Choose My Adventure: Dark Age of Camelot, week five

DAoC
As I headed into my final week of playing Dark Age of Camelot, I found myself thinking about Warhammer Online more often than not. That shouldn't be surprising, really, as both games were made by Mythic and share a focus on RvR. I suppose it's because I finally hit a point in the game when DAoC started to emulate experiences I had in WAR, and thus a comparison between the two began to unfold.

While I'm sure plenty of folks who played DAoC went on to WAR, I'm curious whether there are many like me who went through the games in the reverse order. I may not be a veteran DAoC player after a few weeks in the game, but I certainly have a mountain of experience in WAR, and it intrigues me to be able to identify the connections between the two.

So as I plundered the battlefields of DAoC this week, I started to examine the game through the lens of a WAR vet to see whether I could spot the traits each game had in common and which traits each game handled better than the other.

Preparing at the keep
Training up future PvPers

While PvP is some players' bread-and-blooder, there's always the question of how a studio encourages and trains up PvP newbies who are shy to step into non-PvE areas. The way I see it, DAoC more or less throws you into the pool and shouts instructions at you about how to swim, while WAR gradually dipped you into the water while you got used to the temperature and buoyancy. So while I gradually warmed up to the idea of PvP in WAR, in DAoC it was sink-or-swim from the get-go.

The latter isn't necessarily bad, mind you, because if you can get over the shock of it, it really forces you to learn and get good, fast. As I headed into the third tier of DAoC battlegrounds, I found myself encountering hostile players all over the place, and as a result I had to fight whether I wanted to or not. I had to learn. And while I died many, many times, I began to get the hang of dying while giving the enemy a good fight.

DAoC does have its PvE lands for safe leveling, but from the comments in this series and my own observations, it's used by almost nobody. I guess the general thinking is that if you want a PvE game, go elsewhere; here, it's all about realm vs. realm slaughter. I certainly never got that feeling in WAR. RvR was big, but it was tempered by a more popular PvE portion of the game that helped you get your footing in the game.

Approaching a ram
Sheep among wolves

However, the fact that DAoC is an older title with fewer new players coming in meant that I was and would continue to be at a disadvantage. I felt like a Troll-sized sheep, tottering out into a land populated by wolves, bleating "Come and eat me!" with every step.

Oh, sure, I did try to find groups, but nobody would have me. I was told by players that I wasn't a high-enough level to help out on a RvR team and that I should just concentrate on leveling. I took the hint and went out to do XP quest runs, but as I couldn't find groups for those, I had to slowly solo them. As if that weren't boring enough, every so often a train of enemy players would rush through the area and kill me lickety-split. It felt like a Catch-22 of sorts: I wanted to RvR, but wasn't desirable until I was higher in levels. I couldn't get higher in levels unless I quested, but I couldn't quest without getting sucked into RvR, which I couldn't survive.

Eventually, I gained a few levels and was accepted to the cool kids club. That's when life got more interesting, as we rushed to the central keep and helped to defend it from waves of enemy players from the other two realms, which were dead set on taking this bland-looking castle away from our hands.

It's here where the WAR deja vu came roaring back because I spent so much time in that game defending and conquering keeps. It's one of the few things I ever enjoyed about PvP -- the feeling of sitting on top of a wall looking down at an invading enemy force is thrilling. It's not just about mindless fighting; it's about working together to accomplish a larger task that will hopefully have a positive end result.

It's also nice to be part of a large group while PvPing because you don't feel as exposed or alone. It's not all resting on your shoulders, I guess is what I'm saying. You've got people who are there to back you up as you're there to do the same for them, and even though the enemy has a large pack bearing down on you, you don't have to freak out, since there's an equally large pack on your side.

We gonna win!
Two vs. three

Probably the biggest difference between DAoC's and WAR's RvR is the number of factions. It's largely thought that Dark Age had it right with three factions and that Warhammer stumbled by lowering that number to two. With three factions there's more of a checks-and-balances environment, as one powerful faction can be opposed and fought by two lesser ones. With two factions, it's great fun if both are equally matched but much less fun if one side is dominant.

In my time with DAoC, I can finally see for myself what I had only heard of during my time with WAR: Three factions really is the superior setup, particularly for MMOs centered around PvP. Not knowing whether another faction will be your ally or enemy today keeps things fresh, as does never being able to predict whether you're going to get flanked by the one faction you haven't seen while you're engaging the other.

Faction pride in DAoC is very, very strong, and even in my short time as a blundering Troll, I began to get into the mindset that Mids were superior lifeforms while all else was but a mote in comparison.

Getting in a few kills of my own while fighting at the side of my fellow Mids, I could see why this game could grow on you. The battles felt strangely epic even during small scale clashes, and I found myself mentally going to a place where this was less a video game and more an actual war where I was a soldier en route to my destiny or defeat.

While it may not be a game that I'll be playing past this column's run, I'm certainly glad that you voters coaxed me into trying it. I admire that it offers perseverance in the face of shinier MMOs. It's a shame I didn't play it when it first came out, when the entire landscape was new and the battles weren't routine deathmatches performed by long-time veterans. For some, DAoC was and still is the high mark of PvP in MMOs, and I am certainly not going to say otherwise. If you're going into this game for the first time, I'd urge you to read all the excellent advice dished out in the comments section of these last few weeks. It might just save your life.

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.

This article was originally published on Massively.