Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach Review

There are a few (encounter) areas in the game, where you get a small amount of experience for defeating small groups of enemies (early in the game, a trio of kobolds or a single troll might constitute an encounter), but otherwise the game is a matter of putting together a party of characters, going on a quest, and then repeating. There isn't anything else to do, and there isn't really any solo content. In fact, Dungeons & Dragons Online is sort of odd in that it overwhelmingly encourages you to party with other characters. The amount of experience you get at the end of a quest is adjusted for certain things, like discovering secret doors (good) or being a higher level than intended for the quest (bad), but there isn't any adjustment for the number of players in your party. Since all equipment rewards are created for the individual party members (meaning that you don't have to fight over equipment drops), there isn't any downside to completing every quest with the maximum number of players in your party. And because you're less likely to die and more likely to receive experience bonuses, the more players you party with, the more experience you're likely to get. That's sort of an odd change from other MMORPGs, where just the opposite is usually true, and it takes a while to get used to it.

Sadly, while this sort of system has potential, the quests themselves usually aren't very exciting. Early in the game almost every quest features kobolds, sewers, warehouses, or some combination of the three, and it just gets boring. Later, there is more variety to where you can go and what types of enemies you can kill, but there just aren't enough quests. I think it's possible to reach level 4 by completing the early quests one time each, but after that you have to complete the mid- and high-level quests multiple times just because there isn't anything else to do (there's this one quest on an island called Sorrowdusk that I've completed about ten times now). Chances are that Turbine will release more content over time -- just the other day they released a new module called the Dragon's Vault that is supposed to contain more quests for all levels -- but right now the content is kind of thin.

Here's an example of an early quest. Near a sewer entrance, a guy will tell you that his wife has been kidnapped. If you then enter the sewers, you'll have to chase and kill kobolds until you reach the wife. However, at that point you'll discover that a hobgoblin is really the one behind the kidnapping, and so you'll have to kill him to free the wife. You're only required to kill the hobgoblin and talk to the wife to complete the quest, and so if you can sneak effectively you can skip some combat. There are also some optional parts, like a treasure chest that if you open it, spiders will appear and attack you. But really, the quest is kind of generic, and you don't need to know any of the backstory to complete it. You can just wander around and kill stuff and talk to any NPCs that you come across. That's actually a strategy that works for 90% of the quests in the game. Ho hum.


The Interface

Dungeons and Dragons Online uses a third-person perspective, and it employs a couple of different movement modes. In the standard mode, you press the WASD keys to drive your character, and the camera automatically follows behind. In mouselook mode, you can still use the WASD keys for movement, but you steer your character with the mouse. During combat, right-clicking causes your character to swing its weapon, and you can also block (with or without a shield) by holding down the shift key. If you move while blocking, then you can (tumble,) which is a skill in the game.

The control scheme works well enough, which makes sense since it's a variation on the control schemes that just about all third-person perspective games use. Where the interface has its failing is in providing useful information. Consider the (focus orb.) When you select an object or character, an image of it appears in the focus orb on screen. The focus orb is large, but yet it doesn't provide any information about the object. If you want to see the information, you have to press a button on the focus orb, or you have to press the Z key, and then a new panel with the information will pop up. But why require that extra step? Why not just have the focus orb provide some information by default?

Or consider the quest log. Quests are sorted by the location where you received the quest. That's fine -- except that the game gets very specific in its listings, and instead of showing, say, 15 quests for the harbor distict, it lists four in the Leaky Dinghy tavern, four more in the Wayward Lobster tavern, one in the harbormaster's house, and so forth, so the quests get difficult to keep track of because there are so many locations listed in the quest log, and you have to remember where all the taverns are. Worse, there isn't any way to control which quests are displayed, such as only showing the ones you haven't completed yet, and the only way to see how many times you've completed a quest is to go on the quest.