Sunday, November 01, 2009

D&D Online - 1st Impressions

As everyone who knows me or regularly checks out my blog knows, I'm a World of Warcraft fanatic. I've been playing it since August of 2008, I've gotten two characters to the level of cap (currently 80) and I still play almost everyday (the number of hours per day varies based on what's on TV that night or if I have other real life things to do). Lately, however, the game has become, well, a bit tedious and even frustrating. Once a “toon” hits 80 in WoW, there's little else to do except run the same daily quests (everyday – hence the “daily” part) to make gold and grind out reputation with different factions and try to earn or find the best gear available in the game. All this is done in order to experience the “end game” content – this is content meant for max level characters wearing the best gear. But what happens when there is no one on to play that content with? Raids require either 10 or 25 toons in the party to even have a chance of completing, so when there's only eight guildmates online, and half of those either aren't level 80 or or just turned 80 and don't have the gear to survive the end game raids yet, what is one to do? Hmmm.... level up an “alt” or go do more dailies? Ok, but even that gets boring after awhile – I mean, leveling an alternate character means going back and doing all the same quests you did with your main character months ago and gets really bland really fast. So, in order to keep things fresh, a couple of us have decided that when we're feeling burned out on WoW we'd try something different lest we end up quitting WoW entirely to keep from going mad. That something, for now anyway, is Dungeons & Dragons Online.


The first thing of note about Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO) is that it's advertised as Free to Play. This sounds like a great thing since I'm already paying $15 per month to play WoW; I can play DDO for free and not have to maintain subscriptions to two different games. The problem with the Free to Play concept, however, is the limitation of only being allowed a maximum of two characters in contrast to the up to fifty I could have on WoW. It is the Free to Play option of DDO that made me willing to give it a try though, so I'll gladly deal with the limitations in race and class selections that are also imposed for free players. The game client itself for DDO is also a free download and generally takes only a few mintues to download and setup (I had some issues that caused it to take over an hour, but the two friends who are trying this out with me said it only took them about five minutes). WoW's client is technically a free download, but the license keys to actually get beyond the 10-day trial do have costs ($19.99 for the Basic Game, plus $29.99 for the “Burning Crusade” expansion and another $39.99 for the “Wrath of the Lich King” expansion – the expansions aren't necessary to play the game, but they are necessary if you want to advance beyond level 60, but I digress). WoW's client typically takes up to two hours to completely install regardless of using the download option or actually obtaining the DVD discs due to all of the patches and updates that will have to download (WoW is currently on version 3.2 with 3.3 due out soon, so even if you're only planning on doing the basic game, you still have to get all the patches). So, as far as the client and costs are concerned, DDO gets the advantage (at least at first glance; however, DDO can cost real life money if you want to do anything beyond the basics).

My initial reaction to DDO's user interface was that it was just plain bad in my opinion. It's was confusing. Most other MMORPGs use similar controls such as right clicking to attack a target while using left click to simply target something without necessarily attacking it. Now that I've spent some time playing (I've made it to level 2 *grin*) and gotten used to it, it's not so bad. It is more interactive in combat than WoW's UI. In WoW, a target is picked, and buttons are pushed depending on which ability you wish to attack with. In DDO, you keep left clicking on your target, which may or may not move around, to keep attacking and your hits and damage are determined by a d20 die roll just like in the table top version of D&D. There are special abilities in DDO as in WoW, and the player still activates those abilities the same way, by clicking them on their action bar, but in DDO there are no macros to string abilities into a single button push. So, I like DDO's combat a little better than WoW's since in WoW it's not very engaging to simply click buttons over and over. In DDO I have to pay attention to the fight, move around, and try to keep clicking my target(s).

Game play in DDO seems to be a lot less grind oriented than does WoW. There is no race to get better gear, no mindless running around on quests that require you to kill 50 of something or collect 25 this-or-that. DDO is all quest and dungeon crawl driven in it's leveling methods. You get the quest from the quest giver, you find the entrance to the dungeon (usually not far from the quest giver), you go inside the dungeon, you complete the quest-line (complete with a check list on screen to help guide you) and then turn in the quest at the end for your reward – VOILA! In WoW, you pick up the quest, run around trying to find whatever/whoever/whichever it is you need to kill/gather, usually well away from the quest giver, and grind until you get bored or complete the quest. Assuming you diddn't give up and abandon the quest, you go turn it in for a reward that you may or may not be able to use. Which brings up another point – quest rewards. DDO has a feature built in that causes all quest reward selections from the quest giver to be class appropriate. I like that. In WoW, playing a leather armor wearing rogue, it was very frustrating for the quest rewards to be selections of caster-class cloth, or plate armor for the warriors and paladins – all I could do was select the most expensive one, and sell it. In DDO, my Dwarf Barbarian is given a selection of items, all of which he could use, it's just a matter of deciding, based on how I want to play him, which one would be the most useful. Oh, and all the dungeons in DDO have the option to do them on normal mode, hard mode, epic mode or simply solo mode, so you don't have to go hunting for a group or waiting for guildies to log on if you don't want to.

In terms of content, the content in DDO hasn't really drawn me in yet. There doesn't seem to be much of a storyline, but truthfully, very few people who play MMORPG's even pay attention to that anyway; they read enough of the quest text to know what they need to do to complete it, and that's it. So as far as that goes, WoW may appear to have a more detailed and elaborate back-story than DDO, but in the end, that doesn't really matter. I'm playing the game, if I really want to become that immersed in a great story, I'll turn off the computer and go read a book.

Now, let's bear in mind here that I've only been playing DDO for a few hours total since I downloaded it on Friday night and I've been playing WoW for over a year. I'm certainly not saying that I'm about to quit WoW (for which my subscription is paid for through mid-January) and start playing a free MMO entirely. There are things that I think DDO does better than WoW such as better graphics, a better questing system, and more interactive combat, but there are things that they fall short on as well, such a UI that may be almost to simplistic and doesn't allow for much customization (WoW allows others to write addons so players can fully customize the UI if they want to). All I'm saying is, I love gaming, and I want to continue to play an MMO (let's face it, there's nothing on TV worth watching anymore), so DDO is a nice substitute for when WoW starts getting boring because I've done it over and over to many times.

Until next time – PEACE!

~ JC

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