Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Dungeons and Dragons Online finally clicks with me



So over the course of last weekend when I was supposed to be playing the Aion beta I was not. Well, I did play Aion to be fair, however I stopped short Saturday and never logged back in after playing Thursday night all night. Due to the holiday and a busy schedule, I just did not feel like sitting there spamming hotbar icons and taking quest after quest in an effort to level up and have my character erased. This is called burn out guys and gals, and it has hit me hard. I am tired of MMO’s and if I sit at my computer, you had better keep me entertained and keep me involved or within 10 minutes I am off and back to the XBOX 360.

My love for MMO’s, the traditional kind,  has worn off and now in my gaming twilight I am looking for instant gratification and ACTION. I know I was coming down hard on the Champions Online beta and the first 10 levels of Aion but guess what: I was coming down hard on them because they offer nothing different! Hence, I was getting bored.

So imagine my surprise when Hicks, an occasional writer here, went back to Dungeons and Dragons Online and let me know how cool the beta was for the free client. I actually managed to install the beta client and test it out and the game seemed different. I don’t know how to put my finger on it but the game seemed to work better, it was brighter, more responsive and FUN. The store was dead on in it what it offered and it FELT like a good action oriented MMO the type of which we hadn’t seen since Tabula Rasa shut down.

Since that night I have not been able to log into the beta server to test it again (some account issue I think) but I did resubscribe to DDO to get in there and test out the new player experience and by GOD I LIKED IT. I actually liked it so much that any free time I had MMO wise was spent in DDO this past holiday weekend.

Now I am not going to go into a review or any of that stuff. If you want that other bloggers beat me to the punch already. Take a read over at Bio Break and look at Pumping Irony’s AWESOME newbie island write ups from back in November of 2008 (yeah, I am late on the DDO train).

Now DDO is a game that I bought when it launched and spent about 4 days in before trashing it. The reasons were the controls, the style of fighting and it wasn’t World of Warcraft. Common little issues that we have all been guilty of yes? At the time of release I was a WoW Head I admit it. The thought of mana and hit points not returning to me and having to actually click to SWING my weapons was foreign and frightful. Now however I love it. I am involved, I have to plan ahead for my rest breaks to get HP back, and the combat seems so much more visceral.

The primary issue I always had with the game were its really dumb controls. I come from the old school mouse control world where right click mouse button hold moves your freaking camera, and left click selects a target. Not in default DDO. For some reason they made right click swing a weapon, exactly like if you play Oblivion and walk around and swing but imagine it mapped to the wrong damn mouse button.

Whenever I would try to right click to talk to someone, or pick something up I would swing my weapon and my character would enter that dumb battle stance. I was so frustrated that I just could NOT rewire my brain to comprehend this new control scheme that I actually stopped playing.

I didn’t do the research on the game, I didn’t understand the leveling, I didn’t even get why I got no XP for killing monsters. I just flat gave up, wiped the drool off my desk and jacked back into the Matrix that was World of Warcraft and it’s shiny colors.

So I have no idea what clicked or what happened this time around but I am fairly sure it had 80% to do with Oblivion for the PC and the fact that it was on sale this weekend. You see, I always wanted to like Oblivion but despite the fact it had great content and really neat side stories I was bored to fucking tears with it. I always wanted Oblivion to be online because I liked the combat and how involved you were with fighting.

After I went in and REMAPPED my DDO controls the entire game just clicked and I became instantly addicted to it. Much like Guild Wars I liked that it was heavily instanced but since it was D&D it had flavor, it had some spice to the dungeons and it was heavily reliant on atmosphere and not geared toward PVP at the end game. DDO just felt “homey” to me where I always felt like a tourist in Guild Wars because I knew if I maxed out in that game I would just quit because I super SUCK ASS at PVP.

So DDO had a great new starter island added that when I tried it last year I really did not explore completely. I know most of you are thinking “but the game is so weird” but it really is not. Think of DDO as Oblivion online and you will go in and understand the game. Think of it as “I am going to DDO from WoW” and you will hate it. For me, along with the fact that it allows me to play in chunks of time, the atmosphere and the ability to get into dungeons after all this solo content they added has really picked the game up a notch.

Now since Aion has a limited beta schedule and I had pre ordered it already, I have a lot of time to get back into gaming and see all these things I have missed and I have to say I am having a blast. Not with just XBOX 360 titles but also with free to play games like Requiem or Jade Dragon. The problem is though that even these games are technically WoW clones. After a bit, I start to zone out and I lose interest because lets face it we all know where this is going.

