DDO: Eberron Unlimited Impressions

I got into the beta a few days ago for Dungeons and Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited and thought I’d give you guys a few impressions.  I never played the original Dungeons and Dragons Online so these impressions will be ‘pure’ and only from the game now that they have transformed it into a Free to Play game.

Graphics / Performance

DDO items to be bought
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The original game released in 2006, so how are the graphics today? They’re okay, but nothing to get excited about. A message popped up when I launched for the first time telling me that they detected my rig could handle Dx10 graphics, yada yada. I cranked everything up as high as it would go. Nothing really ‘popped’ for me in the world. It had this washed-out look that was perpetuated by the bloom.

I could tell immediately that this was a Turbine game. Character models look very similar to Lord of the Rings Online. Character animations are a tad worse though. It lacked a lot of polish in this department, evident by my character doing a lot of sliding around and awkward jolting. It’s bad enough that I feel bothered by it.

There was a lag present, but I’m not sure how much to attribute to the game and how much of it was due to this being a beta. Perhaps this falls under the animations and their wonkiness, but the jittery lag was the worst. Just like the other things though, I could live with it.

Gameplay
DDO Unlimited is a MIMORPG (Massively Instances Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game). When you’re in town it’s like a lobby where all the others players hang out. This is where you’ll interact with other players and the only sense of “massively multiplayer” I ever felt while playing. Once you leave the town you’re in your own instance. Quests are all instanced. Traveling outside of the first town was instanced just for me. The only buildings you can enter are the ones with glowing doors and those require you to do a short load. It was all instanced and truncated. There is no sense of connection with the world.

I often felt like I was playing some hybrid between LOTRO and Neverwinter Nights 2 as I played. Much of the itemization, questing, and overall ‘feel’ was similar to NWN. Crushing a crate to find a scroll of enfeeblement gave me this feeling of “what do I do with this?”. Lots of stuff you have no clue what to do with or plan to never use will drop for you. Nothing ever dropped from mobs. When they died they just disappeared a few seconds after falling down. The only real gear I ever received was from chests and quest rewards which disappointed me since it made the mobs nothing more than trash to wade through to get to the prize. In other dungeon crawling type games I always enjoyed that random chance to find a rare from a monster.

Combat
It has a very distinct action feel to it. Although the game allows you to click or click and hold to attack monsters, I found myself holding the right mouse button to free look and using the left to attack; it gave the game a straight action feel to it and I felt more connected to my character. Shooting arrows and swinging weapons was more of a “general area” thing than it was precision, but that made it work (especially with the jitters).

As a Barbarian my character was all about the big two-handed axe. I had little trouble mowing things down in a few swings. I was able to skip the “solo” difficulty of quests and move on to the “normal” – oh yeah, all these instances have different difficulties and allow you to replay them, thus unlocking the next difficulty.

Character Progression
Lots of D&D as you might expect. Creating your character and then progressing him/her offers a lot of customization. You get to set your own stats, choose your own feats, enhancements, spells, and do everything you can in D&D. This also means that there will be choices you make that you regret. To correct any mistakes or change anything about your character requires you to obtain expensive in-game items or buy one with Turbine Points (More on this later).

Leveling up takes a while. You can do all of the quests and instances in the first area and still be level 1. Like D&D, leveling up means your character gets much stronger. Levels are supposed to be big milestones and a real big step up. That feeling translates well into the game.

DDO Store – Microtransactions

Some races have to be bought
Some races have to be bought

This is where the game sorta falls apart for me entirely. There is an in-game tab that opens a store window offering you all sorts of things from potions to increase exp to hirelings that act as party members to entire adventures. All of these things cost you points. Like all microtransaction system this one will nickel and dime you to death. If you want to play a Monk you’re going to have to pay for that class. If you want your character to be a Drow then you’ll have to pay for that race. Like many other MT systems, this one will claim not to give you any major advantage that you can’t earn in-game on your own. Whether or not thats really true I’m not sure. one thing is for sure: Spending money gives you an advantage and you’re going to need to spend money to get the most out of this game.

