DDO: The Forgotten MMO

In our quest to revisit all those MMO's that we've already played, we're giving Dungeons & Dragons Online another chance to make us smile, like it did when it was young.

Many triple-A MMOs are released to great fanfare, with everyone wondering if they'll be the next big thing. However, some of these games fade into obscurity and a few months after launch become somewhat forgotten. Dungeons & Dragons Online is one such MMO, but does it deserve to be getting so little attention these days? I was one of DDO's early adopters but left after The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion came out, mainly due to the games' similarities. After coming across my old game box, I decided it was time to give DDO a second chance.

For the uninitiated, Turbine threw away the MMO rulebook when creating DDO and as a result it plays very differently than its competitors. While towns are open to all, most of the game's PvE content is in the form of instances which only you and the other members of your group can enter. Most of these take the form of dungeons, although there are a smaller number of large, outdoor areas thrown into the mix. This isn't what most players are used to, but what it allowed the developers to do was to make DDO feel like an actual D&D dungeon-crawl, rather than just another MMO. As a result, dungeons are carefully-crafted adventures in their own right, containing a surprising amount of variety.

Another benefit to DDO's use of instances is that gameplay elements can be included which simply wouldn't work in other MMOs. Dungeons are often littered with traps, which must either be avoided or disarmed in order for characters to pass safely. There's often a risk / reward element to these, as the areas protected by some traps are optional, but contain rewards for those willing to brave them. The game also makes use of puzzles, which aren't limited to just finding the right switch to open a door. Instead, puzzles can take the form of everything from working out how to bypass a trap, to providing power to a nearby object in a similar way to Bioshock's hacking sequences, as seen in the screenshot below. Secret and hidden passages also make frequent appearances in DDO, as do treasure chests containing meaningful loot, rather than the rubbish found in some other MMOs. Finally, DDO makes use of gameplay elements more commonly used in platform or Tomb Raider-style games, rather than MMOs. Boxes and walls can be climbed, as can ladders, with some areas only accessible to characters with a high Jump skill. All these elements combine to make you feel like you're playing something straight out of D&D, with your Dungeon Master chipping in from time to time in the form of a narrator.


Puzzles like this block the way in some dungeons.

The first thing I noticed as a player returning to Dungeons & Dragons Online was the improved character creator. This has been streamlined to make it friendlier to new players, as it breaks the classes down into categories and helps to give a better description of each class's role than it did before. Not only that, but pre-built starting characters are now available for selection, meaning new players don't need to go through a lengthy process of skill and stat distribution before entering the game. It's still possible to build your character manually - you just don't have to. Another nice touch is that each class's soloing ability is listed at character creation, meaning players can choose the one best suited to their play style. Since I played a Rogue before - a notoriously difficult class to solo with - I decided to go with a Paladin this time around.

After leaving character creation, I was surprised to see that the old newbie zone - a run-down part of Stormreach - had been ditched in favour of an area called Korthos Island. This helps to provide new players with a wider variety of content than was previously available, as the old newbie zone didn't have any outdoor instances to explore. The final dungeon in this area also contains a battle with a dragon; a type of mob which, if I remember correctly, wasn't in the game at all when it launched. There's a greater feeling of progression in Korthos Island than there was in the old newbie zone and everything just feels more important, leading to a greater sense of achievement for anyone who finishes its quests. The rewards given here have also been beefed up, resulting in your character being offered a host of magic items by the time it leaves the island.


You don't fight the dragon directly, but you're responsible for eliminating it as a threat.

There are two other changes that people returning to DDO's low levels will notice, the first of which is the inclusion of the "solo" difficulty setting on dungeons. One of DDO's problems after launch was its reliance on group play - many classes simply couldn't solo at all, so if you couldn't get a group you couldn't really play the game. This problem is now largely done away with, thanks both to this new difficulty setting, and the addition of Hirelings. These are NPCs that can be hired to accompany you and your party to dungeons and other areas, filling any roles that you may be missing in your group. For example, a melee-heavy group could take on extra spell casters, or more vulnerable characters could hire Paladins and Fighters to help protect them.

Overall, the changes that have been made to DDO make it easier to get into and less reliant on groups. However, that's not to say the game is still without its problems. For example, drops from destructible items such as crates and urns sometimes spawn inside walls, making them impossible to pick up. I also found the game's early instances to be too easy on "solo" difficulty, with my character completing most of them with barely a scratch. Maybe this was due to me using a solo-friendly class, but the issue still stands.

The game's "solo" difficulty setting also comes with problems of its own as the game was designed from the ground up to be played in a group. Traps are difficult to avoid unless you have a Rogue in your party, and certain doors can't be opened unless you have a character with a stat above a certain level. In other words, solo players will find parts of each dungeon blocked off and inaccessible to them, which can be frustrating if you know there's a treasure chest inside. Even a Rogue Hireling won't help too much, as they can't disarm traps, which is half the reason people want them in their groups in the first place.

