There’s a lot of MMO’s out there, and frankly, most of them are crap. Thinly reskinned versions of some other game, or gimmick driven grinders that offer little in the way of actual entertainment.
I mean, really, how many MMO’s have you played where you had to go kill X number of slimes, foxes, or bugs? And how many times have you had to do it?
Despite this, I do actually enjoy playing MMO’s. For a little while, at least. Usually, I get bored long before I ever get anywhere near the max level. Especially these days, with most MMO’s just being little more than pretexts to raiding.
I don’t really play well with others, so raiding was never a thing I got into.
I spent a good bit of time in Perfect World, and its sister game, Forsaken World. More in Forsaken, as I met a lot of people there I’m still friends with to this day. Enough to actually hit the max level at one point. WOW lasted about five minutes on my computer before I got bored with it, though, and very few others really manage to catch my attention these days.
Through it all, there has been one that has not only managed to keep me playing, but surpass my expectations of an MMO. Unsurprisingly, that would be Dungeons & Dragons Online. The closest thing you’re gonna get to a D&D experience in an online game, I’ve been an avid player for some years now, though I’ve still never managed to get close to the max level.
I’ll explain that in a minute.
Originally released in 2006 by Turbine Games as Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach, the game has gone through a couple of rebrandings since them, as well as different backers, from Atari to Warner Brothers Interactive, and even a recent change of publisher, from Turbine to Standing Stone Games. DDO itself has remained pretty much the same throughout, updating at regular intervals to bring new content, but otherwise, staying the same game despite all the upheaval surrounding it.
Which is really saying something. Any time an MMO can survive all that over eleven years, it’s a real testament to the playability, community, and dedication of the development team involved. Which brings me to my first big point in favor of DDO.
Everybody involved, and I do mean everybody, from players to developers, has a real, obvious love for Dungeons & Dragons. This is, hands down, the best adaptation of the game system I’ve ever seen, anywhere. It’s better than Baldur’s Gate, for which I am sure some will crucify me for saying.
The game system is built on the 3rd and 3.5 edition rules set, which makes building and customizing a character a breeze. Want your fighter to dual wield? Not a problem. Want a Drow Druid? Easy enough. No matter what you want to play, or how you want to customize the class, DDO makes it easy.
Which is a big part of D&D. Making a character your own, and doing your own thing with them, is half of what makes the game as much fun as it is. The folks behind DDO get that, and have done everything they can to offer up as close to a table top play scenario as a video game can get.
The second big thing is the replayability. Every dungeon has multiple difficulty settings, and you can explore them all, or just go for the most difficult first. Basically, the game rewards you for increasing the difficulty on yourself, and not just in terms of experience points, but also in the kind of treasure you find for revisiting a dungeon again later.
Between these two things, the ability to customize your class, and replaying dungeons, I’ve never actually managed to max out a character. I always end up trying a new recipe and spend what free time I can get playing leveling a new character with a different build.
By itself, that that is a fun thing to do, says a lot about this game in my mind.
Since I don’t really play well with others, it’s nice most of the dungeons in the game can be soloed, with only a few, at higher levels, really requiring a full party to manage. Clever use of hirelings can even get around a few of those, so if you prefer to tackle things on your own, this game is pretty rewarding.
Of course, if you have a few friends willing to jump in and join you in your adventures, all the better. Storm and I were a pretty good team before she got sick, and managed to get a couple of characters all the way up to level 12 of the max 20 before she was no longer able to join me in game. As with all things D&D, who you play with makes all the difference.
One of the neatest things about DDO is the crafting system the game has. If you have the material, and the crafting level, you can make pretty much anything you want. Boots of Feather falling? No problem. A ring that gives you immunity to poison? Easy enough. A really absurdly over powered sword? Go nuts!
In other words, the crafting system is simple, intuitive, and fun to play with. All that loot you get as you explore dungeons is easily broken down and the base materials are used to make new, more interesting or useful things. No need to spend long hours grinding away, either, as the loot drops are pretty heavy in DDO.
Which brings me to my actual favorite thing about the game. Everything, every dungeon, every wilderness area outside a city, is instanced. You never have to fight with other parties for kills, spawns, or resources. Ever. That alone makes this a dream game for a guy like me, who really, really doesn’t play well with others.
Now, all of that said, there are a couple of downsides. The first is character customization on the image side. While you can go crazy with the class development, the actual graphics for the character avatar are a bit dated, and don’t offer a lot of good options. Which isn’t so much a negative, as just an unfortunate reality of an eleven year old game that focuses more on content than being pretty.
Don’t get me wrong, DDO is pretty, and the environments are gorgeous. The character designs are just a bit less eye pleasing. Pretty minor quibble in my mind, for the most part, but I’m also a fan of really getting to go crazy and make my character look as unique as possible, so it remains a bit of a downside.
The other is that, while there’s a ton of content that is free to play, eventually you will hit a paywall. Turbine, and now Standing Stones, is a small company, and relies heavily on paying players to keep the game active, and content coming out at a steady pace.
This is a subscription service, however, not a pay to win one. The only difference between the free to play and paid version of the game is that the paid one comes with all of the content. That’s it. You still have to do the actual work of leveling up, and nobody gets a free pass to epic gear, or high levels, just because they pay the subscription.
Trust me, I’ve been paying it for six years now, every month, and still haven’t found a fast track to max level, or freebies that give me a leg up. Just more content than I’ll ever probably be able to beat on my lonesome.
Hint, hint, hint. Come join me. I play on the Cannith server these days.
Eh? Oh, it’s $15 a month for the subscription. Which is a bit, I agree. Better than $20, but only by $5, so there is that.
As far as MMO’s go, DDO is the only one I’ve ever come across I’m happy to pay for each month. That’s me, however, and I’m a huge D&D nerd, so it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise.
If you are looking for a taste of what playing D&D is like, really, this is the game you should try. There’s plenty to do, plenty to explore, and maybe even some new friends to make along the way. Which, really, is what D&D is all about anyway.