D&D Online -- A Longtime Gamer's Perspective


By now, you've heard a lot about Dungeons & Dragons Online, and so I won't write this as if you know nothing. For a primer, you can visit the DDO website, or check out one of the more detailed reviews popping up online. What I will do here is share my overall feelings on the game, laying out what I think are the positives and the negatives.

I've been playing DDO for about a month now. It's only my second real MMORPG experience, the first having been with City of Villains, the follow-up/add-on to City of Heroes. One of the things I like about it most is that your party size is limited to 6 (I believe it can go to 12 during special Raids). Six is, I feel, the perfect party size; in my own real-life gaming groups, I generally felt overwhelmed if we had more than six at a table, and a bit stifled when we had fewer than 4 or 5. Six allows me to do my thing, easily keep track of where everyone else is and what they're doing, and communicate well with everyone.

...simply charging into every battle will quickly get everyone killed.

Six is also a good number in terms of party balance. Rare is the party of six that contains three fighters, or five barbarians -- to fully experience every aspect of a Dungeon (and I use the term loosely here), you'll have to make sure your party includes a fighter or two, some ranged experts, a wizard or sorcerer, a cleric and a rogue or bard. Many Dungeons (though not all) contain traps, secret doors and narrow ledges that scream out for a rogue's skills to shine, and others contain Runes that can only be unlocked by spell casters with high Intelligence or Wisdom. The same goes true for combat as well; simply charging into every battle will quickly get everyone killed. Some encounters call for stealth, and others for ranged attacks before closing in for a final kill.

While on the subject of attacks, I will add that I dislike the Active Combat in DDO, not because it isn't fun, but because it's a strain on my clicking finger. If you are a melee fighter, you'll be Click Click Clicking away all night long, and most of those Clicks will be Misses. Maybe it's just me, but if the electronic dice used in this game were real dice, I'd have thrown them away long ago and replaced them. Bad rolls are much more frequent than good rolls.

A much better option, I've found, is ranged combat. With a bow, you can sit back and simply Tab between enemies while the game handles the automatic attacks. Granted, the auto attack feature is also functional while using melee weapons, but the Clicks you save there are replaced by a constant need to spin around to face your enemy. Not even the lowliest kobold will stand still for you; you'll constantly be moving and clicking to keep your prey in sight. Firing arrows into the fray is much easier on the wrist.

...it's difficult to find a gaming group that has a good balance.

What's never easy is finding the right party. Like in real life (as any long-term gamer knows), it's difficult to find a gaming group that has a good balance. I've left more than a few groups because one or more of the gamers were either complete dicks or utter morons, and yes, those same sorts do play DDO. The good thing about this is that it's much easier to leave a party online; you just click and you're out. No need to make excuses. And you'll know right away, too. A bad group will be stumbling about, falling into traps, getting killed while the cleric is off looting chests, and generally not communicating with one another. A good group is a well-oiled machine, with party members calling out instructions over Voice or Text chat, thinking ahead to the next encounter or trap, and taking care to watch out for the other party members at all times. When it's working, it's really working well; when it's not, it's like being in a basement with someone who hasn't washed his socks.

There are also some frustrations when it comes to the translation from print to online game, as I expected. Several changes -- such as giving spell casters "spell points" are controversial, but make sense. Other changes are less obviously beneficial. One example is the Uncanny Dodge ability. Given as a feat to rogues at level 4, it provides a constant AC bonus against surprise attacks in the print version of D&D. In the online game, you get to use it twice, for 30 seconds each, per "rest period".

Some skills have made the transition for the better: Swim and Jump, for example, are enormously useful in the game, and work just when you'd want them to work. Others seem clunky and geared solely towards combat: Diplomacy, Bluff and Intimidate, for example, are used to avoid Agro, decrease a monster's AC, and pull Agro (respectively), but it's somewhat ridiculous that covering your face (with Diplomacy) would make a charging Minotaur suddenly decide not to attack you.

Also ridiculous (but perversely enjoyable) is the inevitable "Monty Haul" style of gaming introduced here. It's remarkably easy to get many multiple +1 weapons, and within a few hours of playing with a good party you'll be so full of magical loot that you'll be deciding which ones to junk because you're out of room. With the ones you keep, you'll quickly stockpile a fortune in the hundreds of thousands of gold. None of this is anything you'd experience in a tabletop version of the game -- any DM doling out such loot would quickly be shot.

...DDO is not D&D. Period.

But of course, DDO is not D&D. Period. Several ads have proclaimed it to be so, but it is not. It is a completely different experience, and one that I think I might enjoy. What remains to be seen is if the content can keep pace. I've done about half the quests in the game so far, so in a few months I might find myself with nothing new to explore. And as we all know from tabletop gaming, running through the same Module six times in a row just ain't fun once you've memorized all the encounters.

What DDO needs more than anything else, in my opinion, is variety and surprise. As it stands, no encounter is truly random, and no surprise is a surprise the fifth time it's sprung on you. In short, what it lacks is that level of creativity, cruelty and impish behavior that the best real-life Game Masters can bring to the table. Whether it can mimic that experience remains to be seen.

It sounds like they took everything that I hate about the D&D system, magnified it, and called it good.

I wish that there was some real difference to these games. They are all the same, just with different settings.

