Perhaps because the change to a free to play game is still new, the community of DDO seems to be in a state of upheaval, leaving a mixed impression. The rush of new players has shown a lot of faces within the DDO community. There are times that the community seems welcoming and inviting to the new blood, taking time to explain and answer questions. At other times, it is scathing and biting to new players, as if someone crudely scrawled on a poster board "F2Ps go home!" and stood at Korthos docks. There have been instances where the kind veterans have been insulted, instances where the kind newbie has been intentionally misled - a true immigration drama played out in an MMORPG.
I played on several different servers, from Cannith, which opened its doors just before Eberron Unlimited went live, to Thelanis, an "unofficial" role-play server, and even Khyber, which was invaded by the "bros" from 4chan. In every case, there was no way to easily put a label on the community. While most of the time, the community felt very helpful and willing to share and expand on their knowledge, there were more than a dismissible number of cases in which the community rejected new players as idiots incapable of appreciating "their" game.
It is likely that over time, the community will settle down, and free players and subscribers will learn to integrate better, with less bitterness on both sides of the fence. Until then, expect the community to be slightly unpredictable in its character.
Is It Really Free?
When Eberron Unlimited was released to the public in September, it opened up the floodgates to new players who were drawn in by the biggest selling point known to man: the word free.
To call DDO completely free to play is technically correct, in that all content can be accessed without paying any actual money to Turbine. The details are more tricky than that, however. Leveling up as a free player requires a sigil every fifth level, which can be obtained by chance through quests, or purchased at the DDO store. Actual free content - that does not require a DDO Store purchase - is limited to a moderate number of quests up to level 12, and VIP/purchased content starts coming into play at about level four, when characters begin venturing into the Stormreach Marketplace.
Players can earn points to spend in the DDO store by earning favor (reputation points, essentially, earned for doing quests), but at a very strained rate of 25 store points for 100 favor, players will find that to not spend a dime in the store requires an enormous amount of time spent repeatedly completing quests on multiple characters to "earn" the adventure packs that will let them advance further, get better gear, or play with friends.
While the better deal in terms of time versus money is clearly the VIP subscription, which is $14.99 monthly and unlocks access to all quests plus the Warforged race and the Monk class, many players are opting instead to pay as they go, purchasing adventure packs, races and classes on their terms. In the short term, this does cost the player more money, but the justification is simply that if they drop the subscription, they won't lose access to the content they want. Investment options aside, there are players in all three camps: fully free to play, free to play with store purchases, and VIP subscribers, who are clearly enjoying the content the way they choose to play it. That, perhaps, is the best part about the new business model for DDO - players can choose how much they want to pay for the content, rather than being forced into a single option. Even friends playing together have options, as VIP subscribers can buy guest passes to allow free players to join them in adventures.
The DDO Store does not just offer content to free players that subscribers already get, however. In addition to some cheap cosmetic items, there are some very powerful and useful items in the store, including experience potions, loot potions, and resurrection items. Although in other cases, I have seen communities cry that these types of items are unfair advantages to paying customers, the low accessible price of the items - and the lack of an "end-game rush" - make the fact that these items are offered less of a concern. Despite their low prices (usually under a dollar in terms of points), these items never come off as required either, as they generally only benefit a single player rather than the group, and the items that can benefit the group aren't going to save it from a poor composition. A player could even buy a full group of hirelings and solo through much of the content, but players are unconcerned that someone willing to spend that much money to solo an MMO is going to bother them in the slightest.
I won't hide the truth: I fell in love with DDO. The fact that it offered something different, that I could sucker friends into playing without them having to spend a dime to try it, and that the storytelling of the game felt so true to that of the pen and paper DDO lured me in quickly. It has thoughtfulness put into its mechanics and gameplay, and is friendly for casuals and alt-a-holics. More than anything, I was impressed with the enthusiasm of the team behind the game, who demonstrated more excitement about their own content than any game development team I've interacted with.
DDO is not a perfect game, and has room for improvement. The new player experience still needs to be smoothed out, and a less lobby-like feel to the game would be a fantastic change in the right direction. For what it is today, however, it is a great game, and deserves a try. Yes, even for those who once set it aside years ago on its initial launch.