September 28, 2009

New Player Thoughts on DDO: Eberron Unlimited

When Dungeons and Dragons Online was first released, I was displeased with Turbine’s approach to the game. I wanted an MMOG that recreated the D&D tabletop experience, with real Dungeon Masters and the freedom experienced at the tabletop. I still want that in a MMO D&D “game”. However, Turbine created an MMOG in the D&D Eberron campaign setting with standard MMOG practices (a subscription, faction grinding, etc.). I blinded myself to the unique game that DDO was (and still is). I’ve found myself having to come back and re-evaluate this game, because suddenly I’m finding myself enjoying it (mostly because I’m not paying for it).

I don’t love everything about the game and some of my original gripes are still valid. The DM voice-overs are still distracting and uncomfortable: so much that is said, is already or could be shown. When I walk into a dungeon and see an untouched, rusty lever, I do not need a voice-over to tell me that it “cranks and grinds” when I pull it (especially with the sound effects already going off).

Secondly, the combat still makes my wrists hurt. There is a lot of clicking and button management to operate any character successfully. Every attack or block is a click, all while managing character movement. I am not sure why this is such an issue for me in DDO. I play The Chronicles of Spellborn, with a similar click-to-attack system, without issue. I play tons of FPS games, which are always frantic. My only guess is the way DDO clumps the combat encounters together, forcing a lot of clicking in a small time period. Also, a lack of any sort of “round” timer means a lot of extra clicking is done for nothing. Also, Turbine strings the dungeon sections together with a thousand destructible containers.

Third, character creation is still ripe for confusion and mistakes, but I believe this is a problem with the underlying D&D structure. Character creation has always been a source for trouble and has been ever since I picked up my AD&D 2E books over a decade ago. D&D’s character structure doesn’t fit well into video game form, even more so when MMO is thrown into the picture. Turbine has paired the system down and changed enough to make it work. It’s not great, but it’s functional. Players should not be surprised when their first character winds up as a failed experiment unless it’s well planned out with advice from veteran players.

Another gripe I had was my lack of faith that Turbine could create new content fast enough for the game. At launch, content was limited and the leveling was capped at 10. D&D has never been strictly about leveling, so this gave Turbine room to grow the game. However, early reports showed that only a minority of content was needed to reach level 10, with the leftover content completely worthless to level 10 players.

It is a different story now that DDO has been out long enough for Turbine to release several updates. New free-to-play players have a plethora of content available to purchase and unlock. It’s refreshing to think that spending money on DDO will directly result in a quantifiable experience in game. A player buys Adventure Pack A and plays Adventure Pack A. I never thought I would like it, but as I’ve transitioned to a free-to-play fan, I’ve found it to be a model that makes complete sense.

The decision to spend money, which I have not yet done, is made even easier by how enjoyable the dungeons and areas can be within DDO. The areas do not change from one visit to the next and one visit to a spoiler website can ruin the entire experience, but when approached for the first time with no insider knowledge, the dungeons are absolutely the best in any MMOG I’ve played. This may become a hindrance at higher levels when content MUST be repeated to progress forward, but on the journey to level 20 that most free-to-play players are currently on, it keeps them coming back and wanting to progress. That leads them to spend money and unlock parts of the game they want.

That is important. Turbine needs to make money, especially now that the game is free-to-play. Eventually, the new wave of players is going to chew up what is available. Turbine has already delayed some high end development to focus on the shift to a free-to-play model, so they are behind the curve. If they can keep on top of content and give players a reason to progress, the new business model is golden.

My overall conclusion about DDO is about the same as it originally was. DDO is a great dungeon crawler, but with a sometimes cumbersome combat system and an underlying structure that doesn’t fit well into a video game. The problem of content has been solved and I’m not as angry that Turbine didn’t make the game I wanted. DDO:EU is worth checking out and now that it costs nothing to do so, I’m a much happier gamer to oblige Turbine the chance to sell me something.

5 comments:

Scott said...

The thing *everyone* who dismissed DDO says is "this isn't D&D" or "this isn't the game I wanted them to make." But what is? What IS D&D exactly? WotC makes the final call on DDO stuff, so isn't DDO therefore official D&D? Alternate rules for a videogame, but official nonetheless?

No one has *ever* bothered to explain exactly what their "ideal D&D MMO" would be either. I suspect if someone, anyone, cranked out a generic fantasy DikuMMO and plastered the D&D logo on the front all the fanboys would be all over it like the Second Coming despite not using any actual D&D rules. Just use the D&D names for spells, monsters, cities (naturally all the fanboys only want Forgotten Realms) and NPCs and that's all they'd want. Otherwise same broken Diku bullshit that isn't D&D but they'd gladly overlook that, I'll bet my bottom dollar on it.

I don't think having live DMs running around creating little adventures is realistic either. If anyone could pull off the tech, the monthly fee would be outrageous to actually pay for all the DMs.

Also you have to ask yourself if a DM+Group is worthwhile having an MMO over when you're really just playing a multiplayer game? All the other players are just "out there" doing their little groups (which is true in every MMO these days anyway) so why this "need" to pay $15/month when we could probably get a superior experience in a non-MMO environment?

I think DDO is just fine as a D&D game. It may not be the way I played but, but the way I played probably isn't the way you played, or my downstairs neighbor played, or... Get my point? D&D (and all tabletop RPGs) gave us the books and we got to pick and choose how we actually played them. With a videogame, the developer is the DM and we all have to play by their rulesets.

I tend to look at DDO much how I treated going to those RPGA conventions way back in the day. Sometimes they'd let you bring in your own character instead of their pre-written ones for that adventure. The adventure had set goals and a time limit, you did it, and moved on to the next. Sometimes that same DM was back the next time, running that same adventure that I could take my character and repeat, or just skip it for something new. That's pretty much how DDO has always seemed, too, for me.

heartlessgamer said...

I don't know about you, but Neverwinter Nights 1 from Bioware was pretty damn close to what I'm thinking of as D&D MMO. NWN2 was mediocre and changed everything that didn't need to be changed instead of changing what needed changing, but NWN2 was shoveled off on Obsidian who have a history of mediocrity.

Give me NWN1 with better graphics, less loading screens, a connected player hub, and a fully featured and functional DM tool, and I'm in heaven. All without a subscription please and without paid DMs.

I think you are stuck in the Diku model. You immediately assigned a monthly sub and paid DMs (ala game masters of UO, other games). Neither is needed and NWN1 was so close to being perfect.

Scott said...

By the time I got around to even thinking about NWN I was already on a multicore CPU and the demo won't run on it. And I don't think I'd be able to tolerate that overhead view thing either. The Diablo/Sacred games get on my nerves because of that.

I say Diku because MMO devs don't seem to be able or willing to drop Diku. Then again, D&D rules don't translate into anything we'd be willing to play as a videogame. At least the 2e AD&D won't, I haven't played tabletop since the early 90's -- but from what I've read of 4e that doesn't seem like my idea of D&D either.

Anonymous said...

Good thoughts, you can set it to auto attack or just hold the mouse button to swing your weapon without continuous clicking.

I had some points given to me for being a beta tester, used those to buy a few adventure areas as well:P

Im playing the whirling dervish template from that forum post you linked.

heartlessgamer said...

@Anon

Thanks. I'll give auto attack a go as I wasn't aware we had that option anywhere.

Glad to see the newbie templates helping others!