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PC Review - 'Dark Age of Camelot: Trials of Atlantis'

by Mark Crump on Nov. 11, 2003 @ 1:21 a.m. PST

Trials of Atlantis will introduce the ability for players to swim to explore the submerged civilization. The expansion reveals that the citizens of Atlantis, foreseeing the demise of their society, built a series of Trials into the ruins of their civilization. The Trials were designed to challenge future cultures that discover and seek to explore the ancient lands. Our resident DoAC guru had a chance to get a virtual tour guided by the able hands of Mythic Ent. As an MMORPG requires days, if not weeks, of playing in order to make a fair and accurate review, a few days into the game, this should be considered a "first impression", a full review to come soon ...

Genre : MMORPG
Developer : Mythic Entertainment
Publisher : Vivendi
Release Date : October 28, 2003

Buy 'DARK AGE OF CAMELOT: Trials of Atlantis': PC

Writing reviews for MMOG games is a difficult process. After all, the content in these games is meant to be absorbed over months and years, not a weekend’s worth of play. To do a full-fledged review of Trials of Atlantis in less than a month of play isn’t fair to the product. On the other hand, readers want to know if the expansion is any good and by the time a full-fledged review comes out most people have already made up their minds. This leads us to publishing a “First Impressions of Trial of Atlantis.” You’ll notice at the bottom there isn’t a score. It’s not fair at this point to stick a numeric value on this expansion; you’ll have to read the article and determine for yourself if it’s worth it. Our full review will be coming once we’ve had sufficient time to digest the expansion.

Dark Age of Camelot is set in the time period right after King Arthur’s demise. The three realms (Hibernia, Midgard, and Albion) are embroiled in a bitter struggle to determine who the new boss is going to be. When it launched in October of 2001, it did something no other MMOG had done before: it had a smooth launch. Noticeably absent was the prolonged downtime that always seems to follow these launches. Since then, Mythic has had a decent track record of patches. While there have been odd bugs, their patches usually don’t break the entire game. In October of 2002, they launched their first expansion, The Shrouded Isles. This expansion added 3 new areas, one for each realm, as well as a significantly improved graphics engine. The engine now took advantage of pixel-shader compatible cards, giving you water that shimmered and rippled, and all objects in the game now cast a shadow. You also got three new races and a couple of new character classes per realm. The Shrouded Isles was an expansion geared for all levels of players; there is content for players from level 1 to level 50.

Unlike Shrouded Isles, Trials of Atlantis is not geared for players level 1-50. To do the Trials, where the bulk of the content lies, you need to be at least level 40 to receive the quests. While there is hunting for groups of players over level 25, the meat of the expansion is geared for level 40+ characters. There is another graphic engine upgrade in Trials of Atlantis as well. The graphics upgrade is nothing short of amazing. When I heard they were doing another pass on the water, I wondered how they could improve an already fine effect. The water now fully reflects the terrain around it. If you look at a bridge over water, the posts and the bridge itself reflect back off the water. The terrain has also seen a significant upgrade. The improvements to Hibernia are welcome, as the Realm now feels less like a golf course. Many of the hills now have rock outcroppings and the roadways have a better texture map applied. The roads in Midgard are easier to follow now that the texture for them is gravel, and not just different colored dirt.

And that’s just on the old areas. Once you get inside Atlantis, where the expansion is built entirely around the new engine, the graphics are jaw dropping. Mythic has stated their goal with this expansion was to bring the graphics in-line with their competition, if not exceed them. The current owner of the graphics crown is Star Wars Galaxies, and there were two areas I noticed immediately where they beat Galaxies: The water effects on my GeForce 4 ti card are better in Atlantis, and there are forest areas that look more like Endor than any area in SWG.

Unlike most MMOG expansions, where the story line is there for filler, there is an extensive back story to Trials Of Atlantis. The expansion is designed around the mythical lost continent of Atlantis. In Camelot’s version, the Atlantean’s possessed powerful magic, and none could match their prowess. As a civilization, their focus was on continuing their research of the magical arts. They were willing to share their knowledge, but only to those they deemed worthy. To separate the pretenders from the contenders, they had Trials. These Trials were held on separate planes of existence, and were populated with beasts and other not-so-amiable beings from civilizations the Atlanteans had encountered. In order to prove your worth, each Trial had an objective you had to complete. The Atlanteans, knowing their civilization would not last forever, designed the Trials to last for many centuries so they could continue to share their magical knowledge, even after they were gone. Or at least, long enough for Mythic to stick it in a box and sell it.

The Atlanteans were responsible for their own doom. One day in their quest for more magical power, something went terribly wrong. No one knows what it is they did, but the result was cataclysmic. Atlantis, save for their Trials, was lost.

It wasn’t to remain lost forever. Several centuries have passed, but recently each of the Leaders of the Realms recently received a vision of new, undiscovered lands with neat new things to kill. At first everyone thought the Leaders were nuts, but once word spread that the other realms had also received these visions, the race was on to discover Atlantis. There was a war going on, after all, and every advantage is key.

