Dungeons and Dragons Online (PC)

By Lucas Allmon

Published on Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Graphics: 8.00
Sound: 6.00
Gameplay: 7.00
Environs: 10.00
Replays: 8.00
Gamelength: 10.00

Dungeons and Dragons Online has an extreme canon and history to live up to. Turbine are well versed in the MMO universe, not only in Asheron’s Call, one of the most successful and longest running MMOs in existence (able to be listed with Meridian 59 and Ultima Online), but also in Asheron’s Call 2, one of the most colossal failures, closing down three months after its first expansion, and not making its third anniversary. So Turbine runs the gamut of the industry. They are hit and miss, and thats what DDO does, nails some things and falls short in others.

This is my second attempt at this review. Reviewing games can become a tedium in a sense, because of the formats they traditionally take. Normally you talk about the games mechanics and then what you liked. Turbine Entertainment, who developed Dungeons and Dragons Online, took a different approach to the MMORPG genre, so I’m going to take a different approach in reviewing it. MMO conventions are pretty much set in their ways, with some games like Guild Wars breaking the paradigm just a bit. So almost all of you reading this will be familiar with MMO conventions. If not, Ill do my best to service you too, however, I am assuming you know how MMOs operate in general.

Dungeons and Dragons has an extreme canon and history to live up to. Turbine are well versed in the MMO universe, not only in Asheron’s Call, one of the most successful and longest running MMOs in existence, able to be listed with Meridian 59 and Ultima Online, but also in Asheron’s Call 2, one of the most colossal failures, closing down three months after its first expansion, and not making its third anniversary. So Turbine runs the gamut of the industry. They are hit and miss, and thats what DDO does, nails some things and falls short in others.

Making characters is standard DnD affair and will be easily accessible to most players because its ripped right out of the DnD 3.5 rules, which are arguably the finest tuned rules the game has ever seen. Its quite excellent in layout when it comes to race and class information. Theres even a small video clip for each class that gives you a general outline of class strengths. However, I doubt very many people coming into the game will be clueless on this, being the target demographic are people who know these. Options for a characters look are quite nice, especially in colorations of skin and eyes, its pretty standard though. However Turbine included a Bio box that you can fill up with all the little details of your character which people can see when they examine you. I know that I have been waiting for that kind of thing for a long time…at least in graphical MMOs, its been present in MUDs for a decade or more.

The developers wanted to keep DDO more in line with the tabletop RPG, the same visceral, group experience of a band of adventurers making their way through catacombs and dungeons. The games combat is real time, and everything done, is done actively. You must block to block, its not automatically calculated, you chose when to swing and when to cast. You can see what your d20 roll is in the lower right corner (and can pick the color of the die), which is a nice touch. Not only that but all the dungeons are loaded with traps and obstacles you must find your way through, from timing a run through spikes, to needing to solve riddles. Your health and magic points don’t regenerate either unless you are at an Inn or use a rest shrine in the dungeons, which you can only use once…so theres no constant blasting of Magic Missile and other spells. Turbine really nailed this strategic action aspect, and the dungeons are widely varied enough to keep you and your group entertained and thinking on your toes.

Thats right, you and your group. The game requires people to group, if you don’t take a decent party into the dungeons with you, you can expect to not make it out again. This may turn some people off right away. You know who you are, the type that like to always go it alone, seeking your personal glory, or power leveling yourself. You guys aren’t going to do well in it. The game is designed for a group in the dungeons. For example, I was in the sewers with a couple of people and we needed to to pull a lever to open the door, but only the Warrior had a high enough strength to budge the rusty metal bar. In another dungeon, lightning was coursing across the hall way and only I, playing a Wizard had enough Intelligence to work the Rune switch. The dungeons really facilitate this. You do not rush ahead without your party, or you will most likely end up dead. The dungeons are also littered with Dungeon Master text and speech, which is a voice telling you how your surrounding looks. Not only is it great flavor, but if a member of your party hears or sees something, and you don’t, they will be alerted by way of the DM, and you won’t, so communication is essential. It is so essential that Turbine implemented native voice chat. It works wonders, except in the case when that lithe little female elf ends up being a 55 year old lumberjack, it can bring you right out of the Role Playing.

On the subject of role playing, this is where one of my biggest complaints about the game. When I logged in I expected to have a bunch of tools to facilitate my role playing. Basic things such as emotes are sparse and horribly done. When hanging out in a Tavern, the traditional place for DnD adventures to start, you would expect to see adventurers sitting at tables, and their conversations going on, someone RPing situations. It doesn’t happen that way. You are unable to USE furniture in this game, which results in the floor being littered with people sitting. The most basic of emotes don’t work, and there are no chat bubbles, so you have to keep your eyes on the chat box for any sort of RP. It really brings you out of the game, and makes staying in character a lot more difficult. This may not matter to some, but I was expecting a certain level of RP, and was disappointed.

The graphics engine Turbine uses is quite scalable, you can make it look quite good using a lower end setup. People with minimum spec machines might want to be warned that turning the options down all the way still might bog their machines down, as while the graphics are pretty, the game takes up a lot of resources in general, and after finishing, your machine may need restarted. The graphics come across well, the city of Stormreach is divided into different sections, however the sections are accessed by completing quest strings. This is excellent in terms of character progression, but is will start to grate on you once you start rolling new characters. In my playtime so far I have rolled two characters, and the second time was annoying. The design of the city has a cool Steam and Magic powered feel, which is one of the ideas behind the Eberron campaign that its based upon, however, the city feels drab at times. Theres not much motion outside of the lighthouse and a couple of NPCs that walk around, who for the most part, you don’t ever talk to more than once unless they are a quest giver, and questing is what the game is about. Turbine also has some lag issues in the main city…but that isn’t too bad, as all the dungeons are instanced, and while my computer got an average of 22 FPS outside in the city, inside the dungeons it stayed rock solid at 55FPS, with no lag, which will be important when you’re navigation over a narrow path to hit that switch for the rest of your group.

I played for my full month. It was quite fun. However when the time came to plop down my 15 dollars for the next month, I declined. Theres something missing in it for me. Mainly, its my friends. Over the whole month I came to know a few people, and even joined a guild, but didn’t really make any friends, or even questing friends. If I could have gotten my WoW addled real life friends to play, it would have been a blast, but all in all it really strives on the group component, and theres no official RP sever to do that for me. While DDO doesn’t push the genre conventions far in terms of graphics or game play, its dungeons are better than any dungeons in an MMO, and its worth the price of admission. Almost.

Overall Rating: 7.50

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