Hello Children! I think I am coming down with the Hamthrax, and I have just concluded a very difficult week of trying bad people, so this one will unfortunately be short.
In an effort to broaden my MMO horizons (and survive the really easy raid schedule of pre-3.3. WoW), I have decided to cycle through some free-to-play (F2P) and “freemium” (I hate the word and promise I will never use it again. Mea culpa. From now on, it is F2P+!) games.
Dungeons and Dragons Online has been around for a while, but it has very recently been re-launched as a F2P+ game. It is possible to have a paid account and to buy microtransaction currency (think XBox points), but not necessary.
Graphically, one could run DDO on a very low setting, or kick in the DirectX 10, up the sliders, and watch one’s video card sweat. Like most Turbine games (LOTRO stands as a shining example), it is aesthetically pleasing. The character model textures are well done, the environments suitable and creepy, and the spiders actually frightening.
The sound is more than passable for an MMO, and the gameplay is actually very interesting. My WoW guild has a DDO guild that we play during server downtime, after raids that finish early, etc. The fun thing about DDO is that it does not require the intense statistic-balancing gameplay of WoW. There is no spending three hours in the LFG channel asking for a healer. Your standard party size can be anywhere from one to six members, including purchasable “minion” NPCs. Need a mage? Drop by the market and hire one! While the NPC gameplay is not perfect (traps, for instance, pose unique challenges to characters too stupid to avoid them), it is more than passable for most situations.
DDO requires players to think through the dungeons. Each “quest” is associated with an instanced dungeon, which can be played on several difficulty levels, from “solo” through “expert,” with reward quality increasing in tandem with difficulty. Much like the pen and paper hack’n'slashes of yore, players will group up, venture into the dungeon, and continue until the boss is found, at which point the boss must be slain. Various optional objectives appear in the quest tracking frame from time to time, requiring such skills as twitch-like jumping or painstaking, dice-rolling searching for hidden doors.
It is still advantageous, as it is with any Dungeons and Dragons game, to have your basic character types in a party: a ranger, a fighter, a thief, a cleric, and a wizard. This is because the challenges you meet will vary in the unique obstacles they place in your way: a lever might require a certain strength skill, and without a brawny fighter to pull it, your group might not get to experience that part of the dungeon. However, each dungeon is re-runnable infinitely, and with scaling difficulty, it can provide fresh challenges each time.
The game plays almost entirely like a hack’n'slash module. There is not a huge amount of depth to the skills required, but the system is very true to the D&D rulesets we all enjoy (if one enjoys late-edition D&D rulesets).
The microtransaction system feels like cheating. I admit, I often purchase huge stacks of Cure x Wounds potions for pennies. In a game where you do not often have a pocket healer, these potions are invaluable. If I need a new +2 greatsword, it is about $2.50 USD away, instantly delivered to my bag.
Do not think you will be behind the game at this “late date” even if you are just creating your character now: purchasable potions allow you to gain XP and loot at alarming rates, making leveling new characters a breeze. The variety of dungeons and quests that exist make sure that leveling is never the same, nor boring.
The downside, however, is that the environment is heavily instanced. Zones exist, and load times can get quite long at peak hours. The Eberron setting is not quite as fully realized as one might hope, though I have high expectations that if the game does well, it will expand. Players that prefer sandbox-style games with wide open environments to explore without running into attacking monsters at every turn will be quite upset with the game’s almost console-like environments.
Our second offering is European company Frogster’s F2P+ WoW clone. I say WoW clone with all the love I can muster. Graphically, it looks like WoW’s wannabe little brother. Gameplay-wise, it is virtually the same.
Thankfully, the default interface and user frames are somewhat modifiable, though nowhere near the level of WoW. Seriously: compare the UIs:
Other than that, the game plays exactly like WoW. Get quest, kill monsters, loot item, turn in quest, get new quest, go to dungeon, kill boss, return with loot. The microtransaction system is less invasive than the DDO Store; there is no purchasing of +2 greatswords or full plate. Instead, the best (and only) purchases I have made are an XP boosting potion to speed the leveling process and an epic mount.
Gameplay is also entirely too easy; I mean no-challenge easy. I think that the game is likely targeted at younger players whose parents might not want to shell out a monthly fee for an online game, what with all the Myspace predators and whatnot online. On the other hand, this was quite literally the only MMO I have played where high level characters roamed the lowbie areas offering help.
In short, I like the concept of a WoW-lite with a friendly player base and some interesting ideas, such as GM-controlled enemies. While it is not stunning graphically, aurally, or strategically, it is free and appears to have an active player base and dedicated development team. I am rooting for this little mensch to pull through and become a good MMO in its own right.
Well, that is all I can take for the evening! Have a good weekend, constant readers.