The MMO Answer to Skyrim: DDO?

The idea that there ought to be an MMO that takes its cues from Skyrim is something that’s been talked about incessantly since 11/11/11. The modding community is giving it a try, but we’l see where that goes and in any event, making it work is going to take a while. And at best it’s not going to be an MMO version of Skyrim, but something more along the lines of a Minecraft multiplayer server, where a dozen or two people occasionally gather to axe stuff up. That’s worth keeping an eye on, but meanwhile back in the MMO realm, what have we got that’s close?

Well, not much. But there are a few games that have some of the pieces. Vanguard, for example, has a big immersive world, although it’s nowhere near as interactable as Skyrim. I might snidely argue that Vanguard replicates Skyrim‘s single player experience rather well, since the population is so low.

Too, there’s Darkfall, which is a lot like what Skyrim would look like as an MMO if the interface were somehow, amazingly, even worse than it is. And if it were about PvP and nothing else. I’d argue that the sort of unrestricted PvP that Darkfall embraces is not at all in keeping with the virtues of Skyrim, a game which is not remotely about “maximum challenge” but the novelty of exploring a living world. But down in the nuts-and-bolts of how the gameplay actually functions, Darkfall is closer than most.

From this perspective of the fundamental gameplay, though, it occurs to me that Dungeons & Dragons Online is actually a remarkably good match. You have the mostly targeted combat rather than hard targeting, a decent stealth game if you’re playing a Rogue type, and missile and spell combat that’s a decent implementation of the same ideas. DDO lacks Skyrim‘s exploration angle, which is a particular weakness of the game when you look at it through the lens of traditional MMO’s, but I think that wasn’t a design goal. Rather, what DDO set out to do was replicate the D&D tabletop experience as closely as possible within an MMO-like format, a paradigm in which the primary locus of play in is the dynamic of the party’s interactions among themselves and with the dungeon environment, in which widespread instancing of dungeons and outdoor zones isn’t as harmful.

Given the big fuss about DDO’s summer expansion Menace of the Underdark, I found myself playing a bit of it over the weekend, starting a new character on Khyber and farting around in the (very familiar) Korthos Village content. Having touched the game very little for the last year or more, I found myself playing it in a strikingly similar way to how I’d just spent weeks playing Skyrim. That the mob pathing is very problematic and much weaker was a detriment to this, but it basically worked. Stealth also doesn’t work as well, although there may be things at higher levels to mitigate this somewhat.

It’s not that Skyrim and D&D Online are especially similar games — in terms of core competencies I’d say they are about as far apart as two fantasy RPGs are going to ever get. But the actual button-pressing parts are remarkably similar. If DDO had a true first-person mode it would almost be uncanny.

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4 responses to “The MMO Answer to Skyrim: DDO?

  1. Given that DDO’s actual gameplay mechanics are some of the most annoying and irritating I’ve ever struggled with in an MMO, you aren’t making me any keener than I was to get round to trying Skyrim. In fact, your final paragraph has pretty much killed off what small interest I had. I played DDO for a few weeks after it went F2P and while I found the setting and the stories interesting, actually getting to them through the tedious, arduous combat process meant that I lost interest fairly quickly.

    The thing I have never really been able to assimilate about all the video-game iterations of tabletop rpgs (and that included MMOs) is the need for the Player to have actual, physical skills in order to be effective. To my way of thinking its always and only the character that has the skills. I make the decisions, the GM or the computer matches them against the skills of the character and ultimately the dice decide. I’m really very not interested indeed in having my motor skills, reflexes or reaction times brought into the process.

  2. I have to concur with Bhagpuss’s thoughts on DDO combat, which put me off trying Skyrim initially, but I found Skyrim’s cimbat to much more accesible and fun. Ditto Kingdoms of Amalaur’s demo. I don’t know what makes DDO so unwieldy to me (though I suspect it has to do in part with the tiny hp pool and shortage of potions) but having tried and despised it multiple times, versus recommending Skyrim to everyone I meet, I can’t agree it’s an alternative worth considering.

  3. Darkfall isn’t all about PvP… it has some of the best mob AI in the entire genre. It’s world however seamless, isn’t very interactive. I’d say its got better combat than Skyrim though

  4. Although I’ll stop short of endorsing Turbine’s marketing blurb that says DDO has the best combat in any MMO, I think it’s well above average, and a highlight of the game. I can understand how some folks may not like it, but to me it’s one of DDO’s selling points.

    @Davis: Darkfall does have excellent mob AI, way better than in EQ-style MMOs. But then, so does DDO. For me Darkfall was hobbled by an interface made intentionally difficult to use in the name of “increasing the challenge” or some such nonsense. I imagine you get used to it, but you get used to Skyrim’s dreadful menus, too. That doesn’t make them good.