Review: Dungeons and Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited (PC)

ddocoverDungeons and Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited
Developer: Turbine
Publisher: Atari
Release Date: 09/09/09

So DDO, as it’s become called by its players and the MMO community, has opened things up and changed its pay model. It’s also overhauled a few things including raising the level cap to Level 20, something more reasonable for hardcore D&D tabletop players. So how does this now free to play with a few choice pay options stack up? Let’s take a hard look.

The game starts off like any D&D campaign might, where your character is just starting out and you don’t have the best equipment and no one knows who you are. Only this time you literally start with rags, having just survived a shipwreck and ending up on Korthos Island, just off the coast of the mainland and near the port city of Stormreach. There you meet the first of many characters you’ll come across scavenging through the wreckage of the ship you were on. You get entangled in the local Korthos problems, earning new equipment and learning about the world of Eberron along the way as you work your way up to ridding Korthos of it’s White Dragon problem. Of course it’s a bit more complicated than that, and from there you set sail for Stormreach where you face a whole new host of problems.

ddo12I’ve been playing this game for almost two weeks straight with my wife over several toons, and while the story doesn’t really vary between characters, there is a ton of it. We’ve got over 60 hours invested in the game and we’re only level eight on our highest toons. There’s still areas we haven’t been in that are lower level than we are, so there is a ton of interconnected tales going on here. As I think about it, 60 hours might be a week shy as I wasn’t logging onto xfire for the first week to keep track, so it’s likely there were a LOT more hours invested that I’m reporting here. Like any good D&D campaign though, you’re slowly working your way into the world, getting more and more involved with the comings and goings of the people in the Stormreach area. Just looking at my adventure log I can tell there’s at least another 60 more hours involved in this game already and that’s just on one toon.

There is quite a bit going on story-wise, and while it’s not always an over-arching story, most areas have at least one big over-arching story you get involved in. Examples include clearing the Catacombs and dealing with the cover-up the church has going on over what happened in its Sanctuary, or dealing with the Hobgoblins that are taking up in Tangleroot Gorge. While it doesn’t always involved voiced-over dialogue, some of the interactions with NPCs can be quite humorous or infuriating depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, which really keeps you involved. Well done on this one Turbine, well done.

Story/Modes Rating: Incredible

While some of the game has received an overhaul, the initial release was three years ago. On top of that the game is an MMO, so while it has aged a bit, for the most part it still looks great. There are a few glitches here and there, mostly with the shadows, and sometimes your adventure log can go completely black so you can’t see what you’ve done on what difficulty setting, but it’s nothing that restarting the game won’t fix. You can still play, it can just be annoying.

ddo10One thing this game does well is deliver on the size and scope of the world of Eberron. From some of the first adventures on the starter island of Korthos you get a sense of how big the world is. There aren’t many scaling issues like in some other MMOs, where they cheat to make the levels smaller for crunching, these are fairly huge and sweeping scapes you get thrust into. While they’re not necessarily Oblivion quality, they are quite striking, like running into the White Dragon’s lair in Misery’s Peak and realizing just how big and long this dungeon crawl is going to be.

You don’t have a ton of character choices when you’re making your character, but you do get a number of color choices for hair and skin. Still, there aren’t a ton of facial and hair choices so you may still run into a clone of yourself like I often did playing Guild Wars. The armors and weapons are appropriately detailed as well and there are a variety of looks between armor types, so even though you have a +1 Full Plate and don’t necessarily like the look, you might find another in the next dungeon that looks quite a bit different but has the same stats. Maybe that one will look even better on your character. So while it may be aging, DDO is aging gracefully and delivering quite well. Is it going to win best looker of the year? Probably not, but it does do what it needs to immerse you into the world.

Graphics Rating: Great

The game delivers on this end. The narrator is pretty decent, and there are even some adventures narrated in game by one of the co-creators of D&D, Gary Gygax. Basically think of the narrator as the GM from the table-top, giving you some background on the area you’re in, or maybe what you’ll need to do in a particular section. One thing I think the game doesn’t really deliver on is the grunts and what-not of your characters. I’ve got four different toons on one server and a few others on another. Both the girls and the guys seem to have only one voice actor for each character. All the casting and fighting noises are basically the same whether you’re playing a Drow Paladin or a Human Ranger, which is kind of a let-down. A little variety here would have been nice.

