About once a year I like to take a look back at Dark Age of Camelot, the classic PvP MMO by Mythic Entertainment, just to reassure myself that older MMOs are still some of the best around. Dark Age of Camelot comes from that older crop of titles like Asheron's Call and EverQuest, games that still shine despite their age. Of course the next logical question is, "If these games are still so good, why aren't more of us still playing them?" There's an easy answer, really. First of all, we don't spend time sitting around listening to our favorite albums or watching our favorite movies constantly, but we still appreciate them, possibly more than we did when we first found them. Next, all games are finite for us as individuals. There is no MMO that offers endless content if we take away the endless player-made content that comes from roleplay or exploration.
No matter how good a game like Dark Age of Camelot was and still is, many of us have already experienced it quite a bit. It's only human to become slightly bored with something we've played with time and again. But once again, I've spent a week in a game that shows it's always a good thing to check back on our favorites. They just might surprise you all over again.
Unfortunately my week with Dark Age of Camelot started off as it always does: spending way too much simply trying to locate or remember my sign-in information for the game. As far as I can tell, the problem is that EA now runs Mythic, the company that runs Dark Age of Camelot. That's bad simply because EA is massive, and with such size, poor or slow customer service is almost standard. It's so normal that we expect the customer service to suck when it comes from a giant company. It's hard to get help when we actually need it.
The other issue is that your Mythic account is accessed with a different sign-in than your EA account. In fact there are three different sign-ins you'll need to memorize, so that's three different roadblocks to former players returning back to their formerly favorite game. I finally figured it all out, but only after trying different password and login combinations. EA helped, but barely.
Anyway, once I got in, I located my wonderful little character sitting and waiting for me. For some reason I was able to level at least a couple of times just by turning in a handful of quests in the area I found myself in. I'm betting that much has been tweaked or changed since I last played the character and the system was simply catching my character up to where he would have been had I kept playing. Questing can be pretty typical as far as I can tell in Dark Age of Camelot, but I'm fully aware that the PvP is where it's at in this game. Unfortunately I rarely experience more than a small amount of RvR combat whenever I get back into Dark Age of Camelot, but I'll touch on that in a minute.
Questing in Dark Age of Camelot makes me realize just how far we have come in some areas and how far we still have to go in others. Questing is definitely one of those areas that has remained pretty much the same beast since I originally played, so burning through quests in Dark Age of Camelot is pretty much like burning through them in other titles. What makes a game's particular questlines different from others is the unique world they are set in and the specific lore that is referenced while questing. Even then I found myself just clicking "accept" and "finish" and looking for glowing quest icons. I leveled a few times, gained a ton of black leather dye for some reason, and got more familiar with the surrounding area. Suddenly I remembered it from the last time I played. The lovely trees and lighting effects that still work, the nice-looking character models that blow away more modern titles... Dark Age of Camelot still packs a graphical punch, albeit an older one.
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My theory on graphics is that they can stay stuck in time, with barely an update, for years and years. Look at EverQuest or Ultima Online, for example. Like Dark Age of Camelot, these games can pretty much remain how they are for the rest of time and we can still appreciate them. Hyper-realistic graphics tend to age less gracefully. Dark Age of Camelot at night is still very pretty. The game's spell effects are nice, and I really appreciate the archery animations and the way the ability feels realistic. When I pull back the bow, it takes time to fire. My shots can be interrupted, and I have a large selection of shots to use. Some go long, some catch on fire, and others freeze the target. When I do use my sword, it feels solid as well, thanks to the sound design. Even though the crunches and splats are showing their age, they still work. Sound design is a rarely appreciated art, and here is proof.
Once I got comfortable I found my way through a major city. Yes, there are still quite a few players playing Dark Age of Camelot as far as I can tell. I tire of hearing that question over and over, every time I say I am playing the game or mention a new patch. Not only are players still playing the game and not only are there quite a few servers full of those players, but those players are wondering whether anyone is playing your favorite game. I wish more players would just try out any other games that they hear about. Asking whether a game has a healthy population makes no sense to me. After all, anyone who is concerned enough to ask can be logged into the game within minutes. Well, unless you're trying to find an old Mythic character... then it might take several days.
"I died some and shot some arrows, but generally PvP crowds can either be very helpful or only as helpful as they can be when they aren't busy PvPing. Dark Age of Camelot PvPers are always PvPing."
RvR is still all the rage with the (older) kids in Dark Age of Camelot. I jumped in a few times, but just like last time, I was largely lost and at a loss. I died some and shot some arrows, but generally PvP crowds can either be very helpful or only as helpful as they can be when they aren't busy PvPing. Dark Age of Camelot PvPers are always PvPing. In other words, I asked for someone to show me the ropes a bit more and received a few pointers, but most of the information I got was so inside-baseball that it did me no good. Still, I appreciate the community and was not surprised. Older gaming communities tend to forget what it's like to be brand-new, or even worse, near mid-level.
If you look at the Dark Age of Camelotcategory here on Massively, you'll notice just how much of the news we post about the game has to do with tweaking and maintaining classic systems. Again I am not surprised. After all, I play older MMOs all the time and see how they keep the older players happy. It's not as though Dark Age of Camelot hasn't done anything for newbies. Mythic has redone the tutorial area since I last Rise and Shinied the game, but it was more of a restructuring of the existing area. It still works well and still teaches new players a lot. Strangely, the weak NPCs I was sent to attack near the end of my time in the first section of the newbie area seemed to be cranked up to 11... I promptly got my butt kicked, but I died smiling.
If you want a much more in-depth series of articles on Dark Age of Camelot, check out our own Justin Olivetti's Choose my Adventure. But my brief and renewing experience with Dark Age of Camelot showed me that it's still fantastic, it's still good-looking, it still packs some of the best combat in MMOdom today, it still runs easy on older PCs, it's still a real hassle to settle account issues with, and yes, it still has quite a few players. Yes, still.
I know the next question: Will the game go free-to-play? Does it need to go free-to-play? Those questions are, in my opinion, silly. The client is free; the sub is $15 a month. Try out the trial or check up on your old account and you'll probably have a free 14 days promo waiting for you. Log back in and you can remember just how great this game still is.
Next week I am diving into Darkfall to check on things before characters are wiped out for the relaunch. Will I be endlessly ganked? I doubt it, thanks to my newbie protection, but it's still going to be good to get a record of the game before everything changes. I will stream the game live on Monday, the 22nd of October, at 5:00 p.m. EDT, right here on our Twitch.tv channel!
Each week on Rise and Shiny, Beau chooses a different free-to-play, indie, or browser-based game and jumps in head-first. It might be amazing or it might be a dud, but either way, he'll deliver his new-player impressions to you. Drop him an email, comment, or tweet!