Buying content is where I’m torn. I buy content all the time in the form of paid expansions for MMORPGs. I’ve even purchased the $10-15 expansions for EQ2 and never once regretted it. These “adventure packs” for DDO are little jaunts you can go off on. Theres one to go to go off and fight undead in some storyline with 44 quests and 4 hand-crafted adventures. I can’t really put my finger on why this bothers me… maybe it’s that I’m so used to downloading modules for NWN2 and playing them for free that this bothers me or maybe it’s that all the content in DDO so far feels so quick and really unimmersive that I couldn’t justify spending money for something to play and throw-away.

Final Thoughts
Although I’m not impressed by the instancing, the lack of polish, and the microtransactions, the overall game here isn’t bad. I’m a D&D fan and this, by design, is full of many of the things that make D&D great. You’ll crunch numbers over whether or not taking +1 to a stat will be worth -1 to some modifier and going through dungeons and adventures through dungeons in a group is really where the game shines. Watching your character progress will feel like leveling one up in the pen and paper game.

Where I lose interest in the game is in the reason to feel committed. Just like the pen and paper game, this feels more like a game I would play once a week with some friends and not one that I would dedicate large amounts of time and effort. I don’t feel connected to the world and I don’t feel connected to my character; I feel connected to each little adventure I set out on and whether or not I’ll be able to accomplish it. For those wanting quick adventures of get in / get out action will probably really enjoy DDO. The fact that it’s free, and of decent quality, will make this a really good addition to that list of games you want to play with friends.

In the end, for me, I’d just as soon play Neverwinter Nights 2 for a better D&D, RPG, and dungeon crawl experience.  Nothing in DDO grabbed me and gave me that “I have to play this game!” feeling.   There’s something there though and I do suggest you give it a try once it’s released.

  • I know most would agree that the RMT system is going to be the future of MMO’s. At least that’s what I always read.

    I’m still not convinced it will be that popular in North America anytime soon. Even the influx of players WoW brought to the genre, they learned playing an MMO like we did. Paying the same monthly fee as everyone else….

    I actually think Cryptic will is going to hinder their subscription base by doing the whole “Cryptic Bucks” with their two major titles coming out soon…

    ok so I’ll stop beating that poor horse.

    As for DDO. Even it going free I just don’t think I could play. I played the original beta and that was probably the only MMO title that came out that year that I didn’t pick up. I just couldn’t get past the “click to swing” combat.

  • As to the Turbine Store, even though they are moving to the f2p model, they still have the option to subscribe. It’s the standard $15 a month, so if you are going to buy multiple adventure packs or a class/race, paying for the subscription turns out to be a lot cheaper.

  • Yeah have similar feelings Keen. Hey have you looked into Champions Online? Any of you guys going to give it a whirl, looks yummmy.

  • For a free game I thought it was surprisingly fun. I didn’t use the DDO store (even though they kept sending fre points) and had no problem experiencing some fun content and leveling up finally. I never played the original, was looking for a quick in-n-out, and had no interest in playing with others (yes, mmo burnout).

    Keen hit it right on with the lack of immersion but I didn’t want any. The initial starting area was not very impressive but I was pleasantly surprised at the city (Stormreach?) you go to after that area. A lot of quests also have a puzzle element to them so its not just a hack-n-slash.

    Fun and free. Can’t lose anything but some time.

  • Please tell me how you feel “massively multiplayer” in a less-instanced game such as WoW. You only ever play with a tiny subset of the main group of people. You will only ever see a large group of people in a town, which is exactly the same as in these so-called MIMORPG’s.

    QQ less.

