Genre : MMORPG
Developer : Mythic Entertainment
Publisher : Vivendi
Release Date : October 28, 2003
Buy 'DARK AGE OF CAMELOT: Trials of Atlantis': PC
Dark Age of Camelot is really two dichotomous games in one. In order to gain levels, you fight the computer (PvE) to get the XP needed to reach the next level. Once you've capped your level, the core of the game changes to a Realm-vs-Realm (RvR) model where you fight players from the opposing realms. "Trials of Atlantis" is the second PvE expansion to DAoC, and since its target audience is high level players it's a little surprising that the enhancements to RvR are fairly minor. There are no new player classes either, and only one new race per Realm.
The first expansion, Shrouded Isles, introduced PvE content for all levels and each Realm had a unique island to explore. While it was nice that your Realm's area was different than the other two Realms, it also meant that you couldn't use two-thirds of the content. Instead of creating separate areas for each Realm in ToA, it looks like the designers instead decided to make things easier on themselves and mirror the same content for all three realms. While you lose the uniqueness of separate content, it also allows the designers to focus on content that the entire player base can enjoy, which is much more efficient.
This attention to detail really shows with the new graphics engine that ships with ToA. The new engine has fully reflective water and also gives another layer of polish to the old areas, which helps keeps the graphics current and competes well against other MMOG's. While the new engine spruces up the terrain, the player models haven't seen any sort of improvement since the game launched 2 years ago and are starting to show some signs of age. There are four new geographic areas in ToA: Volcanus; Stygia; Aerus; and Oceanaus, and each of the areas have a unique look, are very well done and really show off the new engine.
Until now, there were no restrictions on accessing any of the content in Camelot; the entire game was unlocked, you just needed to be powerful enough to defeat the monsters. There was nothing stopping a first level character from going into a dungeon designed for a level fifty character, save the fact that it would be instant suicide. With ToA the bulk of the content comes in the form of quests known as Trials, which you can only receive if you are level 40 or higher. There is also content that will require you to have completed certain Trials to access. Each Trial consists of ten steps and once you've finished the tenth step to each Trial you gain a Master Level. You can do steps one through nine in any order, but you can only do the tenth step after the previous steps are completed. It is also possible to do steps for later Trials, but you won't get credit for it until you are on that Trial. All-in-all there are 10 Trials to do, which should keep people busy for quite some time. Each class can choose one of two Master Level paths, which grant you special powers and abilities as you get more Master Levels. These abilities work in both PvE and RvR combat, and many of them will benefit your entire group, eliminating the need for everyone in the group to get to a certain Master Level to be effective.
Mythic went out of their way to put a focus on exploration with this expansion, even delaying the release of the strategy guide so the player base would be forced to work their way through the expansion relatively spoiler-free. The clues you received on the next steps for your ML were pretty vague and since the release was fairly buggy it was hard to tell if you were doing the steps wrong, or if the encounter was bugged. To give Mythic credit, they did patch aggressively to eliminate the bugs and posted a letter on their web site apologizing for the bugs. They've also improved the feedback you get, so it's easier to tell if the step you are on is a solo, single- or multi-group encounter.
In addition to the Master Levels, ToA introduces a new type of weapon called an Artifact Item. These items are meant to be very rare and require you to collect four components: the artifact itself and the three scrolls required to unlock the artifact. Once you've unlocked it, you'll learn how to use the weapon. Using the item in the proscribed manner allows the weapon to "level" making it even more powerful.
When Camelot was first launched two years ago, Mythic designed the game to avoid the need to "camp" monsters to get XP or items. In fact, the longer you stayed in one area hunting. the less XP you would receive, encouraging you to move on to another spot. Getting the Artifact items requires you to sit in one spot killing the same groups of monsters over and over again, hoping the item you want finally drops, only to repeat the process to get all four items. Once you've unlocked the artifact, leveling it can get tedious depending on what you need to kill for it to level. EverQuest, Camelot's closest competitor, is famous for these types of time sinks, and it's a bit of a shock to see them introduced to a game that avoided them when the game was launched.
If you are a hard-core player, this expansion is a must-get if for no other reason than the "keeping up with the Jones'" aspect of the game, where players feel compelled to keep up with their fellow players. If you are new to Camelot, or are a casual player, you're paying for a graphics upgrade and a new race. That said, the graphics upgrade is worth some of the money, as the old areas show a significant improvement. There's also precious little you can do on your own here as there are very few steps of the Trials you can solo (in fact, most require several groups). While there are some groups of monsters that characters over level 25 can hunt, the rewards you get from killing them aren't a significant advantage over old-world zones. Not that limiting soloing is a bad thing. Camelot is a multiplayer game after all, so it makes sense that the content is geared for group play. If your play time is limited to one or two hour sessions, you're going to have a hard time advancing through the content. To really get the most out of the expansion, you're going to want to be in an active guild, or have a regular group. Falling behind is a real danger as well and you may have a hard time finding people to help you out on a Trial they have already finished. Mythic has realized this is a problem, and put some rewards in place to encourage people to repeat the content while they help other people.
If you spend most of your time doing RvR, there are no significant upgrades to the RvR system here and it's still unknown how much of an advantage the higher Master Levels bring to RvR. If the ML's do bring a significant advantage, you'll have a lot of catch-up to do. If you are a diehard RvR'er I'd recommend waiting for Frontiers, the free RvR expansion due out this spring. On the other hand, if PvE is what you enjoy most and are over level 40, then the content introduced in ToA should keep you addicted until the next retail expansion comes out.