Dark Age Of Camelot: Catacombs

Platform(s): Arcade, Game Boy Advance, GameCube, Nintendo DS, PC, PSOne, PSP, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox, Xbox 360
Genre: Online Multiplayer

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PC Review - 'Dark Age of Camelot: Catacombs'

by Mark Crump on Jan. 6, 2005 @ 12:53 a.m. PST

Genre: MMORPG
Publisher: Mythic Entertainment
Developer: Mythic Entertainment
Release Date: December 7, 2004

Buy 'DARK AGE OF CAMELOT: Catacombs': PC

The relationship between an MMOG developer and its customers is a lot like the relationship between a married couple: each year during the holidays, one of them hints at something expensive and shiny (meaning a diamond) and instead receives a rare disco ball autographed by the Bee Gees. Dark Age of Camelot’s last expansion, Trials of Atlantis, was viewed by many of their customers as the proverbial disco ball; it may have fit the description to what they were asking for (more quest-based content) but wasn’t quite what they were expecting (massive time sinks that required small armies to complete).

This year, Mythic instead chose the practical route and gave us something we just simply needed. Catacombs was designed with two goals in mind: to upgrade the antiquated character models; and introduce content for groups of one to eight players. While it’s my job to nit-pick – and there will be no shortage of that here – Catacombs does an amazing job in fulfilling its design intents, and as a result, the expansion has more strong points than detractions.

While other expansions have expanded the world of Camelot outwards, Catacombs instead puts new content under the capital cities in Classic Camelot via portals. Once you zone in, you’ll find two types of hunting areas: standard static adventuring zones; and instances to which only you and your party have access. In addition to the instances, each Realm has its own set of static zones, and it’s possible to level from one to 50 as you progress through them. Traveling around the zones is fairly easy, as most have an Obelisk that you can use to teleport to or from the new city. Although most of them only let you return quickly, the Obelisks seem to be a conscious effort on Mythic’s part to continue to alleviate some of the tedium generated by long travel times between zones.

There are two types of instances: Adventure Wing and Task Instance. The Adventure Wings are designed around a specific level of players; when you zone in, it will tell you “this area has been balanced for four level-37 characters,” as an example. These dungeons are fairly large, have boss mobs that usually drop some decent items, and the regular mobs drop coin and new items called Aurulites, which can be used to buy gear from special merchants, similar to the Darkness Falls seals. The Task Instances are designed for the solo player and work similar to the missions in Anarchy Online where an NPC gives you a mission and points you towards the instance entrance. When you complete the task you’ll get an XP and coin bonus. The mobs here just drop coin and the Task has a two-hour timer. Once the timer runs out, you can still finish killing off the mobs, but you won’t get the bonus. The instances alleviate the chief problems I’ve had with Camelot: if you wanted to adventure in a dungeon, the current design forced you to pick a spot and camp it; and there just wasn’t much a solo player could do for a short period that wasn’t extremely boring. Those problems are gone with the instances, though, as now the solo player or balanced group has access to private dungeons that they can chew through at their own pace, without fear of competing with other players for good XP camps. Truth be told, if the instances were the only thing in the expansion, I’d consider it money worth spent. It’s also worth noting that the final high-end zone in the game, Darkspire, is designed as single-group instance, so you can’t zerg it, and instead need to rely on tactics to beat the zone.

The Task Instances aren’t perfect, though. They assume you can solo in close quarters and be able to single pull. If you can’t do that, your best bet is to find an Adventure Wing that’s low enough in level you can solo but still gives XP. Also, the named mobs in the instances aren’t graphically unique and are usually just an unarmored human model. It would have been nice to have the boss mobs stand out a little more with some cool armor, but, again, that’s a minor complaint. Also, there are different Task-givers for different level ranges, and each Giver’s instances have their own graphical theme, usually mimicking the dungeon in your Realm that’s suitable for that level – the 40+ instance in Hibernia is modeled after the Coruscating Mines, for example. It would have been nice to see all the themes rotate through all the Giver’s Instances.

Also, MMOGs are like mixer parties, where the fun is getting together with old friends, meeting new friends and generally hanging out listening to The Brothers Gibb (well, ok, maybe your idea of fun isn’t listening to the Bee Gees). The instances, especially ones geared towards solo players, run the risk of pulling party guests away from the dance floor and secluding them in private booths. So, now that you can literally solo from all the way up to 50 without literally meeting another person, there’s a risk that the social center of the game may erode and the community will really suffer for it. Not that I’m unhappy there’s a lot of solo content here, but I’d have preferred it if some instances required groups to enter, were scaled appropriately to the party’s levels, and had rewards that made it attractive to do them. For instance, the Aurulites only drop in the Adventure Wings, which, while they are scaled around groups of players, are quite easy to find one to solo in. If they had made the Wings always slightly challenging to a balanced group and made the items you can buy with the Aurulites significantly better than they are now, people would have perhaps wanted to form groups to get them. Right now, the only zone really designed this way is the final zone, Darkspire, which spawns monsters that give a good group of level-50s a run for their money, and is rumored to drop some nice items as well.

There are a lot of fun quests here too, and many of them have amusing storylines. One thing that was nice to see is for once, the quest descriptions are extremely detailed, to the point of pretty much telling you exactly where you needed to go – one even told me to go “two trees to the east.” The XP rewards for many of them are fairly generous, often giving me several bubs worth of XP at level 49.