Not DDO though. DDO is a WEIRD game and it is weird because it has mechanics we as MMO players are not used to. Some basic facts follow.

Yes, you do not get XP per monster kill. You get it for finishing an adventure.

Yes you do not regenerate health and mana during an adventure. You need to watch it and time how you use the rest shrines.

NO you will not get uber weapons and armor drops, you must get to the chest at the end of a mission and see what is there.

YES rogues have a purpose other than to get owned by AOE in raid groups like in World of Warcraft.

No you cannot charge forward in a dungeon and expect to live.

Yes there are traps and puzzles to think about.

No you do not level fast and leveling is very odd since you have ranks within levels to clear before you actually level (think of them as EQ2 mini dings and that will help many).

Yes the game does encourage people hanging out in taverns.

Yes the class builds are odd and you can multi class.

Yes combat is twitchy but not to the point that you have to have a Street Fighter type combo menu memorized.

All these things that scared me off before are now a breath of fresh air and I wonder if Turbine is really marketing this game wrong. I think they went after a DIKU loving crowd and failed miserably to meet their target audience. Oh sure, there is an action bar and some hot keys on it. You WILL use them eventually (the first few levels on the newbie island are LAUGHABLY easy don’t let that fool you) but the core system of the combat is not a “push it and wait for it to refresh” type of combat system. You need to attack by swinging your weapon, try to trip your opponent, watch your facing, target mobs and actually AIM a bow to hit something. The game’s combat sounds lack some UMPH but it is still satisfying for me to swing a huge two handed axe and know that as long as the monsters are in front of me I will hit them in a big arc of damage. No AOE attack hotkey needed, no waiting for a cool down, no targeting. Just plain combat common sense. If many opponents are in front of you and you swing a huge axe sideways, you will clip some if not all of them. One drawback is you will click the mouse a lot if you are melee. I mean A LOT. However this is not much different than “A” button spam in a console title.

Archery is a little different. You need to target and aim and then shoot to really hit the enemy. This also makes it very satisfying when you line up a shot from far off and hear the nice THUNK when the arrow hits the mark and you see a damage number go up. Want extra fun? Turn on die rolling and watch and see what you roll when you shoot. Roll a natural 20 and sure enough you will crit on screen. This is a lovely nerdgasm moment that has to be seen and felt to understand.

Here are some combat videos I uploaded to my You Tube account over the weekend. Think of this as a short intermission before my rambling continues:

Watch for spoilers here but this video shows the dragon and final quest on Korthos Island:

I like this one because it really shows how archers can be great in this game. Far off shots and then as the mobs come in close arm your weapon and crush some skulls!

Abilities are sometimes only usable a few times per dungeon run, and expending them will mean that you need to rest before getting them back. You need to plan ahead and equip what spells you want to bring in as a caster, and not having the right ones can be embarrassing and detrimental to the party. You need to think on your toes and examine everything since there may be secret doors and areas of a dungeon that if found will give you more XP upon completion.

Best of all you can BREAK things. Crates, barrels, altars, coffins you name it you can smash it (unless it is part of the artwork). In these things may be cash, potions or other items just like Oblivion. In short DDO plays like an XBOX 360 role playing game and you can even use a gamepad with it. I like this system now and it has me hooked. Another great thing is the ability to run dungeons over again even after you have finished the initial quest. I can hop online, do something for 20 minutes and get out without wasting my entire night. Sure, there are longer dungeons that require more people but the solo content is right on par with my experience in a console title that lets me save the game. I have the added bonus with DDO though of meeting up with my friends (if I can get them to play) and adventuring.

Overall I have been pleasantly surprised in the changes in the game (especially the hirelings which saved Hicks and I during one mission where we were rushed by 200 kobolds) and look forward to unlocking and purchasing extra adventures when the free to play RMT model goes live.

The newbie island of Korthos had enough content to easily get me to level 2 if you READ and do not blow through it. Many people do one or two quests and don’t look around and realize that after a bit you unlock the gate that goes out to the rest of the outdoor area: the huge island itself wherein lies many other dungeons and kill tasks and some great long distance archery combat.

There are issues with the game sure, but honestly I just wanted to blog about my experiences I am not a person paid to review games. A blog is for what you do and to talk about adventures to me so that is what I have done here.

I guess the best thing about DDO going free is that people no longer have an excuse to ignore it. I agree that the monthly price when it launched was a bit of a joke, but now there is a ton of content and some good perks to think about maybe subscribing when the F2P model goes live.