  • The game is pretty slow at lower levels thats true. As you ramp up in levels the missions and quests get longer and more complicated right up to raid type difficulty. There is an autoattack option as well if you prefer not to click to attack, just target and it swings away on its own if in range. You can also block, and tumble using shift to block and a direction to roll away..this helps your armor class if your getting beat on. I have been playing now about 3 weeks, and somehow its growing on me. The higher level I get, the more fun it gets. It is a loooong climb to gain any levels quickly though. I think it will pay off in the end. Most fun I’ve had in a while. There are alot of little things about the game you just have to play and learn the system and get familiar with to fully understand how everything works. I’ve been playing D&D since its inception in around 1977ish so perhaps for me its a little bit different with the nostalgia factor I’m experiencing but it has been fun for me the last few weeks. I don’t know if I will spend any $$ on the thing, Its been out for years and I only subscribed for the initial month or 2.It’s still the same ol clunky interface, character sliding around, stiff animations, slow leveling, washed out colors im used to. Not much has changed graphically and only minor balancing stuff has gone in. I expect the content has gotten quite an overhaul with the difficulty level choices and the high level zones and adventurer areas that weren’t present at the start (max level was 10 at launch, its 16 now going to 20 on Aug 6th when the free version officially launches).
    Anyhow i’m having fun with the game and that’s what counts in the end.

    See ya around the dice.
    Granger

  • Great write-up, thanks. I don’t really like the sound of all of the instancing. I hate were MMOs are going with it now. I was quite tempted to try DDO but it doesn’t sound too great.

  • As you get into the Stormreach quests, mobs will start dropping little bags. Nothing good comes from those though 🙁 But, most named mobs I’ve come across have a chest where their loot can be found. So there is still the exploration and loot gathering aspect.

    As you gain favor (just from doing quests), you’ll get a few free points at select levels. So, it is possible to create an alt character to grind favor for a bit, delete, rinse repeat. For those that really want to grind something out 😉

    After playing DDO Unlimited for about a week, I’ve pulled NWN back out 🙂 I’ll try the new DDO once it actually releases. I’m just hoping the current points / dollar increase for when I might want to drop $5 and buy a few adventure packs to continue to advance.

  • Did they drop the NDA? I thought it was still up as of last night….

    Regarding selling modules: it’s a perfect system for players who want to play occasionally, but not all the time. If you want to play all the time, pay the game’s sub – the F2P model is completely optional.

  • You forgot one MAJOR thing – this game is Free, and you only buy premium content, while LOTS of it is free. So you can level up to max without paying a penny.
    And also, you receive those Turbine Points (the same which you can buy) while playing the game. Completing major quests, achieving every 100 of overall Favor (“Reputation” with various factions, which give you rewards / utilities). And those are for you EVERY character. So if you want, you can make some characters, then delete them, but Turbine Points you got with them won’t go away.

    And one major advantage of DDO over other MMO games.
    DDO HAS very spectacular quests. I’ve played most of big MMO and many niche ones too (I was playing WoW for 2 years, with expansions!). DDO has the best quests of all MMOs, something that just can’t be done in “open wolrd” games. If you played Halls of Shan To Khor, Necropolis or similar, you should know.
    In other words, you barely scratched the surface, I’m afraid… Play more if you want to have a fair opinion on this game. It’s just so different from you general WoW-type, open world game, that you first need to accept those differences and look out for why this is so important in this game. As I said, DDO quests, though instanced (and best played with a group) are just nothing short of epic.

    What else… You didn’t even mention that those “big levels” are divided each into 5 ranks. So it gives you 20 DDO levels x 5 Ranks = 100 regular MMO levels. Quite a bit. And you can get them all playing free.

    Korthos… it’s very easy part of the game. Harbor and especially Stormreach may leave you dead if you’d keep thinking that way. Khortos is just Noob Island, like they say, and Harbor it a transition… but try those quests on Hard or Elite ;). Much fun.

    Summary: Very bad review, showing you have no real experience with that game, you didn’t even give it a try. I know you thought you did, but I’m afraid not. This game is huge and you can learn it and its secrets for years. This IS D&D Online. Not WAR, based loosely on WH lore and that’s all about that game… other than that it’s a clone. DDO is unique, and while for everyone, I chose it over all major MMO’s out there. AoC, WoW, WAR, LotrO, GW, etc.

  • Both Mrs Bhagpuss and I were in the original DDO beta and we really disliked it. It wasn’t the instancing per se, because we both played and enjoyed Guild Wars, which uses a very similar structure.

    It was that everything was claustrophobic. The buildings were crammed together, the streets were narrow, the rooms were low-ceilinged, the dungeons were cramped. Yet at the same time the character models were very large and bulky. After thirty minutes I wanted not just to log off, but to go outdoors and find a horizon.

