In order to fill the need for “something new“, I finally decided to take a serious look at Dungeons & Dragons Online. I have a good history with Turbine, and though I tried the original version before it went Free To Play, and found it rather lacking, I had heard a lot of great things about the “reborn DDO”. Considering the very low entry cost (i.e. nothing), and that I’ve gotten used to not paying subscription fees, I figured it was a good match.
Good call. Very good call.
I’m not entirely clear, yet, what Turbine did to make this game so much more appealing to me. Maybe nothing; maybe my tastes or playstyle have changed, or maybe I matured in some way. Maybe it’s the change to the price – free – though I have already purchased some Turbine Points for use in the cash shop. Whatever the change, my experience this time was far, far different and has made me a believer.
I managed to get a Ranger up to level 3 in short order, and I haven’t even left Korthos Island yet (I’m a sucker for completing tasks, such as the extermination “quest” in the explorable parts of Korthos). I knocked out all of the dungeons up to the Hard level in good time, and am really just hanging around for two reasons: one, the aforementioned kill quest (750 kills takes surprisingly little time in DDO…), and two, I want to actually group with some people. So I thought I would try the Elite levels of the dungeons.
A quick breakdown of what I’ve enjoyed so far:
- Solo Friendly – Obviously this game is not meant to be played solo. But, I have fewer hours to devote to playing, so just having the option to run some content solo is a huge plus in my mind. Even better, when I eventually do get into a group, I can experience the content in a different way, with different rewards.
- Active Combat – I can honestly say that I’ve rarely used any of my “triggered” skills, and relied almost entirely on strategically attacking mobs; starting with the bow, and finishing them with melee weapons. I realize that I’m probably putting myself at a disadvantage, and missing a part of the combat mechanics entirely. But the skills just don’t seem necessary yet. At least, not in the way that they are in a traditional system such as LotRO. I have no doubt that I will start to use them to a greater degree, but so far I’m having a blast just fighting in a much more active, engaging way than most anything I’ve played.
- Visuals – The game is very pretty, and I’ve only seen one small area with pretty much one theme – jungle ruins/village. Turbine has worked their magic again, and created a visually stunning world that doesn’t tax the players’ system or require crazy investments in hardware (I’m looking at you Funcom – still after all these years).
- Cost – It’s hard to get better than free. But the cost I’m referring to isn’t the lack of subscription. It’s the balance that Turbine found for their cash shop. I’ve dabbled in a good number of Free To Play titles, and have always been turned off at about the point where the developer starts leaning on the players for money. Inevitably, and justifiably, there is a point at which the devs would like to make a profit; unfortunately for everyone, the standard FTP model dictates that you charge for something that is, more or less, necessary in order for players to have fun. Sure, I could get by in a lot of FTP games without spending a dime, but would I be having fun? Not really. With DDO, Turbine has provided a good number of options for players to advance and earn and achieve, and only some of them require money. They also found the right types of items for the cash shop – convenience items and adventure packs. If you want to spend the time, you can play, and even earn perks from the cash shop, simply playing the game and never spending a cent. Or you can purchase some items that speed up your leveling or provide other conveniences, getting you to where you want to be a bit faster. Or you can subscribe. And on top of that, they sell chunks of content, completely optional content, at reasonable prices. It’s pretty near the perfect balance.
- Story! – This is where this post fits into the “More Drama” category. DDO has a lot going for it in terms of story, and engaging the player in that story. Now, maybe it’s just because I’ve been hungry for something more, and a starving man isn’t discriminating. But I couldn’t say I’ve been starving for story. And the Dungeon Master system is a great mechanic for conveying story and moving players along. There are similar prompts in LotRO when moving through instanced areas or quests, but the voice-overs in DDO really add a lot. Turbine hit it out of the park in capturing the essence of PnP gaming.
Will Dungeons & Dragons Online become my primary game? No. Will it become a part of my regular gaming activities? Absolutely yes.
Right now I’m having the most fun I’ve ever had in LotRO, and that’s saying a lot. I’ve enjoyed LotRO since it launched. But DDO is definitely something I will continue to play; if I didn’t have class on Wednesday nights, I’d be sure to join in the Massively guild and their weekly play sessions (‘ll probably try to join anyway and find the time to log in Wednesday nights).
I think Turbine has something really special with DDO; they’ve got the Dungeons and Dragons feel captured fairly well, and they kept enough of the standard MMO mechanics intact to make the learning curve pretty shallow for players. But at the same time, with the combat system, the adventure packs, and the host of other things I’ve yet to discover, I think they’ve deviated from the standard gameplay cliches just enough, and in just the right places, to really make it a lot of fun.