Six Things I’d Have Changed About DDO From The Beginning

Because Monday morning quarterbacking is what all bloggers live to do, here are six things I would’ve changed or done differently with DDO from the start:

1. More info on building classes and better respeccing

D&D is, by its very nature, a complex game.  That complexity is part of its charm, but it also acts as a barrier to entry to those who are bewildered with terms like THAC0 and 3d6 and what a Fortitude vs. Will save means.  I think translating that into a MMO was a monumental task of which Turbine should receive a lot of praise for even attempting, but even their modified 3.5 ruleset was (and is) a little too unwieldy and prone to gimpage for the average player.

The sheer flexibility of the character building system in DDO is only matched by the vast ways you can make a less-than-optimal character and have no idea that you’re doing so until you’re well into the game.  DDO needed to spend a lot more time explaining builds and to be more forgiving with respecs afterward.

2. Go Slower

To my knowledge, the classic tabletop D&D experience isn’t summed up by a party of players full-on sprinting through dungeons and wildly, frantically flailing their weapons at anything that moves.  DDO lost a bit of its D&D-ness when it enabled — and promoted — players to focus on speed instead of thoughtfulness, careful party progression and combat that isn’t 99% mouse-clicking.

3. More storytelling elements

I really do love how awesome DDO’s dungeons are, especially with some of the scripted events that occur and the DM’s occasional voiceover.  But I’ve always felt like the dungeons were disconnected from each other and the world, just little pocket MMOs that had no greater story attached.

Considering how Turbine hit a home run with their storytelling devices in LOTRO, especially with the epic book line, I would’ve loved to see more pre-dungeon storytelling in DDO (that isn’t just a text box, of course), including cut scenes and interactive role-play.

4. Fully embraced the Eberron setting

I actually approve of Turbine securing the little-known Eberron setting for DDO instead of one of the more familiar (and far more overused) campaigns, but I’ve always felt like they never really embraced Eberron enough.  For one thing, the game takes place on a largely unpopulated continent that’s far away from the rest of the world’s population.  Eberron has a really cool magic/steampunk/Indiana Jones vibe going on, but not as much of that made it into DDO.

In addition, after throwing in the Warforged as a race, Turbine seemed to shy away from the unique classes and races that helped define the Eberron setting, instead choosing to cling to D&D staples instead.

5. More social tools

Another odd exclusion from D&D — the heart of the role-playing experience, mind you — was anything but a bare minimum of social and role-playing tools.  Unlike LOTRO, you don’t see players congregating in any areas for RP events (or, at least, any that I’ve seen), and there are few if any tools to encourage them to do so.  Guilds always seemed like extended friends list, but other than constantly run through dungeons, there wasn’t much else to do.

I’m glad DDO’s throwing in guild airships soon, but I would’ve liked to have seen a lot more social and RP tools from Day One, if only to give the world more depth and the community more of a reason to bond.

6. Use the current business model

Okay, in retrospect, there’s no way they would’ve known a few years ago just how successful this F2P/subscription-hybrid model would’ve worked, but can you imagine if it had been in place from launch?  If people didn’t have to choose between a $15 subscription for DDO and any other game, but could have both and just pay a little bit at a time to unlock modules?

15 thoughts on “Six Things I’d Have Changed About DDO From The Beginning

  1. Ardwulf April 29, 2010 / 10:58 am

    One minor quibble – DDO doesn’t use the term THAC0 anywhere, as far as I know – that was an AD&D2e contrivance and DDO is rooted solidly in D&D3.

    Aside from pointing that out, I agree with your points; I’d add to them better inventory management, which is pretty rudimentary.

  2. spinks April 29, 2010 / 11:12 am

    Eberron actually won awards as a setting. I’m also surprised that they licensed it and then didn’t really use it.

  3. openedge1 April 29, 2010 / 12:50 pm

    The “action” combat really does not work here either. Like you said…the “flailing” about and running in circles and what not…just did not feel D&D..

    Actually, the slow methodical global skill refreshes of most MMO’s would have worked better here.
    Heck, even a turn based system like the Final Fantasy system (the “Active Time Battle” system actually) would have rocked it here….

