“No one…*no one*…wants to start a game knowing that what they’re rolling in with is going to be, by definition, not best spec.”
~ SableShadow, on DDO forums
As I briefly touched on in my previous DDO review, probably one of the most debated, heated issues in Dungeons & Dragons Online right now — and pretty much ever since it came out — was the inclusion of the unlockable 32-point build.
Let me summarize. When you first start playing, the character you create has 28 stat points that you can distribute among your core stats, any way you like. Then Turbine created the Favor system — that players would accumulate favor for different factions and an overall favor for that character. You could only get favor by doing dungeon runs, and each dungeon could only give you a set amount of favor (if you finish it on elite, you can never get another favor point from that dungeon again), so to gain a lot of favor, you have to run a wide variety of dungeons at the highest difficulty possible. To encourage you to do this — essentially to experience all of the game instead of ignoring some content to grind others — Turbine instituted pretty decent rewards once you hit various favor milestones. Bigger inventory, purchasable buffs, the Drow race. Oh, and 32-point builds. In theory, and mostly in practice, the favor system works, except for this last thing.
Follow me here. 32-point builds may seem like a small increase, but those 4 points mean more skill points, more power, and more options for multi-classing. It’s a 12% increase of your base stats, more or less. All things being equal, a 32-point build will always be better than a 28-pointer. So obviously when a new player learns of this fact, they want to get to that 32-point build as soon as possible, because that became the standard for players, and a 28-pointer is simply inferior. So they start working hard to get the 1750 favor necessary, which takes a considerable amount of time, especially if they’re learning the ropes as they go. On that happy day they hit 1750 and 32-point builds are unlocked on their account, Turbine delivers the real gut-punch: that 28-point character they’ve been leveling this whole time? It’s not included in the 32-point thing. There’s no upgrade from a 28-pointer to a 32-point one.
(As partial compensation, the game also gives you a +2 tome to apply to any stat you like, but that’s still not 4 points, and if you apply it to INT, for example, you won’t get the skill points you would’ve if you had the +2 in the beginning.)
You see the problem, right? That first character you roll becomes a disposable workhorse designed to do just one thing before your account is upgraded and you can finally make “real” characters. Despite some vets (who have hit the 1750 threshold a long time ago and don’t see this as an issue) saying that 28-point builds are just as viable and that those 4 points don’t represent much, most folks disagree. It’s hard to imagine any other MMO saying, “Now go ahead and level up your first character to a certain point, and after a couple months we’ll unlock the ability for you to make a real character who has better stats on the same level with everyone else who’s been playing a while.” That’s a recipe for a major turn-off, and one of the big reasons why I never came back to DDO before now. It’s honestly stupid. But Turbine stuck themselves in a bad position, because if they do anything to lessen the accomplishments of the vets who put in a lot of time and effort unlocking those builds, then they’re going to make their faithful, loyal base pretty upset as well.
Now throwing their hat into the debate is the new, upcoming DDO store that’s selling many favor-unlockable options (like Drow) for real-world dollars — except 32-point builds, which devs said, so far, will remain favor-unlockable only. So huge amounts of opinions have been given as to how Turbine should proceed, and I’ll sum up the major stances as such.
Option #1: Keep It As Is — 32-point builds should be unlockable through 1750 favor only, they shouldn’t be sold at the store, and new players should realise that reaching this point is a “coming of age” that all vets have had to go through. Not surprisingly, this is the opinion of some DDO old timers and very few, if any, newcomers (or pre-1750 players). As of now, this is Turbine’s position.
Option #2: Sell 32-Point Builds In The DDO Store — Let frugal players still be able to earn it through favor if they like, or offer a shortcut to these builds through a one-time cash purchase. 32-point vets see this as a huge besmirchment upon their efforts, and rail against it accordingly (“it cheapens our efforts!”). Others are against it because it represents some of the worst aspects of RMT — namely, “you can only play a weaker character unless you pony up some dough for a ‘real’ one.” Many have voiced support for it, as a way to overcome Turbine’s gaffe and to give hope to the anticipated horde of newcomers instead of turning them off by the 1750 favor restriction.
Option #3: Once You Hit 1750 Favor, Give 4 Stat Points To Every 28-Point Character On Your Account — This is a sensible, logical, and seemingly elegant solution, one that I stand by. It doesn’t cheapen the accomplishment of 1750 favor, but doesn’t render that character worthless either. I’m not sure if there are any major technical/design issues associated with a 4-point increase, but I’m sure they can be dealt with. Turbine’s been very silent on this approach.
Option #4: Make 32-Point Builds Standard, Give 1750 Favor Vets A Different Reward — Also sensible, but would be far more prone to making vets scream bloody murder unless that reward was really, really awesome.
Now, as an inelegant workaround for the person who doesn’t entirely want to waste a first character, many vets will tell you to follow the path I am — to roll a cleric or a healing class (to get into a lot of groups and figure out the game), get up to 400 favor to unlock the Drow race, and reroll a Drow (which has 4 additional “fixed” stat points, essentially letting you make an inflexible 32-point build) until you hit 1750, then you can roll your third character to be whatever you like without feeling gimped. I shouldn’t have to point out that this is an idiotic way for a new player to progress through the game, as it makes me feel limited in my initial choices.
What’s forehead-slappingly dumb to me isn’t just how this is set up, but that there is a large contingent of vets who defend it by wielding one of two arguments against people who have an issue with the 32-point unlocking:
- “C’mon, 28-point builds aren’t that bad. Why, nobody can tell! They’re viable in the end game!”
- “If I had to do it, so should you.”
Both of these are flimsy at best, patronizing and selfish at worst. And what many of these folks don’t get is that this is an issue bigger than what affects them personally — it’s an issue that really affects whether or not DDO has a future. The truth is that a lot of gamers will be giving DDO a try (or a second chance) later this summer, and I can think of no better way than making them feel shunned than by informing them that they’re playing a statistically weaker character which can never become stronger, although if they work hard enough their first alt might be. No matter whether argument #1 is true or not, no new player is going to perceive it that way, and perception trumps all. If a player perceives that their character is weaker than others, then it is.
As always, vets are the loyal customers who comprise the core of a MMO company’s pocketbook, but the devs know that if they don’t draw in new blood as well, that’s it for the game. If there’s any time where Turbine should be changing their policy on this 32-point fiasco, it’s now, and options 3 and 4 seem the best way to compromise between the two parties.