Dungeons & Dragons Online, or DDO, is a 3D fantasy-themed action MMORPG developed by Turbine and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. The game was originally released as subscription-based on February 28, 2006 and was later re-launched with a free-to-play model on September 9, 2009. The game still offers subscriptions while also offering micro-transactions via a premium shop. DDO is a fine example of a western developer embracing free to play.
At the time of the game’s release, Dungeons & Dragons Online was the first and only Dungeons & Dragons inspired game until Neverwinter came out in 2013. DDO follows the D&D 3.5 Edition Rule Set modified to fit the slightly different gaming experience offered by video games. The game is set in and around the fictional city of Stormreach, in the mostly unexplored continent of Xen’drik, in the world of Eberron, a world D&D players are probably familiar with. Players are thrust into the role of a shipwrecked traveler tasked with helping save the city, and the world, from a myriad of threats.
Time to Roll the Dice
DDO features an in-depth character creation process similar to what players experience when creating characters in the tabletop game. Aside from customizing their characters looks, players pick from 13 pre-made classes and specializations or they can choose to manually distribute their character’s stats themselves. Manually distributing stats and choosing feats and skills gives players more control over their characters but is recommended for advanced players who have been playing the game for a while.
DDO, however, falls short when it comes to customizing the character’s appearance. Don’t be surprised if you come face to face with your in-game doppelganger. Like most MMORPG’s that came out at around the same time, players are only given a very limited set of pre-made options to work with resulting in a world populated by characters that mostly look alike.
After creating their characters, players start out in washed up in the island of Krothos with nothing but their skivvies on. This set-up actually reminds me of Age of Conan, which I played recently, and also has players starting up on an island all washed up. Players start out with a quick dungeon run with the help of NPC characters to help them get acquainted with dungeons, which makes up the bulk of DDO’s quests. Unfortunately, the initial dungeon-run is part of the story and both new and veteran players will have to complete it every time they create a new character. Tooltips help new players find their way around and also introduces gameplay features as the player encounters them. A narrator also helps move the story along while also pointing out a few important things in the game, much like Morgan Freeman in the Shawshank Redemption. The narrator, however, tends to point out really obvious things with lines like, “You see a lever at the end of the dark corridor,” or “You come across a suspicious-looking chest…” This tends to get pretty annoying the longer you play the game.
The Mythical World of Eberron
DDO features cartoony graphics similar to Runes of Magic or World of Warcraft. The games graphics might have been great when it first came out, might have been awesome even, but as it is, the graphics seem a bit dated compared to other more modern free-to-play MMORPG’s. The environment textures, while a bit dark, look great though, it’s just the character models and animation that could use an overhaul. The games sound effects are nothing special and sound a bit repetitive, the background music, however, is pretty good and fits the epic fantasy theme perfectly.
From Board Game to Video Game
DDO features the same gameplay elements found in typical MMORPGs such as breadcrumb quests that have players killing and collecting stuff at the behest of the local townsfolk, professions, crafting, and lots and lots of dungeons. What’s unique about it is it’s an almost faithful recreation of the classic tabletop game right down to rolling the dice to determine whether a player hits his target and how much damage he deals every time he launches an attack, or uses an ability or spell. Some changes, however, needed to be made to accommodate the action-style, real-time combat featured in the game of the game as opposed to the turn-based combat used in the tabletop version.
Combat in DDO is fluid and fast-paced. Players use the WASD keys to move around while using the left mouse button to attack. The right mouse button is used to control the camera and where the character is facing. Additionally, first person view and mouse-look mode can be toggled on to make combat more like a hack-and-slash game.
Unlike your typical MMORPG with large persistent worlds, towns are the only persistent areas in the game. Everything outside of it is instanced, which means that only the player and his party will see each other and will have the area all to themselves. This was done to preserve the game’s storyline and gives players the feeling that they are actually the first one to find that long forgotten dungeon. Being told by the almighty narrator that the cave is unexplored and then finding a couple of other players camping outside would definitely ruin the experience and immersion.
