Dungeons & Dragons Online Early Game Review
At the time of this re-review, DDO will have almost met its three year release mark, being brought to the general public February 28th 2006. Over the course of time many changes have been implemented, one of which was a revamp to the starter area on November 6th 2008. I'd love to say that I was one of the many who started playing from the start and to be able to explain the changes in great detail as they've occurred but the truth of the matter is that DDO was not one of the games I picked up, so this re-review will be a new players perspective of the game and the starter areas. Hopefully readers count this as a good thing, fresh gamers on scene can bring about a perspective that you may not have looked at before and shine a little light.
For those who are not aware or who perhaps have not played DDO before (or the granddaddy pen and paper game that it's loosely based after, Dungeons & Dragons 3.5) the continent is known as Xen'drik, in the world of Eberron. DDO uses real-time combat as opposed to the old D&D turn based system, one of the largest differences between the two versions of the game. For those who are into nostalgia, DDO is certainly the place for you. It's quite astounding to be able to see Stormreach brought to life.
Performance / Lag:
Keeping in mind that I'm running an Intel® Core™2 CPU email@example.com GHz with a NVIDIA 8800 GeForce GT, I was disappointed with how the game ran on my system. On Korthos Island which is the new starter area there are snowstorms that blow through, and every time one happened to come across (outside the instanced dungeons) my computer would completely freeze up for 30 seconds. Any time I went directly to exit instead of log out my system would also freeze and I would have to restart it. Inside the dungeons, things ran smooth, and there was no lag at all that I noticed in either the starter area or in Stormreach once I'd completed the tutorials. I managed to convince some friends to play along with me, and as we all ran around there were no issues. In the open towns where players were running about performance was stable, on average 170fps.
DDO is a pretty game, but if you're not fond of invisible walls this may not be the game for you. Sticking to the paths is a safe way to wander around the landscape, however if you have inclinations of wandering up the side of a mountain to see what is at the top, or if you're eager to forge your own path through the terrain you may find it a little lacking. Aesthetically the world is bright and colourful, and this is duplicated in the armor sets that you'll see players running around in. Where most games have a very specific way to differentiate between someone who is wearing rags and someone who is wearing high end gear, DDO seems to have a more subtle approach. Examining someone who was wearing plate at level 11 looked much the same as someone wearing plate at level 2. Shield graphics are one way to tell what is 'nicer' the something else, and weapons with particle effects (much like other MMOs). The world comes to life through the vibrant colors, and the landscape is rich with flora and fauna. Default settings had my graphics set pretty low, but boosting them up seemed to make no difference in performance. One feature I did turn off completely was the default bloom effect. This graphic setting seemed to have me walking around in a land that was constantly covered in a layer of fog and required some tweaking. I realize this is a personal preference and not so much of a game mechanic, but it was just frustrating.
Character customization is quite in depth - though not exactly from a graphic standpoint. My first character was a spell caster, cleric, the front of healing, their race? Elf. You do have quite a few colours you can choose for hair skin and eyes, and a few selections of hair styles, face, and eyes. You can further customize by adding a scar or other marking. You can make your character as complex or simple as you'd like, taking their pre-determined settings, or mixing and matching for a combination all your own.
The general sounds were quite nice, involving the players (things like crates being smashed open, the ground textures changing, battle, etc). One aspect about the sounds I did NOT like (which you can turn off) are the UI sounds. The little ping (you know what I'm talking about if you've played) that you receive every time you send or get a tell were slightly over the top.
The Dungeon Master voice over was met with a varied opinion for me personally. On one hand, it was nice to feel involved in the story and to have a DM explaining things as I went along. However, it also distracted me from the over all 'world' feeling you get from playing an MMO. Being able to submerge yourself in the story and feel a part of everything. None of the music really stood out, but that also gives you a chance to explore the lands and quests a lot more.
The UI is fairly minimalist, everything can be moved. The map is quite helpful and I was able to find my way around without having to download any add ons. There are multi coloured icons that show up as you wander around indicating where you've received quests, where you still have some to pick up, trainers, and other points of interest. Zone lines and dungeon instances are also clearly marked. The chat window is broken up into separate tabs as soon as you start the game so you don't have to fiddle around with it, a feature I enjoy.