There are four areas to the expansion, which contain both outdoor and dungeon encounters:

  • Oceanus: this area is the area hit hardest by the fall of Atlantis. Expect deep oceans, ruined temples, and sunken ships. All they need here is the “Finding Nemo” quest.
  • Stygia: A searing desert, modeled after ancient Egypt. You get the feeling there should be a camel, water and sun-block merchant.
  • Volcanus: Yep, you guessed it, lots of lava. Add in a temple buried inside an active volcano, and you’ll have a reason to use that suit of Asbestos Chain Mail you’ve been hoarding.
  • Aerus: Deep forests on the side of a mountain, and a fantastic floating city. One thing I do like: the floating city is miles above the surface, with twisty passageways that they’ve designed so you can’t fall off! Anyone who has spent time in Kelethin in EverQuest, where it was very easy to fall to your death due to a mis-step, will appreciate this.

To get to the new areas, you need to go to the major city in your Realm’s Shrouded Isles area (this expansion requires that you’ve bought SI). There will be a new dock there; hop on the boat and off you go. The boats come about every 10 minutes, and the journey to the final spot is about 10-15 minutes long. The boats from SI bring you to Ruinerar Atlantis. Here, you can talk to the Arbiter in the Hall of Heroes and receive the Trials. At the end of the hall is the portal to Oceanus Hesperos, the Grand Central Station of Atlantis. There are vendors and trainers here, as well as boats to Stygia, Volcanus and Aerus. Mythic has updated their “Map-a-Lot” Atlas on the Camelot Herald with overview maps of the major zones (excluding dungeon maps), so it’s easy to find your way around. Anyone, of any level, can travel to these new lands. The hunting is geared for level 25 and up, and you must be at least level 40 to do the trials.

For each trial that you complete, you are awarded a Master Ability. These are abilities tailored for your class, and cannot be gained in any other fashion. Once all tasks for a Trial are complete, you access the next Master Level, or Trial. Mythic also changed how quests are handled in your Journal for the Trails. Prior to TOA, each step of the quest was fully recorded in your journal; who you needed to talk to, where you needed to go, etc. Since the emphasis in TOA is exploration, the Journal entries are more like hints than a full fledged walkthrough. This is causing some discontent amongst the players. A big source of frustration is that since Mythic wanted people to experience the content spoiler-free (they even delayed the release of the strategy guide), a lot of players are frustrated at the vague and cryptic riddles required to proceed to the next step. While there are reports of bugs with some of the trials, Mythic just went through and did a fine tuning of some of the reported bugs. This patch is scheduled go live after this is published, so I won’t be able to comment on that. Online games are frequently buggy; it’s the nature of the beast. There are bugs that cannot be found until they go live, but Mythic is usually pretty good at squelching them.

Since it wouldn’t be Atlantis without water, TOA allows you to swim underwater in the Atlantis areas. Since you can’t hold your breath underwater forever, you will need potions to swim underwater for any length of time. These potions can either be store bought, or made by players. The player made ones last the longest, but the store bought ones may be more convenient to stock up on. Your movement rate underwater is reduced, but the potions and the Realm Ability “Mastery of Water” increases your movement rates. The underwater areas look fantastic, as the lighting effects look very realistic.

By hunting in Atlantis you can also get Artifact items. These are left-over items from Atlantis’ golden years. Hints of these items began to appear in scrolls left over from the fall of Atlantis. To get an Artifact item, you must find the three scrolls related to that item, as well as defeat a monster that has the item. Once you have the three scrolls, you combine them into a book. You take the book and the item to one of the Scholars in the Hall; he will then activate the item. A word of warning: these items are not intended to become common quest drops, so you can expect long camps to get all the pieces. These items are also able to “level”. Each artifact has certain uses, and if you use it in that fashion it will gain in power. Examples of these uses are, Realm vs. Realm battles, fighting certain types of monsters, etc.

Crafters can create Legendary Items. These items are the combination of high end base weapons, both spellcraft and alchemy components, and elements from the various Atlantean areas. These weapons will now hit with an energy force in addition to their physical attack. This force will decrease the targets resistance to that type of attack.

The Artifact items seem like they might be a long camp for a questionable item, and the legendary and artifact items might give players who have the expansion an advantage in RvR against players who don’t have it. To a certain degree, that’s life. Only time will tell the affect these items have on the game, and Mythic certainly isn’t going to gear their product around people who refuse to upgrade.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of this expansion. Some of the encounters are ones that they don’t expect players to unlock for months. What I’ve seen has been impressive. The graphics upgrade is awesome, and it’s great to see content that needs to be worked through in stages. The new areas, Volcanus and Aerus city in particular, look incredible. There is a lot of content I’ve only stuck my head into, and I can’t wait to go back and play through. I had $30 ear-marked for buying this expansion before we got a review copy sent to the Worthplaying offices, and I haven’t seen anything that makes me think that wouldn’t have been $30 well spent, save for the fact that if you have low level characters, you’re paying $30 for a graphics upgrade. A full back-story that’s more than a paragraph on the back of the box is welcome, as is the quest nature of the content. This definitely looks like a deep expansion that promises to have content that will last for quite some time.

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