The one thing I never did was actually play DAoC. Older MMOs can be quite intimidating; they have deep-rooted communities and tomes of updates and history, and they were more rough around the edges. Rough in their cores, too, if we're being honest. So the intimidation factor kept me away until this past week, when Massively readers sent me on a quest to Camelot for the first time in my life.
Last week readers voted on the character I was to roll. An impressive 82% of you said to check out the realm vs. realm ruleset and roll a a Midgard (43.2%) beastly (40.8%) hybrid (43.3%) character. After reading some of the recommendations in the comments, I ended up making a female Troll Skald on a traditional server. She may be lumpy and bulky, but I took a shine to her right away.
One thing I'll say in favor of World of Warcraft: It helped to solidify a standard friendly and intuitive user interface across the genre. I'm not saying that WoW did all the work here but that titles since then have pretty much followed this template and titles prior are often all over the board in UI design. (Pause here for commenters to type furiously.) Upon logging into DAoC for the first time, I was slightly overwhelmed by the foreign-looking UI that awaited me.
Oh, it wasn't all bad and all unfamiliar, but I spent the first half-hour just trying to figure out the basics. Where's the hotbar? I need a hotbar! Oh, there's the hotbar; it's just hiding. OK, got the chat window, but where's the minimap? I guess I can toggle on the bigger map, but man that takes up a lot of screen real estate. Hmm, how do I enable anti-aliasing? (Turns out that you have to do this outside of the game from the control panel.) Keybinding and slash commands and... I NEED AIR!
In fairness, I experienced much of the same feeling when trying out EverQuest last year. Experienced players probably don't give the UI a second thought, but those coming from modern MMOs have a substantial obstacle to overcome right off the bat. Fortunately, DAoC's design wasn't as strange as I initially thought, and the more I played, the more I grew comfortable in its decidedly old-school approach.
Going into this project, I was most interested to see how Mythic's recent update of the "new user experience." From what I could tell, the team redesigned the introductory quests both to better teach you the game and to gear you up for RvR fights. As I'm squarely in the I-have-no-idea-what-I'm-doing demographic, I clung to the thought that the game would give me water wings before throwing me in the deep end.
I needn't have worried. As it stands right now, DAoC's beginning zone is quite similar to what I've encountered elsewhere. There are quest givers that walk you through basic tasks while outfitting me with better weapons and armors, and there are lesson NPCs that serve as additional tutorial resources on specific subjects. While about 80% of what I read was standard MMO stuff, the rest was quite specific to either DAoC or older-style MMOs and needed to be absorbed. For example, I had a whole menu bar on my screen with words like "face" and "stick" on it, and only after talking to an NPC was I able to learn that they were helpful shortcuts for battle positioning.
The most difficult aspect of that first hour was dealing with the camera. You don't tend to think about how MMO cameras work too often until you're thrown into a game where it's different than "normal." In this case, the camera wasn't necessarily snapping to the over-the-shoulder view I'm accustomed to in games but instead would sometimes just stay on the front or side of my character, requiring me to manually swivel the view. At one point the camera disconnected from me entirely, and no matter where I moved or ran, the view remained constant. That was a log out, log back in moment.
One of the things that I ask of any new user experience in an MMO is for it to not rush me through quests -- just give me some time to just figure my character and combat out on my own. After learning the basics of DAoC's combat, I went to the side of the hill and began slaughtering my way through a Ron Swanson-level of bacon.
Let me back up and talk about my character for a moment. I won't be sharing her name or server just because I want my experience to be free from artificial help or harassment. Thank you, however, to the folks who offered to give me a hand -- I do appreciate it.
After listening to readers and doing some research on DAoC's beginner's guide, I agreed that the Skald would be a solid pick for a new player. It's a hybrid that incorporates a melee warrior (who uses axes, hammers, and swords), decent armor, and some spellcasting abilities. Pretty quick into my journey, I already had several melee skills, a heal spell, and a sprint spell at my command.
Fighting wasn't too tough, particularly as the beginning critters won't attack unless first bashed across the backside of their noggins. The Skald starts off with a simple 1-2 combo, but I learned from my reading that it would be good to get in the practice of pulling a mob from a distance using a minor damage spell. That way when the mobs do have an aggro radius, I'll hopefully be able to separate one from the pack.
My biggest disappointment with combat is that there is (from what I could tell) no way to trigger floating damage above heads. Let me know if I'm overlooking something here, readers, but it was definitely a lesser experience triggering my skills and then studiously observing the combat window to see how much damage I was doing and if I even hit.
My biggest surprise? When I killed a critter, loot would automatically be put in my bag. No need to waste time clicking corpses!
Once I was comfortable with the way fighting worked, I buckled down and started going through the beginner quest chain. It's not Shakespeare in quality and content, but it did the job. After performing a few chores for the village and getting stuff because, hey, I'm a big Troll so gimme, I was sent to a nearby island to help fend off a minor Hibernian invasion. Smacking around humanoids was a definite improvement over swine, although the end result was far less tasty. Even Trolls have their standards.
Soon enough I was level 7, and I had become an unstoppable juggernaut of death (well, at least in my own mind). In just a few short hours I'd gone from wearing a leather jerkin my mother made for me when I was but a 200-pound Troll toddler to a suit of the finest chainmail. For fashion, I had a bright yellow cloak that was perfect for getting the attention of everyone in the area who might be looking for an easy target to kill. Fortunately, I figured out how to dye it baby blue because blue is soothing, comforting, and a PvP invincibility shield.
I discovered that DAoC's leveling interface is actually pretty engaging. Every level you get a handful of points to spend in your various specialties (such as weapons or spells), and as you go higher in those areas, the game grants you new abilities. It's easy enough to understand, and before long, I had gone from a two-button hotbar to seven. This Troll's going to community college, yessiree!
Eventually I came to a natural stopping point when a quest-giver gave me a clear choice between... well, I'll let you read it yourself:
It's time to put the screws to Justin "Syp" Olivetti, as he enters the Choose My Adventure chamber and pits his wits against your will! Check back each Wednesday for a recap of the last week's play, then sound off in the polls and the comments to determine his course of action for the next week.