Perfect Ten: What I loved about Dungeons and Dragons Online

    
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Dungeons and Dragons Online was a very strange game at first glance.

Ten years ago, I ventured into Stormreach with no more motivation than a longstanding desire to play D&D and an idle curiosity to see what an MMO version of this famous pen-and-paper RPG would be like. DDO was so very unlike World of Warcraft and its ilk that it took a large mental readjustment to get into the spirit of the game.

But adjust I did, and off and on I spent the next five years enjoying what this title had to offer. It was one of the first games that I helped to cover on Massively-that-was (yes, DDO had its own weekly column back in the day), and I looked forward to my weekly runs with a team of friends and colleagues. It’s bizarre to look back and realize that DDO is now a decade old and still gamely forging on, and in the spirit of this anniversary I wanted to offer up some of my favorite aspects of this unique title.

Without further ado, here are 10 things that I really loved about Dungeons and Dragons Online.

1. The dungeon master narration

Adapting tabletop D&D to the MMO format must have been a task of no small magnitude. For whatever reason — and I’m guessing it was the chance to work with this popular geek IP — Turbine tackled it and created a weird synthesis of PnP and MMO. There was obvious effort to retain the feel of the tabletop version, which is why DDO sports probably the only consistent narrator in MMORPGs.

I adored the DM narration. Instead of being immersion-breaking, the occasional booming descriptions, lines of dialogue, or notifications drew me in to each adventure. It was like getting rewarded with cutscenes without the action stopping. I even appreciated the effort to bring in guest dungeon masters, such as Gary Gygax, the creator of Magic: The Gathering.

(pause for full troll effect)

2. Dungeon-centric gameplay

OK, we all know that MMOs are no strangers to dungeon crawls. But DDO went all-in, especially in the early years, by offering very little to do other than dungeons. If you played the game, you were there to group up and run dungeons, a fact which kept the community focused on this content.

Oddly enough, I adored that. By using Stormreach as a hub for all of these instances, I felt like I was constantly going out on adventures with friends (old and new) instead of wandering across landscapes on my own. And these dungeons were hand-crafted, with each one sporting a different design, challenges, and look.

3. Party puzzles

DDO’s dungeons weren’t just about non-stop hack-and-slash combat. Sure, there was an awful lot of that, but you could see the effort was made to include a wider variety of activities, including environmental hazards to be navigated, NPCs with which to interact, and puzzles to be solved by your entire party. Figuring out how to solve these puzzles the first time around was a special treat, and something that I didn’t see again until The Secret World.

4. Action combat

The combat in this game wasn’t quite what we peg as “action combat” today, but it certainly was a lot more clicky and dynamic than the standard tab-targeting MMO of 2006. There were dice rolls going on for each combat move, friendly fire to worry about, and even positioning to consider. All I wanted to do, really, was to be a Bard with a huge repeater crossbow that could machine gun down bad guys while throwing out a few party spells now and then. Mission accomplished.

5. Lots of non-combat skills

Along with its dedication to giving more purpose to dungeons than being a slaughterhouse, DDO offered players a slew of skills that often went far beyond mere combat. Casting slow fall for a super-long drop was pure joy (it was gliding before Aion, Guild Wars 2, and Firefall made it the hip new thing), and I made sure to carefully use my search skills in new places. A great jump or swim skill could really help navigate obstacles, too.

ddo3

6. Incredible build variety

Maybe there was too much build variety in this game to the point of players making broken builds, but I really appreciated having the chance to make the kind of character that I wanted, even if he or she or it wasn’t optimal. D&D’s class roster was out in force, with multi-classing and dragonmarks and all of the rest of the features that Turbine’s added over the years to customize and modify characters. And this is also one of the few MMOs that I know of that gives players incentive to rebirth their characters in exchange for a stronger build down the road.

