There was a time when I would fork over $15 a month for subscriptions to multiple MMOs at a time, and although that’s crazy, I clearly remember Dungeons & Dragons Online being one of the few MMORPGs worth the concurrent investment. Years later, when DDO went free-to-play, it gave me and countless others an opportunity to jump back in and see what Turbine had been doing with the game in the intervening period. While it’s not the newest, prettiest, or easiest to understand game on the block, there’s still so much value to be had in Turbine’s D&D-themed MMO.
Depending on your preferred edition of D&D (or other d20 systems), you can take or leave DDO’s reimagining of what the 3.5 ruleset can look like in a digital setting. For my money, Turbine does an excellent job of translating D&D into an MMO context, without compromising the crunchiness of traditional pen-and-paper roleplaying games. From feats and skills to saving throws and AC, DDO checks all of the appropriate D&D boxes, while making them work within the setting of an MMORPG.
Thematically, DDO also aligns itself neatly with the source material, especially in terms of classes and campaign settings. The game does a great job of creating different roles for each of its classes, and requiring those roles to be refined to tackle quest objectives in a balanced party. Additionally, while DDO is mostly based within the Eberron campaign setting, there’s a substantial Forgotten Realms portion that was added several years after launch.
Active Combat and Skills
DDO was one of the first MMOs to attempt to incorporate an “active” combat system as an alternative to traditional hotbar-based systems. While this shift mostly results in a lot of repetitive mouse clicking, DDO’s combat does feel more flexible than that of most of its competitors, and makes space for more strategic movement with the addition of features like blocking and dodging.
The implementation of D&D skills and their role in character progression are what make the gameplay in DDO shine. Active Skills like Bluff, Diplomacy, and Open Lock give more texture to adventuring and NPC interaction, while Passive Skills like Jump, Move Silently, and Swim allow for more interesting combat and dungeon mechanics. Tumble even gets a fun change in animation when you invest 30 or more points in it!
Tons of Content
DDO has been around since 2006, so Turbine has had a good amount of time to add content to what was an acceptable number of dungeons and quests at release. If you’re wondering what they’ve been up to since launch, suffice it to say that they’re on Update 25: Reign of Elemental Evil (featuring guest DM Wil Wheaton - let it never be said that Turbine doesn’t know their audience). I can’t vouch for all of the content as I haven’t played the more recent material, but I do like what I have seen, as it relies very heavily on the source material and D&D in general.
One caveat to this abundance of content, of course, is that you have to like the format in which it’s delivered. DDO has gotten better about making dungeons solo- and small-party-friendly, but it’s still a bit too dependent on guilds and the (admittedly useful) group finder for my tastes. Your mileage may vary, based on how much or little you like grouping.
Needless to say, with DDO’s transition and rebranding to Eberron Unlimited in 2009, the game has cast off its subscription-based shackles and become free-to-play, and there’s certainly a lot of value in the item shop. Your main purchases should probably be Adventure Packs, but there are quite a few other types of goods for sale, ranging from XP boosters to cosmetic pets. While the newer and hotter Adventure Packs are only available through purchase, there’s still a whole lot of free content to play to help you decide if you like what’s on offer.
There are a number of good reasons to give DDO a whirl, but the best ones are also the simplest: it’s fun, it’s free, and it does a great job of capturing the look and feel of D&D 3.5. It’s not perfect, its graphics show their age, and the game’s systems can be a bit unwieldy at times (don’t get me started on the quest journal), but it does more than enough to feel like an honest translation of D&D into an MMO framework.
What are some things that you like about DDO?