It's like the D20 system. You can play fantasy, Star Wars, World War II, but it's all the same basic system and if you don't like it, then you're screwed. There are no other options.

I wish that MMORPGs were more like the OTHER gaming industry. Where are the Palladium, Steve Jackson, White Wolves, and Magic: The Gathering type games?

"Some people are alive only because it's illegal to kill them."

Yeah, after seeing the ads for D&DO I just shook my head and chuckled. I've never been much of a video gamer myself, and when the MMORPGs started appearing I couldn't get into it. If I'm going to roleplay, I'll sit down and actually roleplay. Of course, I don't think that MMORPGs were ever supposed to be a true "replacement" for tabletop RPGs...but I've digressed.

From what I've read...here and other places...it sounds like a good game, just not my cup of tea. But I have to agree with Calamar; they took all the things I hate about D&D (and despite being an advocate of the system, there are plenty of these) and made them even worse. Then again, that might have made it a better game in the long run...generally speaking, the majority of the market for games like this one probably *like* all those things about D&D in the first place.

Out of curiousity, and sorry for going off topic a bit, what other options would you like to see with the d20 system Calamar? I use d20 Modern, Past, Future, and Apocolypse and find that I can run any kind of game I want within that framework...in fact, it seemed sometimes that there were too many options with standard 3e D&D. I don't even crack the covers on my D&D rulebooks anymore, and I think my campaigns have gotten better because of it. I suppose I may have just answered my own question though. I'm having an even-less-concise-than-normal day.

Without going into all the reasons that I don't like D20, I'd like the D20 system to be point based rather than level based. That is the biggest difference between D20 games and the ones that I play.

If you're asking about computer games, my fav electronic RPG is Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic I & II which is based off of the D20 system. If I could a KoTOR game online, with Final Fantasy X graphics, then I'd be hooked. Even though it has levels... 'sigh'

It won't happen for a while, if ever.

Does that help? I'm a little slow today. I'm 11 hours and 15 minutes into an 11.5 hour shift. Leaking brain mush doesn't do it justice.

"Some people are alive only because it's illegal to kill them."

You can use a point-based system for generating d20 characters' stats. KotOR and KotOR2 both used this system, and I have used it in one of my friends' D&D campaigns. It's no replacement for a truly point- and skills-based system, but it does work pretty well. I have to say I like it; as long as I'm stuck playing d20 (which will be for at least a bit longer, until I can wrap up my current campaign), I'll be using it.

A pity about the ending of KotOR 2.

Which one?

There is heroism and brute warfare on the ocean floor, unnoticed by land-dwellers. There are gods and catastrophes.
-"The Scar", China Mieville

Yes; not just the ending, either, but partially abandoned threads such as the Droid Factory. I've read the cut dialogue and inter-character confrontations and so on - wow, what a difference that would have made. Some people I know are excited about the "restoration" project, which won't do me any good because I've got the Xbox version.

Still, Obsidian gave me a glimpse of what they are really capable of. Had they finished KotOR2, or been allowed to finish it, I think they'd have produced the best CRPG I've ever played. As it is, I still rank the *unfinished* KotOR2 among my favorites, gaping holes and all.

Cocytus, that's your punishment for having an Xbox ;)

By the way, have youe listened to the droid factory torture dialogue? it's hilarious. Good old HK-47 (anyone else notice the similarity to an AK-47?)

To stay on-topic, D&DO got some good reviews on game magazines. It seems to me that the main attraction of D&DO (much like that of NWN) is not having to deal with remembering all the rules and effects (and making it easier to find mates to play with) and just letting it rip.

- reading a signature is silly -

"If I could a KoTOR game online, with Final Fantasy X graphics, then I'd be hooked. Even though it has levels... 'sigh'"

Neverwinter Nights? The graphics aren't FFX, but it is basically KoTOR with online capabilities.

I haven't played D&D Online, but for those that do like MMORPGs keep in mind what is being reported all over the net about DDO:

1) Not enough content -- apparently, even casual players are able to grind all 10 levels pretty quickly. Also, the differences between the various dungeons is not that vast in terms of game play. Basically, if you like to grind levels via dungeon crawl, DDO may be for you, but you'll run out of dungeons quickly.

2) Little to no non-combat activity -- some MMOs allow crafting and other things to do other than just grind dungeons. DDO doesn't have much else besides grinding levels through dungeon-based quests. That's one thing I did like about the original EQ. I could not only do a dungeon run, but got pretty good at creating my own armors and weapons.

I think much of the popularity of the original EQ and now WoW stems from all those things other than level grinding that you can enjoy in the game... but even with both of those games, you run out of new things to do fairly quickly (IMO). At least with those worlds, there are a vast number of locations to explore just for the fun of seeing them all. Can anyone speak to the amount of exploration DDO allows? How "big" is the game?

Looks like D&D Online is going "free" this summer:

The gates to Eberron will swing wide this summer, as the Eberron Unlimited upgrade transforms Turbine's DDO from a subscription-based massively multiplayer online game to a free-to-play one, relying on VIP subscriptions and the new DDO store as dual sources of income. Free players will be able to join the game, create characters, and level all the way up to 20, the new, logical class limit for a Dungeons and Dragons game. Limitations included having to pay for specific races and classes, limited chat, auction, and mail capabilities, and access restricted to the city of Stormreach and its immediate vicinity.