The other part the game delivers on is a wide variety of music and ambient noise that really help you get immersed and enjoy the game. There are several different battle themes that cue up as soon as any variety of angry critter is closing in on you, so you know when to keep a look out. Well, if your spot skill is high enough anyway. One thing I should also mention is that DDO has a built in team chat so you can talk to your party without having to go to third party software to chat with your team-mates. Just plug in a mic or headset and change a few settings in the game and you’re chatting away. The downside is that it’s sharing the game’s bandwidth so it’s not always clear and can break up quite a bit especially if you’re lagging out, so it may not always help.

Sound Rating: Great

Control and Gameplay
Controls here can be a bit iffy it seems. You can play with a game pad but really the tried and true keyboard and mouse method seem to work best. Sometimes the way you select things can get muddied, like if there are too many things on the screen you won’t be able to get in to really select that item that dropped on the ground. Or, instead of picking it up, you’ll end up swinging a weapon at it and you’ll have to move over to the focus window to “activate” the item. This can be really frustrating in a combat situation. Now you don’t have to target in combat, but it helps. Simply being near an enemy and swinging your weapon will produce results, but for spells you will have to target and luckily with the keyboard you can cycle targets faster than trying to target them with the mouse, especially if your fighter is blocking your target.

ddo03It can take a bit to get used to the controls, but I really want to get into the gameplay tweaks that most people would end up wondering about how D&D can make it in the frenetic paced MMO world. At first I thought spellcasters would be totally screwed at first level, but no! You see they’ve implemented some optional rules giving casters spell points that they rely on to cast their spells instead of spells per day, which works in your favor as they’ve upped the number of monsters you’d typically run into in an adventure.

One of the other big changes from the tabletop version is the experience needed to level. They’ve pretty much upped it to astronomical levels so it can take even longer to level up, but they’ve added an enhancement and rank system into the mix to even things out. You have five ranks per level and you get action points for the first four ranks and then the fifth rank you level up. You can use these action points to bolster your character, kind of like feats. Casters also can get more spells when they rank up so that’s always a good idea to check those. For those used to getting certain stat raises and being able to use spells at certain levels, definitely check out the DDO compendium for that as you might get a surprise or two when you hit that level and can’t yet cast spells.

One other thing I should touch on, is favor. You have two things you’re earning when you’re on an actual adventure or quest, experience and favor. While your experience you earn can vary wildly per adventure depending on what you do in there, favor is determined by what difficulty setting you play at. Elite will garner you the most you can get for that adventure, while solo mode will gain you the least. You can gain favor with the different factions in the game, unlocking quests and getting you cheaper items, but it also unlocks things like the Drow race or more stat points to use while you’re rolling up a new character. The shorter and lower the level on an adventure the less favor you get. Most of the Korthos stuff ranges between two and four depending on length, but the newer ones I’m running are five and six per setting. Only VIP players can run through on Elite the first time to get all the favor of an adventure, but free to play players can also hit Elite, they just have to run it through on normal and hard mode first.

ddo02You do start off capped at level four for free players. VIP players don’t have to worry about a level cap. You can and probably will get leveling sigils as an adventure reward for your first cap raise to level eight. My level eight character has yet to see a sigil in game to raise that cap to twelve, but if you’re in a pinch and aren’t getting that sigil, you can always buy one form the store for turbine points. I haven’t really heard anyone complain about not finding sigils for free to play, other than having to grind a certain mission a few times before it showed up as a reward, but I imagine most of the people playing free to play are a bit more casual about playing it than say, me and my wife.

I’m surprised at how well just a few tweaks can make the 3.5 ruleset work so well as a base for an MMO. I’ve talked the game mechanics to death, but what about the action? Is it all just running into a level and killing everything? After a fashion. What they’ve done with it is thrown in the typical puzzles, traps, locked doors, and other assorted things you might find in a dungeon, so that if you’re running in a group that’s missing someone who can pick a lock or if you’re group doesn’t have someone with high enough intelligence or skills you may end up having to pass things over. This can really make you mad when you can’t make it to that treasure chest because it’s being hit with an acid spray that you can’t turn off because you didn’t bring a rogue.

Most of the puzzles are set-up like ant run where you have to arrange the tiles to get the magic energy flowing properly to unlock the prize, but they also have door puzzles thrown in where you have to figure out the right sequence of switches or levers to open them, or even stand on certain platforms but not others to let you in. Then there are the area defense quests where you are dropped into a fort and have to stop wave after wave of enemies until their leader shows up marking an end to the battle if you can kill him.

