Almost two years ago, the massively multiplayer game developers at
Turbine released Dungeon
and Dragons Online: Stormreach
(DDO), an online real-time
representation of the Eberron campaign setting for Dungeons and Dragons
Heralded by some as a revolutionary step forward in massively
multiplayer games, DDO featured real-time combat, a huge
variety of player races and classes, and wholly instanced areas that
allowed players to experience the dungeon-delving atmosphere that made
the table top roleplaying game so successful.
With two years of online service behind the game and a huge update
, it seemed appropriate for the Ten Ton Hammer
staff to finally take a crack at reviewing Dungeons and Dragons Online
Being the resident staffer that hadn’t actually played the
game before, I was given the task of delving into the deepest dungeons
and slaying the largest dragons. To be honest, there wasn’t
much dragon slaying in my adventures, but I did engage in some solid
adventuring around the world of Khorvaire and lived to tell the tale.
Sit back, relax, and allow my bard-like rhetoric to engage your mind.
Much More Than an
My Dwarven Fighter
named Micajah. I even matched the Ten Ton Hammer color scheme.
Despite being the intellectual property that people regularly drool
over, Dungeons and
also bears a whole list of responsibilities that
are not common with other IPs. Unlike the world created by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings
or Howard in the Conan stories, Dungeons
is much more than just a world.
When a developer agrees to create a game based upon D&D, they
also sign a commitment to stick to the fundamental rules inherent in
any D&D product. This may sound like a relatively non-intrusive
problem to deal with, but the rules in D&D are so intricately
woven into every aspect of the standard tabletop gameplay that any
developer trying to create a computerized adaptation must adjust a
whole variety of these rules to make them fit into a video game.
As they were building Dungeons and
Dragons Online: Stormreach
, it was obvious that the
developers wanted to create a product that truly echoed what players
had experienced in the table top game. Each part of a player
character’s movement, social interaction, and combat
encounters are augmented or enhanced by their skills, attributes, and
feats. The mechanics aren’t overtly transparent –
there aren’t numbers flashing on the screen every few seconds
– but you do feel distinct differences between a Dwarf
wearing full plate and a Halfling rogue wearing nothing but a suit of
Thankfully, the developers have modified a number of skills, spells,
and feats to adjust Dungeons
to an online gaming environment. For example,
the Cleave feat- which is a favorite of low level Fighters in
the table top game - has been modified to allow players to hit a number
of opponents in front of them rather than the table top
game’s version of giving an extra attack after downing a foe.
While Cleave may sound useful for an online roleplaying game, DDO
doesn’t follow the same sort of combat system other
online games like EverQuest or World of Warcraft.
Rather than a turn-based auto-attack system with activated special
abilities, DDO uses a real-time click-based combat mechanic that makes
players feel like they’re actually engaging in a real battle.
As you run through the open wilderness, any enemy that springs up in
front of you can be quickly cut down with a simple right click. You
don’t even need to necessarily click on the enemy; just swing
in their direction and you have a good chance of landing the blow.
Creating an Elven
Sorcerer is hard work.
However, DDO’s combat system is at once its greatest asset,
and its largest obstacle. While turn-based games are often dull and
inherently less “clicky” then the active real-time
combat, the game mechanics for a turn-based system are much simpler,
allowing for more expansion to occur in other areas of the game.
Turn-based systems allow for bigger zones, bigger servers, and more
players to be online in the same area at the same time. Dungeons and
Dragons Online: Stormreach is almost entirely instanced, and this is a
necessity for this particular type of game. If you were to turn 200
players loose in a zone with all of them rapidly clicking their mouse
buttons, the game would quickly turn into a laggy mess.
Though there are a number of totally instanced games that have done
extremely well (Guild
and Dragons Online
could have been an intriguing look into
what D&D could be on a massive scale. Rather than being limited
by table space, if hundreds of players could have gathered together to
form massive armies or raids, it would have been a tremendous
experience for both the players and the minds behind the game. It seems
unfortunate that the developers were required to slim down the
experience due to system limitations.
Mechanics aside, the combat in DDO is novel to the MMOG marketplace,
and it feels refreshing to find a new take on the monster encounter in
an MMOG. From a player's standpoint, it's invigorating to swing your
twin blades and hear them hitting flesh, knowing that your press of the
mouse button caused the attack. It's just this sort of combat that
causes me to stop up into the wee hours of the morning, wishing I had
the time to finish just one more quest.
Along with the combat system, the way characters gain experience in DDO
has been greatly altered from what players previously experienced in
other games. In order to advance and gain experience, players must
initiate and complete quests. That’s it. Unlike the World of Warcraft
or Lord of the Rings
, players do not gain experience points by killing
monsters. Instead, every drop of experience comes from running the
various quests that are in the game.
Now this may sound boring to some, but I found questing in DDO
to be extremely entertaining. Rather than killing every single monster
in the dungeon, my parties were often focused on simply completing the
objectives as fast as possible. This sort of breakneck pace often led
us into fights that we couldn’t quite handle, but it made the
pace of the game much more exciting. Where as the previously mentioned
games reward players for being cautious, DDO urges players to create a
quick strategy and see it to completion.
It will take you a
good deal of time to reach the higher end content, like this beholder.
But with the experience points being limited to quests, and with a very
low overall level cap – Module 6 is
introducing a cap
increase to level 16
– this mean that progression
in the game
feels extremely slow. When I first started playing DDO, it took me
quite a while to advance my characters. Due to the low level cap, it
felt like it had taken me forever to reach a paltry level 4, but in
reality four levels in DDO equates to between 12-15 levels in other
games. Understandably, each level increase feels like a huge boost in
overall power to
the character, and really brings back that “Ding!”
feeling that player would receive in games like EverQuest or Dark Age
Adventuring is a Tough
For those of you looking for an easy game, Dungeons and Dragons Online:
may not be the title for you. Although the
combat isn’t incredibly complex for many of the classes, the
character creation/advancement system isn’t for the faint of
heart. From the outset of the game, players are faced with a multitude
of choices – race, class, attributes, feats, skills and
enhancements – and each time your character levels up
you’ll face several of these choices again. Do you want to
multi-class? Should you take the Two Weapon Fighting feat? Where should
your skills points be allocated? All of these questions come up within
the first few levels of your characters initial creation.