Catacombs also introduces five new classes: Albion gets the Heretic, a Dark Priest Evil Cleric class; Midgard gets the Warlock, a spellcaster who can queue up multiple spells for a single attack, and the Valkyrie, a chain-wearing hybrid who casts Cone Area Effect specks – a new spell type that affects every enemy in front of the Valkrie who is in range of the spell; Hibernia gets the Vampiir, a fighter who wields a one-handed piercing weapon in its right hand and casts magic with its left hand, and the Bainshee a cloth-wearing class whose magic comes in the form of sound-based attacks.

It’s still way too early to tell how these classes balance out in the long run. Some of them are designed to not require external buffs, and it’s likely to be months before how they fully affect RvR is balanced; in other words today’s Flavor of the Month is tomorrow’s Nerf Bait. To be honest, I’ve always considered new classes to be fluff in an expansion, as they generally cause more long-term damage to the game than they are worth. We’re still dealing with issues from the classes introduced in the first expansion, Shrouded Isles, almost two years ago, and I have a feeling we’ll be seeing some heavy adjustments to the new classes after everyone’s figured out their little quirks and advantages. That said, quite a few of them look like they are a blast to play and give the people who have hit level 50 something new to keep them busy for a bit.

The overall art direction in this expansion is extremely well done, and Mythic’s art department deserves some heavy praise. The Underground Forest has a nice haunted, creepy feel to it; the Veil Rift in Hibernia, replete with broken rocks floating in a swirling red vortex really needs to be seen for the full effect; the Deadlands of Arwan purvey an overall feeling of lifelessness; and the Frontlines bear a Dr. Seuss-inspired look. The critiques I have are minor, but this is one of the first expansions Mythic has introduced where the new areas are segregated into separate loading areas so the expansion lacks the wide-open feel the original game had, and instead feels like connected rooms in a house. While it is an underground expansion, the zones feel a little too boxy to for my tastes. Also, the look of the different areas can change abruptly as move from zone to zone. In Hibernia’s Underground Forest, one cavern to leads to the Deadlands and the other to Frontlines, but none of the passageways give you a feel for what lies on the other side. It would have been nice to see the “dead” feel trickle over to that side of the connecting passageway in the Underground Forest. Again, these are minor points, as on the whole, the zones are well presented and I enjoyed traveling through them.

Continuing on with the art department, all the character models and armor have been given graphical upgrades with Catacombs. The models are a sight better than the old ones, even though some people might not be as happy with their new look. The one area they take a big ding on is the lack of customization options currently available. It’s worth noting that Mythic has stated they are going to make more available soon (and keep in mind that in MMOG-land “coming soon” is about as reliable as “the check’s in the mail, really”), but right now you only have four or five face and hair choices available, and it’s not possible to separately choose the facial hair. The character and monster models in the catacombs zones themselves are well done, but the animations on both are a little too springy for my tastes. One monster that reminds me of a giant walking SoftScrub mascot looked like it needed something to help it down off its high. Also, the cloaks still swish a little too much, and I’ve seen some armor poking through the cloaks. That said, it is a welcome upgrade and I enjoy the new look of most of the classes, and the issues I’ve mentioned should get ironed out in the coming patches, so they aren’t show-stoppers by any stretch. You’d be hard-pressed to get me to revert back to any of the old models.

The audio presentation is a little more hit-or-miss. While the ambient sound effects are extremely well done (there’s one rasping voice in a Hibernia zone that repeatedly sends chills down my spine), the combat and monster sounds remain mostly the same.

The hardcore-RvR crowd is likely to be disappointed as Catacombs is designed solely for PvE. I wish they had put some dungeon-based RvR zones in, but a few friends who are more RvR-centric than I am pointed out there’s two zones in the game that already support that (Darkness Falls and Passage of Conflict) and there’s no need for them. Your decision there. Also, most of the neat new items you get adventuring in the new areas have bonuses that do not work in RvR, so this expansion isn’t going to drastically alter the RvR balance for people who don’t buy it, which was one of the big complaints about the previous expansion. So, the only potential impact this expansion has on RvR is the new classes, and the jury is still out on that matter.

Catacombs is an excellent expansion and does a tremendous job at filling the solo and single-group content void. It doesn’t introduce much to the genre, but does bring Camelot up to date with the current trends in MMOGs and finally upgrades the character models. At the risk of hyperbole, it’s the best Camelot expansion to date, and arguably one of the finest MMOG expansions I’ve played. Over the last six months, Mythic has made it much easier to level your character, and the way Catacombs is laid out, working your way through the new quests, zones and instances is the best and fastest way to get to level 50. If you’re a current subscriber, it’s a “must get” just for the model upgrades and instances. If you’ve let your account lapse, deciding if you should re-up for Catacombs is a judgment call: if you simply got bored with the game, you’ll probably enjoy exploring the new expansion, but if you’re hoping Catacombs makes Trials of Atlantis go away, well, there’s really little that’s going to bring you back anyway. Also, Mythic recently announced their prices are increasing to $14.99/month so that will doubtlessly be a factor in your decision to return as well. I enjoyed it, though, and that’s all that’s really important now, isn’t it?

Score: 8.4/10


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