MMORPG have been all the rage, starting from the early days of Ultima Online to the huge success of Everquest. With the rage comes the plethora of newcomers, all trying to duplicate the success of Everquest. We’ve heard quite a bit about the ones that have come out of the gate with a loud thud due to technical problems (Anarchy Online and WWII Online seem to come to mind) but how about the ones that seem to be working? After logging in a fair number of hours playing Dark Age of Camelot, I think it’s safe to say that there’s a new kid on the block that can be considered worthy of the elite MMORPG mantle. DAoC’s gameplay is deep enough to be worth one’s time and money, and the technical problems are kept to a minimum.Oh, so many choices! First off, there are three unique realms that the gamer can play in the world of DAoC – Albion, Midgard and Hibernia. Albion is based on King Arthur’s Legend, Midgard has Norse origins and Hibernia is littered with nature-worshipping humans and magical elves. Within each realm comes the choice of character race, class, and then later a guild. Character race and class determine what type of character you prefer, while the guild gives your character specialized functions. The fighting characteristics can, for the most part be split into three camps – melee, ranged attacks or spells. It sounds pretty straightforward on the surface but dig a little bit deeper and one can easily overwhelmed with the game character depth. The nice thing is that the structure of the game is designed to ease you into developing your character’s strengths and attributes. This development can occur a few different ways. The primary ones are the completion of goals and tasks (issued by non-playing characters), and through creature kills. Successful completion of these actions result in rewards in various forms (experience points and picked-up items). The selection of items is important since your backpack capacity is limited and in some cases, too many items can actually slow your character down if their strength rating is low. So you need to know what to grab and what to ignore by making sure you know what your particular character can use.When it comes to using these items, it’s time to learn a trade skill. Similar to goals and tasks issued by NPCs, you go to a master trainer and they instruct you on learning a trade. The ability to make items and even sell or trade them really sums up the depth of DAoC. Every character has the ability to make an item from basic raw materials – weapons, armor, clothing, etc. h**, you can even dye objects a different color! It’s fun to see how players enhance their character’s wardrobe. Sounds a little like the SIMs, doesn’t it? It’s also entertaining to read what people are selling since they are in effect competing with NPC merchants. This is what role-playing is all about!The early stages of the game require some patience since it takes a while to level up through the goals, tasks, and monster kills. Throw in the fact that running is the primary method of getting around and I wouldn’t be surprised if some players’ start to lose a little patience. Horses can be rented for going directly to certain locations but for the most part, you’ll find yourself running throughout most of the landscape. There is the capability of binding in certain locations, which is essential if you want to explore areas that are further out from your initial starting point. Whenever you die, you release your character to the last place you are bound to and start over. The dying scheme works well since you don’t lose your inventory but experience points (after level 5). Think of it as warming up before hitting the field. As your character matures in experience (level 15 or higher), you ultimately gain the opportunity to go up against players from other realms. This takes place outside your realm in frontier areas. You can either defend your realm or venture out into an enemy frontier and be the aggressor by attacking the enemy’s keep.The fighting is standard RPG fare with slashing and spell casting being the most predominant. Range attacks are also possible with the use of either standard bows or crossbows. The emphasis is really not on the attacks themselves but more on how one plans it. With different levels of difficulty a*ociated with each creature and possibly facing multiple foes, you have to make sure you either have others to a*ist you or you’ve got the right weapons and armor for the fight.This leads to what is really the backbone to your character, which is the ability to level up. Yeah, you can try to do this on your own but it’s going to take some time before you get to the big leagues. How do you address this? Hook up with another player or group of players and work as a team when venturing out. This is where DAoC really shines. The game is truly designed for players to work together, whether it is with a partner or group. The kills are easier and you can go after higher value enemies. When a group kill is made, points and loot are divided up accordingly. It’s also a great way to figure out the lay of the land, which is extremely important considering the size of the maps. There is a lot of land to cover and it helps to follow those who know where the higher-value creatures roam. An in-game map would have helped but I guess that would remove the reliance on others. Social conditioning at work again!The group concept can be carried one step further through the joining of a guild. There is more organization and it gives the game a structure and direction that seems to be missing from the solo experience. It’s not to say that you can’t play DAoC on a solo basis, it’s just that it’s a much more rewarding experience when you can roam the lands and conquer in an organized group. Besides the social reward of belonging to a guild, the game is just flat-out better when you can level up faster and gain currency with the help of others. Mythic has done an excellent job of making DAoC a truly social game by skewing successful gameplay to the group approach.In the technical area, I rarely had a problem with connectivity. Once in a blue moon, I would lose my connection to the server but this was rare. Anytime I did booted off, I would log back in and be at the same exact spot as before. Overall, DAoC is a relatively stable online experience and that seems all too rare with most of the new massively multiplayer online games.The game’s graphics won’t floor you by any stretch of the imagination as they can best be described as standard grade. The graphics aren’t bad – it’s just that you shouldn’t expect a lot. Though there are some standouts such as the weather effects and spells. The pyrotechnics produced by spells definitely shouldn’t disappoint anyone since they are colorful and cool to watch. So much so, that they make you want to trade in your sword and shield for some wizardry. I really can’t get all that picky with the graphics since this game works so well on so many different levels.Dark Age of Camelot is a true winner among this year’s entries of MMORPGs. It is stable, has great character depth, and is fun to play. It’s designed to ease newbies into the online RPG experience but yet is deep enough to hook the hard-core player. A perfect balance that makes Dark Age of Camelot a can’t-miss selection for any online gamer.