Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO) is a popular MMORPG which recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. Based on the popular table top role-playing game of the same name, DDO combines free-to-play (F2P) and pay-to-play (P2P) content to deliver a rich world full of lore, vast dungeons and frequent new content updates. As someone who has revisited this MMO frequently since its Beta launch back in 2006, I wanted to take a closer look at how DDO really stacks up against the current competition—as both a F2P, and P2P, option.
A Quick F2P vs. P2P Rundown
After a few years of mediocre popularity, Turbine decided to throw DDO on the F2P bandwagon (albeit a freshly designed bandwagon). This decision was met by the divided opinions you’d expect from the current DDO community, and I venture to say quite a few players left over the sudden conversion. While P2P is still offered by way of a “VIP” monthly subscription—which also awards you Turbine Points, the currency of the DDO item mall—there is no question that the overall feel of the community changed following this major overhaul.
Having returned to DDO for lengthy visits twice since the P2P/F2P conversion, I noticed two major things: The predictable, but unfortunate, high volume of players who consider the F2P version a throw-away MMO, who care absolutely nothing about being a decent player or a pleasant group member. Plus the fact that the P2P community has become much more “Elite” minded, with some very unfortunate views on how the game must be played, by everyone, regardless of personal opinions. Of course, these two examples aren’t the case with every player I encountered, but 50% or more fit into one of these two categories.
The item mall is a bit pricy, but not to the point of being completely unreasonable to most players who were already willing to shell-out real life money for in-game items. One nice thing is that you can spend Turbine Points to unlock race options, classes, P2P-only dungeons and other features. Instead of farming favor, which basically means completing every quest on elite difficulty to unlock bonuses like the Drow race and Favored Soul class, you can simply purchase these additions in the item mall. Doing so spans all servers, whereas unlocking favor is limited to a specific server location, making the former option very handy for those of us who frequently server hop to game with a different group of friends. As I mentioned above, a VIP subscription gets you bonus Turbine Points—at a rate of 500 per month—so if you’re already paying roughly $15/mo, you might as well save of the points and buy yourself something shiny.
Character options, creation and customization.
DDO is based off the Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition set of rules. This version of the game offers more core classes and races, and arguably a simpler system than the 2nd edition game (though not as simplified as the 4.0 version). This template has provided a score of options for players, from the eight race options—though some are available only to P2P members, or after the feature is unlocked with the favor system—to the eleven races. Unlike many MMOs, where combinations are highly limited, and class features are little more than a talent tree you unlock with mild variation between each character, DDO gives the player complete control over customization. You can have up to three classes in a “multiclass” combination, provided there are no alignment restrictions; for example, Bards must be Chaotic, whereas a Paladin must be Lawful Good. You can purchase most feats, train in most skills either as class or cross-class, and even use weapons you aren’t proficient in if you don’t mind the penalty to your attack.
Unfortunately, DDO is one of the worst MMOs I have ever played for encountering players who want to tell you the optimal way to customize your character. These self-proclaimed experts, better known in the D&D community as “munchkins,” might know how to successfully min-max a character—but they do so with little creativity, and a disturbing lack of inspiration. One of the best features of DDO is that the D&D 3.x allows for players to abandon a cookie cutter mold and do whatever they want with their characters. Want to play a Bard who fights? Go for it. Think that a Wizard with a few levels of Paladin is a great idea? Sure, why not—it’s your time and potential money investment, play whatever makes you happiest. Just because you refuse to play what the munchkin community has deemed to be the “best” formula for a class doesn’t mean it’s not what you—the player—will enjoy the most, or that you can’t make it work.
Ultimately, that’s one of the basic tricks to enjoy DDO, whether you choose to play P2P or F2P: Enjoy your own character fully, and completely. Don’t roll a Cleric just because they get groups easily if you hate the class (trust me on this one). Don’t play a Rogue just because most of the high level instances require one. If you want to truly get the most out of this MMO, find a character combination which really suits your play style—and own it. Don’t let anyone tell you that your beloved Rogue requires a base Intelligence of 16, simply because they want you to have that oh-so-important +3 to your disable device and unlock skills. Likewise, don’t let friends, guild mates or random Pick-Up-Group (PUG) players lecture you that melee Rangers are useless, healing Bards are obsolete, and Wizards are superior to Sorcerers in all ways.