    Ah well, the game never caught on for me, and maybe this is why.

  4. Professor Beej April 29, 2010 / 1:17 pm

    @openedge1: You give me an MMO with turn-based battles and menu choices (that don’t equate to building decks of cards and playing them), and you have a subscriber for life.

  5. Brian 'Psychochild' Green April 29, 2010 / 2:08 pm

    Eberron was actually a fan-created setting that won a contest to become a focus campaign for 3rd edition D&D. Wizards of the Coast were pushing that pretty hard when it came out. Giving the timing of MMO development, DDO was probably licensed during this time; I wonder if one of the requirements for licensing the D&D name was to use the Eberron system. Perhaps the Turbine developers weren’t all that thrilled, so they made it as Eberron-lite as possible?

    One other thing I’d add would be a better auction house interface. After playing LotRO, I know Turbine can make a decent AH interface, but the one in DDO just hurts to use. You can’t even search by item name as far as I know. Want to find a “Pure Good” Axe? Time to look under Weapons > Battleaxe and scan the pages of entries. I can’t imagine a lot of people use the AH for anything besides really rare items given how painful it is to use.

    Anyway, I definitely agree on the pacing issue. I’d love if the game were a bit slower paced. I suspect part of this is because you often group with experienced people. Doing a dungeon for the first time with no experienced people might be a bit more thoughtful. But, when you know where all the traps and secret doors are, there’s little incentive to go at a moderate pace.

    Still, I’m having a lot of fun with it, both in the Wednesday night groups you’ve organized and in the solo time I’ve put in as well.

  6. Jason April 29, 2010 / 2:10 pm

    1. One of DDO’s greatest strengths, the flexibility of the character building system, is also one of its greatest weaknesses. I think the “Paths” idea is the answer, but the way it was implemented is flawed. There are too many choices and most of the builds are junk. They should offer 5-6 paths, enough to cover a variety of play styles, where bringing one of each makes for a well- rounded party. They don’t all need to be good solo builds, but they must be newbie friendly, and effective in group play from level 1 to 20.

    2. When DDO first came out, I was really turned off by the twitch combat, I felt it did not fit D&D. But after years of playing “action bar” MMOs (WOW, LOTRO, EQ2, ect.), I find the hack and slash combat a nice change of pace. I also enjoy exploring all the nooks and crannies, doing all the “optionals”, solving the puzzles, and so forth. But I understand some people just get sick of stopping to smash every single crate.

    3,4,5,6. I agree with your points. Every MMO could use more storytelling elements. Turbine has done a “fair” job bringing the Eberron setting to the computer, but certainly there is room for improvement.

  7. Ryan April 29, 2010 / 10:45 pm

    I’ve been meaning to give DDO a shot. Maybe I will one of these days… still, though, there are aspects of the game that seem off-putting to me… including the character creation system, based off the things I’ve heard from it. I do appreciate a fairly straightforward newbie experience… though, I say that and my first MMO was old-school EQ pre-PoP and managed. LOL.

  8. Llokki April 30, 2010 / 4:00 am

    I want to know why they haven’t added gnomes as a race yet. They are, after all, a part of the Eberron setting. In fact, one might say that they are a bigger part of the setting than many of the other races that have been included.

    I also very much agree with your criticism on pacing. The main reason I avoided groups when I played was because it seemed that whenever I joined one, it would be experienced people who wanted to rush through the dungeons at a million miles per hour – while all I wanted was to take my time and enjoy the experience of exploring.

  9. Tesh April 30, 2010 / 11:45 am

    Good article, Syp, and wholly agreed on the Eberron notion. I really wish they would have pushed it more… but then, I’m also on the lookout for good steampunk games. 😉

    Turn-based combat would be interesting. I like it (FFX was great), but would it fly in the mass market? Sadly, that’s some thing I always have to remember with MMO design, since the threshold for success gets pushed up since these things are so expensive to make.

