Wow… Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO) just turned 3 — has it really been that long already?
When it first came out, I was right on board, first train and pulling that whistle. Choo-choo! DDO seemed like it had a great chance to forge a new path in MMOspace — a solid IP that was synonymous with “RPG”, a dedication to party instance runs that would tell stories, and the ability to multi-class. Right after launch, however, it didn’t take long for most of us to realize that this wasn’t going to make any great waves in the gaming industry, and in fact, was going to struggle hard for its entire lifespan.
For the record, I liked DDO, but they didn’t quite think everything through in development. The Eberron setting was a mistake, as few D&D loyalists were familiar with the campaign, and confining the population to one city gave the game a downright claustrophobic feel. D&D’s leveling and multi-classing system didn’t translate exactly into MMO terms, so they really had to torture it to give players a similar feeling of “leveling up” as they got in other titles. Turbine had — and still has, in LOTRO as well — a crappy interface that was brutal and small to work with, and gave no “life” to the adventures. A great UI is essential to a game’s success, I’m starting to support.
Because you would repeat dungeon runs over and over, players soon learned the fastest way of doing them, resulting in “speed runs” which allowed zero time for exploration, trap removal or fun — just faster XP and loot. That sucked a lot of the joy out of the game for me.
Then you had to cope with the fact that DDO wasn’t a simple game to understand; on the contrary, you could really screw up your character before even loading into the first zone. Magic-casters in particular had to do gobs of research and agonize over every little decision, as they’d be penalized mightily for making the wrong choice (which would stick with them for a long time). D&D’s check and save system isn’t very intuitive for the non-D&Ders out there, and I believe this became a big obstacle to drawing in that crowd. Finally, this just wasn’t a game that initially supported solo play, and some players started to chafe at being forced into groups (or be helpless without them) just to run content.
That’s all a shame, because there’s a GREAT core of a game inside all of that. The combat is pseudo-real time, and carries with it real weight — you don’t regenerate hit points over an adventure (other than being healed or finding one of the very sparse healing shrines), which made players really think through their actions. Traps, mini-games and exploration played a bigger part of instance runs, and that coupled with the GM’s voice-over narrative actually worked in making you feel part of a real quest instead of some FedEx check box list. You had enormous possibilities in building your characters, if you had the advance knowledge for it, and Turbine did add in more class options later on.
This is one of those titles that, if it was $6 a month or cheaper, I’d probably keep on my computer and subscribed as a casual, part-time title. As it is, the age of the game, coupled with its extremely low subscriber base (and probably skimpy dev support) means that there isn’t much of a future in it. Alas. It really did have potential.