Coded blue.

Sunday 16 December 2001

Screenshot DAoC

Pic of the day: Viking martial arts! You never saw it before ...

Dark Age of Camelot

Dark Age of Camelot (DaoC) is a new massive multiplayer game, by Mythic Entertainment Inc. It is set to compete squarely against such classics as EverQuest and Ultima Online, which have failed to please some players for different reasons. Mythic think they have combined the best of all that has been before, in a new formula that will appease both pacifists and warlords.

The game is divided into 3 "realms", which do not really intersect except when the players choose to. The realms have different races, and all communication between them is cut off. So the realms develop independently, except when some players venture into the dedicated frontier areas. Even there, it is not possible to talk to those of the other realms; they are in all ways treated like non-player characters. In fact, some of them may be. The game generates stock characters with similar statistics as players, though they tend to dress less fancy.

You won't be allowed into the borderlands after one day's play, but even in the "safe" zones where newbies start, deep in the heartland of the realm, I noticed the presence of the stock characters.


The 3 realms are loosely based on the mythologies of 3 actual cultures in western Europe. Albion is based on Britain and the Arthurian legends; Hibernia is based on Ireland and the Celtic legends; and Midgard is of course based on Scandinavia and the Norse myths. No prizes for guessing where I chose to start my career! In Midgard I could choose between Norseman, Dwarf, Troll and Kobold. (Actually I think those are German, but there was a gap for some vaguely elfin race, quick and nimble.) All races are available as male and female. The physical differentiation is not exactly subtle (think Lara Croft) but as far as I could see, there were no changes to statistics (like females being weaker and more intelligent). You can however tailor the character to some extent, because you are given a free pool of creation point to distribute between attributes. There is even a law of diminishing return, where attributes become more costly as they approach 100%.

I may want to check out the worlds of Albion and Hibernia later, but I can't do that on the same server. There are already a dozen or so servers, each with a population varying from a few hundred (in the morning, American time) to nearly two thousand. All characters are local to the server where they are created. So you should be able to play a Hibernian elf on one server and a Midgardian dwarf on another, but not both on the same. No spying on your enemies!

The graphics are fully polygon based, no sprites. All things are real 3D, and look reasonably good. There are two views, a 1st person view where you look through the eyes of the character, and a remote view where you can see your character. (Think Lara Croft.) The default is a trailing view, so you may want to create a character with a good looking backside. However, it is possible to move the camera around freely. In fact, you will probably want to do that during fights, because those can be pretty boring, depending on your class.

Fighting style depends mostly on class. The warrior types have a fairly boring start; but as they specialize in a weapon, they get moves. Think martial arts. You can drag these moves to a quick launch bar, and initiate them either by mouse or by keyboard. Some moves can only be used at certain points, for instance after blocking an attack, but are more powerful than those that can be used roundly. And all of them cost stamina. You can't dance all over the place without getting winded eventually.

Mystics (spellcasters) don't have a boring day. They can cast spells from a distance, but don't think you are safe: The monsters will unerringly know who cast the spell, and run toward you. This is where the "unable to wear armor" part comes in full view. You need a tank. In RPG speech, a tank is a sturdy person that does the actual close-up combat. In the background is the mage, raining death and destruction down on the enemy, and the healer, raining life and health down on the poor warrior. You may also want to throw in someone with a bow, though I fail to find much use for the rogue class in a group setting. A magic-user is better as artillery.

I tested several classes, though not for long. I found that the warrior type is better off alone than the others, but still group fighting is far more fun and by and large also more efficient. Composing a good group is a challenge, though. In the newbie areas where I played, there were quite a lot of ungrouped people. But this tapered off as I approached the more challenging districts.


The game is big. Each realm is so large that you don't really think about it being only 1/3 of the actual game. The server was not in any way overpopulated during peak hours. Of course, most new players probably do like I did, choose one of the least crowded servers. If you don't fall in love with your starting town, you got to save up a few silver and you can ride to another. Yes, the rented horses work a lot more like subways than horses. They move at far greater speed than a man can run, but still they follow the same roads and you can see the landscape whipping by. The horses navigate by themselves to the destination you paid for, but you can jump off anywhere along the route. This means there need not be a fixed stop for every little town – if a town is on the route to another, you just jump off. There is a message with the name of towns as you enter, as well as general areas like "Myrkwood Forest" (what's with that name? I think even Robert Jordan uses it. Or was that Mirkwood?)

Anyway, each of the small towns is largely self contained with the essential shops and trainers. Only momentous events like choosing your advanced class requires you to travel to the capital city. (This is a story in itself. Before you advance to level 6, you have to specialize. In effect, you choose a sub-class, and get certain benefits that you did not have before. But from now on, failure has consequences. When an advanced character dies, he or she loses a percentage of accumulated experience. The exception is in battle against other realms – there is no penalty for dying for your country. Unlike real life, I might add, where you're dead for a long long time if you do the same thing.)

I admit that I was totally confused in the capital, walking up and down the same streets again and again, not knowing how I had come there. Then again, I do this in real life too, and not just in capital cities.

In the capital, I also got to witness another trait of the game: The trade skills. This is not a unique concept, for sure, but it actually works. This is because character level influences the ideal equipment. All weapons and armor are tailor made for a particular level. If a newbie uses a high level weapon, he will not reap the benefits from it, and he will rapidly wear down the weapon in the process. But if a high level character wields a newbie weapon, he will be less than fully effective, and the weapon will not stand up to the heavy use either. So as you rise in levels (a slow process from what I have seen) you also need to upgrade all your stuff. This makes for a vigorous economy: People are always on the lookout for cheap weapons and armor for their skills. A player that can make the required stuff cheaper than the merchants is likely to become famous and popular over time. Most of the dialog I heard in the capital was about the making of weapons and customized guild stuff.

Yes, the game comes designed for player guilds. Wherever 8 players are gathered in the name of one of them, they can create their own guild. The whole guild skeleton with ranks and privileges is ready made, and can be adapted to each guild's needs. I did not get to try this, of course, though you may ask me again sometime next year. It is not entirely impossible that I will still be playing it by then. On the other hand, it is certainly not guaranteed. It will depend squarely on the people I meet. If I meet interesting people whose time schedule is compatible with mine, this could be the now famous "doing fun things together" part of my life for a while. I won't bet a fortune on it, though.

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