I wanted to start this week's first impressions of Dark Age of Camelot with a clarification. I want to make sure that everyone knows exactly what I mean when I say, "I did a first impressions on that game." You'll notice that most (if not all) of the time I use the words "first impressions" instead of "in-depth review." We don't do those here on Massively; even our weeks-long Choose My Adventure series isn't a traditional review. We don't assign numbers or use any sort of scale. And from the very beginning of this column, I have maintained that premise -- I take a look at a game for a week and report on what I experienced, not on what I read about or was pressured into experiencing.

I'm keeping that premise alive with Dark Age of Camelot. Yes, I know about the RvR. Yes, I'm aware that it's crazy good and it's what the game is "all about" according to readers. Did I experience it during my week in the game? No. While I'm sorry to disappoint already-familiar fans of the game, my job is to cover the initial experiences of the game for those who have not experienced it. This is not a trip down memory lane as much as a request for players to try the game out.

So, what did I think? Let's take a look.

First of all, the character creation was surprisingly good. I could tweak my little guy's nose, chin... I even got to manipulate his mood, making him frown or smile. It was a little shocking to see such depth from a game of DAoC's age. I played it years and years ago, and again right before I was hired to work here at Massively, but I don't remember such a nice character creation. It must be my age. I made a stocky, compact little Kobold/goblin-looking fellow and rolled into town.

The initial tasks are standard but fun -- you learn how to attack and move. Really standard stuff, but at least it was framed in a way that made you feel as though you were being trained for war. The pretty-lady voiceover didn't hurt either, and I gladly finished up my first few steps and moved on the "newbie island."

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The environments and lighting effects are very effective. It's a rare MMORPG that allows the environment to get so dark at night. In fact, off the top of my head I can only think of two others that do: Darkfall and Wurm Online. Most of the time the only difference between night and day cycles is a slight dimming effect and a spattering of stars in the sky. It was great to see a game that respected the nighttime and its effects on gameplay. Trees and landscapes are pretty typical stuff, but later on they became much more impressive. I can only imagine some of the sights this game has to offer.

Combat was so surprising when I first got into it. Like I said, I had experienced the game before, but over the last few months I had been experiencing mostly Diablo-esque action games, so the take-your-time approach to combat in DAoC was a very nice change of pace. If I wanted to shoot an arrow, it would take time to aim and fire. While I eventually learned all sorts of wonderful types of shots, they all took some consideration. Yes, I had a faster shot and a shot that would work in a pinch, but almost every one was interruptible. I like that. I like being interrupted. Although I was specializing in ranged combat, my sword came in pretty handy too. Once I got the rhythm down for switching weapons, it was thrilling to slam a few arrows into an enemy only to slash out with my sword once he came in range. Sometimes I would use the sword just because it felt cool, even though I could have as easily used a shot from my bow.

I was even given a hunter pet, and a cool one at that. I'm not sure how deep the pets go, but from the very beginning it told me to click on it and say "avatar." Once I did, I was able to choose from several different looks for the animal. It was a small thing, but still so much more than many more recent MMORPGs offer. The pet helped do damage and to pull aggro, but he did have the nasty habit of sort of blinking in and out of existence as we ran. Oh well, perhaps he was off smelling the bushes?

It felt really effortless to play through the newbie area I visited. I'm not sure when Mythic added it or whether it's always been there, but each quest was easy enough to do while still being challenging, and the payoff was always worthwhile. I got to use my special abilities and was asked to use many of the key ones in different ways, but I never felt like I was just being ordered around so I would learn the basics. For me, my schedule forces my gaming to be generally compressed into week-long explorations. I still maintain my main games, but I only have limited time (or physical ability) to play those. So for me, these first impression pieces I write are just as important as a year-long retrospective of the game. After all, those first few levels can either turn someone off or thrill him -- and DAoC thrilled me.

Yes, I am fully aware that RvR and the higher-end game is really what all the cool kids are doing (or have done). For the record, this might be the first game I will sub to in a long time. (I do maintain quite a few subscription-based games, but those are free and do not count.) In other words, getting a subscription out of me is pretty rare. The RvR is calling to me, though, as is the rest of the fantastic PvE content. I have heard about housing, which excites me to no end. I am a housing nutjob, and after seeing some of the wonderful existing housing and building designs and textures, I am chomping at the bit to settle in.

I have neglected to mention that I am a member of the Midgard realm, my enemies being members of either Albion of Hibernia. I never saw a red enemy rushing towards me, even within the low-level RvR instance that I visited. I picked Midgard because I thought it had a lot of snow. It had some, to be fair. Each realm has its own unique look and feel, Midgard taking cues from Norse legends. If it's Vikings you want, come to Midgard.

The experience was not all so wonderful, though. I had plenty of issues with the absolutely teeny-tiny font choices for the quests log and interface. I tried to research custom UIs, going so far as to download and install one, but it just didn't work out. Most of the players I talked to didn't seem to have an issue with the UI or the font size, but perhaps they were blessed with 20/20 vision. Also, the learning curve (learning curve is just a cooler way to say "hidden stuff") was a little much for some very basic things, but a quick shout-out to the "advice" chat channel and all was fine.

In fact, the community was awesome. I met very helpful people who were generally willing to answer all my questions. Granted, I didn't get into the nastiness that PvP-centric games can bring, but kindness is still kindness. I would like to specifically point to a player named Traeluna, someone who helped me and offered as much help as I needed. I was going to do an interview with her, but didn't find the space to fit it in. Players like Traeluna only make me recommend the game more.

I would say that if you have never played DAoC before, you need to. If you're an older player like I am, it will bring back memories of "older" games while impressing you with its modern feel. If you are an aged DAoC vet but haven't returned in forever, go back and check it out. Maybe there's still some magic left in there for you? While Mythic's customer service is (so far in my experience) sub-par, the download is easy to get up and running in no time.

Try it out, and you just might find an oldie-but-a-goodie.

Next week we will be looking at Regnum Online. I can tell you right now that I have already been warned that the "real game doesn't start until level 30" and that "a proper journalist would read other reviews before reviewing this one." Simply put, it's a cool-looking game, and I have enjoyed the hour I have put into it so far. My name is Beau Hindman, so look me up!

Now, go log in!

Each week, Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play, indie or unusual game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. We meet each Tuesday night at 9 p.m. EDT (6 p.m. PDT); the column will run on the following Sunday. I welcome any suggestions for games -- drop me a note in the comments or email, or follow me on Twitter or Raptr!

This article was originally published on Massively.
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