D&D Online Revisited

I’ve put a decent number of hours into EQ2 this week, but have done very little with that time, other than craft, and a little action in the suburbs of Qeynos to get my Illusionist up to level 10. When this occurred to me last night, after an hour or two of frustrating crafting, I realized I didn’t really want to do any adventuring in EQ2. No idea why.

I had been thinking, though, about the new Free-to-Play iteration of D&D Online, which I absolutely intend to delve into. But I remembered that I actually have a DDO 30-day code lying around. I might as well use it now, and then play for free (well, free plus, really – I’d likely spend some money on it) whenever that goes live, which shouldn’t be more than a month or two anyway.

So I patched it up and activated my account. Normally, I’d wish the WoW and EQ2 patchers worked as well as Turbine’s, although in this case I had some trouble getting it to work – apparently LotRO overwrites a file used by the patcher, disabling its ability to validate the current DDO install. But I checked Turbine’s tech support forum and the fix and all the patching combined took less than half an hour. This is still better than WoW, where it takes me about that to download and install even a trivial Tuesday patch.

Once in, I had a quick look at my two existing level 1 characters, and then made another level 1 character, a Ranger. In about 3 hours I’d gotten him to level 2 within the new starting area.

DDO, with all the bells and whistles turned on (well, most of them – I couldn’t get DX10 enabled for some reason, and didn’t bother trying to get it working,) looks pretty good. The controls are different from what I’m used to, and frankly the gameplay experience itself is a bit different as well. But I judge the controls to be a minor hindrance alleviated with some experience, and the gameplay to be good on its own terms.

It’s funny that we hear so many complaints from the MMO pundit class (of which I myself am a member,) to the effect that almost all MMOs are basically the same, and then when titles which are different are pointed out, they’re dismissed for putative ‘barriers’ set up against fun. D&D Online and EVE Online are two examples of this – both titles varying from a much inveighed-against paradigm, and both criticized for not matching expectations.

In both cases some of this criticism is justified. DDO, in particular, has significant barriers to solo play. Although you can indeed solo much of the early part of the game, very easily to level 4 or 5, later on you pretty much have to group, and without a support structure for that (i. e. a working guild or a strong network of friends in-game,) you’re stuck with PuGs, which can be hard to assemble and crappy when they are. I judge the DDO PuGing experience to be better than that in many games, but my experience with it is fairly limited.

Soloability to level 4 or 5 is not as limiting as it sounds. The current level cap in DDO is either 16 or 18 (I forget which,) and that 4 or 5 levels will probably take as much playtime as 25 or 35 in WoW, in which only certain levels are meaningful in any significant way. In DDO every single level means a great deal, to the point that Turbine’s design has ‘ranks’ within each level that give you some in-game benefit while you work toward the next actual ding.

Character creation is basically full-blown D&D 3.0-3.5 character creation, although you can certainly go with the templates if you want – and these seem to be much-improved from last time I tried the game. And while you have tanks and healers and DPSers, the multiclassing rules let you be all three with a single character if you want. DDO offers, in fact, really flexible character creation – you can adjust your character’s appearance to about the same extent you can in LoTRO, but you can customize your actual abilities to a much greater extent than in anything else I’ve seen.

My new character is basically going to be an all-purpose weapon master kind of guy, starting off with a couple of levels as a ranger to get the archery perks and two-weapon fighting, and then probably going thereafter with Fighter to get the better combat progression, additional feats and weapon and armor versatility. Maybe I’ll also dabble in Rogue as well to round out his skills later on.

DDO is very instance-oriented, not quite to the level of Guild Wars (in that there are some open-world adventuring areas,) and the meat of advancement is found in the instanced dungeons, which as far as I have seen are well done even in the case of the small, level 1 affairs, with traps and puzzles and hidden things to find as well as monsters to fight. And they’re not only visually stimulating, but they feature voiceovers which are not only well-done but atmosphere-enhancing as well, a feature I absolutely adore. Last night my PuG fought a battle on a slope down which water was flowing – and we not only had to fight our Sahaugin enemies, but fight the water trying to wash us back down to the lower level as well. At level 1. Other games don’t offer encounters this sophisticated until you reach at least the old endgame, and even then you can just outlevel or outgear it and run it with no challenge.

