Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach Preview

To many people Dungeons & Dragons is characterized by the idea of having a nigh unlimited playground in which to enact fantastic adventures. There are dozens of source books available, page after page of class and race information, special feats and skills, spells, weapons of magic or mundane power, and nasty creatures from all corners of the world. Another identifying feature is the ability to take a pen and a piece of paper (and a healthy dose of old fashioned imagination) and create a unique character, bringing him up into a fantastical world, where they'll experience perilous journies, fight vicious beasts, reap untold treasures, and, ultimately, to become a legend. This is a pastime that has been taken up by millions around the globe, but due to other commitments and vast distances, it is primarily experienced only on occasion within a small group of friends. Oh, but what if everyone around the world could play together in one campaign, making the stories as truly epic in breadth and scope as they are meant to be? That is, of course, the idea behind Dungeons & Dragons Online.

Turbine definitely has their work cut out for them. To make a game based in the D&D 3.5 rules, where the only limit on the character and game world is the player's own creativity, is a tall order. To many of the game's potential players, character creation and customization will be a very important aspect of the game. They need to be able to customize both the physical aspects of their character, as well as the skills and abilities.

Luckily, Turbine seems to be taking this to heart. The current plan for the game is to launch with five playable races (humans, elves, dwarves, halflings, and warforged), and a total of nine player classes (barbarian, bard, cleric, fighter, paladin, ranger, rogue, sorcerer, and wizard). You'll also be allowed to multi-class your hero or dive into one of the more advanced Prestige classes, if you prefer. And while the game will stick to the system of skills and feats that is seen in the pen n' paper edition, a lot of the random number generation will be taken out. There will no longer be a random number based on an internal dice roll used for hit points, but instead you will receive a fixed number of hit points based on your character's level and class. And you won't be using a number generation system for stats, either. Instead, you'll be dealing with the point buying system that is also detailed in the rule book, so that there isn't as much room for balance issues to creep in with min/maxing.

The game world will be based on the continent of Xen'drik in Eberron, the latest campaign setting from Wizards of the Coast. The game itself will be tailored to fit small groups going on dungeon crawls, just as in the PnP version. Although the developers haven't yet decided what the player cap will be for your party, they are leaning toward a six-player maximum. According to Turbine, adventures will take place in many different environments, including ancient ruins, underground crypts, deserted islands, and mighty ships, all of which will sport a variety of traps, puzzles, and vicious creatures for the party to conquer.

Combat will focus on real-time action-based combat rather than the more traditional turn-based combat used in many RPGs and most (if not all) tabletop games. While this seems an odd choice, the developers are calling a fast and responsive system, that shouldn't be too hard to grasp even for those out there who aren't used to '˜twitch'-based combat. This will give the game a unique combination of both character skill as well as player skill needed for success in combat, something that isn't very common in MMORPGs. Also, experience will be given out for completing quest objectives, and won't take into consideration how many enemies you've butchered along the way. This will allow sneaking characters to gain the same amount of experience for quests that warriors and spell-users will.

In fact, making stealthy characters useful and productive in the MMO environment is one of the developers' goals for the project. In order to bring these characters back to the forefront, something they rightly deserve, while still maintaining the fact that they aren't meant to be straight-out warriors, Turbine will be making sure that most of the treasures in dungeons will not only be locked up tight, but many will also be trapped. Rogues will also be able to spot secret doors that can lead to valuable treasure, or life-saving shortcuts through dungeons.

The developers also seem to be traveling a path similar to City of Heroes in that they wish to boil the game down it's essence, and perfect that before adding in the extra components. Thus, neither crafting nor player-vs-player combat will be included in the game at launch. And while this may seem a little short on content to some people out there who normally play games like Dark Ages of Camelot, or EverQuest, no one seemed to be complaining too much about the lack of those systems in City of Heroes, mostly because the game itself was so solid. It all depends how well implemented the combat system of the game is.

The game itself is still a long ways from being finished, though the game's current schedule has it launching in the later half of 2005. The meager few screenshots that are available look good, but it's obvious that they could still stand to ramp up the visuals a little before the release. They just don't have the crispness of some of the newer RPGs on the market, but admittedly there's still a long time for that to change.

With no retail price set for the game yet, no word on what monthly subscription fee thousands of D&D fans will be forced to anti-up to get the goods, and precious few screenshots circulating the web, there is still a lot of time for Dungeons & Dragons Online to change directions. So far they seem to be taking a unique but seemingly promising course in developing their MMO, but one thing is already for certain - there have been countless fans waiting for a game like this for years, and Neverwinter Nights just wasn't enough for many of us. Now Turbine has the opportunity to bring us fans what we've been waiting for, and they're doing their best to make sure they don't disappoint anyone's expectations for the first online adaptation of the classic roleplaying game.