My wife still bears a grudge against Dark Age of Camelot. That’s fair. I started playing around the time we moved in together, and I played it a lot.
After college, my group of friends spread across many time zones. At various times we had people in California, Texas, Arizona, Michigan, Japan, Australia, China, and the Philippines. We decided to schedule online gaming a few times a week, plus however often we could catch each other in-game. Our attempts at taking a pen-and-paper game online were not entirely enjoyable (software for that has come a ways, with voice chat these days if nothing else), and many of us were excited about Dark Age of Camelot, so we joined Albion.
In retrospect, there are only a few nights together that stand out in my memory. The first was very early, when we started crafting. The first tier of crafting has (had?) positive-sum quests around Camelot, so were all exploring the new and glorious capitol, skilling up madly, making a decent trickle of silver, and chatting as we ran around.
It was a great, simple night. Crafting has become known as a hardcore solo social gameplay style, and this was our first exposure to it. I think we used that night as fund-raising to found a guild officially, and we were all grouped so we could chat and share the occasional run speed buff. I cannot remember a thing we discussed, apart from how to find people and places around town, but it was a great session of digital hanging out.
It was also a great night for sights. If you have never played DAoC-Albion, that first moment of entering Camelot is magical. You will more recently have heard of that first time you crest the hill and enter Rivendell in The Lord of the Rings Online™, which is another magical moment backed by our shared experiences with the books and the movies. Now combine that with your first time in Thorin’s Hall, with its oversized architecture and majesty. Your DAoC starter town is the usual small town, humble beginnings, you know this. After the newbie levels, you are sent to the capitol. You follow the path, go by the farms, wind through the trees, and suddenly there it is: Camelot. I assume that Camelot is better known than Rivendell, and it is this huge castle with towering statues. To help the contrast, there is a mini-town just outside, a bunch of merchants in wooden stalls looking to sell by the gates. You pass them, you cross the drawbridge, and you really get a sense of scale as you enter the gates.
Entering pre-Shattering Stormwind was a lesser version. It has that same Western castle motif, complete with exiting the woods as you get there. But it is not Camelot, and the contrast with the newbie zone is not as severe (in scale and given its distance). DAoC also had a less cartoony and more low-magic style, which helps the contrast between the darker bits and the majestic ones. They both have that “lost in a huge fantasy city” feeling, and I imagine WoW gave most people their first virtual experience of that.
Very little of the mid-levels stand out in my mind. We must have spent time together fighting giants in the Salisbury Plains, but everyone in Albion spent a lot of time there on every character, and so it blends.
I more recall the late levels, before the last zones. We spent a fair while in Cornwall before the Lyonesse revamp. One night we just camped evil trees and talked. It seems like one of the first times we felt completely unguided, in a dead zone where you grind. There was a camp of trees not too far from town, we were all on, so we wandered over. I recall some of that being spoiled by having a non-guild Wizard ask to join our camp, which was my first experience with “look at my damage, I’m awesome!” folk, back before we started referring to people as “DPS.”
These were the levels when you were fully competent, both as a player and in terms of your character’s skills. It was one of those times when everyone could play the game without thinking about how to play the game. This frees up attention for better socializing and better play, which was good because the enemies were mean and increasingly social around then.
They changed the models on the local demon-things just as we were getting comfortable with the zone. Those things were mean, and they were spread so that someone running to catch up with the group usually brought a few; I recall monsters being willing to follow you for MUCH longer distances back in the day, including people who were killed back in town when enemies just kept following; I do not recall an “in-combat” indicator that let you know you were still being chased. There were some haunted ruins, great places to fight ghostly soldiers for an hour or two. I remember our first time visiting Lyonesse, with its haunted scenery and sudden jump in monster levels; the survivors met the folks coming from the bindstone.
The band started breaking up soon after that. We simultaneously hit the 3-4 month point at which most of our folks got bored of games, the leveling wall so steep that DAoC added half-level rewards to encourage players, the chance to spread out into different activities (PvE, RvR, alts), and changes in schedules. Some dropped, some drifted away, some began to play more with other groups of people. I obviously got into this whole MMO thing.