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Dungeons and Dragons Online- Beta/Preview thoughts

I’ve played D&D Online a grand total of maybe 15 hours. I was part of a stress test and now a preview of the game. Apparently the non disclosure agreement has been lifted, so I can make a few comments.

This game is quite different from any other MMOG I’ve played- and any that you have played, I imagine. Some differentiating factors that I encounterd:

  • No rats/spiders to kill: Pretty much every MMOG has it…a place you go to kill monsters over and over and over again so that you can get some experience and go up a level. Quests and dungeons are something you do when you have a group, and even when you have a group a lot of the process boils down to hunting down monster after monster. In D&D Online, there are no monster hunting areas. You don’t get experience for killing monsters: you get experience for completing stages of quests or “adventures”
  • No recovering between fights: In every other MMOG I’ve played, you kill a few monsters then sit down / stand still for a few minutes to recover your hitpoints and magic to full. In D&D Online, the only way to recover is to drink a potion, find a healer, or return to town. Each dungeon has a single-use “rest shrine”, but that’s it. If you need to rest, you exit the dungeon…and it will repopulate itself (usually) when you return
  • One shot kills are quite possible…both for you, and the monsters: A monster might have eight hitpoints. Your sword might do one to eight hitpoints of damage and, with your strength bonus or a critical hit, possibly more. Its quite feasible to kill a monster in a single hit. Likewise, your character might have 15 or 20 hitpoints at level…and the monsters can do 10 or 15 points of damage in a single hit if they critical. You are a bit tougher than most monsters…but not by much. And remember, you can’t recover between fights without potions or a friendly healer in the party
  • No level 55 characters and no gaining a level a day…: the highest level character in the game at launch will be level 10. I played a single character 7 hours and didn’t make it to level 2…I barely made it half way through level 1. You won’t be getting new and improved abilities every time you play.
  • Soloing is not feasible…really: I suppose I could be missing something, but if you choose to play anything other than a warrior its almost impossible to solo even the beginning adventures. A spell caster has crappy armour class and few hitpoints and, coupled with the inability to rest and recover between monster encounters, its very hard to progress through a dungeon. Example: my spell caster has 22 hitpoints. He fights a gnoll and kills it, and loses 9 hitpoints. How many gnolls can he kill before he needs to leave the dungeon? And when he leaves to recover, when he comes back the dungeon population will have refilled…the three or four gnolls he killed (or maybe five or six if he had a handful of healing potions) will be back. Note that a single 8 point healing potion costs about as much as you’d make from killing half a dozen gnolls- and a single gnoll will probably knock you down at least 4 or 5 hitpoints
  • Only one city, and no surrounding countryside: at launch, the game will consist of a single large city called Stormwind. There are districts, but no “outside”…no nearby towns, no country side, no long journeys sitting on a griffon or riding a boat.
  • No crafting…yet: The D&D rule system doesn’t really have “crafting” of armour, weapons, food, furniture and the like defined. D&D Online, at least initially, reflects this: there is no crafting system. There has been some discussion by the developers that they might add crafting in a subsequent expansion
  • Adventures rely on/leverage party abilities: Most adventures in D&D Online have some traps to overcome, meaning a thief is useful to have. Sneaking and concealment actually seem to have a real value. Healing is critical to making it through a dungeon. Spell casters really, truly do need a tank to protect them. Basically, a party is a real necessity, and the skills of each player are unique and, in some cases, quite dependent on the presence of another class for success.

D&D Online uses third Edition D&D rules. They even have a little graphic of the dice rolling for combat and saving throws and the like. The setting is “high magic” by D&D standards: more like Forgotten Realms than the original Greyhawk- you’ll see floating towers, magical glowing street lights, and wizards on every corner. And its fairly faithful to D&D gaming “atmosphere”: the above factors reflect that. It means that, like in D&D, you need a party to succeed, and randomly killing monsters over and over won’t get you anywhere. You need to complete adventures to progress.

Netting it out, I think D&D Online will appeal to a small core of players and won’t have mass market appeal. The game doesn’t fulfill the need most players have for regular advancement, and the lack of any really effective mechanism to support soloing will make the game unappealing for a lot of folks. If you like bashing or crafting in solitude for some portion of your playing time, D&D Online won’t work for you.

