This week triggered memories of yore. Memories from 2002, twenty years ago, when a much younger version of myself was holding two small cardboard boxes and struck in awe. Those boxes were decorated with a front flap, shiny screenshots, and the letters Dark Age of Camelot (DAoC) and its first expansion Shrouded Isles. After carefully prying open the box and installing the game, I had my first difficult set of decisions to make: which “realm” to play in, and which class?
DAoC, being a knight-themed Camelot game, takes place in three realms, which are of course at war with each other: Albion (based on Arthurian mythology), Hibernia (Celtic folklore), and Midgard (Norse mythology). You had your knights, horsemen, elves, champions, rangers, but also the less usual vampires, necromancers, trolls, runemasters, and infiltrators. Based on the realm you picked, a unique set of races and classes can be selected to play as, one that grew to six races and sixteen classes for each realm!
The realm-based system was truly unique and allowed for dynamic events and enormous open realm VS realm battles, instead of “mere” PvP sessions. Mind you, this MMORPG is from 2001—three years before World of Warcraft (WoW) would steal the majority of its player base. DAoC was an instant success. My younger self played as a Inconnu Necromancer, one of the newer classes from the first expansion. I never fully grasped the intricate concepts required to master such a huge game, and must admit that I gave up at level 18 or so.
DAoC is still online! This game still has its faithful player base, albeit it is steadily declining. Around five thousand player still daily play it, with around 270k subscribers. It’s certainly one of the more obscure MMO’s nowadays, thanks to WoW that kept on reinventing itself while DAoC’s “modern adaptations” never really caught on. I highly enjoyed watching the first hour of a play session from a new player’s perspective, even though nothing really happens in the video except seemingly boring PvE combat:
Five years after its initial release, the developers Mythic Entertainment were bought by EA. As you might have guessed, things went downhill pretty quickly. EA Mythic focused on Warhammer Online, but at least decided not to permanently close down the servers. A few years later, EA wanted to merge the Mythic brand under BioWare to create one big MMO/RPG “division”. As BioWare Mythic, Dragon Age II was released. In 2014, BioWare Mytic was shut down by EA, and rights were transferred to Broadsword Online Games, together with Ultima Online. Since then, Broadsword has kept things flowing, although their player service is apparently not top-notch.
I’d say they’re still trying their best to keep the spirit of a twenty year old MMO alive. There’s an official Twitch channel with regular streaming and giveaway sessions. I’m amazed that still (on average) five thousand faithful players log in daily. Or perhaps, not so much. In an article on why people still play DAoC, this paragraph pretty much sums it up:
Games in general are about escapism, and MMOs with their vibrant, living worlds are particularly good places to spend time away from the real world. TidBittler expresses it this way: “When my grandpa died, I logged on for DAoC… [when] my dad died, I played DAoC… divorce, I had DAoC.”
I can still hear my zombie servant say “wuh. wuh. wuh” at every hit. I can still remember running around and collecting various raw materials because I was more interested in the surprisingly intricate crafting component of the game than the huge PvP and PvE dungeons that I avoided at all costs, too scared of death. As a necromancer. Go figure. MMOs are indeed about online communities, not about the game, and I had trouble finding other local nerds interested in this. Plus, I was already involved in a Diablo II clan, and 2001 was also the year of the GBA and GameCube.
I never tried out another MMO. Compared to the single player RPGs I’ve grown to love—Baldur’s Gate, Wizardry, Arcanum, Might & Magic—this open world somehow felt… barren and empty. NPCs are nothing but bots that hand out quests to prepare you for the real thing: the player interaction, which I somehow avoided. Grinding meant killing endless hordes of invaders. “wuh. wuh. wuh”. I guess I grew bored, and perhaps invested in the wrong skill set. Instead of crafting cool looking leather pants, I should have formed alliances.
Still, looking back at screenshots and videos of DAoC in early 2022, it fills me with lovely feelings of nostalgia. Admittedly, I pressed the “download” button a few times. But it’s an
.exe and I’m typing this on a Mac.
And besides, my backlog is too large to fit in a MMORPG.