Today concludes the fifth day of my ten-day trial to Dungeons and Dragons Online. As I am now halfway through the free trial, I feel as though I should, by now, have bitten the hook and resolved whether to convert to a paid account. Alas, I can say that I have as of yet not done so. I have not yet seen or done something so amazingly awesome that I’d have been instantly converted. Of course, I am still in the Newbie Zone. Still running errands and mucking about in the sewers. Is there more to it? Or do I simply graduate to more elaborate and perhaps less sewage-filled tunnel systems?
For me, the question is not whether the graphics are flashy and make use of the latest hundred-watt, freon-cooled graphics adapter. It’s not about how exotic the loot is. It’s not about gaining the most Experience Points. It’s about whether the game is fun. Fun, for me, is strategy and puzzles, and perhaps some large explosions. What is not fun is a contest of reflexes between myself and the computer, because guess what? The computer will probably win!
I started out by making a fighter character, because that class is recommended for beginners to the venerable pen and paper version of the game. Why? It’s a simple class to play. You do one thing, and that is to fight. Unfortunately, playing a fighter in DDO means that all you do is turn to face the monsters and right click until they are all dead. Walk around until you find more monsters. Lather, rinse and repeat for the rest of day one and day two.
So, the third day, I next made a wizard character, because gosh darn it, I like to blow things up. And that I did. Bandits, skeletons, spiders and zombies in the same three dungeons over and over again. My adventuring companions assured me that this was the best way to gain enough Experience Points to become powerful enough to survive the adventure that would permit exit from the Harbor, aka the Newbie Zone. It seems RPG Cliche #94: Franklin Covey Was Wrong, Wrong, Wrong is still as true as ever.
Now I mentioned enjoying a good puzzle. Two of the adventures did indeed involve puzzles at the end. But, when everyone already knows the answer to the puzzle is (say) to push the red button, it’s no longer a puzzle, just a formality.
On the fifth day, I didn’t meet my adventuring companions. But, in their absence, I dutifully spoke to the NPCs sprinkled around the Newbie Zoney and ran a few more errands for those NPCs, such as rescuing dogs, wives, and children from the sewers, the sewers, and the sewers. Yay sewers!
So, how does DDO compare to the games I listed yesterday? Well, it takes a few cues from City of Heroes, in that the game randomly assigns loot to the players. However, none of the loot comes from monsters, but is instead found in special containers at strategic points in the adventure. Lesser loot can be found by breaking urns, boxes, and coffins, but this is rarely worth the trouble of picking up. Unlike City of Heroes, equipment can be sold, traded, and given away, although some items do have a minimum level requirement for use. Learning from Everquest’s shortcomings, the designers of DDO implemented an auction house menu to make player-to-player sales of items more convenient. Yes, shouting your wares to all and sundry does add a bit of Renaissance Faire flair, but it mostly just clogs up the chat channels.
And speaking of chat channels, the party channel is basically obsolete if you have a microphone. This is the first MMORPG I’ve ever seen to support audio chat. Of course, it only works among the members of the adventuring party so far. (That may be a good thing.) That means that you don’t have to drop everything to type instructions to the other members of your party, only to have them charge into battle (and perhaps even be defeated) before you can finish your thought.