Game Over Online ~ Dark Age of Camelot: Shrouded Isles

GameOver Game Reviews - Dark Age of Camelot: Shrouded Isles (c) Mythic Entertainment, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher Dark Age of Camelot: Shrouded Isles (c) Mythic Entertainment
System Requirements Windows, Pentium III 1.4GHz, 256MB RAM, 32MB 3D Accelerator, Internet Connection, Dark Age of Camelot
Overall Rating 87%
Date Published Friday, January 3rd, 2003 at 01:22 PM

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Few online games ever fathom much less reach the stratosphere of EverQuest, or even the remaining two of the big three; Ultima Online and Asheron's Call. Most generate immense buzz at the beginning and then as the warts are revealed and the trial subscriptions expire, the number of players begins to level off. That was the general trend for newcomers until Dark Ages of Camelot came along. Developed by Mythic, its attention to gameplay, experience in crafting online games and expansion of the basic fundamentals that worked in online gaming helped garner it one of the fastest growing player bases around. The end result: a year after its initial launch, we're already seeing an expansion pack with new places, exotic classes, beefier graphics and more monsters. Mythic's Shrouded Isles promises to make one of the most playable online games even more so.

In many ways, the popularity and success of Dark Ages of Camelot shaped some of the development that went into Shrouded Isles. Realm versus realm combat, an oft-imitated feature first pioneered by Mythic, was a wonderful idea but under the original graphics engine, poorly executed. Hundreds of players congregating together frequently reduced combat to a slideshow but the fact that realm battles continued to be the highlight meant Mythic had something right. I'm happy to report that the lag and slowness induced by many people appearing in the same area is finally resolved. (It still won't fix lag problems you have with your Internet connection though.) You'll actually be able to conduct some honest to good tactics in realm battles instead of hoping and wishing your hit will connect with someone.

All of this is due to the game engine enhancement Mythic has made via Shrouded Isles. One chronic problem from before: graphic distortions that required you to re-login every so often. That, fortunately, has been rectified completely along with the speed increase. However, there's a caveat emptor. No amount of tweaking will offset a poor video card. If you run something at an ATI Radeon 9000 or NVIDIA Geforce4 Ti range, you're bound to see a change for the better. But if you have little graphics muscle (onboard and PCI cards) to begin with, you won't see any improvement to the lag. And that's even if you turn all the details down.

Dark Ages of Camelot came out with pretty hefty requirements and Shrouded Isles merely raises them to keep up to speed with the latest crop of online games. You do get a lot of eye candy in return. Trees are more fully articulated now and possess a certain volume that couldn't be done before. The flora and fauna do look better, particularly in the new lands. Monsters are now able to traverse and navigate the z-axis so you're certain to run into more flying and ethereal beings during your travels. Overall, the animations for the monsters, particularly the newer ones, are more fluid. And the water is now finally at a stage where it's reflective, enabling Shrouded Isles' improvements to match recently released (Asheron's Call 2 being the most direct competitor) online games. Suffice to say, Shrouded Isles keeps Camelot players at the bleeding edge in terms of visuals.

Also added this time around is an ambient soundtrack. One criticism levelled at the original game was the shortness and repetition of the tracks. It takes a good twenty to thirty days (not hours) of solid gameplay to max out character achievement in Shrouded Isles - and that's most likely with help from other players. Hearing the same score over and over again can drive you insane (like Christmas music does to retailers) but the ambient score helps alleviate this.

When Mythic got around to making Shrouded Isles, they didn't think let's just patch some bugs in the original engine and paint a few new lands for people to quest on. The care is evident when you look at the races and classes introduced to complement the existing Camelot cast. These aren't the same fighter or mage classes dressed in new Tolkien garb. In the Albion realm, you have the Inconnu race with Necromancer and Reaver classes. The Necromancer takes a page out of AD&D and Diablo. It channels its fighting energies through a summoned creature while the Reaver has pulsing spells that wreak havoc on stealth characters (if you play Camelot against other players, you'll know why this is useful). In Hibernia, players can look forward to the Animist and Valewalker. The Animist can be particularly useful in defense during realm versus realm combat because of his or her ability to summon living "turrets". Finally, Midgard constituents get the Bonedancer, who uses even more summoned pets and underlings than the Necromancer, as well as the Savages, who can deal out crushing blows with various damage types. No doubt, some of these classes will convince veteran players to drop their favorite characters and try replaying the game with the new ones.

While the new lands look markedly better, many of the benefits of Shrouded Isles can be enjoyed in the existing land. The latest quests and dungeons, for example, are open to all classes. New races can also come back to the existing Dark Ages of Camelot lands so the benefits can go both ways. The recent areas provide a great relief valve for highly populated servers so players will be able to level up with ease. Much of the Shrouded Isles material, moreover, is geared towards levelling up higher-level characters, which up to a point in the original game, was not worth the hassle of attaining.

This highlights a crux in Shrouded Isles though. Higher-level characters will be able to enjoy Shrouded Isles. Up and coming characters will appreciate the additional monsters and dungeons in their quests for advancement. Unfortunately, that leaves new players completely out of the loop. Adventuring solo continues to be a personal experience where you simply the thrill is in levelling up. The interface may be very sophisticated and playable to veterans but to someone who wants to experience what they experienced in single player RPGs (Morrowind or the under appreciated Planescape: Torment), they're most likely to find little value in the Shrouded Isles follow-up.

In fact, Shrouded Isles requires the purchase of Dark Ages of Camelot. Checking retailers, I should note the price is now reduced for the original corpus. Nevertheless, it's highly unlikely a newcomer will sink money for both packages without ever having experienced the game. On the other hand, Shrouded Isle is a sine qua non for existing players. Even if you won't give up your current character, you'll want to follow your friends to the expansion areas.

If there is one gameplay fault I can find with Shrouded Isles, it's the fact that the new geographical areas are too expansive for one necessary component of Dark Ages of Camelot; defending one's realm. When the frontiers of your realm are threatened, it's a long walk or ride back to the action. Since Shrouded Isles does little to change the existing mechanics, defending keeps, conducting relic raids and protecting the interests of one's realm continues to be at the top of the activity list for players. However, the rest of the game is pure Camelot. It's all very playable, well executed and mark my words, it will suck you in for long periods of time.

Shrouded Isles doesn't do much to change the nature of Camelot. It merely adds more flavor to the winning formula. It rectifies some technical issues, reinforcing the communal focus of the game. It still performs at its best when you participate in the realm versus realm conflicts and you pitch your character into combat with a living breathing human. Shrouded Isles tries to add something for the solo experience but the real meat of the game continues to rest on playing with, alongside or against other characters.

Online games these days tend to require players to sink an inordinate amount of time into them. Existing Camelot fans and MMORPG players would be smart to take up on Mythic's latest quid pro quo. Time spent versus satisfaction - you're undoubtedly getting the better end of the deal, even if you'll have to skip out on school, work and washing the dishes.


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