7. A different take on fantasy

Initially I wasn’t sold on the Eberron campaign setting. It was newer and really different from classic D&D, and to be honest it probably hurt the game far more than helped. At least Turbine’s sandwiched in some Forgotten Realms over the past few years.

Still, Eberron was a nice departure from the yawn-inducing fantasy blandness that continues to run rampant through the MMO industry. Sure there were dragons and wizards, but there was also magictech devices, the Warforged race, and a city that looked like a fantasy world 200 years after the rest of the games left off. It took a little while to get used to it, but ultimately I grew to cherish the odd touches that this setting provided.

8. The health mechanic

DDO wasn’t completely hardcore (although there was a vibrant permadeath community the last time I played), but it did have some mechanics that made dungeon crawling a lot different than in other MMOs. For starters, health didn’t automatically regenerate and mob attacks didn’t always deduct from your hit points. When you got injured, it was a serious liability to the success of the run, so having a healer with precious few cure spells or finding a rest shrine for a rainy day was essential to making it out alive. It really does make a difference in your playstyle when you’re not seeing your red bar spring right back up after a fight.

9. The tight-knit community

I was always impressed with DDO’s community. It was just as prone to Chicken Littling at times as anywhere else, but for the most part this was a group of gamers that found a unique home and spent years dwelling in it. There was so much friendliness, willing assistance, and external discussion that I couldn’t help but get swept up with the enthusiasm of it all.

10. Pioneering a new business model

Did you somehow think that I was going to get through this list without mentioning how DDO spearheaded the widespread acceptance of free-to-play and other hybrid business models in the west? By being the first “big” MMO (but not truly the first) to jump on that, DDO enjoyed a huge boost to its population and publicity. Its continued existence proves that there is a place for F2P and that a change-up in business models can give flagging titles a second lease on life.

While I don’t think that DDO’s model is particularly great today, especially when compared to some other games, I was really entranced with it back in 2009 and enjoyed playing the game during that player renaissance. It’s the kind of situation we will likely never see again, and it happened to a game that deserved some extra love.

Everyone likes a good list, and we are no different! Perfect Ten takes an MMO topic and divvies it up into 10 delicious, entertaining, and often informative segments for your snacking pleasure. Got a good idea for a list? Email us at justin@massivelyop.com or eliot@massivelyop.com with the subject line “Perfect Ten.”
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EpicViking
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EpicViking

FrancisWright JayPower While im not a huge fan of the DDO graphics, i find LOTRO’s to have aged better. Just me maybe, granted i haven’t seen alot of the higher end places in DDO, so maybe they get better beyond the first 10 levels.

EpicViking
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EpicViking

solipsis DDO is the only game where i enjoyed playing a Rogue, trap disarming and lock picking and other stealthy stuff is way more awesome in DDO.

EpicViking
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EpicViking

Midgetsnowman tobascodagama DDO with Neverwinters Combat… that was what i was hoping for when it came out, then they butchered the classes and mostly anything in the game to something that barely resembles DnD anymore. I was a loyal player since launch, but ever since about module 7 i couldn’t take it anymore. DDO just does it better.

EpicViking
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EpicViking

After they introduced Warlock some ways back ive been so tempted to go back to DDO and buy some of the expansions ive missed etc, maybe even try the Druid. Also miss playing my Wizard. And with the failure of Warlock Neverwinter introduced that i waited on since launch after the failure that was Wizard, im now gonna replace Neverwinter with DDO. Hopefully there is enough there to get me to stick around. :) 

Funny how Turbine has some of the oldest mmos on the market still and they are still my most enjoyed ones when i play them. (Lotro never leaves my HDD, and while i don’t rush that game, i love every minute i play my Lore-Master, currently taking it through Moria)

EpicViking
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EpicViking

Alien Legion My problem with Neverwinter is the way they butcher the classes. Most of them don’t even come close to the DnD classes, in anything but some names for abilies. Sadly, i just want DDO with some more up to date graphiccharacter art (its abit stiff even for an old game) and more open than just dungeons, even the open “fields” feels like a big dungeon most of the time.. (yes it’s in the name, but even in DnD tabletop you walk around in open places without them feeling like another dungeon im traversing).

