each level, it took more time and monster bashing to ding the next level. Around level 40 it would take a couple of days to get half a level, which DAoC termed a mini-ding (I think out of sympathy!). It took me 1.5 years to finally get my first character to max level 50. Man, the grind was real! Though in that time, I did suffer a lot from ‘alt-itis’. This is a phenomenon where there is so much choice of which character to play (they were all good) that I made another, get bored, roll another, and so on, until I had to snap out of it and stick to my main character.
Fast forward to today and we can still play the game however it still requires a subscription. At the end of 2017, Game Producer John Thornhill announced Dark Age of Camelot: Endless Conquest. The Endless Conquest will be a new account type, releasing later in 2018, that allows players to enjoy Dark Age of Camelot through level 50 (and beyond) for free, without a paid subscription, forever. Endless Conquest players will be able to level all the way to 50 on a limited selection of classes, participate fully in RvR, and earn Master Levels, Champion Levels, and Realm Rank – to a point. I charged up a month and jumped in to get me some nostalgia.
The first thing that smacked me in the feels was the music. Hearing this instantly took me back to those early days, rushing home from work to play and waking up early on weekends to hit the Battlegrounds for some RvR action. Epic! I had a look at some of the old character names I had created and had a good chuckle to myself – Mcphripplez, Jarvegemite, Mcphluffin, Atchoo, Ramatunga and Ineedaheal. I set up a new Albion Briton character for BallBaggins and chose the trusty Paladin class.
I believe this game is what solidified my love of Human Paladins in most of the MMORPGs that followed, and I will still choose the closest resemblance to a Human Paladin in any current and future MMORPGs. They are just a solid staple class that can take a lot of hits with sword and board, usually wearing platemail or chainmail armour and often have some buffs for the group.
In this game my Paladin has buffs for myself and chants for the group. The chants last 8 seconds, and back when I originally played, a term called twisting was invented. Twisting meant casting all 4 chants available in succession, counting 8 seconds and then hitting them all again – rinse and repeat. Effectively this would keep the chants up permanently for the group and made me feel important in the group instead of just hitting the mobs with my sword. Sadly, I discovered they have now changed chants to always be on, so gone is the age-old method of twisting.
I was pleasantly surprised to see they’ve added a tutorial island and quests to teach you key mechanics of the game. Aside from how to interact with quest NPCs, you can see in the background of the image above the stages of difficulty of the enemy, from grey all the way up to purple. That colour scheme also depicts the quality of items you craft or loot. It wasn’t long before I got my first level up Ding!
In terms of combat, Dark Age of Camelot stepped the bar up a few notches from auto combat of the last couple of MMORPGs with directional and reactional skills. The first slashing skill I got was the Ruby Slash and this can be used anytime. The second skill was Emerald Slash which made the target bleed but could only be used after a successful Ruby Slash. The next skill I got was Cross Slash and can only be used when I’m in front of the target. If another group member was fighting a monster and I was attacking from the side, I wouldn’t be able to use Cross Slash. Other skills can only be used from the side or from behind a target, others can only be used from stealth, so there’s a bit more active play involved with combat which is engaging.
I played through the tutorial and then after only 1.5 hours of gameplay, I was already level 10. Crazy to think levelling is so much easier now than those days back in beta, taking 2-3 hours to get level 5. I finished the tutorial area and was sent to the town of Cotswold which is on the outskirts of Camelot itself. I loved seeing this castle when I first started playing the game. It really settled me into the medieval theme and Albion became my favourite realm to play in as a result.
As I was playing I had several memories come back to me. One of which was of a guild a bunch of mates created called Ozzie Beerchuggers (OBC). I remember creating the logo above for our guild and we wore yellow and green quartered capes with an emblem. They played a lot of RvR at the time, levelling up purely through the Battlegrounds and were such a dominant force in the end-game RvR zone. They had created such a revered name for themselves amongst the RvR players that many years after retiring for the game, one of our guild mates happened to login to one of their OBC characters. Shortly after logging in they were messaged by someone saying they remembered playing against OBC back in the day. These older MMORPG’s certainly built bonds and respect amongst players which we don’t see as much these days.
Another memory has to do with gravestones. When your character dies in PvE, your character is sent back to your most recent bind stone. Every major town as a bind stone, however you have to physically walk up to one and type /bind, which often I would forget to do. So, after an hour of playing I would happen to die, only to realise I forgot to /bind at the nearest town and it has chucked me a few towns away, so I’d have to run all the way back to my body. You could use horse routes to get between major towns but sometimes I’d be typing away in guild chat about how annoyed I was having to run all this way, when I would forget to press enter to chat, and instead I press spacebar which would jump me off the horse route and I’d have to run all the way anyway. Sonuvabitch! Anyway, I digress.
One day I was doing some PvE whilst listening to some music through WinAmp, just chilling playing the game. I came to an area called Salisbury Plains and I was just mindlessly killing every monster in sight. I was halfway up a mountain when I came across a gravestone that read “Aaliyah’s Grave”. A player had obviously set up a pseudo shrine in memory of the singer Aaliyah, who had died recently when her plane crashed into a mountain. Tragic at the time in real life, but gamers often have a way of referencing pop culture within games.
As I was taking the above screenshot, just before I died a player ran up and asked if I needed some help. What a bloody legend! I told him it was ok because I died on purpose to get the screenshot and that I was writing an article about the game. Kriegsteiner then tells me “nice one 🙂 best game out there, let them know!” So, there you have it, it’s not just me recommending the game.
Nowadays, after almost 17 years the graphics engine has been given many facelifts and they’ve sped up the XP levelling so it’s nowhere near the PvE grind-fest that it used to be. I think Dark Age of Camelot: Endless Conquest would be worth getting into as it’ll be free to play for the first time which I think will bring in a lot of older players back and perhaps even new players who want to experience DAoC and RvR for themselves.
If you have great memories of playing Dark Age of Camelot, I’d love to hear about them! Join the Game on AUS – God Mode closed Facebook group where you’ll be welcomed, and we can reminisce the old days. In part 6, I will be reviewing 2003’s Star Wars: Galaxies.