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  ‘Dungeons & Dragons Online’ Impressions  
Posted 2006-04-28 by Tony Walsh
I've spent about six hours playing a free, 7-day trial version of the massively-multiplayer game Dungeons & Dragons Online. I would like to play more of the game, but it crashes frequently, thus greatly diminishing any enjoyment I might have been able to get out of it (and, in fact, I've uninstalled it). If I'd paid for the game, I would be furious. The bugginess seems to be only a symptom of the larger problem--that the game was released too early. It doesn't seem like a highly-polished product, and that includes small gaffes like improper grammar in the "help" text, the fact that characters don't utter a sound after falling from a height and suffering damage, or tutorials that don't acknowledge that the player has remapped the control settings. While the characters and evironments are nice enough to look at, the feel of the game is best described as "clunky."

Dungeons & Dragons Online wasn't translated well from the tabletop landscape that inspired it. The D&D rules seem to be a burden to the online game more than a feature, but I'm the kind of video game player that doesn't want to be burdened with rules. There is a 20-sided die depicted in the interface in order to show "rolls" used to determine the outcome of actions. In tabletop play, the 20-sided die is essential. In a video game, I don't need to see it. There are a number of D&D rules that the player is made aware of in the online game version that are just not critical to online game play. I suspect this was a deliberate decision, intended to encourage online gamers to try the tabletop game, but this was executed as to make me dislike playing online so much that I'd rather play tabletop D&D.

The online game features the voice of a male narrator, who basically plays the role of "Dungeon Master." Again, a DM is a required element of tabletop gaming, but in the video game, he's redundant. In the online game, I enter a small, dank room covered in cobwebs, and the narrator tells me something like "You enter a small, dank room covered in cobwebs." This is a huge design oversight: Not only does the sudden presence of a disembodied voice take me out of the fiction of the game, the voice isn't adding any new information.

Overall, I do get a sense of tabletop D&D from Dungeons & Dragons Online: A lone adventurer is at a severe disadvantage. Grouping is everything. In the city of Stormreach (the only central area apparently available in the game), the tavern is the place to find party members, heal, and restore magical powers. All the starting quests I engaged in involved dungeons populated by beloved low-level D&D monsters such as Kobolds and Slimes. I soloed as many quests as possible, and was then forced to group. I might have enjoyed exploring this aspect of the game, except that I kept crashing, and was thus an unreliable group member--not likely to be invited into a party due to dropping out of the world at inopportune moments.

Dungeons & Dragons Online seems to be a highly-flawed offering by Turbine, and although it might be fun to do a free, 7-day trial, I certainly wouldn't recommend it as a purchase. At best, participation in this game should be offered on a pay-as-you-go basis to entice groups of friends to play online for an evening or weekend. Unfortunately, a copy of the game will cost you at least $40 USD retail plus a subscription fee.
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Comment posted by liam
April 28, 2006 @ 4:31 pm
I agree that the d20 on the screen is a bit of a joke - it's thrown in there to remind players they're playing dnd and not that *other* 3-lettered mmog.

I played during one of the beta-server testing weekends a few months ago and the game seemed pretty solid. No crashes and relatively bug free. The voice was cool, and DM-like, but ultimately the definition of redundancy. I enjoyed the game, but I wouldn't cough up a monthly fee to play it.

Overall I got the impression that this was just another online fantasy game, but this time it had that familiar brand name that will get many new players through the door. I doubt many tapletop players will stick around for long. Many of the things that make dnd great (roleplaying, character stat customization, multiclassing, etc.) just aren't available in dnd online.

For my online dnd fix, I'll always take the simpler graphics and player created content of Neverwinter Nights over this new dnd branded version of WoW.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
April 29, 2006 @ 10:17 am
I, too, was thinking about how much I liked NWN over D&D;Online. I think most video game adaptations of D&D;have been better than DDO.
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