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Many years later, Origin brought online gaming to a whole new level. They released Ultima Online, the very first online game that offered a "persistent world", where each character could affect the environment during their course of playing it. Not only that, but you could literally build a "life" for your character by becoming proficient in a variety of skills, forming allegiances with other players into guilds, and even construct houses, keeps, or castles out upon the landscape for your own personal use. It was after UO that the acronym MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) was used to describe these large scale server-based games.
In March of 1999, Verant Interactive released EverQuest, providing most of the same online gaming fundamentals as UO, but with high resolution 3D graphics and intricately designed outdoor zones and dungeons. Ultima Online provided outdoor areas and dungeons to explore as well, but they lacked the depth and detail that EverQuest provided. These enhancements made EverQuest a huge success, currently reporting as many as 300,000 paying customers (at $10/month). But all of the MMORPGs to date have had their flaws, and a plethora of contenders are creating games that promise a better gaming experience than we have been given thus far. One of these contenders is Mythic Entertainment, who is currently hard at work building a game based on Arthurian legend entitled Dark Age of Camelot.
For those of you who aren't familiar with Mythic, this is not their first developing of an online game. Responsible for eleven online games, playable via America Online, the Centropolis Gaming Center, Gamestorm, and ENGAGE, Mythic is very experienced at what they do. So the question is... how does Dark Age of Camelot compare to its previous endeavors and to other online adversaries?
Well, to start off, let me say that DAoC is currently in beta testing, so many features of the game have not been implemented yet and many features will change before the game's release. However, the game plays magnificently for the stage it is at, with one of three realms (the Albion Realm) currently playable.
Mythic has taken vast measures to ensure that characters will be very different from one another. During character creation, players will first choose the realm in which they wish to begin their adventuring career. This is a very important decision, as only one realm can be chosen for that player's account per server. Why? At high levels, characters will be involved in team-based PvP warfare between realms and Mythic has taken measures to deter players from creating characters in opposing realms in order to spy on their enemy. Not only that, but characters from different realms will not even be able to communicate with one another, which will further keep players from becoming allies with opposing realm players.
After choosing your realm, you will then decide upon a race. Your choice of races is dependant upon the realm you initially chose. For the realm of Albion, you will have the choices of Britain, Highlander, Avalonian, and Saracen. Hibernia players will have access to the Elves, Humans, Firbolgs, and the small, dexterous Lurikeen. If you've chosen the realm of Midgard, you'll have access to the Human, Dwarf, Troll, or Kobold races. Once you've decided on a race, you'll have some customization to do for your character's general appearance. You can alter your the hair color, size (small, medium, or large), facial look, and gender.
Your last choice will be your class, which will initially be Fighter, Acolyte, Rogue, or Mage. However, once you have progressed to the fifth level, you can further customize your profession by joining a guild. For example, a Mage in Albion may choose to join a few different guilds, with each following a different path of magic. This will effectively change your class to that of a Wizard, Sorceror, or Theurgist, depending on the guild. Your race and class decisions will determine your starting statistics and additional points will be able to be distributed at your discretion during initial character creation. DAoC will also provide players the ability to give their character a further sense of uniqueness during the game by providing specialization points upon each increase in level that can be assigned to an assortment of skills or abilities.
For more cosmetic changes, you will be able to find or purchase a large range of visually distinct armor within the course of the game. And, reminiscent of Ultima Online, each piece will be able to be dyed or enameled a different color. This will allow for player guilds or allies to establish a (color code) within their ranks. I know it doesn't sound like much, but this is one facet of Ultima Online I really missed during my EverQuest days. Character customization is integral to a role-playing game, and Mythic's implementation comes as a welcome addition.