Despite the server merge that took place in 2007, the servers also feel somewhat empty, at least in Europe. This results in it being hard to find a group unless you're playing at peak times, and even then the group might not want to complete the same quests as you. The fact that the newbie area's cut off from the rest of the game (and you can't leave until you've finished its quests) means it's difficult for new players to ask more experienced players for help. New players are likely to have questions as well, as certain elements of the game aren't explained in the tutorial. Item damage doesn't seem to be mentioned and unless you have an extensive knowledge of D&D, you won't realise that certain types of enemies cause serious damage to any weapons that are used against them. The first you'll know about this issue is when your weapon's about to break, leaving you with a hefty repair bill.


It's possible to solo in DDO, but you'll have more fun in a group.

It can also be difficult to know the effects of some of the items in-game, such as those used to cast certain spells. The name of the spell might appear on the item, but a description of the spell does not. Some spell names are far from intuitive, making it hard to identify which items could be of use to you, and which deserve to be sold. Not only that, but it can be difficult to figure out which items will benefit your character when equipped. For example, if you have two items giving +1 to strength, you'll find that these bonuses don't stack. However, nothing exists to inform you of this, so unless you're armed with this knowledge ahead of time you could find yourself choosing quest rewards of no use to your character.

DDO has are a few other issues too - the closure of the previous newbie zone is handled rather inelegantly (with the NPCs on the door giving you the equivalent of "these are not the droids you are looking for") and areas behind secret doors are shown on your map inside dungeons, taking the guesswork out of finding them. However, the main problem with DDO has been mentioned above, and that problem is grouping. While it's possible to solo in Dungeons & Dragons Online, the game's not really designed for it. Playing on your own simply isn't as much fun as joining a group, and unless you play at peak times you could be soloing more often than not, due to the lack of players online.

In the end, DDO's a better game than it used to be, and the increase of the level cap in its next major patch should increase the number of people playing. If you plan on giving the game a go, I'd recommend getting your friends to do the same. If you can all play together on a regular basis - much like a real session of D&D - then you'll probably enjoy DDO. However, if you can't get a group on a regular basis that's doing quests you actually need, it won't be anywhere near as enjoyable. Unfortunately, DDO's in something of a vicious cycle - a lack of groups means people stop playing, while fewer people playing means there aren't as many groups. Hirelings and the solo difficulty level are more like band-aids rather than solutions to the problem itself, and I'm not sure what else Turbine can do to improve matters. However, if you can find regular groups, then Dungeons & Dragons Online is better than many people give it credit for. I wish Turbine luck in attracting more players to DDO, as it deserves more success than it has enjoyed so far. In fact, let me do my bit to help right here:

North American Trial

European Trial

 SAM "azerian" Maxted
Editor
ZAM.com

Comments

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DDO advice
# May 27 2009 at 11:48 AM Rating: Decent
1 post
A couple of things I would say to anyone interested in giving this game a try.

1st up try the trial 1st. The game is quite complex and because of this it wont be for everyone. The trial version will give you 10 days full access to the game so you will be able to get a good idea of wether this will be a game you would enjoy before you pay for it.

2nd if your going to join the EU servers it would be worth your while logging into Devourer and looking up a guild called the new blood. They specialise in helping new players get started in the game and will be more than happy to give you any help or advice needed to get yourself started.

3rd and last dont be afraid to let people know your new in game. The best thing about this game is its comunity. The players as a whole will normally bend over backwards to help new players as long as they know you are new.

If anyone does have any questions they would like to ask feel free to send me a pm and I'll answer as best I can.

Rhob


DO bother
# May 27 2009 at 11:13 AM Rating: Decent
1 post
.. just bear in mind grouping will probably be easier after Mod9 when a vast number of players return :)
EDIT: although just logged on and server looks busy enough to me :D

- because that's the thing, an awful lot of folks are drawn back to the game because they like the dungeon instances and love the real-time active combat, not to mention the mature and helpful community.

As per your other recent article:
http://www.zam.com/story.html?story=18116

Mod9 is being held up due to "other 'forces' at work" and I can only hope it's good news and they give the players the overdue content soon.





Edited, May 27th 2009 4:41pm by VincentEB
More info...
# May 27 2009 at 9:59 AM Rating: Decent
5 posts
Thanks ZAM for this article :). I find it very good and accurate at most points, but not at all of them. Let me explain.

1. I don't have any trouble finding groups to play with or players to fill my groups. Sometimes - yes, but it's not so often. Maybe it's more often now, because people are very frustrated about "mysterious" delay of Module 9 (Turbine is already working on Module 10 - so probably some legal issues to solve). So this frustration certainly led ti it that many people play less often. But just look what happens after Mod 9 ;)...

2. There's no rogues as hirelings to date, to prevent players taking "disarm traps robot" instead of real rogue player :).

3. Almost every quest is possible to be done solo with just a hireling. Not raids. You got it almost straight, I just wanted to clarify what you meant. I think that having some rare optionals left because you played solo is fair, because it encourages group play - and it's worth it.

