First Impressions Count:
A First Look at DDO
My great-grandmother was a fastidious and proud little German woman who always told me, “First impressions count!” She would remind me of this when I hadn't practiced enough and I was scheduled to appear in the school talent show; or when my hair was a mess and I was about to go out in public; or when my shoes were scuffed or there was a hole in my sock. “First impressions count!” she would warn, wagging her crooked finger at me.
Turns out she was right; first impressions do indeed count. And this is
quite apparent, at least to me, in the world of online gaming. I've
been known to throw in the towel and abandon a game within the first
hour of play time. When it comes to games, I'm a tough customer. I've
turned up my nose at certain MMOGs for a number of reasons: poor
graphics, excessive lag (where my own PC wasn
't at fault), an
unnecessarily steep learning curve, clunky user interfaces, boring
combat…well, I have a list.
Given my critical nature, not to mention a short attention span, I
approached Dungeons and Dragons Online: Stormreach with what I consider
to be a healthy dose of skepticism. Would DDO make a lasting first
impression, or would it show up unrehearsed, with frightfully messy
hair and scuffed shoes?
For me, character creation is one area that, while it doesn't necessarily make or break an otherwise solid game, does determine whether I'll develop an instant affinity for my character. Ideally, the avatar I bring to life will represent my role-playing persona for many levels to come. Call me silly, but I want it to look good.
The first thing you'll do when logging into DDO is select a race, gender, and class. The playable races at launch will be: human, elf, dwarf, halfling and warforged. Classes are: fighter, paladin, barbarian, rogue, ranger, cleric, wizard, sorcerer and bard. If you like, you can choose to watch a brief movie that describes your class and its area of expertise; a very nice, and particularly newbie-friendly, touch. I chose to create a human bard.
Character customization in DDO is fun. My human female came complete with 30 different hairstyle choices. (Hey, I'm a girl--these things matter to me.) I did notice that males have slightly fewer options, although they have the added goodness of facial hair. I could customize my hairstyle and hair color, eyebrow shape, eyes (both their color and shape), nose shape, and lip shape and color. I could also add a facial detail such as a scar or piercing. All in all, it took me about 15 minutes to get my character just so, but if you don't want to mess with your character's look there's a random appearance generator you can keep clicking away at until you're satisfied.
Next you'll choose your character's alignment. Sorry to disappoint those who prefer to be wicked, but you won't be able to roll out a chaotic evil character in DDO. Your choices are limited to neutral good, neutral, chaotic good, and chaotic neutral, with the latter being as troublesome as you're gonna get in Stormreach. Since there's no player-versus-player (PvP) combat in DDO, it just makes sense for everyone to be on the same side.
Once you're settled on alignment, you move on to the task of selecting your stats. If figuring out what points you'd like to allocate to strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom and charisma seems daunting, you needn't fear--the game will suggest them for you. But if you want to play around making a custom build, you do have that option.
And so it Begins
Once I'd settled on a character that worked for me I was ready to begin my adventure. I was told that I was entering Xen ‘drik, and I soon found myself in the port town of Smuggler's Rest. Immediately, the help system went to work telling me things I needed to know such as how to move, how to access my character information and inventory, and how to interact with NPCs. Veteran MMOG players will find nothing very surprising here, and you can turn off the tips, or reset them if you decide you'd like to see them again, using the options menu. The user interface (UI) is intuitive and non-intrusive; even a rank newbie should find their way around the game's controls easily enough.
When I arrived on the dock to the sound of surf and seagulls. I made my way toward the most obvious beginning point, a tavern near the docks called the Rook's Gambit. Outside I was greeted by a warforged guard who told me that I could probably find a quest or two if I spoke to some people inside the tavern. As I entered, the strains of guitar music, the chatter of patrons, and the clinking of plates and glasses made the bustling room come to life. After a word or two with Euphonia Teles, the NPC who offered my first quest, I was off to learn some basic survival skills.
Questing and Combat
I entered my quest via a door to which the NPC had directed me. When I clicked the door, I saw a pop-up menu that told me the level of the quest and about how long I could expect it to take. There were also difficulty options: normal, difficult, and elite. While playing solo in the newbie area, however, the normal option was the only one available to me.
The game communicates your progress through a quest via the Adventure Panel, which directs you to each stage and checks off each of your accomplishments for you. As I expected, my first quest was a simple one. I learned to interact with objects (open doors, throw levers, flip switches, smash crates, climb ladders, collect items) and perform simple combat.
After completing my first task, I spoke to the barkeep, who gave me
another chore to do, this one slightly more challenging. While moving
through the mission, the game's omniscient dungeon master (DM) added
flavor through text that appeared on the center of my screen. Sometimes
it described my surroundings and invoked a mood; other times it gave
important clues about impending danger.
Soon, I found myself
in combat with some kobolds. While these beginner quests offered
nothing too harrowing or difficult, I found that standing in front of a
monster swinging away on auto-attack wasn't advisable. If I didn't want
to lose precious hit points, I had to block and dodge, and use feats
like intimidation. And I had to be aware of where my hit points were
going, because they wouldn't recharge on their own; I would have to
regenerate at a rest shrine or a tavern, use a potion, eat food (and
potions and food aren't free, of course), or heal myself through magic.
But, naturally, spell points don't recharge on their own, either.
Graphically speaking, DDO looks good. While I've seen more impressive graphics, I certainly couldn't complain. If you've checked out screenshots, you have a good idea what to expect, but the real proof of graphic quality comes from experiencing the game in action, and DDO holds up admirably. Even with my average system specs (2.4 gig processor, a gig of memory, and my old GeForce FX5200 video card) I was able to play without lag with graphics set to medium quality. And medium quality in DDO is certainly adequate for all but the most finicky graphics snob (who's bound to have a better video card than I, anyhow).
A Good First Impression?
So, did DDO make its first impression count? It offered up fun character customization, impressive sounds and atmospheric effects, an intuitive UI, engaging quests, and combat that goes beyond “hit auto-attack and walk away.” It played well and looked good. All in all, DDO seems to have a well-rehearsed act and a polished appearance.
Yep, grandma would have approved.