  10. Jeremy S. April 30, 2010 / 3:15 pm

    3. More storytelling elements

    I agree. I always thought ideas from Neverwinter Nights and some roleplay addons as seen in WoW should be built in to DDO to support the continuation of what D&D is.

    Inject a little of that old-timey D&D flavor back into the MMORPG.

  11. George May 3, 2010 / 2:52 pm

    Playing DDO the last 8 months but what I really want is Greyhawk Online :).

    http://www.gotbowie.com/arps/old_wogmap/index.htm

    Entire world, one map. one server, no instances. Full economy, political factions and alliances, wars where applicable, full weather/seasons.

    All spells, gods, NPC’s applicable to GH and so on and so on and son on.

    We can dream 🙂

  12. Rob May 18, 2010 / 11:28 pm

    I’ve just started playing DDO recently, just over the last 2 weeks or so in fact. I do like the game but I also have to agree that its not that newbie friendly and that it doesn’t really explain things at great length for most people to understand.
    I’m in no way a newbie to RPG’s or MMO’s having been an avid 2nd and 3rd edition table top D&D player and I’ve played World of Warcraft for the last 2 1/2 years and even I have to admit that the learning curve of DDO is very steep. For someone that has never played an MMO before I don’t think that DDO would be a good “starter” game and may even put them off trying other more newbie friendly games.

    However that said we do have to remember that DDO is still a fairly recently released game having just premiered in 2009 and it really hasn’t had a lot of time for change and evolution. I mean think about it. Is World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King the same game it was when vanilla World of Warcraft came out 5 years ago? No, not even close. It changed, evolved and grew, old stuff was refined and new stuff added and I imagine that DDO will do the same given the time.

    Right now I’ve gotten really bored with WoW and am taking a break from it and for now I’m playing DDO and I do have to say that I really like it and find it quite a refreshing change and other than the steep learning curve and lack of information for new players I’m finding it extremely enjoyable and well made for a game that hasn’t even had its first birthday.
    Its a simple thing really, the longer the game goes the more it will evolve and change.

  13. Hans-Christian July 8, 2010 / 10:58 am

    I agree, DDO is more of a streamlined MMO than an actual D&D experience. There are basically no RPG elements, half of the skills are entirely useless (who actually puts points into skills like Haggle or Diplomacy) and what it comes down to are fast paced dungeon runs for mostly underwhelming loot (magic is a dime a dozen in this game) and DPS builds. If you don’t build your character a certain way it is basically useless. So delete and repeat! This is not what D&D is about in my opinion.
    Battles are – in traditional MMO manier – buff/debuff and heal matches…which I consider quite off-putting. Most weapons and armor look ridiculous and I’ll never get over the fact that most rangers wear robes as their armor of choice, because they have to squeeze every possible AC bonus out of their build. Where is D&D in all this?
    Choosing Eberron as a campaign background was a sacriledge in my opinion. I know it comes down to personal taste, but I despise it. When I think D&D I do not think about flying towers all over the place, airships, machines, pipes and mobs with 5000 HP.

    DDO is not bad for a MMO but it is NOT Dungeons and Dragons. It reminds me more of WoW than anything else.

  14. Vivianna July 30, 2010 / 12:23 pm

    @Tesh

    Atlantica Online did it just fine.

    We must face it. This was not turbine trying to bring DnD online. This was Turbine trying to cash in on GuildWars fame (Come now, it looks and plays just like it really)

    This in the end is nothing more then Guild Wars with some DnD items and terms tossed in (FFS! Clerics have spell points! And cast spells like wizards!)

    Not to mention this borrows heavily (Or maybe vice versa) from the TERRIBLE 4.0 build of DnD which removed Gnomes as a playable race and made them creatures.

    DnD could have EASILY been translated to an MMO. The RP system could have EASILY been lifted from any other MMO. Hell, even searching for a list of guilds is a monumental task since player and guild search is nearly non-existent (And even where it IS existent, the lists are 90% incomplete)

    @Professor Beej: Atlantica Online

    Heck, if they tweaked FF11’s combat system to be more DnD like, it would have worked greatly!

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