Sunday, January 22, 2006

Dungeons and Dragons Online gets a D

Update: 30 Jan, 06, restructured some parts of this post.

So the preview event for Dungeons and Dragons Online (DDO) has come and gone and I finally got to play the game that I've already started ranting about. It’s hard to approach the game objectively when I've already decided the game was missing an aspect that is key to pen and paper Dungeons and Dragons; the Dungeon Master. Regardless of my reservations about the game I had to try it.

Holding Hands

If you were a new player coming into a MMORPG how would you want to be introduced to the character building process? Would you want it to be fairly straight forward allowing you to get into the game and explore OR would you want to wish you had spent a little bit longer buried deep inside your D&D rule books?

DDO starts you off in a small un-guided cluster of a mess. For MMORPG veterans it may be intuitive to click on the nearest NPC as you enter the game, but for a newbie the hand holding approach needs to be used. Also it is very nice as a veteran when a new game takes my hand and guides me in my baby steps.

Guided steps are another key to introducing the player to the game. Turbine's idea of combat orientation is giving you one of four doors to choose from IF you actually figure out that they exist! The four doors are off to the side and had I not just out of curiously investigated them would have never discovered them. Each one offers a different combat training experience because I guess it was too hard to teach you about ALL your avatar's abilities at once.

Once you are familiar with what you are doing it is not hard to find your first quest and set off. The beginning quests are simple and actually do serve as a good stepping stone into the game. It just stands to reason that the combat training would have been much more fully integrated into the quests.

The minor victory that is achieved after completing the newbie area is quickly lost as you hit the same unguided wall when you finally reach the only city in DDO; Stormreach. I found myself just as lost and unguided as the newbie area. Hopefully by this time you have figured out to look for the big yellow swirl symbols that mark the entrance to a dungeon instance. They are equivalent to graffiti in any major city. Luckily you can click on a dungeon entrance and be directed to the NPC that hands out the pre-requisite quest required to enter. Its up to you how to actually get started in that quest line.

Combat isn't for Wimps

The combat of DDO is not for wimps. It also apparently is not for the standard MMORPG player because it’s radically different. Radically may be too strong a word. The trinity still exists: heal, tank, and damage.

The radical comes from the controls for combat. Auto attack is all but removed. Every click is an attack, a swing of the weapon, a block, or any number of various skills. Combat is real time and it is very hack’n’slash inspired.

Sadly this left me with soar wrists and fingers after only a couple hours of play. Sometimes I just wished I didn’t have to click a dozen more times to hit my target. I don’t really understand why the clicking gave me soar wrists or pain in my fingers because after all I play FPS games for extended periods of time with no problems. I think it came from having to constantly have a key depressed to keep the camera in a decent position.

It is just poor design to have an action inspired control scheme that requires you to control the camera. In the end the combat does not feel like a true representation of D&D. Don’t ask me how to fix it because I don’t know.

Crazy People Repeat Themselves

There is a Dungeon Master present in every quest instance you adventure into. It is the same computer controlled DM that you will meet in every single adventure. It does not change. It does not adapt to play styles. It does not feel like a real DM.

On top of not being real there is a huge immersion breaker when the DM repeats every action you take. I know that the rusty metal gate just clanked open because I saw it with my own two eyes and just so happened to have pulled the lever to make it do so! I know the chest just opened because I opened it! I know the ladder just broke because I was climbing it when it happened!

The idea works in some areas. At first the booming voice of the DM was very welcome and added to the experience. The enjoyment was short lived when I realized every action I took in my adventure was going to be narrated back.

With a little time and effort this system could have been much more effective. The system shines when it accurately notifies party members of an impending trap or situation that their skill checks passed. This makes every party member have to pay attention because the clues given by the computer DM don't go to every person in your group. This is good. Repeating my actions is not.


Warforged are in DDO because of Turbine's decision to host the game in Wizard of the Coast's new world of Eberron. Warforged are a significant element of Eberron and that has pretty much sealed their fate to exist in DDO.

Remember playing the game "One of these things is not like the others?" when you were a child? Well then you will have a similar experience when you get to the race selection screen of DDO. The Warforged neither fit in appearance or in MMO familiarity. They are large. They look funny. And most of all they are not a race players can identify with at all. Dwarves, Elves, Humans, and Halflings are all Fantasy 101.

I kept finding myself pulled out of the immersion because of a lumbering hulk of a Warforged standing around. D&D always has relied on openness and allowing players to be anything they want to be. The problem I find is that DDO does not have this openess and therefore having one unique race really hurts the game. Now if many other races could have been included we may have a more diverse selection to fit Warforged into. Unfortunately the selection is small and the Warforged stick out like a sore thumb.

