We continue our trek down the MMO memory lane with another one of the great early day MMO’s, Dark Age of Camelot. This game came out in October of 2001 and made a huge impact upon its releases. Unlike many other MMOs, Dark Age was constructed around the concept of a never-ending war between three sides. This was called Realm-versus-Realm or RVR. It proved to be very successful. Players could undertake quests in their home realms and level up like the traditional medieval themed MMOs, and then move into zones that were contested, meaning that enemy players from other realms could and would attack you as you hunted enemies in those zones yourself.
The game borrowed heavily from Arthurian legends. There are three realms. The first is Albion, the land of the Britons and Saracens, and home to the now deceased King Arthur’s kingdom. The second was Hibernia, the land of the Irish. Celtic folklore dominated this region. The third was Midgard, the land of the Norse with Vikings, Trolls, and Giants. Each realm has a storyline to drive adventuring within the realm itself. Several expansions came out over the next several years which really added a lot to the original game.
The main attraction of the game is the RVR though. It is also its major downfall. With the majority of the players desiring to fight each other, fewer players are involved in the leveling up process. More use very fast means to level up, ignoring the storyline of the realms, and bypassing most of the content so that they can get into the RVR zones. At the same time, the RVR was exhilerating. A lot of MMOs promised something similar to RVR and few could pull it off like DAOC did. This MMO was built for RVR from the very beginning whereas most of the MMOs that feature PVP only do it as a side attraction.
The game was popular at first and had around 250,000 subscribers in early 2002. The first expansion, Shroud of Isles pushed the subscriber base up to about 300,000 by the end of the year. This number fluctuated over time, and peaked in early 2005 after the Catacombs expansion came out. At that point, the popularity of World of Warcraft began to take a heavy toll. The subscriber base fell to around 50,000 which made it a steady performer, but not one with any potential growth. Electronic Arts had bought the studio that originally created the game, Mythic Entertainment in 2006 and later sold it to Broadsword Online Games, which also owns the IP to Ultima Online. Both Dark Age of Camelot and Ultima Online are available to play online for free as Broadsword moved both to the micro-transaction model a few years ago.
Dark Age of Camelot was one of the better MMOs to come out after Everquest revolutionized the MMO industry with 3D graphics. As I played it in late 2001, I could clearly see where it had made multiple improvements over problems we noticed in EQ. The graphics were better as well, but that wasn’t the main point of the game. The story line was a huge improvement. Mythic put a lot of work into that and it showed. But, as I said earlier, the RVR was the main draw and is still what pulls people to the game today.
Over the years, several emulators have generated their own freeshards for Dark Age of Camelot. Two of the most successful were the Uthgard shard and Phoenix shard. But those shards were built for players to enjoy the original gameplay with only the first expansion, Shrouded Isles available. The additional content was kept out of those shards on purpose. Notably, the Phoenix freeshard closed down August 31st of this year. The Uthgard freeshard is almost all totally RVR play which limits people who might be interested in the story of the realms. Thus, this actually helps Broadsword sustain the original game servers with all of the expansions. The game’s population has remained pretty stable since Broadsword acquired the game. They’ve added additional content over the years in small bursts which are targeted at the players who are active.
So, if you ever wanted to gather up some friends and sojourn into the realms of King Arthur and the Vikings, this might be a fun game. I enjoyed the lore a lot and the dungeons were fun as well. There’s a lot of action in the game with the quests. The crafting system is top notch and still is compared to many of the others. I really liked being able to dye my armor and to make my own equipment, then get it enchanted if I wanted to. Archers had a blast in this game as well. Height made you have more range. Arrows had different types and ranges. My ranger carried a lot of different types of arrows for different fights.
You could build siege weapons and use them against fortifications or your enemies. I built catapults and fired them in battle. There were problems with the game though. Too much emphasis was placed on stealth for some classes and they could really do a number on opposing players. Tactics would evolve to deal with that over time and some ways of detecting stealthed foes were introduced which evened things out. Interestingly, Dark Age had a large appeal to European players and still does.
The current game client has a great introductory system which eases players into the game. If you have never played the game before, that will get you acquainted with everything pretty easily. It’s a nice way to begin the game. All in all, Dark Age of Camelot is probably one of the most balanced MMOs for RVR play ever made. The original developer, Mark Jacobs has been developing Camelot Unchained for several years now on a shoestring budget. It will feature RVR heavily and is considered by many to be the spiritual successor to Dark Age of Camelot.
As a quick side note, Mark Jacobs and Mythic would later build another MMO using the Warhammer IP from Games Workshop called Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. It also used the RVR concept and sold over 1,000,000 copies with an active subscriber base of 800,000 six months later. However, numerous problems caused the base to drop to 300,000 by the end of the first year. The company actually lost money with it (in excess of $1B) which indicates the high costs of development plus the license fee paid to Games Workshop. The game would shut down in 2013 when the license expired. I will cover this game down the road as there is a story here waiting to be told and an active emulator still running it.