If you're not familiar with D&D you may be confused by what certain statistics mean, or how they're displayed. The hotkeys may also confuse you, but they can all be changed under options to something you're more comfortable with. I found that since I've played multiple games, it took me quite a bit of time to be comfortable with the controls of the game. However, if I were a new player just picking up my first MMO and I took the time to read through everything, it would have been far easier. I think a lot of gamers like to just blow through the entry level things, and it's not quite as easy as that in DDO.
Keeping in mind that I write this from the perspective of someone who has never played the game until now, I found game play a little repetitive. The Korthos island did a fantastic job of explaining game mechanics, but not about explaining the points you receive, or the leveling (or lack there of) system. If you're familiar with D&D, none of these things really need an explanation, but for those who are completely new, it's a little befuddling. You learn how to climb up ladders and swim in the opening scene; you learn to use your search skill, and other helpful things. When you make your way from the beach to the mainland of the island, you're shown multiple quest lines that you can accept. Each one has a range of difficulty levels that you can select, and while there are no hirelings on this island, you are introduced to them as soon as you bypass this beginner area.
Your experience is gained through quest completion, and discovery which may seem a little off the 'regular' path as you do not gain anything from actually slaughtering encounters. Just about the entire game is instanced, aside from city areas. You spend a lot of time breaking open barrels and crates to get coin and potions, and there are treasure chests scattered around with gear.
Some of the more unique game play involves puzzles that you've got to solve within dungeons, traps to disarm, and some of the more intricate and fun parts of the original D&D game. These are the aspects that bring the game to life, and make it fun (and not just an endless grind). Whether or not these things have the staying power required in order to warrant paying the monthly fee, I'm not personally convinced. The game runs nice, and has great concepts and the huge nostalgia factor - but there's nothing that really stood out as making it unique from any other MMO out there, especially when there are games that are free to play that offer players the same things I found in this specific one. That's not to say the game is bad by any means, but that I personally could not see myself playing it as my main game of choice.
Granted, this is not including any of the end game content, perhaps the game changes drastically once you're high enough level to partake in raids and if this is so then I may be mistaken about the game. The journey is always the strongest focal point for me when I game, and I don't want to have to wait until end game in order to sink my teeth into the main content and be satisfied.
Community / Customer Service
This was the main aspect where the game lacked for me personally. It is a community that holds a game together, a player base where you can interact and talk to people. In the time I played I saw a small handful of other players, and received one spam message about guild recruitment, other then that, the game was quiet and almost devoid of life. I realize that the servers have been merged since the original release down to a much smaller population, but I missed the community interaction that came from other games. Thankfully, I managed to convince a friend to come play along with me so that I wouldn't be traveling through all of the dungeons alone but were it not for that friend I spoke with, I'd have adventured alone whether my LFG tag was up or not. Aside from the lack of community, the customer service was almost painful the first time I dealt with it. I logged in with no message about any server downtime scheduled only to be told 15 minutes later that the servers would be coming down in 30 seconds. 10 seconds after that I was dumped to desktop (as was everyone else). No character select, no other message, I was just pushed out of game. There was no notice about why servers were taken down, and no ETA about when they would be back up. I do not personally know if this is the 'norm' for the game, or if it was simply a bad week for me to be playing, but either way it left a bad first impression.
While it may seem that the majority of this re-review has been negative, I do not intend for it to come off as so. The game plays well, it's pretty, and there's certainly interesting things to do aside from the very basic hack and slash that comes along with the package. The customization is nice, and it certainly gives off that great feeling of nostalgia. There's just nothing specific that I could name as being unique to this particular MMO with so many others on the market, especially not for the monthly fee requested. If you're looking for a secondary game to pick up then I can see how DDO may appeal to you, the same can be said (as I've mentioned before) about the heavy nostalgia. When talking about games it's difficult some times to step out of our own personal boxes of likes and dislikes and look at things objectively. Just because I could not personally find a 'wow' factor for me does not mean that those who do play and enjoy the game won't find what they are looking for. Best bet? Give it a try for yourself if you have not yet with one of the free 10 day trials, and perhaps you'll find the game is for you after all.