The wide variety of dungeon areas is nice as well. Not everything is in a sewer or underground, there are plenty of wide open areas to trek through and follow quests. But my favorite thing about this game is that aside from the towns and taverns you come across, most of the time you’re out in the world it’s just your party and the NPCs and the monsters to slay. Yes, the dungeons and explorable areas are instanced! So you don’t have to worry about some jerk with a hard-on for snaking kills coming in and taking that Hill Giant kill from you and taking the treasure. You and your party are all alone with that Hill Giant and he’s all yours to take out. Boo Yah! While this isn’t exactly like the tabletop, it’s got that feel, especially if you think you’re just playing under someone’s house rules, and what good D&D group doesn’t have a few of their own house rules, eh?

Control and Gameplay Rating: Very Good

With several different races and classes to play as, especially when you earn enough favor to unlock the Drow or buy the Warforged race or Monk and Favored Soul classes if you decided to not go VIP. More on the payment options if you are so inclined later. There are plenty of areas to go through, and with several difficulty settings for each (and yes they DO get far more difficult with each setting), you can go back through an area much later with your different characters and get a different play experience just by being a different class.

I have six different toons over two different servers, and while I’ve been through the Korthos areas to death, it’s still fun to run through it as a new class as my play experience really is different. Running the same mission was totally different with my fighter wielding a great axe and decent armor than my cleric with the stubby mace. So I’ll have to give this one a pretty good replayability.

Replayability Rating: Classic

You can’t beat free! The pricing model on this gets a bit complicated, but there’s no cost to buy and if you’re poor like me you’re not really ready to plunk down that hard earned dollar on a monthly fee. Not all of the areas are unlocked for free players, but you do get a ton of content available to you for free to start. It does get a bit sparse as you move on, but there’s always something you can do. If all else fails, they also have a guest pass people who own the content can get for people that don’t have it to get them in and get things done if they want the help.

ddo11If you’re not playing for free or premium (more on premium status later), you can always pay the monthly fee for a VIP status. Again you don’t have to pay for the initial game, and the price is pretty much on par with other games of this size and pedigree. If you do plan to buy into the points if you’re not a VIP player you do get two more character slots free per server bringing it up to four per server and the modules you can buy aren’t too terribly expensive points wise, especially given that they unlock over your account and are not server specific.

The game itself is based off a variation of the 3.5 ruleset of the D&D table-top RPG, with several expanded and optional rules to make the game function well as an MMO, but still have that overall D&D feel, which means the game is pretty well balanced. While a spell caster may not be able to go toe to toe with a fighter, they each have their own uses in the game and every one in a party is useful. While you can really create a power house of a character buy min-maxing like in the RPG, there are some checks in place to counter that. So as far as being balanced this game has it going on. Just be prepared when you hit higher levels to need more people to be in your party when you’re doing quests at your level. Things do tend to get quite a bit harder as you go.

Balance Rating: Incredible

This is based off the Eberron campaign setting, which itself is using the 3.5 ruleset which is actually the 4th or 5th version of the D&D rules depending on how you look at it. Eberron is a new setting, and while I personally would have loved the Forgotten Realms setting, putting the game in Eberron gives it a fresh new feel as it’s not something the old school D&D players are used to, especially with the Warforged running about, and the amount of steampunk that litters the country-side. Magic-powered horseless caravan carts anyone?

So while there have been lots of D&D games in the past, this is the first MMO version we’ve gotten and it’s managed to really capture the feel of the world and of playing with groups even though you’re not at a table. The GM narration was really a nice touch for that. It’s losing a few points for as many D&D iterations we’ve had in the past, but given how new this world and the mechanics changes this really is a new experience for older players.

Originality Rating: Enjoyable

Did I mention that I’ve been playing this pretty much non-stop when I’m not working or sleeping with my wife over the last few weeks? Yeah. They only reason I’ve put it down is to review other games, cause my editor keeps sending them my way. So I put it down for awhile until I get bored and then jump back on again. Hell, I even got on while I was out for training for the job I’ve got and played at night with my wife at my hotel. Thank god they have high-speed internet. I think the thing that has really kept us playing is that it captures the fun we had and still have playing the table-top version on Sundays with our friends as we go on dungeon crawls and try to help people out with our characters.

I think I already mentioned the hours I’ve put into it, and then I realized I was basing that off my xfire use with the game and that we’d been playing it before I was logging onto xfire again and I had a lot more hours invested into it. Yes, it’s addictive and I’m really liking it.

Addictiveness Rating: Amazing

Appeal Factor
It’s a free MMO that started out life as one you bought in the store and then paid monthly for. So it’s got some backing behind it and development time that a lot of the free to play MMO’s out there lack. Plus it’s Dungeons and Dragons and it’s online. The game is stable, runs great, and it looks pretty decent. Overall, even with the influx of new players most of the people you come across are more than helpful and any question you ask, no matter how many times it’s been repeated in the last hour on the advice channel will get answered pretty fast and accurately without too much grief from players.

