The term Free to Play is an extremely general term. If we were to get technical about it, the phrase is a downright lie. If one were to analyze the exact essence of the Free to Play MMORPG one will discover that is an untruth, a fantasy, an unreality; bull excrement of the highest caliber. Loaded with micro transactions, hidden payments and subscriptions, F2P simply does not exist and if it does: well call me a monkey’s uncle. For the past two weeks, I have scouted this mortal plane for the scent of the free online game: I have found no such thing.
What is to follow is a series of good and bad games in which the player is sold the line that the game is free; all I can say is watch your back Serpico. In my quest for freebies I have become jaded and disillusioned with the genre and so should you. In part three of my survival guide I tackle two of the bigger named F2P’s out there and like Jason Bourne, uncover the conspiracy and reveal the truth. Enjoy and get your cash at the ready; free has never been so expensive.
Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited
We, as fans of the MMORPG genre, owe a debt of gratitude to Dungeons & Dragons. If 30 years ago, spotty faced teens the world over did not congregate in dark basements, to pretend to be elves, we would not exist. These pioneers, nay, kings of men, made it possible for a digital generation of spotty teens to hunch over their desks and indeed, pretend to be elves. So with such admiration to live up to, how does the computerized conversion of the hallowed board-game live up to expectation?
Dungeons & Dragons Online is a mixed bag of emotions; since its F2P conversion the game is bustling with life but this was not always the case. Upon launch, the game received a lukewarm reception at best; subscription numbers never achieved anything significant, and the defection to freebie was more of a last-gasp attempt at keeping the game alive. The fact that this game is now infinitely popular is testimony to the fact people just adore free stuff. Go figure.
Putting the game’s past to one side however and you will find that D&D is a terrific F2P game. Turbine's freebie is possibly the best I have played thus far, and this is probably due in no small part to the fact that it is developed by a great studio with an eye for P2P. The greatest achievement of the game is that it stays true to its license in that this is not an EverQuest clone and neither does it take influence from WoW: Turbine has stuck to their guns and here we are given a banquet of dungeon crawling with a great, distinctive feel.
After rolling a character, you are thrown into a tutorial storyline mission. Turbines penchant for story telling is evident here and soon you will be tackling cultists, dragons and all manner of icy beasts. While personally I am not overly fond of the story driven MMORPG, in D&D I feel it immensely adds to the flavor of the game. As you enter foreboding catacombs and caves, the Dungeon Master’s reverberating tones narrate your experiences and give a layer of authenticity. The whole game screams identity, and throughout gameplay this clearly shows.
One of the great offerings of D&DO is the sheer amount of quests and activities on offer. The player will move from hub to hub, all packed with quests, and the sheer essence of adventure is captured within. Like most Turbine games, there is a real sense of progression and impact on the world. If you finish a major quest, the landscape will change to fit your deeds. Within the game, there are layers and layers of instancing, and while I am one for complete immersive sandbox gameplay, I cannot but adore Turbine’s approach to the genre.
The amount of classes and customization is also impressive. Players can choose an overall character class and then deviate within to follow a sub-class; this gives the game a flavor of depth and also stays true to the D&D license. The level cap also differs from most games, here the cap is 20 but within each level are a number of ranks and skill points to be obtained. This element gives the game a more progressive feel rather than a blind race to the finish line like most games of the genre.
Overall Dungeons and Dragons Online is an enjoyable game that is easily recommendable, however; I do have my reservations: namely its F2P’ness (more on that later) and its individuality. And this is where my problem with D&D lies. The game is mesmerizing, unique and refreshing, but I cannot help but feel I have played this all before in NCSoft’s Guild Wars. From the central hubs to the instanced hunting zones and story driven quests; D&D is good but does not feel quite as memorable as Guild Wars did way back when. This is not to say that Turbines creation is in any way bad it just will not appeal to as many as it undoubtedly should.
The overriding feeling I had when playing this game was one of constant comparison to Guild Wars. Some may not see this, but for me, it is clearly evident. The overall approach to the game feels similar albeit with D&D rules and to be frank it made me want to dig out my old copy of the NCSoft classic. My time spent within Dungeons and Dragons Online was enjoyable, but like most F2P games, it is not free and again, Guild Wars is after putting down a small sum of money.
And now we get to the point of this article, the F2P element of this game. The best way to describe the freeness of this game would be as follows: upon launching the game, I was hit by an in-game pop-up advertising gold. It is not shocking or surprising; the genre of F2P is built upon a lie and we all know this. Turbine offer character slots, potions, enhancements, hair styles and you name it; it is all there waiting in the in-game store.
This money-grabbing within the game is distasteful and does put off any prospective player but to be fair D&DO is compelling enough to warrant your cash. This is a game fully worth a subscription fee and the fact it had to convert to F2P was more of a marketing ploy than anything. Turbine has found a way to give popularity to a shamefully neglected game, and this is fine. I feel less disdain for D&DO than most F2P’s its heart is in the right place and ultimately the player is getting a great game, albeit a slightly plagiarized one, for nothing.
Dungeons and Dragons Online is one of the best F2P games on the market. It will cost you a pretty penny (and for the price of an in-game Mohawk, you could pick of a copy of Guild Wars) but this is infinitely worth time, effort, patience and love. I salute Turbine.