I never thought I’d say this, but I’m in a regular gaming group. I know, I know. Me. Why is this a surprise? Well, gaming has never been one of my big hobbies until recently. Sure, I played games and I was a fan, but I was never the “gaming group” kind of guy. Raiding? Nah. Never liked scheduling gaming. What made me switch, I guess, was Twitter. I started using Twitter a few months ago for the giveaways and prize opportunities you see from time to time and at the same time I started following a few of my favorite writers, game companies, bloggers and well… one thing led to another. Syp, a very prolific blogger and spearhead of the Newbie Blogger Initiative (of which I am a part of), posted a question if anyone wanted to form a Dungeons and Dragons Online gaming group. My first thought was… Nah. No way. Its not me. Despite this, though, I found myself saying “Yeah, sure!” and after the feeling of foreboding that formed in my stomach cleared and we started playing I started really having fun… and found out exactly how much all the MMO experience I have from other games is worth nothing in Dungeons and Dragons Online. Here are a few things of what makes DDO different.
The way characters are created and how they level up is completely different, and this is where I feel the most inexperienced. I created a Bard, which I assumed would stand in the back, play a little music, and essentially offer support. So how does it play? A Two-Handed Axe wielding damage dealer that gets up in your face! Every once in a while I’ll play a song or two to buff my group or daze some enemies, but really its all about going toe-to-toe and smacking baddies upside the head. This has confused me to no end.
Character Creation overall is very open. Every level you gain is a momentous occasion! So much so, that you don’t automatically level. The choices made during leveling are so important, it gives you as much time as you need to figure it out. Most other MMOs you visit your trainer and get new skills, but in DDO you have the ability to gain the abilities of other classes entirely. Say you start a rogue. Well, after a couple of levels you could switch it up and take the rest of your levels as a wizard. This could help to increase evasion in combat or help you with traps. Multi-classing seems to be a very popular thing to do in DDO as it helps create very customized builds.
Personally, although I love a lot of depth when it comes to character creation, I’m afraid of it becoming an illusion of choice. If you don’t pick the best options, then you can very easily break your character and make it so you become less effective at the high levels of the game. I guess I’ll find out, although if anyone experienced has advice about building Bards, I’d be happy to hear it.
Just like other games, beating up bad guys, opening chests (which might be trapped, by the way), and completing quests gets you loot. The loot, though, is just… different. Its hard to explain. Instead of getting gear with stats where the weapons you have are based on your class, loot is meant to simply complement your skills chosen during leveling. If you pick proficiency in swords, you can still wield a club, it just won’t do as much damage or your chance to hit won’t be as high as a sword, but the club might be better against some enemies. Armor can protect you, but it also makes you less dexterous or can make your spells fizzle. Boots, wrists, rings, helm, and cloak instead of offering armor and stats can give you a new spells to cast, or buff a skill, like “spot” or “listen”. So the way loot is given, confusion easily sets in when every item choice is not an obvious upgrade. Suddenly, I could wear a cloak that increases my Charisma, or wear a cloak that lets me cast “Mage Armor”. I right now have both… as I really can’t choose between them as I still don’t have a full grasp on what my character can do.
Traps and Puzzles
Picture this, you’re sneaking through a dungeon (because everyone can sneak, too… just maybe not as effectively as others) and your senses point you out to a trap ahead. A trap. Nothing obvious, like a spot of fire on the ground that you shouldn’t stand in, but a spot where spikes will come out of the ground and run you through. If you’re a rogue, you could try disarming it. If you have enough skill in “Jump”, you could jump past it and try to avoid the damage. Tricky. Or when you hit a lever, the floor gives out just like you’re Indiana Jones or something. This truly makes every dungeon feel a little more suspenseful. There could be a trap right in front of you, and if you don’t have the proper skills, you would never know until it hit you.
Then, the prize you seek is sitting on top of a pedestal surrounded by a bubble of magic. How do you get rid of it? By shifting floor panels on the ground until a beam of light hits the pedestal. A puzzle! Not a difficult puzzle, mind you, but a puzzle! A real puzzle! Now, I haven’t been playing it that long, but I really can’t wait to encounter some real mind-benders. Not going to cheat and use a guide, either. In my opinion, that just takes away the fun, but the more puzzles in the game the better.
Killing Monsters Does Not Give Experience
Unless the quest was to specifically kill a monster, experience is gained by completing quest objectives and you get no experience for killing monsters. This means that if you’re not the most hardy of characters, and killing the monster isn’t necessary, you could just sneak past them. Most times, they don’t even have loot on them. Unlike other games where you could pass a group of mobs, but doing so means missing out on their loot and experience, there is no penalty for skipping them. It becomes a tactical choice instead of mandatory or a punishment. This gives the feeling that every encounter is important, and gives many different ways to complete each quest.
A Brave New World
Overall, all of this leads to one conclusion: I have no idea what I’m doing. I probably won’t for quite a while, either. The learning curve is pretty steep. With all of these points, even though some of them can be found in other games, like puzzles in Star Trek Online or situational loot like in Guild Wars, they really set Dungeons and Dragons Online apart. My main fear is somehow messing up my character with the really complex character system, but this is the way Dungeons and Dragons players like it.
Even though it’s totally out of character for me, I’m really glad that I’ve joined this weekly group. Not only are the guys I’m playing with awesome, but the game itself is growing on me week after week.
P.S. – For some good reading, check out some of the blogs by fellow weekly group members: Professor Beej, Psychochild’s Blog, Warrior Needs Time Badly, and Bio Break (although Syp hasn’t found time to play with us, despite starting the group in the first place. :P )