Dungeons and Dragons Online: Stormreach
Reviewed: 04/07/2006


“Dungeons & Dragons.” When most people hear that it brings to mind generally one of two things: a basement or kitchen tables with friends having a good time while on pizza and soda highs, or a bunch of teenage, pimply faced, geeks pretending to be a level 12 Paladin. Regardless of the view no one can deny that theDungeons & Dragons Role-Playing Game has had a major impact on the video game version of the RPG market since its inception. Even more so is the American PC RPG and MMORPG market which try to bring the worlds many people imagined as kids alive for others to participate in. The journey has now come full circle, however, as Wizards of the Coast has released the first Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game universe based on the PnP world entitled, Dungeon & Dragons Online.

DDO was developed by Turbine, a company which has two previous MMOs under their belt, Asheron’s Call 1 & 2. It may be prudent to mention that Asheron’s Call 2 has already had the plug pulled and the servers turned offline as of December of 2005. Turbine in the past has shown a great commitment to their games and their communities, frequently providing large scale publishes or updates, free of charge, to their players.

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Aahh Mom can’t I keep him?

When looking at the starting point of the game, character creation, DDO is everything a Dungeons & Dragons player, or an MMO player, could dream. Players have near endless customization with nearly everything coming straight out of the D&D Players Handbook. (That’s the D&D players rule book for the uninitiated.) The player’s main stats STR, INT, CHA, etc. work on the 28-point buy system, meaning the player have 28 points to allocate across six stats, each stat has base of eight before the characters racial pros/cons. Just as in the PnP version of D&D players will need to select from a variety of races and classes, currently in DDO there is five races and nine Classes, with the option to multi-class into as many as three classes. Most every D&D feat and spell from the Players Handbook is also available during character creation, with the exception of a few that would be nearly impossible or not at all useful to translate into the MMO world.

The graphics in DDO are top-notch. It has some of the most convincing player models I’ve seen in any MMO, and characters change depending on the armor/clothing that they wear. There is rarely any slowdown of frames, even in intense battle situations. There are also multiple models of every type of weapon in the game so there may be many characters with the same Rapier +1 and yet each sword looks different when wielded by the character. The only downside is while each character is very customizable in the character creation tool, there isn’t much variety in the real world as far as the look of armor and robes. Clothing as of now is non-existent.

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And there was much rejoicing in the streets.

Now it’s time to look at the aspect that makes DDO really shine, gameplay. Generally when playing different MMOs, gameplay rarely deviates from the tried-and-true “Everquest” model of clicking on monster, activating attack button, press a couple of skill hot keys, wait till someone is dead. DDO has totally thrown out that model and brought in a very fun variation. All combat in DDO is in real-time, players control their character with the WASD keys, and attack with the right mouse button. Casting spells and activating skills are also done in real time. The results of this lead to an extremely fast-paced and entertaining form of combat. And yet combat in many cases isn’t even required. DDO does not award players any experience for individual killed enemies. Experience can only be acquired once a quest is completed. This is a great way to get away from the dreaded “grind” most MMOs have. Turbine has done a great job making this work to its advantage although it could bring up some major problems in the future. As of now most quests you can repeat multiple times and still get experience for it, it is increasingly diminished experience the more times you attempt a particular quest. So what happens if Turbine gets lazy and stops updating every few months and the quests get stale? There’s nothing else to do in the game, no PVP, and currently only 1 or 2 “raids” players can go on. So while currently the gameplay and the quests are extremely fun, challenging and varied this may not be so in the future. This outcome remains to be seen, however as of all the main players in the MMO world Turbine has the best record of on schedule publishes. Turbine has set themselves nicely from the start as there are currently only 10 levels, with four action points to be earned in between. The original D&D had 20 levels and, according to Turbine, DDO will as well eventually. Turbine is planning to add each level in a slow drip manner along with level appropriate quests over the coming months.

The music of DDO fits the world of the game very nicely and does a decent job of setting the mood, but is wholly forgettable. The sound is crisp and gives you a visceral pleasure as your great axe connects to a little kobolds face. The spell effects give off a sound also pleasing to the ears. One of the innovations DDO brings to the table that should be picked up by any and all future MMOs is the ability of voice chatting with you group built right into the game. This is often done now with third party software such as Ventrilo, but it can require a lot of extra bandwidth at times.

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What’s a D&D campaign without barbecuing a few Kobolds?

Overall DDO is a fun game to play and a refreshing breath of innovation in what has become a very stagnant MMO market.

Most of DDO‘s innovations have improved the genre in some way. Some have argued that DDO is nothing more than a Guild Wars players pay for. The only thing DDO and GWs has in common are instances, which has become the norm not the exception in today’s MMO landscape. There are many pitfalls that DDO needs to overcome before it can be a great game,there needs to be a constant stream of quests being produced by Turbine for DDO so players can continue earning experience and not get bored with current quests as there is no other way to gain experience. Turbine need to add more raids and higher level content for multiple groups to participate in.

Finally, Turbine needs to find a way for players to compete with each other. There is currently no PVP, and with the current character advancement process PVP would be near impossible to have an semblance of balance. The fact remains, however, that most players enjoy friendly competition in some manner. It is only a matter of time until Turbine succumbs to at least one of these concerns.

-Michael Wayland

Score Breakdown
Very Good
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Excellent
Story Below Average
Graphics Great
Sound/Music Great
Replay Value Very Good
The Verdict: 7