Wednesday, February 5, 2020

A Younger Version Of Myself: Dark Age of Camelot

When Broadsword announced they'd finally gotten around to making Dark Age of Camelot Free To Play last November, after what seemed like years of promises, I knew I'd have to try it - eventually. I have a certain amount of history with DAOC, not all of it good by any means. I had mixed feelings about a return but it was inevitable that curiosity would get the better of me in the end.

In practical terms, what was putting me off most was what always puts me off in situations like this: paperwork. It may all be ones and zeros in this digital world but it's still the same old paper trail - passwords, account names, secret words...

Luckily, I never throw anything away. When I decided a few days ago that since I had the week off work I might as well do something completely pointless with the time, I was able to find my old login details almost immediately. Getting them to work took a little longer.

I haven't really been keeping up with the soap opera of DAOC's ownership these past few years. When I last played it was still owned by Mythic. I vaguely remembered it had semi-recently been spun off to some subsidiary called Broadsword Online Games (another unfortunate acronym) in a move reminiscent of Turbine's disbursement of Lord of the Rings Online to Standing Stone but I seem to have completely skated over Electronic Arts involvement in the whole affair.

The longer this genre goes on, the longer the games persist, the more convoluted and confusing the history becomes. Not that it was ever straightforward. As far back as the turn of the century I remember the arguments in /ooc raging over who really owned EverQuest; was it Sony or Verant or 989 Games...

I already had an EA Origin account for some reason I've long forgotten. I used that to log in to... something... then linked it with my old Mythic Account. That was a longer and more convoluted process than I'm making it sound but I've already purged the tedious details from my mind.

The important part is that it worked. The annoying part is it was only the first step in a much longer process. There followed a lot of rigmarole involving making new IDs and User Names and suchlike. Several times I had to google search or read forums or FAQs to work out what to do next. Intuitive it was not. At times it almost felt as though someone didn't really want people to play the game for free...

Once again, the important part is that it worked. Yes, there were a lot of hoops to jump through but at least there was solid ground beyond.

Eventually I had all of that set up and ready to go. I downloaded the game, which took a shockingly short time, typed my account name and password into the launcher and hit Play. Whereupon I was informed my account was Closed and I'd have to subscribe if I wanted to go any further.

That didn't sound an awful lot like F2P to me. So off I went on another round of reading terms and conditions and forum posts. At one point I logged into the Account Management section of my EA account, where I was able to find all my old characters listed, together with their old server names.

I was very surprised at how many I had. I clearly remember one set of characters, the highest level of which were an Albion Mercenary and a Midgard Skald, both in the low 40s. I'd completely forgotten another set of characters on a different server, one of which was actually the highest level of them all.

There were quite a few more onother servers, too. I only played for a year or so. I'm amazed I had time to level up so many, especially since I recall levelling after the teens being grindingly slow even by the standards of the day, which is why I never got anyone much past forty.

As far as I could tell I fully met all the criteria for Endless Conquest. My account hadn't been played recently, I had characters over Level 15 with more than one day's played time and so on. But the game didn't want to let me in.

I was more than half inclined to leave it that. It's not as though I was particularly keen to pick up where I left off. Or indeed to go back to Camelot at all. I was mostly thinking of getting a blog post or two out of it, along with a mild nostalgia hit. Nothing worth making too much effort over.

Still, I was a bit miffed that I couldn't get in. You know what it's like. You don't want to go to the party but you want to know you were invited. I looked at the Customer Service option and it seemed to be very old school. Just an email address. No tickets or Live Chat or Discord. So I bashed out a quick email detailing my problem and waited.

I got an immediate automatic response telling me my email had been received and that if it was an Account or Billing enquiry I could expect a reply within 72 hours. That was a couple of days ago and I haven't heard any more yet.

But... now I can log in just fine. I tried a few hours ago just to see if anything had changed and the Launcher worked perfectly. No more nonsense about paying.

I was offered a choice of servers, all with the same name, one I didn't remember. Luckily, all the research I'd been forced to undertake meant I knew what was going on. I couldn't explain it. I wouldn't claim I understand it. But I could deal with it.

My prior knowledge also meant I knew what was going on when the first character I logged in appeared in a Housing Zone I'd never seen before. NOt that I would have expected to - DAOC didn't have housing when I played.

All my old characters, waiting patiently in storage from back when servers had individual names, had been shunted off to a holding bay, namely the Housing area for whatever server they were on. The idea is that you log in there, then transfer your character to one of the numbered Ywain Realm vs Realm servers or to the single Gaheris PvE/Co-Operative server.

There's a guide for that. There are FAQs and guides on the Broadsword website for everything. There are so many of them, in such numbing detail, all in  hideous, soul-eating khaki-and-black, that my brain refuses to comply. I recommend Yeebo's DAoC Guides for a much clearer and more readable experience.

