Welcome to my second review and breakdown of Dungeons and Dragons Online (DDO). Today I will be covering appearance and visual character customization, the combat system, race balance, the guild system, item swapping and more. I will definitely be writing a third article after a bit more experience, covering the end game raiding and progression, and everything that ties to that.
Appearance, Customization, and Models:
There is just no sugar coating it. The way you can visually customize your character on creation is pretty weak in DDO. It’s slightly above World of Warcraft (WOW), but that isn’t saying much. There are just the typical, bare minimum options that have unfortunately plagued so many MMOs in the past. While this was once acceptable, times are changing, and if you’ve seen the video from All Points Bulletin (APB) then you know what I mean.
The armor models in the game are pretty good, but they still come with a host of problems. First of all, your armor or chest piece slot covers about 80% of what your character looks like, with one piece. Cloaks are worn but not visible, and basically so is everything else except your hat (which you can turn off) and your weapons. So right off the bat, most of what your character looks like comes from what piece of armor they are wearing, and to add to the problem, there are no dyes of any kind within DDO. So if someone is wearing the same piece as you, they basically look just like you, though size based on race can make some difference.
Here is my character, I’ve switched one item between the two images so you can see how much the single item plays in your overall appearance.
This might all be fine if everyone was using a lot of different models, but unfortunately at higher levels almost everyone is using the same stuff, or even worse, there are options, but those options all look the same. What this game could really use, in addition to armor dyes and just more models, would be a kind of customization system like Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO), ironically also made by Turbine. In LOTRO you could mix and match different armor (and dye it) and store it in a cosmetic tab so that as you got new armor for better stats, your could keep your cosmetic tab or tabs looking the same. This was great if you got a piece of armor that was really good, but ugly to look at. So overall the customization and models within DDO could use a lot of work.
Oh, one last thing I almost forgot. Player’s hold their two handed weapons… sideways, when not swinging them. It looks ridiculous, and it’s been in the game since day one. I have an friend that’s been complaining since beta but still wonders why and how his character holds their weapon.
The combat system in DDO has its perks, as well as its downsides. So let’s start with the perks. You can dodge many types of ranged attacks or spells, which is neat, but this can also come at a price, because some mobs can also dodge various ray spells and so forth. The mob artificial intelligence (AI) is slightly above average, for example certain caster mobs will dodge back and try to kite a little bit to keep away from you and cast spells.
In my opinion, the combat system in DDO is pretty weak. A lot of people will praise it for being “interactive” but I’m not sure if they’ve ever played another MMO or any video game for that matter. First I’ll start with melee, it’s what I know best, and it’s the most common combat by far in DDO (over ranged and spells). Essentially… you auto-attack, and that’s it. There are a couple of skills like Trip, Sunder, or Stunning Blow, and maybe I might activate a short buff to boost my damage or dodge, but still you are basically just auto-attacking. This is true for almost every single melee class, monks excluded to a certain extent. Now, you can get flanking bonuses by positioning yourself, and you can dodge some things, but you don’t actually want to move in combat. If you move, you get less attacks and you are penalized. There is no blocking with shields, no parrying with swords, and thus no reactionary styles to those effects. Almost everything that goes on in combat is happening under the surface, without your direct involvement. Honestly, prior to the higher levels when you start to get one really good weapon, most of what melee does is switch weapons in order to gain a bonus against whatever they are fighting. I personally wasn’t a fan of carrying around 15 different great axes at any given point. Archers are fairly similar, because well, you’re just auto-attacking with a bow. And if you get aggro and kite around, everyone in your party is going to hate you because they are trying to run around after that mob and will have a hell of a time hitting it.
Spell casters are quite different because there really is no auto-attacking, unless you make a sort of melee-caster hybrid. As a caster you have to <gasp> actually choose and activate what spells you want to cast. You can aim some spells without selecting a target (if you wish), which is good for setting up various kinds of traps or choke points. The downside of spell casting is that probably only 25% of the spells in the game are useful, and of those many are only useful until later spells become available. In addition, the same type of tactics seems to come up over and over, which can make spell casting fairly repetitive. While spell casters can be incredibly important in a group, from my current experience it is rare to have more than one arcane per group (six people) because sustained melee DPS (damage per second) doesn’t need to worry about spell points. More to come on this in my next article.
The race balance isn’t that bad, and actually, I rather like how certain races can really change a class via the kinds of bonuses they come with. While certain races and their bonuses tend to favor certain classes, there are still some interesting design choices you can make on your character based on your race. However, there is one race that basically kills all the competition because of the exceedingly overpowered number of bonuses that they get: the Warforged.
If you’re like me, you look at the picture above and think that is about the ugliest thing you have ever seen, and you wouldn’t be caught dead actually playing one. Maybe that was what Turbine was going for, by giving them all kinds of bonuses, they’d counter it with cosmetic horror. Still, there are some people that actually like the way that Warforged (WF) look. So what are these bonuses that they get?
- Energy Drain
- Paralysis and
- Spells targeting humanoids
- Water breathing
- Light Fortification (25% chance to negate critical damage).
