This is a review by: Rejaq
Expansions to online games are tricky beasts to get right. Balancing the new content against the old and making sure that there is enough new things for both old and new players alike to get to grip with is not easy. Not at all.
Dark Age of Camelot: Labyrinth of the Minotaur has emerged as the seventh expansion to the game based around the mythical lands of Albion, Hibernia and Midgard and it is possibly the best expansion since certainly Catacombs and quite possibly since the first, that of the Shrouded Isles. It is an evolutionary expansion rather than revolutionary, it refines many things even as it adds to them and this is welcome after the major inclusions in the Darkness Rising expansion last year.
The Uroz, Minotaur have returned from millennia of absence from the three realms. Once hugely powerful and adept at various skills and magics they have dwindled in importance and like many of the other races of antiquity they are all but forgotten. Now they have returned offering aid to all three realms and they have revealed the Labyrinth they once lorded over within the Isle of Agramon and the deep, dark, infernal secret that lies at its very heart, spreading darkness like ink in water.
There are three clans, each convinced it is in the right, each in rebellion against the others and each trying to gain aid in their conflict both against those other clans and the fallen of their race in the depths of the Labyrinth and against the foe which drove them out initially - Demons who posed as Gods. Each clan has approached a realm and each has offered to teach the secret of their arts to those who wished to learn, that of the mighty fighting style of the Mauler.
The core of the expansion is aimed at the higher level player, those who are in the endgame and who take part in the Realm Vs Realm (RvR) aspect of the game along with the new RvR Dungeon area, the titular Labyrinth - a truly sprawling area, split over four levels and filled with new and dangerous entities - new champion level quests based in and around the labyrinth area. New objects of power include Mythrian artefacts that can give great abilities to a character and the new Minotaur Relics, mini-powerhouses of personal might that demand a regular diet of RvR kills to remain with you. Further, the Champion Levels have had another five tiers added and there are a further five levels of mounts that can now be purchased.
However the starting character has not been ignored. A revised set of starting quests have been implemented, no longer rigidly adhering to a fixed storyline, indeed reminiscent if slightly more standardised of the original quests found deep in the mists of the game. There is also an XP bonus at lower levels allowing for a fairly rapid advancement balancing out the usual concerns about a vibrant high level population when encountering it as a lower level character.
One of the more unusual aspects of this expansion is as implied above, each realm has access to a new race and a new class that is to be found in all three of those realms. The new race is naturally the Minotaur, powerful fighters with some skills in magic. They are also as found in legends, half man half bull, and are the only race in DAoC which required you to play a male avatar. The class is the Mauler, a hybrid class that utilises either specific Mauler Staves or Fist Wraps to deliver punishing blows to foes. They also have three magic lines, Magnetism - Snares and roots, Aura Manipulation - Buffs and regeneration spells and the Power Strike line - the art of literally ripping magic power from your enemy, vital as Maulers do not start with a full Power Pool. Each of these is suited to a certain style of fighting and situations.
There have been a number of graphical tweaks and a lot of effort has been made to smooth things out in certain busy areas. The Labyrinth looks dark and haunting and in many places alien, certainly in the Clockwork sections a well done depiction of a fallen, great race. Here and there new art has been incorporated and on the loading pages as you change zones text, tips, myths and funny quotes have been added.
The sound has also been cleaned up and made crisper, with new effects for some combats and older effects overhauled. Whilst there is still no speech within the game one of the biggest gripes over the last few expansions has been addressed. As well as new music for the new zones the older game music also has been refreshed, with new flourishes and touches added or amplified. It is more noticeable in some of the older zones and seems deeper more haunting.
Labyrinth of the Minotaur adds a new level of play to the game, adding in a more focused RvR area has allowed for a more expansive form of play, where people have slightly more chance to get involved whilst also dealing with a Player Vs Environment (PvE) at the same time. For the first time there is a real choice of whether to take part in full on roving groups or indulge in a more solo or small group led RvR situation. This is welcome.
The new area is possibly one of the largest of all the zones in the game, it is possible at times to explore in peace whilst also at other times finding small groups all over the place. It is quite possible other than for having to return topside to deposit any loot you have found to spend days in the Labyrinth alone, whether or not you are on a quest or not. With the addition of a merchant or maybe a realm channeller this zone would be worth the expansion alone.
Labyrinth of the Minotaur is a well thought out extension of the game, it blends in with the immediately prior expansion and adds to the themes started there. It continues the theme of fallen civilisations begun with Shrouded Isles and continues through Trials of Atlantis and Catacombs and picks up the threads of the struggle ensuing to ensure that those in Albion, Hibernia and Midgard do not follow suit. There is an undercurrent of humour in some of the loading quotes, from Monty Python's Holy Grail through to internet references and internal titbits. 'Lurikeen make great siege ammunition'.
There is a feeling that this has been planned for a while as most of the rough edges have been smoothed down, there are no real difficulties as it is a solid and highly constructed addition. There are issues in that elements of the high level content does in places force you to gather a group of friends to complete them. Further new players totally to the game may find everything overwhelming at first as whilst it is more coherent than in recent years there is still almost too much choice.
Beyond this, Labyrinth of the Minotaur is undoubtedly one of the better expansions for Dark Age of Camelot. The only question remains is whether those who inhabit the world can make the most of it.