Monday, June 27, 2011

Dungeons & Dragons Online - Still a strange duck after all these years

Going free-2-play was one of their better ideas
Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO) released way back in early 2006.  This was one of those games I was eagerly awaiting, having been a big pen-and-pencil Dungeons & Dragons player in my youth (I'm the GM, eat dragon suckers!).  I didn't really get to play D&D anymore, so this was going to be cool!  I eventually got into the beta for the game, and I think my feeling for what I experienced could be summed up as follows:

Wait . . . what?

It was not at all what I expected.  It was technically D&D, but didn't really feel like playing D&D, especially compared to other computer game versions that had come before it such as Neverwinter Nights.  I think I would have been happier with an MMO version of Neverwinter (and I guess Cryptic is hoping to fill that need).  The setting didn't exactly help either, as Eberron is a pretty atypical D&D campaign world and being confined to a single city (and it's sewers) really made the game feel small and confined.  Knowing that all I had to look forward to were bigger sewers with nastier monsters didn't exactly encourage me.  I'm not much of an explorer type, but I still like variety in the environments I play in, and the lack of big outdoor zones seemed insane.

However, DDO did introduce a lot of features the MMO genre in general was missing.  Things like ladders, and the ability to climb.  They also had puzzles and much more story-intensive "quests" than typical MMOs.  They even had voice narration!  The game was pretty atmospheric, and the lack of "kill x" quests was refreshing, so I dutifully bought the game at release despite my beta misgivings.

I think I lasted maybe a week or so before the incredibly slow and painful leveling process wore me out and I dropped the game entirely.  Having the run the same quest over and over and over for ever decreasing experience rewards completely counteracted all the advantages having that sort of content brought to the genre.

Fast forward a few years and Turbine announced DDO Unlimited, a free-to-play version using a "freemium" business model.  I decided to give it another try.  A lot of the issues I had with the original had been fixed, as xp rewards for completing adventure instances had been massively increased and there were a whole lot more of them to choose from.  Suddenly I could progress a character without grinding the same adventure over and over, and the game seemed more fun.

Unfortunately, the timing was bad.  I was knee deep in WoW at the time, playing with a group of friends.  I was also continuing to dabble in City of Heroes, my long time gaming mistress.  I just didn't have time for another MMO.  So DDO got left to gather dust again.

This past weekend I saw a +20% xp bonus and +1 loot roll bonus weekend for DDO.  I don't even know what the loot bonus meant, and +20% xp doesn't really sound like much (especially when Lord of the Rings Online was getting +50%), but the promotion reminded me that DDO still existed, so with a desire for something different I downloaded the client and dusted off my rusty old Favored Soul.  Well, not literally rusty of course.  His Full Plate +1 is nice and shiny still.

Sadly, I still can't get into the game.  I'm not sure why.  It's not like EVE Online, which was opaque and hard to get into until on my 3rd try the game finally clicked.  It's not that I play it and think "this game sucks, why am I here?"  I don't even play it and wish I was playing something else instead.  It just doesn't grab me.  And that's a shame, because DDO is still one of the few online fantasy MMOs to provide gameplay above and beyond the basic "kill x" or "collect y" quests.  If you want something truly different from WoW, give DDO a try.  Just be warned that unlike slipping into the well-worn comfortable groove of your basic quest MMO, DDO can take some getting used to.

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