What it gets so damn right though is its classes, ability and spell diversity and items (clicky items everyday of the week!)

Zardoz1972
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Zardoz1972

In DDO you have 2 classes that you can combine. Each of those classes has a few playstyle based on spec. You have a choice of mixing it up, fine. TSW has zero classes. It has over 520 skills. You have 7 passives. Those can be from any weapon. Then you have 7 actives, those come from your 2 equipped weapons. You mention healing. There are 3 healing weapons, each with a different playstyle. You can choose to weird 2 healing weapons as a pure healer. Or 1 heal and 1 buffing. Or 1 heal and one offensive. Or go primarily offense with a heal weapon as support. There are more options in TSW than you outline. Then you completely do not mention EVE which is 100% sandbox. DDO is NOT the most flexible skill system around.

spoilofthelamb
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spoilofthelamb

Zardoz1972 I love TSW, and it has several advantages over DDO – especially the out of game content. I loved TSW’s story-telling, and it was more engaging for me that DDO. But having played both, I feel DDO game me more flexibility in character creation. 

TSW doesn’t have classes – any character can learn the skills. But if you wanted to wield weapons x and y but play a healer, you might be limited. DDO locks you into your choices, but has more options available to tailor your play-style and abilities to whatever you want than anything else I’ve come across.even though there are classes, these don’t define your roles and you’re allowed to level in up to three of them at your choice (and more advanced classes after hitting 20). The abilities you use and role you play in a group often come from feats/skills/enhancements trees instead of classes, which players can blend as much as they want:

In DDO when you see a pure-1 class wizard, that could be a tank, CC artist, solist with self-healing or niche healer for either constructs or undead that turns themselves into undead or plays a warforged to compensate, DPS caster, magic-based trap and secret door opener,, or (as is often best with the current meta) a ranged non-magic DPS that buffs/debuffs players. If you’re willing to multi-class, it could be a dedicated trapper of both skill-based and magic varieties, a blend of monk for hand-to-hand combat with the buffs from wizard spells, a blend of cleric with pale master for even more infliction healing after turning yourself undead….Any class can wield any weapon in the game viably if built for it, and play any role reasonably well if you’re willing to multi-class. 

My current DDO character (designed for soloing) is a ranged non-magic DPS designed to use oversized crossbows with magic-based crowd-control that can turn herself into different forms of undead (wraith/lich/zombie/vampire), heal herself with negative energy magic and summon skeletons or magical beasts to tank or DPS for her.

mysecretid
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mysecretid

camelotcrusade Giggilybits 
That’s been my experience, more or less, Camelot. We use Roll20 + Skype, but the players are essentially the same guys — no random strangers. Maybe Gig needs to try again with gaming friends of old?

Zardoz1972
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Zardoz1972

EVE, TSW and a few other classless games would begin to differ with your assessment of DnD “character building flexibility” as being the best.

donweel
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donweel

There are more modern games out there but DDO has those elements that keep me coming back for more. The good old fashioned Dungeon Crawl will never get old, for me at least. Most every quest chain has a unique story you have to solve by thinking and stratagem, instead of just killing stuff. There are consequences for the choices you make on your adventures. Some quests are frustratingly difficult, but I suppose those are needed for challenge.  The combat for me is also one of the main attractions, I have yet to find another game that is as satisfying that way. One thing I think worthy of mention are the Exploring areas, each crafted to a level range, containing unique quests, and some elusive rare monsters, which can drop rewarding items. As well as the exploring points of interest that reward xp for discovering. Some are truly breath-taking, Storm Horns for example. The many build combinations will certainly keep you coming back to try some new inspiration. As for community I would like to mention a couple of links that help to ease some of the inevitable complications,
http://ddowiki.com/
http://www.ddocast.com/