Reviewed: December 16, 2003
Released: October 29, 2003
The MMORPG Dark Age of Camelot has received some rave reviews, as well has garnered quite a dedicated player community since its initial release in 2001. Now developer Mythic Entertainment has released the Dark Age of Camelot: Trials of Atlantis, a second retail expansion that adds four new high-level areas, dynamic quests, a new skills system, a graphical upgrade, and three new player races to the game.
The expansion is set upon a lush background based around the mythical lands and culture of Atlantis, whose citizens set up trials before their demise in order to pass on their knowledge and power to those worthy enough to survive the challenges they created. Players must be around level 30 or higher to truly enjoy all that are the Trials and the four areas they take place in, including the lava-strewn Volcanus, the desert land of Stygia, the primarily underwater areas of Oceanus, and the floating city of Aerus. For those who take part in completing the Trials, they can expect rewards through the acquisition of Atlantean powers. However, players will quickly realize that not only high-level groups will be required to obtain these new abilities; cunning and strategy are paramount, as well.
As mentioned, only characters who have obtained a high level, such as 30 or above, will truly be able to enjoy Trials of Atlantis for what it is, even though lower level players can tag along even though they may find themselves useless if they wind up in a skirmish. Characters who wish to enter the Trials must first travel to the Hall of Heroes which can be reached by boat from DAoC's three realms of Albion, Midgard, and Hibernia. The Hall acts as a portal to the Oceanus area, which in turn leads to the other areas of Volcanus, Stygia, and Aerus. Each area contains a “haven”, a place where players can buy and sell items, as well as rest in safety. From the havens players can venture off into the more dangerous parts of the new additions, fighting super-strong creatures such as Minotaurs, snakemen, and magical statues, among others, while using their intelligence and raid-organization skills in order to pass the Trials themselves and receive hefty compensation for their time and effort.
There are nine Trials that consist of ten challenges each. Through the completion of challenges, players will come across ancient Atlantean artifacts that act as a new type of magical item. As the artifacts are utilized over time they tend to change, acquiring new abilities and changing scope while gaining levels through experience. The artifacts are an extremely interesting and unique addition to the game, proving a worthy reward for competing in the Trials. Also, players obtain new “Master Levels” by completing the Trials, which add new capabilities to a character, dependent primarily on class. Master Levels do not necessarily make a character more powerful in every case; they generally add more abilities which round a character out and allows the player to deal with enemies in a wider variety of ways.
What sets Trials of Atlantis apart from many high-level MMORPG expansions is that the additions to the questing system are far more intelligent than most anything out there. No longer do players simply camp and kill ridiculously powerful enemies all the time, they must actually use puzzle-solving abilities and strategy to win out and be successful. For example, several bridges run throughout the lava region of Volcanus which prove a hindrance as they allow minotaur reinforcements to ambush your raid parties. To combat this, player groups have to work together in order to bring the bridges down and keep them in a state of disrepair as minotaurs attempt to fix the damage. Destructable objects come into play more than once in the Trials and take on an important role, along with puzzles and NPC characters that are beautifully woven into new quests that are interconnected within the Trials themselves.
Another addition brought about by the Trials of Atlantis is the concept of player-owned boats. Considering the new areas are primarily reachable by water, Mythic thought it wise to allow for players to be equipped with the ability to easily sail from area-to-area. Ships can be purchased for utilization by small parties, and larger ships can be bought in order to transport entire guilds. Of course, the areas can also be reached by traditional swimming and strategically-located portals.
On top of the additions of new areas, quests, items, and skills, the Mythic team has unveiled three new player races, one for each of the three realms. Albion gets the burly Half-Ogre, Hibernia acquires the devious Shar, and Midgard receives the spiritual Frostalf. Half-Ogres are inherently strong and make good Fighters, although they can also be Elementalists or Mages. Shars have high constitutions, and can either be Guardians, Magicians, or Stalkers. Frostalfs, with their high piety, are primarily used as Mystics or Seers, although they can also be Vikings. Mythic designed the three news races to fill in certain gaps in stats inherent within each of the three realms.
Trials of Atlantis is not devoid of problems, however. Lower level players will find little for them in the expansion outside the three new players races and updated graphics engine, and high level players who prefer the solo path are also left out since only a small number of the challenges within the Trials are for single characters, or even small groups of characters. Also, if a portion of a quest is somehow missed or left unfinished, it is nearly impossible to get a group together in order to go back in a timely fashion to complete a challenge. The expansion is definitely targeted at those who enjoy taking part in large groups, although it makes it extremely difficult for those who wish to fight by their lonesome, or even in smaller groups, to gain any sort of reward outside of simple experience.
While the expansion is strictly player versus environment, the skills granted to the large groups of players who complete Trials will give them an edge over others who take part in DAoC player versus player realm combat. Also, there are some complaints about the effects of artifacts in a PvP setting since players do not necessarily need to have an artifact to experience its effects or benefits if grouped with someone who does have one of the new magical items. Obviously, there’s a balance issue now that makes taking part in the Trials extremely important, which is not exactly good for those who dislike how the new expansion works and would prefer to keep to the frontier PvP regions.
Also, a number of the quests and artifacts within the expansion have been hindered useless by bugs which, to Mythic's credit, are constantly being dealt with, although new ones tend to pop up as players progress through the Trials. Bugs are almost a constant problem within MMORPGs as they tend to be so complex, and in the case of Trials of Atlantis this fact is still in place.
