Rolling a Save vs. Budget - a Look at Dungeons and Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited

Since Dungeons and Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited has gone Free 2 Play the population has boomed. Free is a good price tag for any game, but is DDO worth the download? Ten Ton Hammer Executive Editor, Benjamin J. de la Durantaye, takes a look at the game after it has changed its subscription model and gives his first hand impressions. That’s Dungeons and Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited in a nutshell: a good game for good friends... We can log in, immediately run a new instance, and we’re not held back if one of the gang can’t make it that night.
There was a time when I would spend every night of the week playing a game with hundreds of my friends and guildmates, running raids that numbered up to 144 people, taking on epic content and staying up far too late to be of any use at work the next day. And don’t get me wrong – those days will always be special to me. I’ll always look back on them fondly. But times have changed. We’re no longer in our twenties; most of us have real jobs and careers now, not to mention families of our own and other responsibilities. It was sad to let those days slide away to happy memories, but a small group of those friends have stuck together over the years and we’ve learned that all of the fun didn’t come necessarily from the epic raid content, but simply from playing a good game with some good friends.

And that’s Dungeons and Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited in a nutshell: a good game for good friends. A handful of my closest online friends and I have been playing DDO for a few weeks now and it’s been a crate of catnip at an Andrew Lloyd Webber show in the ‘80s.  We can log in, immediately run a new instance , and we’re not held back if one of the gang can’t make it that night. This works out well  for us, since we have two members who have just had their first child together, two more with a couple of toddlers, a few of us single guys whose schedules can be unpredictable from day to day due to work or other engagements, and a younger guy who’s probably busier than all of us as he goes through training and preparation for his application to law enforcement. Some of us get called away on business. Some of us get called away by the opposite sex. We never know who’s going to be online from night to night. But it doesn’t matter, because if any of us want to play DDO, we can, and we don’t have to spend weeks figuring out a play schedule with the others.


The lure of the opposite may apply to some in game

There are a couple of elements that make DDO so forgiving when it comes to group makeup. First, virtually every instance can be played at varying levels of difficulty. This means most instances can be run solo, duo, small group, or full group. The story and setting don’t necessarily change with the difficulty level, apart from varying degrees of difficulty, so if you’re one who doesn’t want to miss any of it but can’t seem to get a group easily, worry not--you can do it solo and still experience it all.

“But, not all instances are solo!” you may protest. This is true. Even though most of the early instances can be done solo there are a few that require more party members. But that doesn’t mean you can’t venture in alone. There are NPC hirelings in the game that can join you or your party to add the support you need. These mercenaries will work for you with in-game currency, or you may opt to get some gold ticket hirelings who are purchased through the DDO Store. The gold ticket version allows you to summon multiple hirelings, allowing you to bring along a full group of computer-controlled characters. So whether you want to run an elite dungeon by yourself, or simply fill in your last spot with a healer without having to worry about finding another reliable player, you're covered.


Playing alone? Bring a group of hirelings

If you’re more of a people person, the game offers a pretty solid LFG tool. Simply pick a quest you want to finish, and hit the LFG button. With so many in the game now that it’s gone F2P, it won’t be hard to find other willing adventurers.

An important thing to consider before jumping into the game is that it’s not your average MMOG. There are persistent zones but the game is heavily instanced. This means that outside of city hubs you will be exploring either on your own or with your group. There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach, but the purpose of this article is not to discuss gaming theory. It is noted here though, because this mechanic makes for a much different feel than almost anything else you’ve played, with a few exceptions. Every quest is an instance. You won’t need to pick up a quest from an outpost, run halfway around the world to kill 10 wolves, and run back. You’ll pick up a quest, enter an instance, and the entire quest will play out as you crawl through the dungeon or zone. In this way the game plays out very much like tabletop Dungeons and Dragons modules (or “adventures” for you new 3.0+ D&Ders). There’s a ton of ‘em, so you’ll never run out of things to do. You can also repeat the adventures if you enjoyed them or simply want the loot again. If you complete an adventure on one difficulty you will unlock the next hardest difficulty level, so the next time you go back you can make it even more challenging.

