Free to play (F2P) MMORPGs are often considered to be the delinquents in the genre, a sub-section that is always considered the Robin to its Batman. In essence, it’s also like a baby bird, still too young and undervalued to make it on its own.
Dungeons and Dragons Online (DDO) was launched in 2006, originally starting its life via a pay to play subscription model but suffered from bugs and negative feedback. Since becoming a F2P in September 2009, Turbine announced that their subscriptions have increased by 40%, proving that free games can be a viable option for a business. There are, however, micro-transactions, which begs the question: is it really free and is it worth your time?
After you create an account on Turbine’s website, you get sent to the download page to choose which client you want. You are presented with three options: ‘Turbine Download Manager’ (TDM), standard resolution client and the high resolution client. TDM lets you play the game immediately while it downloads the full client in the background.
Unfortunately, first impressions count for everything, so using TDM will make you want to put the game back down again. The features in this client mean you cannot move your character, whilst looking around with the mouse. In an MMO, it’s like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Thus, I decided to put it down and wait for the full version to download completely.
Once the client was available, I jumped into the game to create my character. I set all the graphical options to the maximum, and surprisingly, everything ran smoothly. The character creation module is very extensive, and it’s far beyond just customizing the features of your character’s face. That said, I found the amount of information available to be a bit daunting, as there are many features to tinker with.
If you take the time to read everything and find out what is best for your class of choice, you can create a unique and powerful character. If you are new to DDO, classes and specializations are marked with good, very good, or challenging, helping you pick a character closest to your play style.
Once you have been taken through the basic elements in the starter zone, you are handed your first quest. Every quest in DDO has its own instance; the markers for entering the instance blend well with the environment, which are laid out with a symbol on a cave or a door. Each instance has four difficulty settings, allowing you to find AI suited to your comfort and group size.
When you enter the first instance, yellow text appears on your screen. If you have sounds enabled, you’ll notice this is a narrative. As a result, it helps to maintain its roots as a pen and paper role playing game while immersing you in its unique environment.
Once you leave this zone, you are taken to Korthos Village, the first public area that allows congregation with other player characters. The map system is very helpful and will allow you to set way points to any friendly NPC, which helps with quest objectives. Aside from that, it was evident from the start that there was a large number of people who wanted to group for everything. Often I find this is when a game can be too boring to play alone, but I decided to play solo anyway.
After a few quests, I started to notice gaping potholes in the combat system, which Turbine claim is ‘the best of any MMO‘. In DDO, you can toggle the mouse look feature. This feature is built to help you feel more engaged in combat, the character moves with turns of your mouse instead of ‘A’ and ‘D’ keys, and your attack stream is controlled by holding or repeatedly clicking the left mouse button.
You also start with a few moves common to any global cool down (GCD), yet unlike others, you feel absolutely no connection to your moves (primarily in melee classes). Turbine has made an effort to turn regular, unexciting, auto-attacks into something you are actively engaged in. This means they are quite powerful, turning your GCDs into unexciting combat accessories.
The ranger also felt disconnected from its moves at the start, particularily since you do not get any specialized ranged attacks until level 4. This might sound easy, however each level has five ranks, so it can take some time to reach max level (20). Still, there is a positive to this system. Every time you gain a rank, you can add an enhancement point to your character. The most interesting thing about the system is your ability to improve non-combat statistics, such swim speed, jump height, or lung capacity.
Although, the leveling system also has a huge downside; it makes gaining experience feel extremely broken. Your progression does not feel as significant as it does in many other titles, and the lack of specialized attacks at the start can be frustrating.
After playing alone for an hour, I started to feel bored and secluded; I was constantly entering instances, and only seeing people in the main town destroys the MMO ideal of a persistent environment.
I started a Cleric whose strengths are in range attacks with both melee and healing capabilities. From the start, I grouped with people for all quests to make the game more exciting. There was an increase in power when using different potions, which focused on improving certain combat statistics. Unfortunately, a system where players need to seek out these potions can spoil the first experiences for a new player, as they may find themselves stuck or repeatedly dying because they are not strong enough.
To regenerate, you must use rest stops, which are placed around game maps. There are always two statues that are clearly marked; one allows you to resurrect fallen party members while the other regenerates health and mana. This can often make playing a class like a Cleric difficult in the beginning, as you don’t have a large mana pool. Although, you can multi-class to improve your solo capability. When playing with friends, Dungeons & Dragons is worth spending time on, despite the way I feel about its combat system. Playing in groups is also the best way to level a character that would prove too difficult on its own. Unfortunately, player versus player content is minimal and has been greatly overlooked.
It would be wrong of me to not mention the success of the transition from P2P to F2P. The game still receives regular updates; this is likely due to micro-transactions that can help people improve the quality of the game, but I am glad these are non-essential purchases. “Turbine points,” are found in the game and can be spent at the store. This works well because it gets players in the market, which may be a clever business move to get you in the door to spend your real cash.
Dungeons & Dragons may not be the best item in the market, but its roots starting out as a P2P subscription model shine through, and its graphical style is far more vivid than World of Warcraft. It is certainly enjoyable to play, yet starting out can be confusing and mundane. Essentially, I can understand why it did not survive in its previous rendition, but as F2P, I can see a good future for this title, after all it is free.
Robin still can’t fight alone, but this time around, he is one of the pack leaders.
You can achieve great graphical quality without experiencing frame rate issues, and lies a plethora of options and descriptions available, if you are up for the reading.
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Many characters feel too disconnected from their moves, in the end it leaves you pressing buttons wildly and auto-attacking your target.
The narrative element returns you to a feeling of the old fashion D&D role playing pen and paper game.
When every race and class start in the same zone and go through the same processes, doing the same quests when starting new characters can be monotomous and boring.
A forgettable, easy to put down MMO when playing alone. When playing with friends, this game can rival many P2P MMORPGs on the market.