They do have a few drawbacks, which are:
- 5% Arcane Spell Failure
- Receive 50% of Heals
Some of those drawbacks looks bad, but they are easily countered. The Arcane Spell Failure can be negated by spending 2 action points (very little). The healing reduction can be lessened so that they receive 80% of healing just with enhancements, so with gear they can easily reach a 100% (or higher) amount of healing. Oh, and they can also be healed by Wizards and Sorcerers with the various repair and reconstruction spells that only heal Warforged. Of course if you are a WF arcane caster… you can heal yourself.
There is some good news however, and that is that at higher levels it becomes easier to get an item that will collectively cover many of the immunities that the Warforged get, so that you don’t have to dedicate at least 3 item slots to cover disease, poison and water breathing. And perhaps their ugliness is actually a good deterrent, because I don’t see as many as I would think looking at all those bonuses and immunities.
Fairly recently, Turbine added guild leveling and airships into DDO. Guild airships act as a form of guild housing and can become bigger and better as your guild level increases. As your guild level increases, your guild has access to more and better kinds of buffs or helpful NPCs that they can place on the airship. Overall, I like it, and wish these ships were large enough to allow all the buffs to be present. Of course that’s the point, you have to pick and choose which buffs will be best suited for the most players. The guild leveling system is really steep. I think they designed it so that it would take years for a guild to reach the cap of 100. The first 20 or 30 levels aren’t that bad, but then the guild renown (like exp) requirement goes through the roof.
A graph of the required amount of guild renown needed for each guild level. This image is from http://ddowiki.com
Now personally, I am more of a fan of the “forgotten realms” version of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) than Eberron used by DDO, but I can understand why they wanted to use a different medium because it gives them more freedom because they were less restricted by what so many other games and stories had done to that world. So that being said… giant flying airships just doesn’t fit well into D&D for me. While I appreciate that they are different than typical fantasy settings used for guild houses, it still bugs me that I’m aboard a flying machine in DDO.
Ransacking is something that happens when you loot a chest to many times. First I should mention to players unfamiliar with DDO that loot does not drop from mobs, but from chests. Chests typically follow the defeating of a boss, a rare mob, or the end of a dungeon. What happens is that when you loot a chest, a hidden timer starts, and in one week from that time the chest will reset. Now, until that time, you can loot a chest a total of 7 times before it becomes ransacked. When it becomes ransacked, the chest will no longer be able to drop certain forms of named loot, and regular, randomized loot will still appear but will be one level lower each additional time you ransack it. So basically you loot a chest 7 times and then move on to something else.
Now I don’t really have a problem with this, because it keeps players from doing the same thing over and over. What I do hate about this system is that there is no way to find out when your timer will reset unless you wrote down the exact time that you first looted the chest, which is highly unlikely unless you knew you were going to continue to run it over and over. And if you are trying to get an item that drops from a couple of rare spawn chests in an explorer zone, you’ll have to keep track of each chest separately. At least with raids, you can find out how long you have until you can run it again (more on this next article) but with ransack you better remember to take notes or guess. So if you come back 6 days, 23 hours and 30 minutes from the first time you looted the chest, you’ll get another ransack message and have no idea that if you waited a little longer you wouldn’t have wasted your time. Talk about an easy to implement system that would seriously save some headache.
What may be the most annoying thing to me in DDO is the amount of item swapping that is required. About to perform a search? Switch to your +search gear! Now you’ve found the trap, switch to your +disable item! About to sell? Put on your +haggle item. Not only do you switch for these kinds of bonuses, but items abound that come with various numbers of spell charges on them, so you can switch, use the item to give yourself a short buff, and then switch back to your original item. There is also switching weapons to bypass damage reduction or to gain a bonus, like if you are killing Undead to make sure you switch to a weapon that is ‘Good’ aligned and maybe has Greater Undead Bane for extra damage.
All this wouldn’t be that bad, if there wasn’t so much of it. If there were a few rare items with spell charges I wouldn’t mind, but on most of my characters I could fill more quick bars with items than any other amount of skills, feats or spells combined. Switching a couple weapons around doesn’t seem that bad to me either, but as I mentioned earlier, I used to carry around like 15 different great axes, and I easily could have carried twice that if I had found the right stuff. I’m sorry, but to me, switching items does not in any way remind me of pen and paper D&D, and while my experience in that area isn’t vast, I still don’t seem to recall any swapping. Most games are designed to give you a short cooldown, so that if you equip and item with some sort of charge, you can’t use it for a short period of time. This curbs the desire to carry around 20 different items that you equip and use just for buffing. I’m fine with preparing for something by tailoring your gear for it, like making sure you have your fire resistance stuff on before you enter a dungeon, but I just despise the constant flip flop of items and the cluster it requires both in my inventory and on my quick bars.
An example of a few quick bars devoted only to swapping between items and weapons.
So there you have it, appearance and models, combat, race balance, guild leveling and housing, item swapping and ransack, a part of the overall loot system. I’m saving a lot of relevant raid and end-game related stuff for the final article, and while I am dying to write about it, I want to make sure I can accurately cover everything that I want to talk about. Good news though, there are in fact more dragons in DDO now (and less slime / ooze!) so I’ll have to come up with a new joke that plays off the name… Dungeons and Oh Wait Let Me Switch To My Other Item So I Can Do This.