Also, I'm happy to say that most of the issues you've found against DDO will be solved in Mod 9 :). Like advice, feedback, etc. Check it here:

http://compendium.ddo.com/wiki/Release_Notes_Lamannia_Update_9.0_Official

Having said that, I think it's one of the best "early game" reviews of DDO I've seen to date - if not the best :). I think we all DDO players would be thankful if you re-visited DDO after Mod 9 comes out. It may be a huge change for better, especially for a new player.
More info...
# May 27 2009 at 10:39 AM Rating: Decent
2 posts
Quote:
Thanks ZAM for this article :). I find it very good and accurate at most points, but not at all of them. Let me explain.

1. I don't have any trouble finding groups to play with or players to fill my groups. Sometimes - yes, but it's not so often. Maybe it's more often now, because people are very frustrated about "mysterious" delay of Module 9 (Turbine is already working on Module 10 - so probably some legal issues to solve). So this frustration certainly led ti it that many people play less often. But just look what happens after Mod 9 ;)...


Really, no problems finding groups? The most common complaint about DDO since the game started is the forced grouping and lack of being able to find groups. A simple forum check can see this issue talked about countless times. I've played DDO off and on since it's release and it has always been a major issue.

You probably think that since the article mentions this it will deter new players from trying the game out. A valid concern no doubt. However, a new player coming in with a trial will find this out fairly quickly anyway and will /cancel

With my "return" with a 9 wiz, 9 cleric, 5 ranger. In the span of 5 days I've had a total of 1 group. On average I wait for 2 hours to find a group and my play times vary from "peak" to mid-day play depending on my work schedule.(Argonnessen) A cleric that can't find a group /shiver

Quote:
2. Almost every quest is possible to be done solo with just a hireling. Not raids.


That is just flat out untrue. A new player that does not pick a fighter/tank type class will not come anywhere near being able to solo most quests with a hireling.

Re-visit after mod 9 comes out -- DDO will be lucky if they have 1 server populated by the time Mod 9 is released.

Don't bother
# May 27 2009 at 9:44 AM Rating: Decent
2 posts
One thing is for sure -- DDO is forgotten, as well it should be.

I recently signed back up on a whim to see what they have accomplished in the past year and sadly it is not much.
You still have bugs and issues from a year ago not addressed. There is an extreme lack of communication in regards to MOD 9. (Which the website makes look live and it is not). The in game and email support is still extremely slow. Which I find quite unsatisfactory for a game with such a small player base.

The anger and frustration with turbine over the release of MOD9 and empty promises of information have countless people leaving the game. When you see founders and fanboys jumping ship you know you have gone to far.

My advice, if you considering looking at the game save your money and get the trial. You will be lucky if you last a few days. Nothing will bore you faster then having nothing to do but sit on your pixelated butt waiting for a group for a few hours.

* One thing turbine did do well with DDO is the dungeons. I can not fault them there. I love the dungeon style the problem is when you are forced to run it over, and over, and over, and over again.

Edited, May 27th 2009 1:45pm by nefain
Combat Engine
# May 27 2009 at 8:06 AM Rating: Decent
1 post
I agree with the article, but I keep going back to DDO for the live action combat, which didn't really get mentioned. It's hard to play other MMO's after playing DDO because MMO combat is often sluggish and turn-based, which I think most people would expect from DDO since the pen and paper version is turn based. Instead the combat is very twitch-based and lively, with excellent graphics and animations, which is what makes DDO so fun to play.

Edited, May 27th 2009 12:07pm by issip
so it's basically guild wars plus
# May 26 2009 at 7:10 PM Rating: Decent
**
494 posts
So it's basically guild wars plus uber loots and traps/puzzles. Where's the pvp info, or is there no pvp?

As you said, the grouping problem is a vicious cycle that only spirals a game's subscriber base downward if it gets out of control. It is good to see more recent MMO developers seeing games like AoC tumble and deciding not to release a game before it's done (see recent jumpgate announcement).
____________________________
Sorlac - WoW
Sorr - WAR
Sorlac Aurora - EVE
Sorlac Sam/War & Nin/War - FFXI
Sorlac Lv 50 Lurikeen Eldrich & Lv 47 Celt Warden - DAoC
so it's basically guild wars plus
# May 27 2009 at 5:06 AM Rating: Excellent
*
52 posts
DDO and GW might both be instanced, but the two games couldn't be further apart. They play VERY differently to each other and the instances are one of the few things they have in common.

There was no PvP in DDO at launch and things haven't changed too much. Although there's SOME PvP there now, DDO's very much focused on group-based PvE content.
so it's basically guild wars plus
# May 27 2009 at 1:07 PM Rating: Decent
**
494 posts
Thanks for the info.
____________________________
Sorlac - WoW
Sorr - WAR
Sorlac Aurora - EVE
Sorlac Sam/War & Nin/War - FFXI
Sorlac Lv 50 Lurikeen Eldrich & Lv 47 Celt Warden - DAoC
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