Posted Mon, Feb 27, 2006 by Boomjack
February 27, 2006 - By: John HoskinLoading...
TenTonHammer has its own Dungeons and Dragons guild. If you would like to hang out with the folks here at Ten Ton Hammer, just make your way over to DDO.TenTonHammer.com and get signed up!
Regular readers of this column know that both RF Online and Dungeons and Dragons Online spilled onto my desktop Thursday afternoon. The release of MMOGs is a big deal around here. It's all we cover and we don't get to tear the shrinkwrap (or that little platic security tab thingee if you buy from EB Games) off a box very often.
In a genre that has been taken out behind the shed and kicked into submission by World of Warcraft I get excited when something new hits my desk. I enjoy World of Warcraft, but I yearn for something different. As wonderfully designed as WoW is, I would like to see something better. WoW changed the genre. Gamers expect more hand-holding and a more intuitive gameplay experience. Sony has "dumbed down" both Star Wars Galaxies and EverQuest 2 to better compete, with less than glorious results. I suppose that it is fair to say that WoW lowered the barrier to entry enough that casual and first time players could hop right in, both feet kicking wildly, turning the shallow end of the pool into a newbie feeding frenzy, secure in the knowledge that Blizzard had them firmly by the hand, leading them through the game.
RF Online doesn't hold your hand at all. In fact, it slaps your hand away at every turn. You often feel like you're being told, "Move along. There's nothing to see here". You'd get more help running through Islamabad with a "Mohammed bombed my pre-school" T-shirt on than you will starting out in RF Online. You certainly can't jump in with both feet and just play, which is a large reason for World of Warcraft's success. In fact, the classes available aren't even truly explained. One choice is to be a Specialist. What the heck is a specialist? It is never explained. On the plus side, gameplay isn't too far stretched from the gameplay found in just about every other MMOG. You grind it out killing baddies until you level and then you do it all again, only for a little longer. Lather, rinse and repeat for many levels. Developed originally for the Asian market, the grinding is long and tedious, which apparently, appeals to many gamers. I'm not one of them. Please don't get me wrong. I'm all for investment through gaining levels, but standing in a 20 foot square box, whacking the same monster for hours isn't my kind of fun. I remember those days. I call them EverQuest.
Dungeons and Dragons Online attempts to explain the intricacies of the interface via tool-tips that pop-up when you encounter something new. The problem is that the game mechanics might possibly be the most complex system that a developer has ever attempted to cram into a MMOG engine. It's great that they explain the interface to me, but it wouldn't have been necessary if things were more intuitive. For instance, the right mouse button is mouse-look in nearly every game I've played. In DDO, the left mouse button, the one you intuitively would use to attack is defaulted to mouse-look. Sure, you can change things around, but why go against the grain in the first place? Hovering your mouse over an item doesn't pop-up a detailed statistics window on that item. Instead you must target an item, then go to another interface object and click a tiny magnifying glass symbol to see the stats. Why force me to make a second click?
Graphics don't make a game, but they don't hurt it either. Graphically, both games are impressive in their own way. DDO uses a gritty style that puts you in damp and dusty dungeons that resemble what you would think a damp and dusty dungeon would look like. RF Online is graphically stunning, with the anime style mixing science fiction with fantasy together using a palette that is remarkably close to World of Warcarft. I have yet to stop and call one of my comrades over to look at something in DDO, but I've done it a few times with RF Online.
One aspect of gameplay that most gamers never think about is pace. RF Online pushes you along an almost breakneck grinding pace. You feel that you need to just keep killing mob after mob, and the truth is that you do, if you plan to progress. DDO delivers a much slower pace. The journey is often more fun than the destination when it comes to DDO missions. The only seemingly strange deviation from this pleasant pace is combat, where you are put into a twitch mode trying to block, attack and cast spells by mashing buttons. On one hand I can understand this design decision. It makes the combat "feel" more urgent. You are sneaking through a dungeon and then a skeleton is beating on your party. You feel the need to act quickly to dispatch it. On the other hand, Dungeons and Dragons the pen and paper game was never designed to be rushed through. There was time to hear what other party members were doing and to act accordingly. Make no mistake, you need some twitch skills to be a top combatant in DDO.
Sometimes you just want to be alone. RF Online offers soloability, at least in the early levels. DDO doesn't offer soloability much past the tutorial stage. In fact, I was disappointed to find that I really couldn't do anything by myself. I'm all for grouping and social contact, but there are times when I can't join a group because I may have to log out at any time.
Both games seem to have thriving, helpful communities. The DDO community appears to be a much older crowd with a greater grasp on social conventions like saying "please" or "thank you". The forced grouping model in DDO will likely foster a sense of community among the many guilds and groups of friends who rely on each other. RF Online pits the faction of your choice versus two other factions. You will learn to love the comrades that watch your back.
If you are like me and are forced to use dial-up connectivity from home you can forget about DDO. The DDO website claims that the game is playable on a 56K modem, but I'm here to tell you that this isn't the case. Other Turbine products have played wonderfully on modem connections, which makes it all the more disappointing that DDO does not. With games like EQ2, WoW and Final Fantasy XI playing smoothly on a dial-up connection there is really no excuse for DDO not doing so as well. RF Online plays well over dial-up with the exception of large PvP battles. I can't really fault them for that as to date no game has been able to overcome that hurdle.
In a nutshell, if you want to try a new game and use a dial-up connection then RF Online is your only option. If you have broadband then the better bet is DDO unless you just must have your PvP and/or Anime fix.
New MMOGs! Are you excited? Tell me about it.
As always, thanks for visiting TenTonHammer.com,
-- John "Boomjack" Hoskin