Dungeons & Dragons Online has been around for a few years, garnering somewhat mixed reviews and not really making much of a splash in the world of massively multiplayer online role-playing games. Lately, however, the game has seen a huge spike in membership and a lot of buzz on Internet gaming sites. Why? Because they’ve made it totally free to play.
I had actually heard that DDO was free, but it was this article over at Ars Technica that really caught my attention. I paid a visit to the DDO site, downloaded the client and gave the game a quick tryout this morning (just enough time to get through the initial tutorial adventure). Low and behold, it really is a solid, fun fantasy MMORPG that’s free.
DDO’s model is somewhat similar to Guild Wars, in that you can play for free forever, but might occasionally want to purchase new content. However, Guild Wars makes you buy the initial game and each expansion, whereas D&D Online is totally free to play, with smaller content packs available for purchase whenever you feel like accessing them. Content packs might be new dungeon areas, quests, or races and classes. Monks and drow, for example, require an additional purchase. But anything you do buy is a one-time fee — there’s no monthly payment of any kind. That’s pretty cool.
My first impression of the game is that it’s pretty standard fantasy MMORPG fare, using Eberron as the base setting. This is by no means a bad thing. If you have any MMO gaming experience, you’ll be able to jump right in and skim the tutorial. The game does an interesting and effective job of mirroring pen and paper D&D. When the “DM’s voice” suddenly breaks in to tell you of the shambling, slimy creature waiting up ahead, it’s very effective. As far as I can tell, the mechanics are based on 3rd edition D&D, but there seem to be lots of additions and modifications to the basic system, such as a few classes or abilities that never appeared in a D&D book.
I was able to run the game with maxed out graphics settings, and it looked good, if not spectacular. Because it’s a few years old, weaker computers should be able to handle it with some of the settings turned down. The one dungeon I went through was fun to explore and had lots of different bits of scenery and points of interest. Hopefully, all the game’s dungeons have unique and evocative features like this. Here’s a funny observation: it didn’t feel like a “real” dungeon; rather, due to the dramatic lighting and carefully placed waterfalls, it felt more like walking through one of those amusement park dungeons, like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney World. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but I thought it was actually a positive, making the dungeon seem fun and exciting.
Anyway, head over to the official site and give it a look. It’s free, so why not? Maybe we can get some of the Vikings together and form an adventuring group. Here’s a forum thread where we can plan and discuss.