In the End

The game got a passing grade from the D&D creator himself, Gary Gygax. Still this doesn't sell the game to me. The lack of a real DM was a main detractor before I even played the game and after playing the game I am 100% confirmed in my prediction.

Lacking and uninspired combat just adds onto the laundry list of things that don’t translate between D&D and MMORPG. DDO doesn’t deserve the D&D in its title. Don’t get me wrong. The game is set in a D&D setting, but the rules are much maligned and overall poorly implemented into Turbine’s vision.

Vote with your wallet and vote no for DDO. I give Dungeons and Dragons Online a resounding grade of D (no pun intended).


  1. I've never asked anyone to agree with me. I'll never delete a post that is critical of my articles.

    Also I am sorry if I somehow offended your liking of my blog by writing my opinion.

    Next I think you need to realize never did I state to hire 1000's of GMs. Players would have the option to play a GM. Thousands have already done so for the Neverwinter Nights games and there is no reason another game can't do it.

    The point I was making with the article is that without a DM it just doesn't feel like D&D to me. So much so that any game that doesn't use a DM is nothing more than a standard RPG using the D&D universe.

    Nothing wrong with that, but I will argue the fact that it really isn't D&D.

    So if you don't like me having an opinion... and you don't seem to... then I suggest you don't read what I have to post.

    Now if you have a problem with opinions in general then I suggest not reading another blog ever because eventually everyone will have an opinion you disagree with.

    So yes I have this little idea stuck in my head about DMs. If you were so overly concerned with such things I would suggest you try to show me where I was wrong or provide a counter arguement. Not that I would agree with it, but discussion could be had.

  2. Anonymous10:41 AM

    @sirchive - In regard to heartless' 'idiotic remark' about DM's in D&D, did you ever play multiplayer Neverwinter Nights? A good engine allowed DM's to not only run campaigns, but to design them from scratch.

    the problem, in mymind, with easthetics of DDO is that Eberron is a stupid idea. WOTC is not taking very good are of D&D in my mind, and this push into Eberron is a great example. the reason you can't relate to a warforged? there new to fantasy in the last 2 yearas, and only in the ebberon world of AD&D.


  3. I never wanted DDO to be a clone of NWN. What the DDO team needed to take from NWN (by far the most succesful PC version of D&D) was the openess of it all.

    Turbine is sticking with persistant worldness which just will never fit into D&D. Magic is tough enough as it is in paper D&D and translating that to PC is always a sacrifice. And that is just one example of many in the D&D ruleset.

    DDO could of provided some great tools to remove the dull and boring sides of a DM. DDO could of provided pre-packaged adventures that players could load up with a DM or without.

    DDO could have been a friendlier version of NWN where the DM just has to pick an adventure to give with a chunk of control of certain aspects. Then the game would take care of the rest.

    DDO never needed to have live DMs to be a D&D game... all they needed was the world and backstory of their choice. But to call the game D&D Online is just a grievous error that brings tons of preconceptions about the game from the true D&D pen and paper folks.

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  5. Anonymous2:42 PM

    I thought Gary's last name was spelled with a Y


  6. Thanks for the Y catch... changed it.

  7. Anonymous8:55 PM

    maybe Greyhawk would have been better, but eberron has many cool ideas in it. some things i don't like-- any monster can be good or evil, for example, but overall the action/drama aspect is very cool.

    i like the lightning trains.

    since it is still in beta, many of the points you raise could be addressed.

    if the game sewers, they might try again in 2-4 years with a different concept. some kind of way to simulate a d&d game would be neat. a fusion of mmorpg and the online tabletop facilitators might be ideal.

  8. Thats where a game like NWN shines... because they can create content or players can create content in whatever world they want.

  9. Anonymous12:34 AM

    You should never have suggested a DM for DDO. It is simply a ridiculous suggestion in an MMOG. DMs would be anti-competitive and spoil the relationship and balance between other players.

    Why is it that the minor differences between DDO and 3.5e (or whatever) D&D somehow annihilates the entire concept of DDO. Traditionalists act like it is the end of the world, whereas if they took their heads out of their asses, they would realize that 3rd Edition D&D is nothing like prior versions, 3rd edition killing the appeal of D&D for many. Oh, but those stupid changes are ok...? The differences between 3rd ed and 2nd ed are massive, yet people talk about 3rd Ed as if it is the original D&D. That is what is so shameful about them sh***ing on the idea of DDO


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