With the instanced content as the primary environment in which the gameplay happens, rather than an open, common world, DDO is one of those titles that’s sometimes said to be “not an MMO”. And, well… maybe it’s not, although I think at that point one is making an entirely semantic argument, since all the fetaures of an MMO are there, in somewhat different proportions than one might find in a more conventional title.

So I’m finding DDO not only fun but refreshingly different as well. So far, of course. I will be playing some more over the weekend, I think, and off and on once the free-to-play program launches.

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3 responses to “D&D Online Revisited

  1. I agree. I had some major issues getting the game to work myself (but, my own fault for being cutting edge, and running Windows 7)
    But, I kept coming back to try and fix it, as the stuff I have done has been kinda fun.

    I played some of the Dungeons on normal instead of solo for more of a challenge..I may even try hard mode.

    But, you are right…it eschews the normal standards of the MMO for the “dungeon” run with light puzzles and not a major combat oriented game.

    I also enabled my 30 day code to see if I should keep it around when it hits free. It is not worth a monthly to me (especially after a poor showing for support from Turbine)…but free?

    I think I will keep it for a jaunt once in a while.

  2. There are actually plenty of landscapes these days, but you’ll still need to get higher level to actually see them. They keep adding more all the time since they know we love them. And they’re actually great XP too; I think I saw someone do the math and it’s possible to get to 12 or 14? Something like that, from doing just all the landscapes and skipping the dungeon crawls.

    The Solo Factor is a sticky point. D&D was never a solo game, it was always about the group (we called it a party back in the day, but whatever). Yes, you could make a special occasion if your friends weren’t around and do a solo run with your DM creatively making up for the lack of your party, but still, the game was never intended to be solo. If DDO is supposed to be D&D, should DDO have solo at all? Many say no. Yet if you look at the fact you pretty much can’t do a damn thing solo in the game, and all that time spent LFG is just time wasted, and there’s really nothing to DO in the game other than adventuring, then it quickly becomes a matter of “this isn’t worth $15/month” to many people.

    They have Hirelings now (AI companions) but if you’re a solo player, you can only bring a single Hireling along which (in my limited experience so far) doesn’t really help matters, whereas in Guild Wars a single player can fill up a group with Heroes and Henchmen and run the majority of the content like that without having other live players in the group. (We don’t call that “solo” in GW however; that term is used only when we are literally the only character in the instance.)

    Regardless, if you delve into the game and get groups, DDO has some of the best hand-crafted dungeon experiences I’ve ever seen to date, and the active combat can be so much more entertaining and visceral than the generic Diku model of standing still and trading blows (Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robot battles of attrition) that most fantasy MMORPGs use. Also mobs in DDO have a cone of vision rather than a full-circle aggro radius, so it’s possible to sneak up behind them. Some monster types can sense vibration so they’ll “feel” you sneaking up on them (your feet give a red aura when you’re sensed) which can actually be used to stealth-pull specific mobs. It has all kinds of little bits like that which are not seen in any other game.

    To me, the only real “problem” is the one I mentioned above: if I’m not in a group, there’s nothing to just “do” in the game like there would be in a normal game with an open world that I could travel and do stuff that wasn’t combat-related.

  3. “It’s funny that we hear so many complaints from the MMO pundit class (of which I myself am a member,) to the effect that almost all MMOs are basically the same, and then when titles which are different are pointed out, they’re dismissed for putative ‘barriers’ set up against fun. D&D Online and EVE Online are two examples of this – both titles varying from a much inveighed-against paradigm, and both criticized for not matching expectations.”

    This frustrates me to no end. When a big budget MMO comes along that tries something well an truly different like DDO or Tabula Rasa, they tend to fall flat on their face. Then there are completely oddball MMOs like a Tale in the Desert, Puzzle Pirates, Endless Forest (a social MMO where you play a deer), or Arden (a literary MMO based on Shakespear) that most of the folks bitching about “lack of innovation” likely never even tried. It drives me nuts.

    If you want to see more innovative MMOs, how about at least doing the trial of one of the dozens of truly innovative MMOs that are out there now instead of playing WoW and whining that “everything is a WoW clone”?