DDO really lives up to the Dungeon part of its name, since most of a player’s time, apart from destroying an inordinate amount of crates and vases, will be spent exploring and completing quests in dungeons, overrun with mobs, littered with traps, and secured with puzzles. Dungeons get harder and take longer to complete as the player progresses through the game, traps become harder to spot, and puzzles become more difficult to solve. They can, however, be soloed without too much difficulty. Players can also adjust the difficulty before they enter the dungeon. Completing a dungeon on a higher difficulty yields better experience and rewards. The puzzles are a welcome distraction from the monotony of dungeon crawling, although, they can, at times, be a bit frustrating especially for players without a head for puzzles. Personally, I like solving puzzles, but a few of them had me stumped and tearing my hair out in frustration.
Taking it One Level at a Time
Like most free MMORPGs characters grow stronger as they gain levels. Players will probably notice the game’s relatively slow character progression. It takes about an hour of playing and a number of quests to get a character to level 2. This might seem slow but is actually perfectly fine, considering that the current level cap is only at level 28. Players also have the ability to multi-class which means that they can level up multiple classes up to a maximum of 3 by simply speaking with the appropriate Class Trainer NPC. Switching to a new class brings the characters level back to 1. They can then proceed to level up their new class. A level 14 Fighter, for example, who decides to switch to a Rogue will start with the Rogue at level 1. He can switch back to a Fighter at any time by simply talking to the Fighter Trainer and will be back to level 14 again. Multi-classing is good for making versatile characters although it does take longer to grow stronger since you’re essentially leveling multiple characters. The game also features an alignment system that is determined by the player’s actions in the game. Some classes require the character to be under a specific alignment, Barbarians, for example, have to be Non-lawful while Paladins need to be Lawful Good.
Being true to the tabletop game, DDO also features a unique character progression which involves computations to determine a variety of things including how many Skill Points a character gains when they level up. Aside from Skill Points, players also gain Action Points, and also unlock Feats every few levels. Skill points are used to improve a character skills. Class skills require 1 point to improve while cross-class skills require 2 points. A Fighter, for example, who learns the Rogue’s search skill can improve it by spending 2 points. Action points are used to unlock and improve Enhancements which, as the name suggests, enhances skills, feats, and the character’s base attributes. Feats, on the other hand, are special abilities that give character’s new abilities or improve existing ones.
In DDO, engaging in PVP depends on the player since no rewards or incentives are given other than the satisfaction of beating other players and, of course, bragging rights. Players can join PVP by entering the brawling floor in a specified area of certain tavern. Players in the brawling floor are flagged for PVP and can attack, and be attacked by other players. Players can also participate in Death Match and Capture the Flag Arenas which can also be initiated in certain taverns. These matches can either be 1 vs 1 or party vs party and can last from 1 minute to 1 hour depending on the arena settings.
Keys to the VIP
Even though DDO is free-to-play, players are still given the option to subscribe to the game. Subscribing grants players VIP status which gives them additional game perks such as a 10% Experience Boost, extra Turbine points, the game’s premium currency which the can use to buy items from the cash shop, as well as access to premium classes and races. Players who want to play for free but want a bit of an edge over other players can purchase premium items from the cash shop which is packed with an assortment of items which can be bought with Turbine Points such as experience boosts, fast travel passes, equipment, cosmetic items, as well as additional game content. These items can give paying players a bit of an advantage but not enough to break the game. Turbine points can also be earned in-game by completing quests and earning Favor. With a little persistence, free players can unlock additional content without shelling out a dime.
Taking a classic tabletop game, that is widely known as the basis for all RPG’s and MMORPG’s, and turning it into a video game is a very tough job. Developers have to live up to the expectation of fans from all around the world. Dungeons & Dragons, however, was able to port the game over flawlessly. The game stays true to its roots even with the changes made to ease the transition from tabletop to PC. The almost infinite degree of character customization is definitely one of its best features. Although the game does fall a bit short graphics-wise, mainly due to the game’s age. DDO isn’t the most popular MMORPG in the world, but overall, it’s a great game that’s definitely worth trying out.