I’ve always eschewed the idea of the free-to-play MMORPG, primarily on the pretense that you’d end up spending more money that way than you would if you were paying a consistent, monthly fee. I don’t really care for cosmetic upgrades (alright, they’re nice, but still nothing I’d pay extra for), and experience boosts really aren’t my thing, either. I’m a stubborn gamer, and I usually like doing things the hard way, because I feel like I’m getting the most out of it by maximizing the time spent playing.
It doesn’t help that a lot of free-to-play games out there utilize the pull of their loot-filled cash shops to mask the hollow shell of a game beneath. Let’s face it, some people will always be drawn in by the prospect of spending gobs of money to make themselves feel superior. It happens in the real world, as well as the virtual one. And when the virtual world sucks, there’s nothing there to keep me playing.
But I’ve been bitten by a bug. Now I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription that can cure it is more content! What possible piece of software could I be talking about? Well, it’s the one that’s been occupying my time while I wait (impatiently) for something new from the World of Warcraft — Dungeons and Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited.What hooked me right from the beginning was the core of the game itself: the dungeons. And boy, does it live up the name. It’s a little short on the “dragons” (I’ve only seen one, actually), but the “other D” is there in full force. Titled “Adventures,” there are probably at least a couple hundred of them in the game, and Turbine is gracious enough to give you plenty of access to them up until around Level 4 (which is more like Level 20 by any other MMO standard), when it becomes prudent to start looking at the downloadable content packs to move forward.
Faced with a dearth of a new quests at about this point (and the ones remaining, a little too difficult to handle by myself), I found myself repeatedly wandering back to the button on the upper-left side of the screen that would instantly link me to the DDO Store, an infernal gateway through which Turbine could remotely slip their greasy palms into my wallet and demons occasionally escape.
But the beast needed to be fed, and I wouldn’t mind a little bit of variety, to boot. While the dungeons are generally engaging, many of them (at least in the early going) are just remixed versions of the same sewer and cave tilesets littered with barrels and crates for you to smash or climb on top of. You’ll be slaying enough kobolds to fill a New York City landfill, and I really hope you like the “colors” gray and brown. So these capsules looked all the more enticing. Sure, there would still be a lot of sewers and caves, but hopefully they would be crafted a little more carefully and with more interesting storylines.
Now, Turbine has a really clever way of getting their hooks into you. Aside from giving you a couple dozen hours of plainly free content up-front, they also give you point rewards for gaining “favor” with different factions. So, at about the time I needed it most, I had just enough to purchase The Catacombs adventure pack without spending a dime.
The credit card nearly jumped out of my wallet on its own. Before you could say Dungeons and Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited, I was already back in the store trying to figure out what module I’d be buying next. The Sharn Syndicate caught my eye (especially since completing it would increase my favor greatly with The Coin Lords, which in turn, would provide me with another inventory slot). Adding in the sale price for Shan-To-Kor, another low-level adventure pack, brought my total to 420, which is precisely the minimum number of points you can buy.
I clicked through the order page. Turbine had my money, and I had precious, precious content, completing my first ever transaction in a free-to-play MMORPG.
And you know what? I really didn’t mind spending it. For what amounts to $6.50 (the price of a movie rental, and a third of a ticket to one at the theater), I basically just bought myself another 10-15 hours of quality entertainment. Considering I hadn’t even paid the requisite amount for an average retail game these days, it was a paltry sum. Of course, procuring the rest of the adventure packs won’t be so cheap, but if there’s one thing I learned from this experience, it’s that sometimes, there are things worth paying for.
Namely, content. And if it’s good content, all the better.