Friday, February 10, 2006

The Search for the Holy MMORPG: Part Seven

(Continued from The Search for the Holy MMORPG: Part Six)

Dungeons & Dragons Online BETA
If you've been following this series of postings, you know that my friend Darryl and I have been looking for the perfect Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG). We both used to play EverQuest and EverQuest II, but those got old. Now we were looking to recapture the good ol' days of online gaming when everything was new and exciting.

We tried several demos and betas, and even bought World of Warcraft. What it boils down to is that out of all the demos and betas we tried, Dungeons & Dragons Online was the only one worth considering.

This is not your typical MMO. There are no newbie zones where everyone goes to kill rats to gain experience, you don't get experience for killing one thing, soloing is next to impossible, and quests are very unique and dynamic. This game is focused on group play, and many quests cannot be completed without a well balanced group of players. This is true to the pen and paper D&D, and translates well to online questing.

The graphics are phenomenal. The quests are very interesting and challenging, including puzzles to solve and hidden areas and traps. The combat is real time, and blocking and avoiding an attack is done by YOU, not by a roll of the dice.

The basic structure of D&D Online is a general meeting area (a tavern) where groups can be formed, and several doors leading to quests. This actually makes it feel less MMO and more "small group based online RPG". At first I was put off by this, but in practice, the quests come alive, you are questing with your comrades, and lag is minimal inside a dungeon. Also, the addition of a "dungeon master" voice describing the scene gives the atmosphere a very chilling and suspenseful tone. Well done.

The user interface is, well, complicated at best. The depth of the game shows. This is for die hards, not for casual players. There is a steep learning curve. This may prove to be the downfall for this game, since it is a huge barrier to entry.

All in all, D&D Online can be great fun, with higher peaks of suspense and thrilling action, but at the cost of frustration, confusion, and a basic feeling that there is something you are missing that would make the game simpler. Don't get me wrong...I had an absolute blast running through some of the quests with Darryl, but I don't think I have the time to invest in such a deep game. I wouldn't be able to simply pop on for 30 minutes to an hour to play a little. It's too involved.

How does it stack up against World of Warcraft?
Comparing D&D Online with World of Warcraft is like comparing a Rolex to a sundial. The Rolex is infinitely more complicated in design, but both can tell time. World of Warcraft is so approachable, so easy to get into, casual friendly, and well designed that it is hard not to declare it the winner of the two.

But they both satisfy very different gaming urges, and both do it well. The ultimate decision depends on what you would want to get out of MMO gaming. For me and Darryl right now, we believe it's more about being able to play casually, easily, and still have a deep and enriching experience. So World of Warcraft wins!

In the future, if time restraints change in my life, or D&D evolves enough, I will take another look. It's worth keeping this one on my radar!

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