    Consequently, we didn’t subscribe and haven’t played it since it went live. Still, free is free, so I might give it another try. Keen’s review sounds remarkably similar to what I remember from beta three years ago, though, so I wouuldn’t expect to give it much of a run, even for nothing.

  • “Keen, how about the 32 point vs 28 point character debate. This was a major turnoff to me: http://biobreak.wordpress.com/2009/07/08/ddo-32-points-of-debate/ – are they selling the 32 point chars in the store, too?”

    All I see in the store for sale is Drow, Favored Soul class and the Monk Class.Characters you have to unlock/purchase to play. No mention of the 28/32 pt characters. As far as I know you can get those extra points by gaining faction with the various houses within the game by doing their quests.

    You get a good number of turbine points by just playing the game though. I have enough to get 2 of the three right now and I haven’t dropped a dime on the game. (it is beta and they might be giving out more points than they will in launch but at least you CAN earn stuff without paying by doing quests and such.)

  • Thanks for the impressions. I applied for the beta a few days ago and always appreciate your opinions.

  • > “It had this washed-out look that was perpetuated by the bloom… Character animations are a tad worse though. It lacked a lot of polish in this department, evident by my character doing a lot of sliding around and awkward jolting. It’s bad enough that I feel bothered by it.”

    Both of these things pretty much killed DDO for me. Especially the awkward character movement.

  • Just a general note, these impressions are solely for the F2P model. DDO had its chance to be a subscription game and it failed.

    @Melf Himself: Take the opposite of DDO Unlimited and you have immersion. Tada!

    @Andrew: Forum post saying they dropped it here.

    @Sarr: This wasn’t a comprehensive explanation of the game. Obviously I played through the first area and a bit into the next. I’ve never claimed to be an expert. These are impressions of the game I played to the extent I played it. I never said DDO wasn’t unique. I never said DDO was trying to be WAR. I based my critiquing of the game completely on its own merits. Take it or leave it, agree or disagree, these are my opinions.

    @Longasc: I didn’t even know about that system. If that’s true, then it goes with what I said about not being sure whether or not they’ll stick with allowing you to be just as equal with those who buy if you choose not to.

  • @Keen:

    That’s so odd; I only got into the beta last week, and my “welcome to the beta” email had a whole whack of NDA stuff in it. I guess they didn’t revise their invite emails since making that post almost a month ago.

    Thanks.

  • Keen your opinion that the game would best be played once a week with a group of friends is spot on. That is exactly how my group of gaming buddies and I plan to use DDO.

    Ultimately, the instances are among the best done in any MMO to date IMO. If you realllly want to crawl through them and find all the secret areas and disable all the traps and such with a rogue… they’re very well done. Not to mention an MMO that actually incorporates puzzles that might require more than a first grader to figure out? Good stuff.

    This is also an altoholics game too. So many different character combination possibilities with the various races and classes (multiclass up to three classes).

    It shouldn’t be anyone’s main MMO, but the f2p makes this a fantastic second MMO for you and your friends that just wanna hit up some instances for the night.

  • Thanks Granger just picked up my key! You also reminded me that I had an active subscription at fileplanet!

  • It’s free so I suppose I will check it out, nothing coming out for the next month and I should have some free time the way my schedule has worked out. Still, if you’re comparing it unfavorably with NWN2… *shudder*

  • @Gail:

    I’ve been playing the beta for a few weeks now, and it’s gonna be my main MMO after release. I’ve leveled a toon to 40 in WAR, so I know what that takes. It takes too much time and too much committment. DDO is the perfect way to escape from RL when I have the time and inclination.

    @Keen:

    Immersion is about more than slick graphics and not instancing. The dungeons are far more immersive than any of the ones in WAR I went through, IMO. Heck, if people think that PnP DnD is immersive, then perhaps we need to open up a little on what immersive means.

    With that, obviously your opinion is yours and mine is mine, and it’s all good.

    Happy gaming.

  • @Chris #23: You’re absolutely correct. Immersion is more about graphics and instancing. However, as a video game, DDO still lacks immersion and it’s brought on greatly by their use of instancing. Using WAR as a benchmark isn’t a good idea though. WAR had ZERO immersion.

