Arriving in Dark Age of Camelot

Last week, I finally got hold of a PC game called Dark Age of Camelot. It's a massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG) in the style of Everquest, Anarchy Online, and a host of others. I've found it to be far more attractive and far more interesting than either of the afore-mentioned, though, and I'm trying to work out why. I was sceptical about it at first - I'm not keen on having the theme of my games restricted to one genre or culture or the like, as any player in my D&D games will tell you.

Everquest is big enough to be, in effect, its own country. It has a working economy, which interfaces with the global economy via auctions and online currency sales. These aren't completely legal, but they still provide a better rate of exchange than you'll get for some real world currencies. It has a fairly lively fanbase, with more fan sites, fiction sites, and just plain enthusiasts than you can shake a stick at. It has spawned toys, and even a tabletop RPG. The setting is Generic Fantasy, with a few oddities thrown in. The graphics are good, and the gameplay is decent. It has a decent crafting system, which is to say your character can make equipment.

Anarchy Online is a science-fiction version of the same. While there isn't really such a thing as Generic SciFi, AO tries hard. It contains elements of Dune and Star Wars for the most part, with the spells of the fantasy game replaced by nanotechnology (which fools nobody; players refer to "spells" and "casting" all the time). The generic monsters derive some names and characteristics from old-style text-only MUDs - the Leet and Eleet are two of the low-level beasties.

I played both of these for a while - AO with a number of other folk I know, Everquest largely on my own. Neither of them lasted, or grabbed my attention properly. Certainly, I dreamt in AO's clunky interface when I'd been playing for a few hours, but I didn't identify with the world.

That isn't a problem in Dark Age - the world is derived from Celtic, Norse and British mythology. I've played in the Irish and Norse areas, and they're authentic, down to details of architecture, titles of NPCs, and even the stories that some NPCs will tell you. The places are named for real ones - and it's strange to see Ardagh and Howth mentioned in a game.

There are other flourishes to the game; subtle details of landscape and avatars, changing skies, sunrise and sunset. The music is carefully chosen, and is even specific to each town. The gameplay is smooth and I've yet to die from problems with the interface, although I've often died by doing something stupid.

But I'm concluding that what is making the game good is the setting, that very restriction that I was sceptical about in the beginning. I don't think it's just the familiarity - although I love things like the faint suggestion that one could find the Hand of Nuada - but the cohesiveness and completeness of things, and the elements that are left out. I've seen no mention of a dragon yet in Hibernia, the Celtic setting, and everyone knows that dragons are essential to fantasy, right? But Celtic mythology doesn't have 'em, and so neither does this. Names - even the randomly generated ones the game suggests for PCs - fit, and someone evidently did a careful study of Gaelic in order to produce the authentic-looking pseudo-Gaelic it uses.

Of course, I'm really waiting for the Lord of the Rings game...

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Posted by Drew Shiel at November 9, 2004 9:55 PM | TrackBack

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