The Test of Time: DDO Part 2
Last week we introduced the series The Test of Time and featured Dungeons & Dragons Online. You can find part one here. In part one I did a brief rundown of a handful of the features and talked a little bit about the game’s history. There were also some excellent comments from the community about their experiences with the game. One member even added some additional information on how we actually ended up having two different D&D MMOs these days.
Like most games I’ll cover in this column DDO is beginning to show its age. The graphics never were cutting edge and this has only become more pronounced over time. However, it isn’t all bad. At one point Turbine did create a high texture pack for the game and this goes a long way to make it look better, but I’d say it’s still a stretch to say it looks great. Let’s just say that it has aged gracefully in this regard.
After you finish creating your character you’ll notice right away that the game has voice overs from an omnipotent Dungeon Master. The presence of a DM to assist in telling the story was a stroke of genius by the original game designers. This features goes a long way to giving the game a true D&D feel. NPCs in your party are also voiced. This was pretty revolutionary for the time. In addition the way the game is broken up into sections also helps give the sense that this is a true D&D adventure. The adventures play out much like sections of a module would back in the early days of D&D and much like they do in the new seasons of 5th edition.
There are also two other small features that really pop for me in DDO. The first, and it’s really almost trivial, is the presence of a d20 that shows what you rolled for your attack. It also shows any modifiers and whether or not you hit. I’ll admit that a lot of people may not care about something so small but I love dice and have a huge collection of them. It’s a great feeling rolling dice in any tabletop game. Be it a board game or a RPG. This tie into the games tabletop roots is spot on. I also love the way they break down how you earn experience at the end of a mission in the Experience Report. It shows why you earned what you did and any bonuses that may have been applied.
DDO predates all the hoopla over “action combat” in MMORPGs yet it more or less has action combat. This is readily apparent when you start to play the game. You do not have to tab target your enemies to attack them. You have a reticule in the center of your screen and where you aim and swing is where you will hit. You can also attempt to tumble and get out of the way of oncoming enemy attack.
As you advance through DDO the ranking and leveling up experience offers a lot of diversity for building your character. While other games are dumbing down or “streamlining” their progression systems DDO has a number of different ways you can build your class with different feats and skills. And that’s a huge part of the fun. That’s also very D&D. Some players love to min max their characters yet others are more focused on role play and create crazy builds for fun.
Since the game is microtransaction based it does have a cash shop. Some pieces of content are locked away behind a paywall. For the most part if you really want to play these missions you can for free. It will require that you spend a lot of time playing the game in order to earn Turbine Points. You can then spend these points to unlock the mission/module/quest. Besides the cash shop, DDO has also had content releases that were paid expansions. This further muddies the water on the microtransaction basis of the game. However this is similar to what Daybreak does with EverQuest and EverQuest II releases. Where Turbine does stray from the pack with their store is selling stat-boosting tomes. These tomes are a pure power boost for your character and typically frowned upon by most communities.
At the end of last week’s piece I mentioned I would talk about how it appears that Wizards of the Coast has marginalized DDO over the past few years. Since the release of Neverwinter and the launch of the 5th edition pen and paper ruleset WotC has released what they term “seasons” over their different media. These seasons have books, miniatures from WizKids and Gale Force Nine, pen and paper supplements, Sword Coast Legends, and even Neverwinter releases all tied together. However it doesn’t appear that Turbine has really been included in this development cycle and marketing campaign. I reached out to Turbine to ask them about this perceived slight and they were unable to comment on the topic. However, they did inform me that upcoming later this year they have some big events planned around their 30th content update that will be timed with their 10th anniversary celebration of the game. They were also able to tease they are, “running a very special dungeon designed just for this event.” Hopefully we will have more information on this for you soon.
Now it’s time to answer the question, does DDO stand the test of time? I’ll have to say that it does. Sure the game has not come through the past decade unscathed. It has its flaws and they show. However, it does have more than enough strengths to make up for those shortcomings. While DDO could never be my “main” game it is one that I do jump back into for a few days at a time every few months to scratch that itch. DDO manages to offer that D&D fix in a unique way and one that maintains the spirit of the original pen and paper game. Even all these years later, it's still a recommended play for anyone who loves MMOs and D&D.