Advancement in Dark Age of Camelot is similar to that of EverQuest. Your character simply fights creatures that are within their means, and experience points are tallied after each battle. The tougher the foe (relative to your character's level), the more experience obtained. The only difference between DAoC's experience system and EverQuest's is that DAoC uses a point-based system. For example, after defeating your opponent, you will actually see how many experience points you've gained. In order to maximize your potential, grouping is very much encouraged. You can create a group of up to eight characters (a welcome expansion upon previous MMORPGs), with experience bonuses for more people in a single group. Soloing is possible, but grouping allows for much faster advancement.
Depending upon your class and chosen guild, your character may receive additional skills, abilities, or spells upon gaining each level. You will also receive a set amount of specialization points that can be used for training by your guild trainer. For example, a Wizard can specialize in any of the following elements: fire, ice, earth, and air. Increasing in level will make your character more powerful, but adding specialization points will further increase your overall effectiveness.
Once your character has advanced to some of the highest levels attainable, they will be able to participate in PvP (Player versus Player) combat against players from other realms. Not only will this give higher level characters something to do, but it will also allow them to accumulate (Realm Points), which will effectively make the character more powerful by granting them special titles and bonuses to their skills and statistics. Those who don't wish to be part of PvP don't have to be, but a character of equal level who does participate in PvP will essentially be more powerful. Up until now, MMORPGs of the past have never really implemented a good PvP system, which is why I feel that this is one of the strongest features Dark Age of Camelot has to offer over its predecessors.
With the addition of PvP, however, restrictions must be put into place to ensure that chaos doesn't reign. To avoid lower level characters being victims to senseless PvP combat, Mythic plans to restrict PvP to only the furthest reaches of each realm (which they have labeled the "frontier"), so that the lower level regions will be impenetrable by the enemy. By giving each realm its own unique protected adventuring areas, characters will be able to advance to medium level without having to worry about being marauded by other high level players. Additionally, there will be no way to participate in PvP within the same realm, although Mythic has claimed that they will probably have a dueling system of some sort or special (arenas) where characters of the same realm can test their mettle against one another.
To give further incentive for players to become active in PvP and to form raiding parties against opposing realms, Mythic plans to implement powerful relics into the game as well. Looting another realm's relic will effectively make your realm more powerful and, of course, make the other realm less powerful.
Mythic is building a game of epic proportions. Each realm will be gigantic (I've witnessed Albion myself, it's huge), broken into an assortment of different regions, similar to each of EverQuest's zones. However, a welcome addition to anyone who is familiar with MMORPGs is DAoC's seamless (zoning) between each region. There is no loading phase unless you enter another realm, dungeon, or city. The landscapes are intricate and spectacular at even the lowest resolution, with all sorts of interesting landmarks to behold. And, to reduce the amount of long distance travel, there will be (bind) points where you can bind your character within most regions. That way, in the event that your character should die, you will (hopefully) be bound somewhere in the vicinity.
Each server is projected to hold between 2000 to 3000 characters, which would optimistically be divided equally into the three realms that make up each server. Mythic will hopefully not make the same mistake that Verant did with EverQuest in the beginning of its popularity. overpopulation. Even though DAoC is programmed with anti-camping measures, I venture to say that an excessive amount of players in the same realm/server will cause camping problems regardless. Looking at all of the other precautionary measures Mythic has taken, however, one would think they will be ready to provide the number of servers needed.
Overall, Dark Age of Camelot has everything you'd expect from an online game, as well as many enhancements to areas or features that other games have had problems with. There will be an assortment of different types of magic items and plenty of them. There will be structures and rooms that player associations will be able to rent as housing. There will be well designed team-oriented PvP (for once). And quests? Lots. There is even going to be a quest system implemented that will allow for two characters virtually never having to complete the same quest, at least not in the same set of steps.
Having played the beta for numerous hours myself, and having spent a ridiculous amount of time playing other MMORPGs in the past, I'd be willing to say that Dark Age of Camelot looks to be one of the most promising online games to be released in the next couple of years. Will it be the online game to overtake EverQuest's lofty perch? It's too early to tell, but I will most definitely pay my hard-earned cash to be a part of Camelot.