"A different breed of MMO"

Dungeons and Dragons. Chances are, if you're reading this you've played the tabletop game at some point in your past. No doubt that is the reason a DnD Massively Multiplayer Online RPG appeals to you. Surely a game like this can't appeal to somebody with no history with Dungeons and Dragons whatsoever, right?

Not so fast my friend.

Prior to playing DDO, I had never so much as rolled a D20. To me, a Beholder was somebody that looked at people. The closest I had ever come to a Paladin was at a medieval faire. Yet despite my total lack of a DnD background, DDO drew me in. For months I spent my time building and perfecting my Drow Paladin, Quenya, tinkering with her stats, finding new and exotic trinkets and weaponry to add to my repertoire. Building new characters on a semi-constant basis of all races and classes... Well, that's aside from Halflings of course. Who would want to play a Halfling?

DDO is a different kind of MMO than what you are most likely used to. The entire underlying premise of the game was to do away with the grinds that made up so many other MMOs out there. Rather than simply auto attacking a target, DDO allows the gamer to move around freely, dodge, swing, cast, and react to elements around you. This feature gives a spicy flavor to DDO, making it seem almost more like a First-Person Shooter than your average plodding MMO game.

The game's graphics are outstanding. The player characters, NPCs, and monsters all have a lifelike look to them. In addition, each landscape, dungeon, cavern, mine, sewer, and forest is beautifully detailed and filled with nooks and crannies to explore.

The world itself is also lightyears apart from any other MMO on the market. Each quest in the game exists within it's own instance. This means that parties, up to six people maximum for a regular group, and twelve for raids, are otherwise alone with the monsters and treasures that make up any of the hundreds of DDO quests. This means that DDO is free from the spawn camping that infects so many other games. Instead, every member of the party is rewarded equally with a piece of loot from every chest. While the loot will vary from person to person, the chance to get that loot is shared by every member in the group, allowing for good team play. Each quest is also guaranteed a story, typically fairly simple, but entertaining enough to follow along with, or role-play if that's your thing.

The downside of the instanced dungeons is simple; Every quest, while new and exciting at one time, grows old after countless repetitions. Although there are hundreds of quests in the game, it seems that the majority of players only want to play those quests that give out the best xp and loot for your time. While there is something to be said for that, the ability to explore different areas is usually far more entertaining that loot running the same old place for the upteenth time. However, even for players that play every quest evenly, eventually the fountain runs dry and the gamer is left wanting for something new.

DDO has done it's part to alleviate player boredom. In addition to adding in new group-based quests at roughly monthly intervals, DDO has also created more solo content known as Explorer zones. These zones allow players from the lowest levels to the highest levels to wander around aimlessly, killing things, exploring vast open areas, and taking in the beauty of the scenery. While these Explorer Zones don't give players staggering xp or incredibly powerful items, they do give players a chance to unwind after a long day of raiding.

Speaking of raiding, the raids in the game are all very different and potentially very exciting. The first time my team defeated the Warforged Titan, the first group to do so on the server, the elation amongst everybody was amazing. After trying so many times, failing, but getting closer and closer until we finally figured him out, no question the moment was as good as gaming gets.

In all, DDO currently has six raids. Each raid differs significantly in several key factors. The game's original raid consists solely of a long quest with no prerequisites and has no special bound loot at the end. The game's second raid requires each player to have gone through a chain of quests beforehand, and introduces the possibility of bound to player, special loot upon completion. Each raid from that point on follows up with slightly different prerequisites required in order to flag as ready for the raid and the chance to get the special loot at the end.

Player creation possibly offers the steepest learning curve of any one part of the game. Even DnD veterans take a few characters to become accustomed to the variables in DDO. While I enjoyed playing my first character, in reality I eventually came to realize he was a total wreck. It wasn't until my later characters that I began to grasp the nuances of character creation and how to best get the most out of my character and what exactly I wanted that character to do. As opposed to my early disappointments, my eventual successful characters were beasts in their own right, and much more fun to play with.

No question though, that at the end of the day it is the grouping that makes DDO really special. Once again unlike many other MMOs out there, grouping isn't just a requirement for your big quests, it's a requirement for nearly every real quest in the game. Luckily, grouping is simple, fun, and easy in DDO. A special tab lists people looking for more members for their groups, as well as the quest they intend to run. Rather than join a group of strangers, you also always have the ability to join or make a guild and team with these friends on a regular basis. Communication is never a problem either, thanks to the game's voice chat capabilities, talking with one another is a breeze. In fact, nearly everybody in the game visits over voice chat.

DDO, for everything it does right though, is likely to never catch on to the main stream. Why that is, I'll never be truly sure. If the public is more willing to embrace inferior products, I cannot understand why. However, as far as I am concerned, DDO is in a class of it's own. If you're a longtime fan of Dungeons and Dragons, or if you can't tell a Halfling apart from a Dwarf, there's a chance that DDO could be the game for you.

Graphics ~ As far as MMOs go, DDO's graphics are absolutely outstanding.
Sound ~ Dungeon Master voice is sometimes repetitive, and in Module 5 content downright irritating. The world sounds and music are mostly interesting, but nothing too special.
Gameplay ~ Great fun. Customization is the name of the game here, allowing unique characters, fighting styles, and pretty well everything else.
Story ~ Very little real continual storyline to tie everything together with. Each quest has it's own unique story though, which can be fun and sometimes pretty entertaining.
Replay Value ~ Fairly good, but due to lack of the grind material that make up some other MMOs, hardcore players stand the chance of running out of stuff to kill and risk getting bored.
Overall ~ 8/10 A different breed of MMO. If WoW isn't your thing, or you're looking for a change of pace, this is the game to try.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 12/21/07

Game Release: Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach (US, 02/28/06)

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