Monday, July 17, 2006

DDO: Mega Review

The ancestry of nearly all fantasy computer role-playing games can be traced back to the dice-rolling classic, Dungeons & Dragons. The genius of Gygax and Arneson ate the infinite mysteries of magical fantasy created by authors like Tolkein and shit them out as a set of rules that you can argue with others about, over empty beer bottles until four in the morning. Even most fantasy RPGs now follow the basic D&D mathematical principle of: killing things = cool stuff + level up as opposed to an overshadowing of ancient good and evil.

In the extraordinary world of computer games however, just because you were the first at it, doesn't necessarily mean you're going to be the best at it. Indeed games like the D&D Baldur's Gate saga were the most superior of their time, but we have thousands of people still on Battlenet still playing Diablo long after the Gate has been laid to rest. The Dungeon Siege and Elder Scrolls franchises are encroaching into D&D's territory and in the Autumn, Neverwinter Nights 2 will have some battle to wrest the RPG crown from Oblivion.

But now to the matter in hand: How good or bad is Dungeon and Dragons Online: Stormreach? Set in the relatively new campaign world of Eberron, where you may be surprised to see steam and valves everywhere, in a D&D setting, D&D's first MMORPG is simply splendid, in my opinion. I had never delved into the foray of any MMO before. Only Star Wars: Galaxies held my interest when it was released, and because you couldn't be a Jedi (well you couldn't back then), I snubbed it. When Mark "insisted" I join him online, I didn't really hesitate, it was something I wanted to try and since I was more than familiar with the game mechanics of D&D there was no downside...

Picture: (left) Karadon the paladin, (crouched) Zendrak the rogue, (right) Alro the cleric.

I would have to say that DDO captures some of the spirit of the PnP game, in so far as you need to be in a group in order to play, you can't really go it alone- I thought that that aspect was pretty fuckin' obvious myself: what's the point of playing online connected with 1000's of others to a server if you have a pressing need to want to go off and adventure by yourself? Some people demanded solo-play though; you just can't please everyone! It also lacks player-versus-player for the moment, which was a big plus for me to be coaxed into the game. PvP is against the spirit of D&D which is based on co-operative groups of adventurers.

I've read that "no game, including Neverwinter Nights, comes as close to feeling like an actual old-school D&D module running on your computer screen. (At least the combat portion of it. The role-playing is up to the players)". Naturally however, there have been some tweaking to the rules as those who know the rules of D&D know that it would be an almost impossible task to port every single aspect of D&D into a computer game, and make it work. In particular, healing is faster and spell-casting less restrictive but the general feel and the setting make you look around for your dice bag and the dungeons play like an actual adventure with real plot twists.

Graphically, the game was good enough, nowhere near the standard of something like Oblivion, but it could be tailored to almost any system that wanted to play it through a large array of options. In the beginning there were quite a few server issues which resulted in a number of days where you couldn't even get on to the servers, but they seem to have all but disappeared now. The distributors reimbursed you for your time out too, which was very nice of them.

Two things I would have liked to have had in the game were a more epic storyline and kill-based XP. I think that your adventures in Stormreach should have had an epic tale of good triumphing over evil or a quest to recover some epic device which you would need for higher levels. I know that by it's very nature, the game would have to give every player the same storyline, but I'm not a developer, I'm just telling you what I'd have liked and I'd have liked something to say why I was in Stormreach, risking life and limb with all these crazy characters, surely the motivation wasn't as shallow as gettin' loot and levellin' up after a bloodbath? Also, and I'm not just saying I want experience based on kills because out of everyone in my party I always got the most kills. In PnP experience was given to you and anyone who was with you when you made the kill. I think it made more sense that way, but that's just me. You could have got something then for random encounters on your way to a quest-giver in all those areas where you had to do that, but you got nothing for all the creatures slain along the way. Bad form.

While unfortunately only due to time constraints as opposed to the game itself, I won't have the time too see it through to the end, not that there's much of an end of it in sight with modules being added to the game faster than they can be completed, I'm glad that it was DDO (and not the misfire of Guild Wars or something) was my first (and most likely only) venture into the world of MMOs. It was a worthwhile experiment and one I was glad to undertake. I can't say: "I've never done that". It was a funny experience leaving the game finally. I went into an inn and proceeded to give all my gear to a paladin, an avatar of a UK player whom I never met before. Once I told her I was Irish, she asked me if I had been out earlier and if I was sure I wanted to do this? She remarked that she now understands what winning the lotto feels like.

So if you want that old-school D&D experience in its purest form, pull out the books and start rolling dice. But for folks no longer in an actual school, running a D&D game can take more time than is practical. DDO is a fun way to capture some of the feel of all-night, beer & pizza-fueled dungeon crawl without having to do as much of the work up front. It's doubtful it will do next-to-near the business of World of Warcraft, but that's because it takes a special breed of person to enjoy this game, people that are few and far between; good, helpful and friendly people- people who don't think that they're forced to be good or neutral aligned characters (even though you are), they're glad to be. It's for people who will take their time and not rush through the dungeon to get the final treasure and more XP; well you can, but not doing so will be a more rewarding, satisfying experience. It was for me.

1 comment:

Lieutenant General Creedon said...

There you have it folks, a different viewpoint. Always allowed here unless you're a Communist, sprout lefty propaganda or worse: French.

I can say for sure that among level 4/5 there was no drought of recruiting or loking for groups. When I recruited for the final mission I did with you and Zendrak, I filled the three empty places in 39 seconds, and filled them again in less than 5 minutes when two players ran off.
My final evening on DDO, where all I wanted to do was get rid of my gear and quit, I recieved no less than 8 invites in the space of 45mins.
Perhaps the drought is more evident at the higher levels due to the introduction of the Dragon quest which seems to be based on guild dynamics?

I'm not sure what you're laughing at in reference to the modules? Did you get to complete the Dragon Quest and everything from the Vault of Night module?