In an MMO community is important. And this game has a great community attached to it with its player base. I think it says a lot that nearly every pick up group or PUG I’ve gotten involved in has been successful with what we were trying and everyone knew what they were doing or tried to make it work. No one was screaming at me, the newbie cleric for not healing them fast enough, or for dying when we got too far out. It’s fairly laid back and a lot of fun. Sure you’re going to get a few stinkers, but for the most part my experience with the community has been overwhelmingly positive.

Appeal Factor Rating: Great

So you wanna play D&D Online, but you’re not sure whether to go VIP or Premium or stay a free user. VIP players are paying the monthly fee to get on and have access to everything and get an additional 500 points to spend in the DDO store. Really all a VIP player would use those for are guest passes or to get some upgrades or gear as they don’t have to pay for modules or the Warforged or the Monk and Favored Soul classes. They also get 10 slots for characters per server.

Premium members, which I am, have paid for the points at some time in their career in the game and are given two extra character slots per server. Now you do have options for what you can buy for points, from 9.99 up through 39.99. Buying the 39.99 might get you slightly more points, but it’s less then a 10th of a cent difference between the prices. So unless you’re going to use them right away at 39.99, you might as well start smaller. They also run deals every day (some times they stay the same for several days) so you can get different modules and areas for fewer points, and that’s how I’ve been picking them up.

Free members have a lot they can do without buying points, but you’re limited a bit. You only get two slots per server, have a limited mailing system, can only post one auction a day, and you can’t get in to a number of areas. However if you’re playing for free you’re not really missing out. We’ve had our son playing with us a few days a week and we’ve only run into two areas connected to Stormreach he can’t go to so far unless we get a guest pass or buy him some points. You can run the entire Korthos Island section without running into content you’ll need to pay for. So you might be gimped a bit this way, but you always have the option to go Premium or VIP.

Personally I like the set-up. My wife and I have set a limit on what we’re spending a month for points at 11.99 and we’ve bought several modules that are going to keep us busy for several months already. I think they’re pricing isn’t too bad, but again I’ve only made it to level eight with my highest character and there have been rumblings that it’s much harder to find things to do in the higher levels. That and VIP players when they go to Premium might not have access to everything still, but that hasn’t been confirmed either way, but it is something to think about.

Miscellaneous Rating: Good

The Scores
Story/Modes Rating: Incredible
Graphics Rating: Great
Sound Rating: Great
Control and Gameplay Rating: Very Good
Replayability Rating: Classic
Balance Rating: Incredible
Originality Rating: Enjoyable
Addictiveness Rating: Amazing
Appeal Factor Rating: Great
Miscellaneous Rating: Good

Short Attention Span Summary
asheresize For a truly addicting and fun Dungeons and Dragons experience in an MMO form, this game really delivers. From the amped up and well adapted level system from the 3.5 table-top version, to the realization of the Eberron world through the city of Stormreach and its outlying areas with a few tweaks here and there, DDO keeps you interested and feeling like you’re in a really well padded campaign. Add to that the new points and VIP system, playing an MMO for free can be a risky prospect, but it seems Turbine has done its homework and come up with something that really works. I’m encouraging any gamers who have a taste for RPGs or even MMOs to give it a shot. At most it’ll cost you a few hours of your time to download it, and even then you can hop in and play the starter island while the rest of the game downloads. I’ll be playing this one for a long time.


9 responses to “Review: Dungeons and Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited (PC)”

  1. Jaime Avatar

    It’s only like this for the US. Last time I checked, the Europeans have been fucked over.

  2. Ashe Collins Avatar
    Ashe Collins

    See, none of the European players I’ve bumped into (and in game I’ve bumped into quite a few and can really tell over voice chat) never mentioned it even when we were talking about having to buy modules and so on with turbine points.

  3. -mind- Avatar

    Great review, Ashe

  4. Blatherbeard Avatar

    Awesome review Ashe. I also play and love the game, although at 11.99 a month, you could be a Vip player if you think about it. At the 6 or 12 month plan, i know its a lot to drop at once BUT, it averages out to be 11.99 a month i believe.

    But then again, if your spending 11.99 a month total between you and the wife, then its a bit different lol.

    Again great review, maybe ill see you in game..

    blatherbeard dwarven fighter, ghallanda.

  5. Blatherbeard Avatar

    Sorry for the double post but i also wanted to comment on “european players getting screwed”. Ive also played with quite a few Uk players and they didn’t say anything about having to pay, or having different sets of rules for them.

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