Today I'm going to talk about online gaming. More specifically, I'll be talking about MMO RPGs, or massively multi-player online role-playing games.
I'll be honest with you- I'm not a hard-core gamer. I also don't play anything that requires an ongoing subscription fee, so you're not going to see me talk about World of Warcraft or any other subscription game. I'm a college student struggling to divide my paychecks and scholarship stipends between rent, utilities, school fees, unexpected expenses, and food. I don't have enough money set aside to get a haircut, let alone pay monthly fees for something like online games. I've also only spent time playing two different games: Dungeons and Dragons Online and Guild Wars. In this post, I'm going to talk about the first game I got into, Dungeons and Dragons Online, or DDO.
If you want to get the game, you go to the website (ddo.com), create a Turbine account, and download the game. Unless you've got a really high end computer with a ton of memory, I'd recommend going with the standard download. It has all the features, it just doesn't have the ultra-super-duper-extra-special-nice graphics that a casual gamer won't really need or care about. The graphics that come with the standard download are more than good enough for the casual gamer. Even the lighter download is pretty heavy, though- the game is over 4500 MB, and as such will take a while to download. Once it's been downloaded, however, running the game is fast and easy and only requires a good internet connection (sorry, no dial-up).
DDO is a good introduction to the world of online gaming and to the concept of "free-mium" gaming. In "free-mium" gaming, much of the introductory content of a game is free to play, but as one's character advances, the number of level-appropriate things they are able to do for free decreases. Eventually, the only option to further advance the character is to pay for more exclusive content. DDO is a "free-mium" game where the free content maxes out at about level 10 or so. Practically everything after that point requires a subscription to play. For this review, I'll be focusing pretty much exclusively on the free to play aspects of the game, since I've never wanted to pay a subscription for a product I'd only use intermittently.
While the "free-mium" cap is rather disappointing, the game itself is interesting and fun, and players have many different options to suit their personal preferences. When building a character, there are several different races to choose from, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. The free to play races are humans, halflings, elves, and dwarves. Once you've played the game for a while and build up enough favor with the various organizations in the game, you earn the ability to play a drow elf character for free. The other races (half-elf, half-orc, and warforged) are not free to play and must be purchased with a subscription or in the game store. The different stats each race starts with can make them a better fit with some particular professions, or classes, but with the right attribute scores, practically any race can play any class.
The classes are split into three main categories: Melee, Spell, and Specialist. Melee classes fight with weapons, though they may have some magical attacks. Spell classes fight with magic, though they may have some melee attacks, and are often penalized for wearing heavy armor or wielding certain weapons. The Specialist classes have more wild card characteristics- while they use melee attacks, casting spells is also an integral part of some of these classes.
The free to play Melee classes are Barbarian, Fighter, and Paladin. There is also the Monk class, but this must be purchased for players to use it, so I won't talk about it here.
The Spell classes are Cleric, Sorcerer, and Wizard. There is a fourth Spell class called the Favored Soul, which is a more melee-ified Cleric, but it isn't free to play, so, like the Monk, I won't discuss it much here.
The Specialist classes are Bard, Ranger, and Rogue. There's also a brand new Specialist class called the Artificer, but apart from being brand-new, it is another class that needs to be purchased, so it won't get much discussion time.
All of the classes in the game are fun to play, however, and picking one is really a matter of personal preference. If you like to get up close and personal with your enemies or swing enormous weaponry about, you'll probably enjoy Melee classes. If you prefer standing back and blasting your enemies into oblivion with a variety of interesting spells, a Spell class would probably be best for you. If you prefer a smaller, more defined role within a party, you'll probably like the Specialist classes.
If you're confident in your abilities to give your character optimum scores, skills, and feats, you even have the option to build your character's abilities from scratch. If you're not so confident, however, you can always pick one of the preset paths for your class. These paths will automatically choose your characters stats, skills, and feats, and will adjust them accordingly as your character levels up. If you choose to build your character from scratch, you will be able to adjust these things however you wish.
When you've decided what class and race you'd like to play and either chosen a path or picked your character's stats, it's time for you to customize the appearance of your avatar. You can do pretty much anything to your character's face, right down to adjusting their eye shape, lip color, and facial piercings. Feel free to play around with this- the possibilities can be endless! There is an appearance randomizer at the bottom of the appearance pane, which will produce random combinations of colors and styles when you click on it. If you find a particular hair style or eye shape that you really like, you can click on the tiny padlock icon next to this characteristic to "lock" it into place and make changing it impossible without first unlocking it.
The final step in creating your character is choosing your alignment and your name. Your alignment is where you fall between Lawful and Chaotic and whether you are Good or Neutral. This gives you six choices: Lawful Good (the default and unchangeable alignment for Paladins), Neutral Good, Chaotic Good, Lawful Neutral, True Neutral (because Neutral Neutral sounds redundant, even though it really isn't), and Chaotic Neutral. These alignments will only affect you as far as being able to wield special kinds of expensive weapons that, as a free-mium player, you almost certainly won't have any real use for in the game unless you decide to start paying for additional in-game access.
