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Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach Preview
developer: Turbine Games
PIV 1600, 512MB RAM, 3-5GB HDD, 64MB video card
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Feb 28, 06 (released)
|» All About Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach on ActionTrip|
Two things that have stemmed from my excessive playing of MMO games: I have completely changed my outlook on the relevant genres in the industry (I used to be a major FPS whore, and now I'm not (He's lying! -Mo)) and I am now sort of semi-convinced of the imminent renaissance of PC gaming. Granted, this could be prevented by the big boys, if they decide to spend truckloads of money on stopping the real progress in our industry for their personal gains, but let's not get into that now.
Stupid Kobolds will get a taste of my brand-new two-hander.
Kobold Shaman. He may be tough, but steel is tougher.
Getting back to the subject at hand, I'm a huge fan of MMO games. I spend countless hours in the various fantasy worlds (OK, who am I kidding, one more than others), but I do have a (let's call it a working) knowledge of other worlds too. Really. I do. Anyway, Turbine Games used to be and still is one of the major players in the genre. The guys behind the fan favorite, Asheron's Call are currently working on a several MMOG projects, one of which is Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach. A couple of weeks ago I was accepted into the closed beta test, and since then, I've had ample opportunity to quest and annoy people with stupid questions in the city of Stormreach (He's not lying about that -Mo).
Let's face it, many of the upcoming MMOGs simply don't have the finances or the know-how to meet the demands of this relatively oversaturated market (unfortunately, not oversaturated with hits mind you), but prior experience as well as the economics of the development process (the fact that Turbine has got decent funding for the project, backed up by a well-known license and Atari as the publisher) suggest that DDO may have a good shot at it.
First a few words about the latest set of D&D rules. One of the main things about Stormreach is that the RPG mechanics work on authentic 3.5 Core Rules, featuring nine classes and five races. The character races planned for launch are humans, elves, dwarves, halflings, and warforged. The available core classes will be barbarian, bard, cleric, fighter, paladin, ranger, rogue, sorcerer, and wizard. D&D doesn't get much more authentic than that. The general idea of the developers is to bring the pen & paper tabletop game to life. The dice are always rolling in the background through feat and skill checks. The GM's voice will be heard at key points of each dungeon crawl... you know the deal. The downside to this is that you won't be able to test your latent homosexuality with other geeks at 2am in the morning as you "accidentally" brush your hand against GM's butt as he gets up to get more burritos, but hey, some trade-offs have to be made in an effort to bring a tabletop game to life (Just what kind of 'games' are you playing??? -Mo).
Seriously though, if you want to find out more basic information about the game, I suggest you visit the game's official website (http://www.ddo.com). This is supposed to be a hands-on preview and I'm yet to work my way to the actual hands-on stuff.
Being a total World of Warcraft whore that I am, I can tell you right off the bat that DDO is a considerably different MMO experience. But before you start the stoning (for pointing out the obvious or leaping to a conclusion that I see this as a negative thing), let me explain that I'm not judging DDO for it, but rather suggesting that the game is much more of a traditional D&D RPG experience. What I mean by that is that the pacing of the game is a lot slower and slightly less accessible to the people who are new to the MMO (or the D&D) RPG sub-genres. Of course, traditional D&D gamers and those of you who enjoyed, say, Bioware's NWN will love this fact, and God knows there are enough of you out there. Myself included.
What this entails gameplay-wise is that the dungeons, as well as the combat, are more traditionally designed. A lot more factors go into the combat calculations, level progression is *much* slower and the design of the dungeons themselves is more reminiscent of the ones in tabletop games. The accent is more on secret passages, hidden traps and the adventure-like progression through the maze-like environments than it is on a sort of linear, turbo speed romp that you'd find in a game like WoW. It's sort of hard to pinpoint the exact differences here, but let's say that those of you who are heavy into the D&D scene will spot them right away. Another thing is that the mission design doesn't offer much room for soloing. For most of the tougher level 1 missions, it's highly advisable to have 3-4 people in your party (healer included). One of the things that the more traditional MMORPG players were complaining about in WoW is that getting to level 60 feels almost like rushing to level 60 by their standards. Rest assured that that is not the case in DDO: Stormreach. Sure the level cap is smaller, but by God, I've been playing the game for quite a bit of time, and I'm a long, long way off from level two. Yesterday I saw a paladin decked out in fancy-ass armor and he was level 7. My first thought was 'Get a life, you freak!'
This is what happens after a few pints of ale in the local tavern.
Other things relevant to this game, like the interface, the combat system (barring some segments of it), and the character creation process work very well. As you can see from the screenshots, the game looks great; the weather effects are awesome and as is the design and the animation of both the characters and the equipment. The character creation process is incredibly detailed and you will hardly ever see two players that look the same. This is good stuff. I wish Blizzard would follow suit in some of their upcoming content patches.
Currently, there are two realms available in the beta process. While the system is not yet stable, the main thing is that Turbine is definitely working hard on getting the game ready for launch. From the standpoint of server-side support, I am not really able to make any definite conclusions as latency and server load are likely to change dramatically once the game hits the shelves, but it's great to see that with each new beta update Turbine is fixing one bug after another. The game still has one major Achilles heel though (and it's the monster AI), but since the game is still in Beta, I am hopeful that they'll put some armor on that heel before the game hits retail.
In closing, it's good to see that there are people willing to stake their share of the MMO market. Sure the thing is a beast and it gobbles up developers like a fat geek attacks a bowl of peanut M&M's, but I think Turbine has a good shot at it. Their idea is to attract a slightly different crowd from the newcomers to the genre that mostly ended-up playing World of Warcraft (That would be me. Sign me up! -Mo). This is a more traditional dungeon crawl with a massively multiplayer online twist, with slower pacing and D&D focused dungeon design and combat mechanics. Given how many people have been enjoying Asheron's Call over the years, it is reasonable to expect that DDO will do well. All now rests on Turbine's ability to fine-tune the gameplay to the point of being enjoyable enough in the first few weeks post-launch to keep the fan base and attract new customers.
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