  • Yeah, WAR was my first MMO, thought I played MUD in the 80’s, so I don’t have a good frame of reference. Still, I’m really enjoying the low level content in DDO.

    I think a fun DnD twist would be for players to have the option to play AS monsters or bosses in the various instanced dungeons. They would get a hotbars filled with fun spells and abilities. No need for AI!

  • Just wondering, if i’ve never played DDO before can i just subscribe now? where can i subscribe?

  • Thank you Keen for that review, and the rest of you for your good comments. Review and comments combined has made me wanna’ try the game again when this new version airs.

    With that said, Keen, do you have any idea when they’ll release it in Europe?

  • I’m surprised Bhagpuss talked about a claustrophobic feeling in DDO with low ceilings and the like. A big reason I hated being indoors in EQ2 is due to the low ceilings and cramped sides in dungeons and wherever. I’d have trouble even seeing my character in the group since everyone would be crammed together in such small rooms and hallways. In DDO, the ceilings are very high, and the hallways are wide.

    Character customization, grouping, quests that feel like real quests, and the combat… it’s sort of like a third-person shooter. If your buddy is getting shot with arrows, you can stand in front of him to block them. You can dodge fireballs. I play PnP, and I’ve played NWN, and after DDO, I can’t play NWN anymore. NWN is just too slow.

    DDO is something different. All the people out there always complaining about the “WoW clones,” here you go. If you don’t give DDO a fair try, then stop complaining.

  • On the issue of the washed out look, personally I like how DDO looks compared to WoW. I thought WoW’s colors were over vibrant making it look cartoony. And honestly, try playing around with the contrast and brightness a bit, that sometimes can improve the appearance quite a bit, especially if it looked bad washed out as the auto-detect may have dropped the contrast a little too much for your like.

  • Regarding influences of NWN2 and LOTR, you’re half right. Important to remember that DDO came before LOTR… LOTR borrows from the DDO mold. And Atari was behind both NWN2 and DDO… NWN2 essentially a precursor.
    I played DDO before it went “free,” the opps for Feeling part of a big world are there, and the servers are teeming with toons now. Get yourself on a raid quest, like vault of the night (VON series), where you’re running as one of a dozen, and you’ll feel “multi.”
    Best thing about it is the fighting… none of those auto battles… more like a first person arcade shooter.
    Don’t rule it out is all I’m saying.

  • I realise this article was written a little while ago now, but I just wanted to comment on the MT aspect. I think DDO has actually implemented it pretty well – at least as well as allods. Many of the things you mention (e.g. Drow, 32pt builds) can be unlocked via faction gain, the difference being that unlocks via faction gain only apply to that server, whereas a purchase from the MT store unlocks them account-wide.

    In addition, Turbine Points are gained quite regularly by playing the game, typically for reaching thresholds of faction. It’s entirely possible to unlock all the content without spending a penny in the store – though this would require running multiple alts on multiple servers through the same content to accrue the bonus TP for reaching faction. It’s worth considering also that when you buy one of the adventure packs, quite often the quests and dungeons contained will grant enough faction rewards that you’ll earn enough just by playing it through a time or two to pick up your next pack, etc. There are some very good threads on the official forums that detail optimised progression paths for those planning on doing exactly this.

    For myself, I’ve found the things I have most been tempted to shell out on in the store are things like potions of +xp%, or potions of “get better loot from your chests”, and occasionally convenience things like “a stack of 100 mana potions”, but I’ve never felt that I was in any way lagging behind my peers due to any store purchases.

    Instancing… meh. I’m with you on the “not feeling massive” thing, you lose a great deal of the sense of there being a persistent world when everything is so heavily instanced, and I miss that very much. On the other hand I tend to play MMOs with a small group of close friends, duo/trio in general and occasionally a few more. The heavily instanced style of play actually works extremely well for that playstyle, so I’m pretty ambivalent.

    Overall I’d certainly suggest giving DDO a look to anyone who was fed up with the current crop of MMOs, particuarly given the disappointment that was 2009.

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