Picking a name can be a bit trickier, because you're not allowed to use a name someone else is already using. This means that you might have to get creative with spellings and spaces if you've got your heart set on a particular name. You might even have to pick an entirely different name if the one you want is particularly popular. You are given the option of choosing a last name, but this isn't necessary.
When you finally enter a name that doesn't already exist in the system, your character will be created. You will be taken back to the main menu, where your character will appear dressed in rags. Do not worry: this is normal. When you're ready to begin playing, select the large Enter button on the right side of the screen.
At any other time when playing a character, the game will load your character in as close to the spot where you logged out as it can. If you were in a quest or an explorable area when you logged off, the game will deposit you outside the doorway in the town or area you entered it from. The first time you play a character, though, you will begin the game as the sole survivor of a dragon-induced shipwreck on the beaches of Korthos Island. If this is your first time creating a character in this world, you will have to complete the introductory quest before you can move on the village of Korthos. If you've created a character on this world before, you are given the option of skipping the quest and going directly to the village, though you may still take the quest if you'd prefer.
The introductory quest is pretty straight-forward and will allow you to practice using your character's skills and abilities. It also introduces you to the Korthos storyline. Whether or not you take the quest, you will finish with a ring that allows you to breathe underwater for a limited period of time (this will come in handy in quests later), starter armor appropriate to your class, any special miscellaneous equipment you may need for your character's skills to work (lock picks or spell components, for example), and your choice of a special weapon. In this quest, you may become incapacitated, but you will have a spell cast on your character at the beginning that will prevent you from dying. This only works during this particular quest- once it's over, you can still die.
You'll also encounter your first rest and resurrection shrines in this quest. When you use a rest shrine, you regain some of your hit points (you may regain all of them if you haven't lost very many) and all of your spell points (if you have them to begin with). Resurrection shrines will bring you back to life if you die and are able to reach a shrine. If you are in a quest and you die, your soul is able to run a limited distance away from your soul stone. If you happen upon a resurrection shrine within this distance, you can click on it to come back from the dead right where your spirit stands. You can also get a hireling or a party member to pick up your soul stone and carry it close enough to a resurrection shrine for you to use it.
You will resurrect in-quest with a limited number of hit points. You will also suffer a brief penalty as a result of having died, but it will go away on its own within a couple of minutes. Usually there will be a handy rest shrine nearby to restock your point totals. If there isn't, if you cannot use it again (Hard and Elite difficulty level quests only allow you to use each rest shrine once, while shrines in Normal and explorable areas and Solo or Casual quests will make you wait fifteen and five minutes respectively before you can use the shrine again), or if you need to regain even more points than the rest shrine gave back to you, you can drink a healing potion or two to get back the rest of your hit points.
Usually, you'll die during the course of a quest, but you can still die in a town if you fall from too great a height, stay too long underwater, or just do something stupid that lowers your hit points. You regenerate hit points automatically in a town, but if you manage to get down to negative ten or fewer hit points, you will still die. In a town, if you get down to negative nine hit points, you are only incapacitated, and you will automatically regenerate points until you get to at least one hit point and become mobile again, at which time you can seek out a handy tavern, down a few healing potions, or simply wait until the city regeneration has finished replenishing your hit point total.
If you become incapacitated in a quest, you will automatically "roll" to see if you start regenerating hit points (as if you were playing the tabletop Dungeons and Dragons). If you fail a roll, you lose another hit point. If you fail too many times, you will die. This is random, and there is nothing you can do to alter it. If you roll successfully, you will start regaining hit points and will get up to one hit point (the point at which you are able to move again) before the regeneration stops. Hopefully whatever almost killed you is no longer in the vicinity, or you may have to face death again.
If you do die, whether you are in a quest or in a town, you are able to release your soul to your bind spot. When you first start the game, this is the place where you emerge from the introductory quest in Korthos village. You can easily change your bind point by going into a tavern and talking with the Spirit Binder (don't worry, he's labeled) in the tavern and asking them to make that your bind point. When you die, you will then resurrect at that tavern instead.
Quests will also give you experience points, or XP. Gaining XP will allow you to advance your level and earn action points, which are used to increase your character's skills or give them new ones. If you want to change what you've spent your action points on, you are able to do so, but only once every so often, and you have to pay for it. You can choose to level up in your own class, or pick another class (a maximum of two classes other than your original class) to level up in. This is called multi-classing. When you multi-class, you gain level one-type skills of your new class, while your original class stays at the last level you took of it.
