I’ve taken to dabbling in MMOs a fair amount, and recently I convinced myself to try Dungeons & Dragons Online again. (Anyone that played DDO at launch as I did is likely at this moment crying “Don’t to it; it’s a traaaaaaap!!”) My memories of the game were a bit fuzzy, but I did recall quitting a game about D&D after a week, so it must have been pretty awful. However, DDO has moved to a free-to-play business model, and so I figured I’d give it another whirl.

What I found, to my extreme astonishment, was that the game was really good. The game is fun, innovative, and has some breathtaking visuals. The stories are classic D&D adventures, complete with a voice-acted GM that manages to walk the fine line between cheesy and nerd-epic. Even done in silly “ceiling voice” style snippets, the added atmosphere of having smell, feel, and even taste described add a great deal to the immersion.

The greatest thing about DDO is how different it is from the standard MMO model of questing. There’s no “Go here, kill X” quests. Monsters don’t even award XP. The game actually encourages you to find clever ways of avoiding combat. Stealth is a fantastic skill, not only letting you bypass monsters, but also set up ambushes, sneak up on sleeping guards (so you can crit for MASSIVE DAMAGE), or even kill sentries before they can sound an alarm.

The quest model is very different as well. Most of them are in their own dungeon, and while you may have to kill monsters to get to the end, that is rarely a goal. Disarming traps (hopefully before you walk into them), finding secret rooms, and solving puzzles will all be of much greater benefit than hacking your way through monsters. In fact, there are quests where killing monsters will actually cause you to fail. For one quest in particular, you need to sneak into a Kobold lair without being detected, steal an artifact from them, and sneak back out. In the course of this adventure, I discovered another fairly unique aspect to this MMO: things occasionally make sense. I kept getting detected, and then a Kobold would sound the alarm and I would fail. This was because I was operating under the assumption that monsters see you and aggro on you in a radial manner, and thus attempting to open doors and whatnot when they were far away. This proved incorrect: in DDO, monsters see you when they are looking at you.

In fact, operating under “standard” MMO practices is just about the worst thing you can do in DDO. In another dungeon, we encountered a lake of acid with some pipes sticking out of it. I played the jumping game for a bit, but then decided to just make a run for it, thinking “I’ll only be in there for a second, maybe two. How much damage can I really take.” The answer, as my very dead character would soon illustrate, was all of the damages. You jumped into a lake of acid you idiot. You don’t take 10 damage/second, you just die.

And then there’s the scope of it all. WoW’s storyline is really starting to wear thin for me. There’s a big bad guy, he’s going to unmake existence, and every aspect of your quest is in some way tied to him. DDO explores the idea that there might be multiple antagonists. And they may have different and sometimes conflicting goals, not all of which are to destroy the world. And they may range in evil from “kind of a dick” to “prefers his babies roasted”.

Furthermore, the scope is very preferable. I like my dragons giant and terrifying the defeat of which is a heroic undertaking no matter how many boars you’ve killed, not an entire page in my “Mounts” tab. Characters in DDO still feel heroic, a cut above the other people, but they’re still people. And the monsters hold their danger for a much longer time. The first few levels are not so much concerned with throwing a vast array of increasingly overwhelming monsters at you, but instead giving you more Kobolds to deal with. Maybe with a shaman in the back who will throw magic at you face but you can’t get to the asshole because there’s a mob of Kobolds in the way and monsters are actually solid objects. The point being, quantity and synergy are just as important as quality. Also dragons are motherfuckin’ terrifying.

Now, of course, I have to talk about the faults. The biggest one is balance. There is none. None at all. I would never recommend playing this if you want to raid, get leet epics, pwn n00bs, or anything like that. Races, classes, abilities, and even alignments are horribly unbalanced. Fire elements that are totally immune to fire, trolls that can only be killed with fire or acid, all the classic hard-counters are there. Heck, you miss out on a ton of loot and XP if you don’t have a rogue in the party.

Bugs are a close second. I’ve never had a session where nothing went wrong. Usually it’s a tooltip error or your character getting stuck in place, but sometimes it’s a Kobold shaman wall climbing out of reach and raining down acid on your head while you desperately search your inventory for a ranged weapon.

And of course it’s free-to-play, which means there’s tons of stuff to buy. I’ve been playing with a group of friends (which really is the only way to play in my opinion), and we’ve hardly noticed the purchasable content because there’s so much enjoyable stuff to do that you don’t have to pay for. It is there though, and if you’re the type of person that feels compelled to complete every quest in a zone, have the biggest bank space, or have the optimal character, this may be a problem for you.

Despite the above flaws, I still highly recommend the game. Anyone who appreciates role-playing, storyline, and adventure as much as phat lewtz and XP should fine this a very welcoming game. Even on the character optimization boards, there are dozens of posts by someone wanting to build a character a certain sub-optimal way because of RP. And you know what? They are never ridiculed. The same people that hotly debate between each other which feat gives a slightly larger fraction of a DPS increase will offer suggestions for the best way to make the character idea viable, even suggesting slight tweaks to the RP idea that would make the character much easier to play.

So yeah. If you’re looking for a new game, or just want to hang out with your internet buddies in a different setting, check out DDO.


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