DDO allows the most vast character customization options of any MMO I have played at length, and I must admit I miss that flexibility when playing many other titles. Take full advantage of this feature, and while understanding the D&D-based system can help you in your choices, designing a character 100% of your own enjoyment—arguably the only opinion which matters—is a wholly enjoyable endeavor. It’s a bit risky in terms of getting groups, considering the Elite mindset of many players, but enjoyable none-the-less.
DDO: A Different Kind of MMO
Another feature which sets DDO apart is the utter lack of click-to-auto action features. You can turn on an auto attack mode, but it won’t operate special moves for you, such as Trip or Sunder. It also won’t move you into a tactical position, block for you, or allow you to protect allies without acting moving between a monster and the Cleric. You can’t auto follow someone, sticking to them throughout the instance; macros don’t exist, customizable or otherwise.
The DDO world is essentially without a real Player-vs.-Player system (PvP). Oh, you can go into a tavern with a PvP area, and go head-to-head against other players, but it’s an extremely small aspect of the game and not something most of the community takes very seriously. In fact, for the first several years after its release, DDO didn’t cater to the solo player any more than the PvP enthusiast. No doubt this is partly due to the underlining D&D theme, since traditional table top involves a group setting, and typically isn’t a player-vs.-player situation. This hasn’t seemed to be too much of a problem for players who were originally interested in DDO because of the D&D connection; for folks just wanting a new, fun game, that isn’t always the case. Fortunately, solo content is abundant now, and while certain classes are easier to play exclusively solo, you can manage it with literally any character.
The game relies heavily on instances, from sewers to sprawling dungeons, to outdoor areas like a jungle. If you are a solo style player, you may be encouraged to know that NPC minions are available, called “Hirelings.” These definitely come in handy, especially the Bards and Clerics, if you prefer to never group with a living person—and don’t mind a frequently frustrating tag-along. The game is very friendly towards groups, with a built-in voice chat, individual loot, a Looking-For-Group feature that the community actually uses, and a real dependency on a well balanced team of six. As an added bonus, quest dialog and storylines are actually fairly interesting in DDO, and while the monsters can occasionally be glitch—as with most MMOs—there is a great diversity in the species, and each really do require different techniques for pwning them.
Another feature that was shamefully neglected up until the latest module was the player crafting system. The new design is promising, even if it is essentially a time and money sink—like all player crafting systems, arguably. You basically take a magical item, such as a +2 Flaming Long Sword of Pure Good, and strip one of the magical components off while destroying the item. Alternatively, you can strip a magical piece of loot down to its bare quality—a Long Sword, in this case—and add the attributes you want in a weapon thanks to crafting slots. It takes a considerable amount of time—and loot—to level up in this new system, but it is leaps and bounds ahead of the former crafting option. The system is still in the Beta phase, however, so please note that it may change drastically over the next few patches.
DDO: In Conclusion
Dungeons & Dragons Online definitely offers a lot to both the casual and the hardcore players out there. Few MMOs can rival it in terms of customization, and that complete control over the spectrum of your characters’ proficiencies, abilities and talents is a refreshing change. The frequent updates introduce new monsters, zones and equipment into the game on a fairly regular schedule, so things don’t get too stale. If you’re looking for PvP or a stellar crafting system, you might want to look elsewhere; if you happen to be looking for a quality game perfect for a group of friends—or anyone bold enough to indulge in PUGs—then this one might be well worth your time to download. Considering the F2P offers a nice selection of options, you don’t have to invest a cent to give this one a try, and you don’t have to be a D&D player or rules expert to succeed (though it does help), there really isn’t anything to lose. And if you’ve tried this one out before, it might be time to take a second look—I’m certainly glad I did.