For example, if you would like your character to be a wizard who can also detect and disable traps and find secret doors like a rogue (a good combination, since both classes are heavily dependent on a good Intelligence score), you would start the game as a rogue (to take advantage of a class bonus to skill points and possessing almost every skill in the game as a class skill), but when you go to gain a level, you would talk to the wizard trainer instead of the rogue trainer, and take your new level in the wizard class. From there, you would continue leveling up as a wizard, with the occasional level in rogue to make sure that your rogue skills would be able to keep up with the increasingly difficult traps you would face during quests. Both classes' skills will work just fine for your character- you won't have a penalty to your new class' skills.
More on XP: you earn it from completing quests. To get a quest, you simply talk with a non-player character (NPC) who has a glowing golden chalice floating over their head. You can find the location of these people by opening your map and looking for chalices on the map. Blue chalices denote the location of NPCs whose quests you have completed. Gray chalices show the location of NPCs whose quests are still in progress, and yellow chalices show NPCs whose quests you have not yet taken.
Quests can be done more than once, and usually on multiple difficulty levels. There are a few quests that only allow you to solo them (you have to do the quest alone, without a party), but most have difficulty levels ranging from Normal (normal difficulty) to Epic (extremely hard, only for balanced parties where everyone has reached level 20). Running a quest for the first time on a specific difficulty earns you more XP than it will again. You also have to work your way up through the difficulties- you can't run a quest on "Hard" until you've successfully completed "Normal."
Doing this is an excellent way to build favor with various groups of people in the game. Checking the list of available quests (not the quests you have taken, but the list of all the quests available at all in the game) will show you how much favor completing the quest at each level will get you. Once you get four hundred total favor points, you are able to speak to an NPC in Stormreach harbor to unlock the ability to play a drow elf character on that server. You can either create your second free character as a drow, or delete your existing character and create a new character. The new character will have to start at the very beginning in Korthos, but since you've already gone through all of this once before, it will be easier. You won't be able to access the drow race in other servers (for example, if you've gotten four hundred favor in a character on the Sarlona server, you will only be able to access the drow race in Sarlona- you wouldn't be able to in any of the other servers).
If you need a little bit of help on a quest, but don't know anyone to game with and don't want to party up with strangers, you can purchase a hireling in the game. Hirelings are available in most classes, and you can purchase any hireling your level or lower. This gives you an hour of questing time with an NPC of whichever class you pick that you can order around however you need to. Keep in mind, there is not another person playing these characters, so they can sometimes do some pretty stupid things if you don't keep an eye on them.
Back to XP again: you can also earn it in explorable areas (combat zones filled with enemies outside the safety of towns and outposts) by exploring the environment, killing certain numbers of creatures, and finding and killing a certain number of "boss" enemies. Bosses typically have more hit points and are more powerful and more difficult to kill than other nearby enemies of their species and class. In quests, you often have to face a boss at some point. While they may be more difficult to kill, doing so gets you extra XP and they often leave a treasure chest behind when they die.
Once you're in Korthos village itself, you're free to explore. You can't leave the village until you complete a few quests, but they're relatively simple and straightforward as well, and are also good practice for using your skills and abilities. Once you're able to leave the village, you can explore the island itself (an explorable area) and do quests that start out in Korthos Island.
Once you finish up all the Korthos Island quests, you are able to do the final Korthos quest: Misery's Peak. This quest is more difficult than anything you will have faced so far, but it is by no means impossible. Feel free to take your time and pace yourself according to your character's abilities and any injuries they may sustain. The quest will have plenty of rest shrines, but it is long, so spellcasters may want to budget their spell points and any character who cannot self-heal will want to bring plenty of healing potions or find a friend or hireling cleric to do the quest with them.
Once you finish Misery's Peak, you will be able to leave Korthos and travel to the city of Stormreach. From here, you can choose from an abundance of quests, explore the Harbor, and venture into the Marketplace and the enclaves for the main Houses in Stormreach. From here, you're on your own- you can choose which quests you want to do, when you want to do them, and where you want to go and explore. Each area has its own distinctive look especially within the House enclaves, and the graphics are beautiful.
If you run into trouble or want a little bit of help, you can check out the online wiki at ddowiki.com. It's not affiliated with the company that owns the game, but it still very helpful with almost every aspect of the game. You can also ask other players in the DDO forums or in the advice section of the in game chat (just click the "Advice" tab in the chat pane in the lower left hand corner of your screen and type away). You may get some smart-alecky answers, but the majority of players won't mind giving honest help or direct you somewhere where your question can be better answered. Just try not to overwhelm the chat with questions!
I played DDO exclusively for about a year before my best friend bought me a subscription to Guild Wars, which I'll talk about later. I really enjoyed it, and I still like to play occasionally, even if I'm currently more invested in my Guild Wars characters. If you want an easy-to-play introduction to the world of MMO RPGs and don't mind a free-mium level cap, you might like to give Dungeons and Dragons Online a try.