The new combat system is fun, though it can be difficult to get used to. I didn’t play the original DDO so I can’t compare it to the combat in the original game. With the new system targets are implied. This means you’ll automatically target the closest NPC (or item) in front of you. Right clicking or entering targeting mode allows you to aim, so you can swing around or shoot an arrow from a distance with relative ease. Then, simply left click to let loose your basic attack. You can hold down the left mouse button to continue attacking, or you can use special abilities you’ve unlocked. This is where I found the game to get a bit more challenging. I’m a mouse clicker by nature, and that’s not a good thing in this game. To execute a special move, I’ll have to stop attacking so I can move my mouse down to the appropriate skill button, and then click. This often means by the time I find and click the ability I want, the mob will have leaped away or run around to flank me, and my special ability gets wasted. Yes, enemies will dodge and move about; they won’t just stand there attacking the way they do in many other games. Players with good reflexes and dexterity (real life DEX, not the character stat) should have a good time with it; macro mashers and rotation junkies, not so much. You really do have to keep an eye on the battle, and seldom will you have time to even look down at your hotbar, let alone stare blankly at it while performing rehearsed rotations.

If you just can’t get used to it though, there are options to change combat a little. You can turn on sticky targeting and other toggles to make things a little more comfortable.

Min/maxers will love this game. It’s D&D, after all, where min/maxing was born. You can spend hours playing with your stat numbers to work out the best possible build for any class. If you’re not so much into numbers, you can skip all of that too by simply going with a predefined build that will allow you to jump right into the action. Using the new D&D ruleset, character advancement comes in the form of enhancements, skills and feats that you earn by gaining enough experience through the adventures to raise your rank, and in turn, your level. You also have the option to multiclass when you reach the appropriate level so your options, by all definitions, are limitless. Very few, if any, other games have as much diversity in class and character development as DDO.


Min/maxers heaven

So what’s with the F2P model and microtransactions? It was a very calculated and intelligent move by Turbine to bring life back into the game. And so far it seems to have worked. The population is anything but suffering.

Items in the store are, for the most part, available elsewhere in the game. The exceptions to this are certain services, like some classes, races, and adventure packs. The store offers players an easy way to add convenience to their game. As mentioned earlier you can buy gold ticket hirelings from the store, or you can purchase health potions which come in handy if your healer has died, you’re low on health potions, and you somehow have to get his shard to the resurrection shrine that several nasties are guarding. Gear can also be purchased from the store if you’re in desperate need of an upgrade to a specific item and can’t afford the prices on the in-game market. You can also get bags, fast travel options like teleportation wands, cosmetic items like hair dyes, and a lot of other goodies, ranging from the convenient to the practical to the cosmetic,  as well as adventure packs and adventure pack trial keys for your friends. Most of the prices are relatively cheap, allowing your dollar to go further than it may in some other microtransaction based games. Of special note, if you do pay for a subscription, you will receive store credit on a monthly basis, which is often more than enough to meet your monthly store needs.


The DDO Store

Overall, the game feels very much like D&D. Fans of the table top game will certainly have no trouble understanding the way the game works and viewing it as an extension of those late night sessions rolling the ol’ D20. All of the classic encounters and secrets of the D&D universe are there. For example, sewer goos have a tendency to damage metal weapons, so it’s a good idea to bring a non-metal weapon or an old junker to swap out, just in case. The diversity and sheer amount of stats and ability customization  is nothing short of mind boggling. The adventures are fun and as challenging or as forgiving as you want them to be. And you can play by yourself or with any number of friends. Best of all, there’s tons of free content to sink your teeth into. No, you won’t be raiding with 143 of your friends and guildmates, but you can have fun for hours at a time, or just 15 minutes if that’s all your schedule allows; so you won’t suffer a gamer’s hangover at work the next day.

You can download and play Dungeons and Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited directly from the official website at www.ddo.com.

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