The only other issues with the gameplay of the expansion stem from the inherent problems of the MMORPG genre itself: complicated controls and the possibility of running into the occasional impolite person. DAoC's controls are numerous and complicated, but for those that are veterans of the game or any other MMORPG should be used to this fact by now. Also, anyone who has ever touched a game such as DAoC knows that not everyone online in the game world is there to be nice. People who wish to cause trouble continue to exist, but the majority of the DAoC community is strong and consists of some of the nicest people in any online game today.
Trials of Atlantis updates the DAoC graphic engine past that of the previous retail expansion, Shrouded Isles. For those who have not held a DAoC account since before Shrouded Isles be prepared to view what seems to be a totally different game, and for those who have Shrouded Isles be ready to be nearly as floored.
Textures have been enhanced at great length, adding further realism throughout the game. New light effects are also impressive, playing through glass planes and off of realistically reflective surfaces, such as shiny armor, in a convincing fashion. The water effects, possibly being one of the most important graphical portions of Trials of Atlantis since much of it takes place underwater, are simply stunning. Light streams down into the water and bends in believable ways, while bubbles appear when characters swim by. Underwater dungeons give off a very convincing coral-reef-type feeling, where underwater creatures take up residence, being beautifully animated yet very deadly. Lava is also handled almost photographically, as it flows and behaves just as one would expect. Cobwebs, even, are reproduced with amazing accuracy, as they sway when they are passed and reflect light.
The architecture of the new areas is stunning in many cases, especially in Stygia and Aerus. Stygia, being a desert area, is dotted with all sorts of Egyptian-like tombs and temples, all produced with an eye for high detail. Giant statues are built into colossal temples with golden inlays that shimmer in sunlight. Aerus is also quite impressive, as it consists of fallen structures from a floating city as well as the floating city itself. The fallen structures appear old and battered, as if they had fallen to the ground some time ago, looking almost ancient Grecian.
The new creatures that inhabit the Trials areas are highly detailed and are extremely realistic. Players will come into contact with everything from magical statues to Medusa-like women, all striking fear especially if a player's character is alone and has nowhere to run.
The use of runes and hieroglyphics can be found throughout the new areas within the expansion and prove to be a beautiful, and even useful, addition. Players who have the time and desire to translate what they find on walls throughout the dungeons of the Trials can actually do it. The artists behind the hieroglyphics went as far as to create the graphics as a totally separate language, which aids in the further explanation of the Atlantis back-story while sometimes offering clues to challenges. While translating these hieroglyphics and other markings is not required to be successful in the expansion, it does add more to the overall experience.
Trials of Atlantis' new musical additions are nothing spectacular, although they do invoke a certain range of emotion when one goes from an outer area into a dungeon to face further dangers. The real stars of the expansion's sound additions are the sound effects. The mark of good sound engineering in respects to the use of effects is when the player does not single the effects out -- he or she is simply further immersed in the game world due to them.
This is the case with Trials of Atlantis as steam hisses as it rises from vents, bubbles blub as they form underwater, ancient doors creak forebodingly as they are opened, and diabolical creatures make startling noises in battle. Sound is generally skimped on in a lot of MMORPGs, but Mythic certainly did not follow this path when it came to Trials of Atlantis. The expansion presents possibly the best use of sound in any MMORPG on the market.
At $30 the Trials of Atlantis expansion adds a plethora of new features for hardcore, high level DAoC players who enjoy massive grouping and raids. High level characters who prefer solo fighting and quests over grouping will have difficulties with the expansion, though, as grouping is absolutely essential in order to be successful. The graphical upgrades and new characters alone may be enough to warrant purchasing the expansion if the player has $30 burning a hole in his or her pocket, however.
Considering DAoC takes place in a persistent online world, it's difficult to give a round figure of total play time since it is dependant on in-game experiences as well as social interaction, the same as any MMORPG. However, Mythic has worked hard in order to make Trials of Atlantis provide enough challenge to keep high level players entertained well into the future. Today many of the Trials and challenges within the expansion have not even been reached yet, which allots for quite a bit of fun through the use of strategic raids and questing which will not disappear any time soon. Only when a player defeats all the Trials and obtains all Master Levels will he or she finally feel the pangs of boredom, but by that time Mythic will surely be working on another expansion.
Trials of Atlantis is a mainly successful expansion to a highly popular MMORPG, adding innovative features such as intelligent questing and raids, magical artifacts, and Master Levels, along with improved graphical quality and new player races. The sheer scope of the expansion is impressive as the development team desired to not only add new areas and items, but to change and update the way DAoC itself can be played. However, the huge emphasis on grouping will turn a number of players off as it can be frustrating when there are no groups to be found or no groups working on a particular part of a Trial a player requires. Those who enjoy grouping are in for a treat, however, especially since strategy and puzzle solving are now just as important as the sheer number of high level characters in a raiding party.
Many of those who have played DAoC for awhile and fear that it is becoming stale may not need to go any further than Trials of Atlantis to see that the game will be alive and kicking for quite some time to come. While the expansion is meant primarily for those already playing DAoC, it should make those who are considering picking up the game for the first time feel at ease in knowing that the game stays viable and immersive well through the 50th level, just as long as he or she has no problem with large groups and challenging quests.