Dungeons & Dragons Online, or DDO, goes Free to Play today. This is a game that I’ve enjoyed in the past and now that it’s become a free to play game I’m enjoying it once again. I was part of beta and have been playing since the first as part of the head start. And while I enjoy the game for being filled with hand-crafted plot-driven dungeons filled with traps and diabolical enemies rather than the random collection of enemies that fill most MMOs, the shortcomings of game have always been some glaring obvious, making this a game you have to willing to forgive the rough spots to enjoy.
First, after playing 4th edition for over a year the problems with 3.5, which DDO is based on, are even more orbvious than they were in the past. DDO has had to do some major tweaking to get the system to work, especially at higher levels, but the troubled core still shows. The biggest problem is that you’re enslaved to requiring a cleric. Thankfully there is some effort to try and alleviate this with the Favored Soul class from the Miniatures Handbook, but it’s still a major problem. In contrast in 4th edition the cleric is also part of the class role of leader. All the classes with the leader role have different strengths and features but they all have some things in common, some healing and abilities that largely benefit the party as a whole being one of them. It’s designed so that a party can do well with any of the leader classes, be they Bard, Shaman, Artificer, Warlord, or yes, even Cleric. In DDO you can’t just say, “We’re good, we’ve got a bard,” because bards aren’t made to cover the leader function like they are in 4th edition. So that means if you want to go adventuring you must find a cleric for your party. (Or maybe a favored soul, but the class is brand new.) This is a real drag on trying to get anything done, and generally all this seems to do is make it so clerics are tired of being hounded to join teams and make themselves anonymous. Goody.
The other problem is that your classic problems with some of the martial classes are alive and well in DDO. Unlike 4th edition where your Fighters, Barbarians, and Paladins all play very differently from each other in DDO they’ve got a lot in common. Now DDO does a lot to fix this by using their enhancement system, a system of which some of it’s ideas seem to have made their way into 4th edition, such as all the racial themed feats we see in 4th edition. So the problem isn’t as bad as straight 3.5 would be, but it’s still there. My 4e Paladin definitely feels like more of a Paladin than my DDO paladin feels.
My other big problem with DDO is that the idea of “Free to Play” seems to be pretty subjective. Now granted Turbine isn’t totally out of line here. But leveling sigils per character? I mean it’s nice they added them as in-game loot but was that really needed? And paying for modules is pretty damn expensive. If you buy all of them you’ll have bought a few years worth of subscription time for a game that probably doesn’t have many more years left. Still, I’m glad it’s in the way that it is, but I don’t think this model is going to appeal to people looking for a free to play game. I think it’s only going to appeal to old players like me who play occasionally, allowing us to come back on when we feel like it without turning subscriptions on and off.
So that’s pretty much my take on the warts on DDO. There’s other problems too, like the visual design is pretty un-inspired and doesn’t use the Eberron source material to it’s full potential. Compared to LOTR it’s clear DDO got shorted when it came to development, though I can’t say why. Maybe Turbine didn’t think having the license to make a D&D MMO was too profitable. Still the game does posses a great gauntlet-style combat system that makes battle fun and exciting, and adventures feel exactly like that, adventures. Add in voice chat and you’ve got a great recipe for some fun. I just wish it got the polish it needed.