I walked about the housing area for a while. I fiddled with options and changed some settings and keyboard shortcuts. I took some screenshots. Then I decided I'd be better off making a brand new character and starting from scratch.

I thought about it and decided I'd try the PvE server. I know RvR is the whole point of DAOC and I know I really like that kind of PvP but realistically all I'm ever going to do in Endless Conquest is run around, kill a few mobs, revisit some old haunts, take a few screenshots and leave. That's going to go a lot more smoothly if only mobs are trying to kill me.

I selected Gaheris from the drop-down menu, logged in to create a character and found I already had one. I do now just about remember creating her back when Gaheris was invented, just to see what it was like. Maybe there was a free login weekend or a free trial or something. I know I never re-subbed.

Not that having a character there did me any good as far as the Endless Conquest went. She's Level 6. I imagine her played time is a couple of hours at most. The qualifying bar is low but she effortlessly slides under it.

So I made a new character. A Norsewoman Valkyrie. The choice of free classes is limited. Then I logged her in and did the Tutorial. It took me a couple of hours and it was... well, let's say it was old school as well. I haven't done a Tutorial quite like it in a very long time. I was going cover it in detail but really this has gone on quite long enough already and anyway I'm sure everyone can imagine exactly what it was like. It was a Tutorial.

At the end my Valkyrie was Level 10, wearing a full set of armor, wielding a decent sword and shield, with a selection of alternative weapons in her packs. A helpful NPC teleported her off the generic starter island to the original Midgard starting village on the mainland.

I recognized it immediately. It hasn't changed in nearly twenty years. It gave me the first proper hit of nostalgia in the entire process so far. If it hadn't been well past my lunchtime I'd have taken a stroll  around the old neighborhood.

I have absolutely no intention of playing Dark Age of Camelot regularly again. I don't even plan on playing it casually. At the very most, my ambition would be to see a few of the old leveling spots, take some pictures to replace the ones that got lost years ago and, of course, to get a few posts out of the experience.

As for leveling again, I think I'll be giving that a miss. Just doing the Tutorial reminded me how unbelievably slow and fiddly combat is in DAOC. I remember now that that was the thing I liked least about the game, particularly on melee characters. I probably need to move a couple of my old casters across. I seem to remember I had more fun with them.

And isn't it astonishing that those characters are still there? I remember when we were all terrified to let our accounts lapse even for a month because MMORPGs would wipe unplayed characters. Or they said they would. The evidence of history suggests otherwise.

If someone had told me in 2001 that in 2020 I'd be able to log in to the games I was playing for free and still find all my characters waiting for me, even if I hadn't paid or played for a decade or more, I'd have thought they were completely nuts. Change isn't always bad, is it?

Of course, the really unbelievable thing would have been if someone had told me I'd still want to...


  1. Thanks for the plug! If you do get the urge to start a character from scratch and level all the way up, I'd recommend Ywain these days even if PvE is your jam. On Gaheris the lack of access to battlegrounds breaks the leveling experience from roughly 35-40. All the stuff you used to be able to do to get through that level range on Gaheris, besides just grinding, has been removed from the game over the years.

    1. That sounds as if it exactly replicates the authentic launch-era experience then! I remember spending session after session down in the swampland zone when I was playing my first character, the Mercenary, grinding away in a group in the thirties on some kind of goblin mobs I think it was. And then. when I switched servers and played a Skald, doing the same thing in a forest somewhere. I don't recall there being any quests of any significance at that level and Battlegrounds, when they were introduced, pretty much consisted of sitting in a building baiting the enemy - if there even was anyone to bait. It certainly wasn't any way to gain xp.

      I suspect that whatever it was they introduced and then removed for those levels happened long after my time so I wouldn't miss it.

    2. You are correct, it's pretty much just like the launch game (if a bit quicker) in that level range on Gaheris now :-) There are quests that will get you very quickly from 1-35, and another series of repeatable quests you can start in on at around 41.

  2. WOW, I have to try this.

    I was a DAOC holdout when everyone went to WoW launch. I stayed in DAOC. I loved it. We had an awesome testserver population. Until they broke that, and then people filtered off...

    Finding my old characters would make me really, really happy - just to remember them. I remember the first keep to fall, who was involved, how we got it back - all those awesome memories.

    Of course, I thikn I am like you - definitely curious to load it up, putz around, but unsure if I will stay. Good to know that Yeebo is on Ywain and I'm up for a spot of fun and exploration, at least.

    1. It was very weird seeing all my old characters again after more than fifteen years. I had completely forgotten at least half of them, which wouldn't be surprising except that it was the highest levels I didn't remember.

      I'm as certain as can be that I'm not going to get into levelling but I know there's always an outside chance it could happen. I don't think I have the time, though, even if I had the inclination. I look forward to reading your posts about if you get stuck in.


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