However, if you have a regular group of folks you always like to play with, and if you don’t have any interest in soloing, and if you like the idea of completing adventures instead of killing monsters over and over again…D&D Online could be very appealing. The game seems to work really well, and thats in pre-release/beta state. I think a smallish core of players, maybe 50,000 or so, will find the game structure works great for them. The graphics are pretty good on a high end machine, the adventures have more depth than is commonly the case in (low level) MMOG play…its an interesting setting.

I would seriously consider playing D&D Online if I had a group of folks to play with regularly who liked the game as well. Its coming out sometime later in the first quarter (some folks are saying end of February). I’ll probably buy it and try it for a while, but I doubt very much that I’ll have much fun unless other folks I game with pick it up.

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3 comments to Dungeons and Dragons Online- Beta/Preview thoughts

  • Chris

    I remember arguing with the designers on the WotC site when they were making the 3e rules that they needed rules to cover the manufacture of weapons, armour, magic items and the stuff people buy… the reply I always got ( in various degrees of “politeness”, ) was that people play to be heroic adventurers and no normal person would ever have any interest in being an artisan, no one cares where the magic items come from, and they weren’t interested in that type of player anyway.

    I wonder if this means I was right and they were wrong? 😉

    I think you are probably right about the appeal and potential market of the game. If for no other reason than because you need to have a group of players, and that has always been the hard part of having a good D&D session: finding a good bunch of people that you want to game with.

    I’ll certainly try and give the game a shot with you, though I suspect that I will have the perennial DM’s complaint of “I wouldn’t have done it that way!” The good point is that the game is about quets and adventures from what you say… the down side of that is that if the quests or adventures are badly written….

    The one ace of pencil and paper games was and still is the human mind of a good DM. I guess we need a way to download good DM’s into computers.

  • Re: Crafting: I sort of feel like the fact that they don’t have crafting is a teeny bit of a cop-out. The old DM’s guide always had, as I recall, a section regarding crafting spells, potions, and the like. That may not have made it into 3e: I never bought the 3e DM’s guide. But mostly I think they wanted to focus on the “core” parts of recognizable D&D gameplay.

    Re: the rest…: I respect the fact that, at least thus far, they’ve remained “true” to the basic structure of D&D. All the stuff that will tick off most MMOG players (E.G.: lack of viable soloing, need to leave the dungeon to recover, fact that one-shot kills are a definite possibility, etc) is there because they tried to stick to the rules and structure of a pen and paper game.

    The lack of a real DM is going to make it tough for an adventure to really be great. They have a few “DMish” touches, though- there is a narrator (“DM Voice”) that says things like “you hear scratching noises, and some nervous gabbling in a language you don’t recognize on the other side of the door”. I sorta liked that 🙂 With my spellcaster, such announcements were usually followed shortly thereafter by me lying face down on the floor, watching the saving throws for bleeding out fail over and over…

    The four or five adventures I played through seemed reasonably well done, but not super duper incredible. Definitely, the adventures had a different “tone” from other MMOGs, starting from the fact that an adventure in D&D Online has a defineable goal. And I must say that when I walked around a corner and spikes shot out of the floor…well, that brought back old time memories. And another bout of lying on the floor bleeding to death 🙂

    I currently plan on picking up a copy of D&D Online when it ships- I might buy the preview, actually. You get 10 days of access to the Beta (release is rumoured to be sometime in Q1, with some sources saying February 28th). The beta would be handy in order to try a couple of other classes. Anything you do in Beta, stays in beta, so its somewhat of a “waste”…but I was sort of enjoying seeing how much different a fighter was from a spell caster.

    Anyway, if you pick up a copy, at least we can be a party of two for a few weeks- worst case, its a dozen hours or so of play, and we don’t renew after the first month.

  • Chris

    The silly thing is that with 3e rules type set up it is ridiculously easy to set up a carpenter, or a baker, or swordsmith. They actually went out of their way to make it so that it would be more difficult to make “non heroic” classes. Oh well.

    The one problem with all the MMOG games is that they tend to be passive. There isn’t that element of creativity that you get in the old pen and p[aper games as DM or even as a player if the DM scripts to your character. And of course, that just isn’t possible unless you have one writer for say 6-12 players. No one seems to have figured out a way to make lots of money from that yet, so you don’t get the shared creative experience that the “old D&D” had.

    On another note, I read on the web site that they are going to have gary gygax do some of the voice overs. Joy, we can hear him describe the “maroon chatruese purple drapes with goldenrod flakes overshone with green highlights” in person! 😀

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