Perfect Ten: What I discovered after returning to Dungeons and Dragons Online

    
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When I look back at last year, the most surprising turn in my MMO gaming career was staging a successful return to Dungeons and Dragons Online. Initially I had only planned to revisit this old flame for a couple of runs and a quick blog post, but before I knew it, I had been sucked back in to this unique and flavorful MMO.

Over the past four months I’ve been slowly progressing through the early and mid game, taking my scrappy Gnome Artificer up to level 10 and through more odd stories than I ever recall being a part of the game (to be fair, the last time I had played regularly was 2010).

Now that I’ve had time to experience and reflect upon playing Dungeons and Dragons Online in this day and age, I wanted to share with you 10 observations that I’ve gleaned from this fantasy roleplaying game.

1. There’s still a pretty dedicated community

For a game that’s 12 years old, DDO has an amazingly dedicated community. I won’t make the argument that it’s a massive community — this is a 12-year-old niche title, after all — but there are more blogs, podcasts, and in-game activity than I’m used to seeing in much more modern MMOs.

The game’s instance-heavy and flexible grouping design might be a big factor in this outward enthusiasm, as I’ve seen a lot of players flock to run content together rather than feel resentful about the game forcing them to do so.

2. Guilds and airships are kind of awesome

Speaking of the community, I made it a point of finding a welcoming guild to join. The first thing the GM did was to take me and another newbie on a tour of the guild’s airship, which turned out to be this massive one-stop-shopping and buffing experience. I mean, when I can click on a Thing and get 32 5-hour buffs in one go, it almost feels like I’ve found the game’s cheat code. Almost.

3. Gear and builds are difficult to parse

One of the big downsides to my return is that for all of the suggested templates, DDO’s gear and builds are incredibly obscure and difficult to navigate. You can (and probably will) unintentionally create a less-than-ideal build for your character, and fear of doing so continually hovers over my head. Additionally, D&D’s gear stats aren’t what you get from most MMOs, so it’s really hard to figure out what you should be choosing and equipping. I get that this is the price that players pay for the large amount of character customization, but I would have appreciated more in-game guidance and tooltips.

4. Hirelings are dumb but make runs easier

When I jumped into DDO at launch, there really was no solo game. It was group mandatory or get out. But in the years since, the dev team has loosed up to allow for solo progression (although, to be honest, it’s still way more enjoyable to play with others). One essential tool that I’ve relied on, especially when I started to climb in levels, was the hireling system.

With hirelings, you can get an NPC party member to join you on runs and ideally make up for your character’s deficiencies. I almost always go with a Cleric, because free heals are free. And while the AI is as dumb as a post and doesn’t do what you want half the time, it’s better than not having them at all! Some quests you can’t even finish unless you have a second character to flip switches, etc., so hirelings can be mandatory in certain dungeons.

5. Difficulty levels are so great you wonder why every MMO doesn’t have them

From solo to reaper, DDO’s dungeon difficulty levels allow players to choose the challenge that fits their skill and group size. The harder the difficulty, the better the rewards, and I am always weighing that when I choose. I don’t want it TOO hard that the run will take forever and possibly result in a wipe, but I also won’t do anything on less than “hard” as a matter of principle. It’s a great way to promote replayability and adapt to the various needs of the playerbase.

6. There are so many weird and unusual quests

Friends that have heard me gush about DDO these past few months are probably sick of me geeking out over how really interesting and different these quests can be. Sure, there are plenty of boring dungeon and warehouse runs, but more often than not, you’ll find yourself in some madcap adventure that includes puzzle solving, racing across rooftops to track a thief, convincing a giant to join a theater troupe, and going through a museum of illusions. If you’re really tired of unoriginal MMO quests, this game contains the antidote.

7. You can get killed in a heartbeat if you’re not careful

I got cocky. Early runs in this game with my character made me feel invincible, especially as I had a steampunk dog at my side and the ability to heal myself. And then the quests ramped up in difficulty, and I found myself getting flatted by alpha strikes and status effects. Because combat in DDO goes fast, you don’t always have a lot of time to react if you end up in over your head. Traps, mobs, and dungeon dangers have all brought me from full health to death in mere seconds if I wasn’t careful… and so I learned to be careful.

8. Dying while soloing can be an evening killer

While we’re on the subject of death, yeah, it’s horrible. DDO handles MMO mechanics much differently than in other games, and so it is with dying. If you wipe in a run and have no friend nearby to run your soulstone to a rez shrine, well, you have to start over (unless you buy a rez from the game store, of course). It’s nerve-wracking to get 45 minutes into a hard dungeon and be worried about getting killed and having to do that content all over again.

Another reason why you should invest in Friend Insurance. I think my hirelings just laugh in mockery when I bite the dust.

9. The DM narrations are still A++

I’ve always loved the dungeon master voiceovers in dungeons, and that really hasn’t changed. Those little snippets of voiced descriptions or dialogue help to enhance the quest and atmosphere. Plus, they can be pretty funny, such as when the DM is trying to affect some sort of beast’s voice. Having this invisible dungeon master just off camera retains one of the core D&D feelings, and it’s like nothing else that you experience in other MMOs.

10. There is a huge array of content and choices

If I had to sum up this game in one word, that word would be “choice.” Everything about DDO puts choice in the hands of the players. You have incredible choice in your character’s build. You can choose your leveling path. You can choose between instances and wilderness areas. You can choose difficulty levels. You can choose gear that gives you different abilities and effects than others. You can choose to pursue optional objectives for extra rewards or not. You can choose between Eberron, Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, and Ravenloft campaign settings. And you can choose to earn your content through F2P, buy it, or subscribe for it.

I like choice.

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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