Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach (Second Look)

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Massively-multiplayer on-line role-playing games (MMORPGs) are notoriously difficult to review. That's because the developers intend for you to play their games for months if not years on end, and reviewers typically have a week or two where they can look at a game before moving on to the next. And so you see a lot of reviews where more is known about the beta phase of the game rather than the actual retail release, or where the reviewer only experienced the low- and mid-level content, or where the MMORPG was only played during the initial rush on the game's servers.

And so you might be left wondering what the rest of the game is like, or if the game is worth a long-term commitment. Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach (DDO) has just reached its six-month anniversary, and so our goal here is to answer some of those questions, and to comment on how well developer Turbine Entertainment has been running and modifying their game. If your interest lies more in what DDO is about and how it is played, then you might want to check out our initial review of the game.

A Better Set-Up

When I reviewed DDO back in April, I was on a different computer and had a different Internet connection. My old computer was nice about three years ago, but still, DDO ran pretty well on it. With my new computer I've been able to turn up the graphics options, and I've noticed some differences -- like fancy water effects and mirrors that actually work -- but for the most part the game looks about the same to me. So I suspect that as long as your computer meets the minimum system requirements, it won't have a huge impact on whether you enjoy the game or not.

My new Internet connection, however, makes a world of difference. When I first played DDO, I was on dial-up, and I think it's safe to say that Turbine didn't consider dial-up users when they developed the game. I couldn't play with a full group, I couldn't do certain quests, and even after Turbine made some improvements (such as implementing a setting for your connection speed), I lagged so much that DDO was more frustrating than fun.

But now I have DSL, and as I've continued to play DDO, I've enjoyed it more. The game looks good and it runs smoothly, and since I'm no longer restricted against joining certain groups and doing certain quests, the freedom to the game makes it much more appealing. I'm not going to take back anything I said about DDO before -- I wouldn't recommend anybody with a dial-up connection going anywhere near the game -- but for people with a high-speed connection, DDO can be an enjoyable experience.

What's New

DDO went live in late February, and since then Turbine has released two modules, an update, and a series of minor patches. Combined, they've included about 25 new quests, a new mail system, a new race, several new spells and enhancements, new monsters, and a new favor system.

Let me start with the quests. When DDO shipped, it only had about 110 quests in total, and those quests weren't nearly enough. To make it to level 10, players had to repeat quests numerous times, and then when they created a new character, they had to go through the same sequence of quests, repeating them again numerous times. But now there are something like 135 quests, and the problem isn't as bad. You might take a character to level 10 and not complete a few quests, giving you something to do with your next character. Still, DDO could use some more quests. Heck, it could use a whole new town.

Turbine also created a new mail system for the game. This mail system allows you to send money and items as well as text to other characters, including your own characters. That means, for the most part, the system was designed to allow you to move equipment between your characters, so that you don't have to grab an innocent (but trustworthy) bystander to enact a couple of trades to do the same thing. The postage for the mail system reflects the value of the item being sent, so it's not cheap, but it makes moving equipment around much easier and more convenient.

Another major change is the favor system. There are various Houses in Stormreach, and each House has been assigned some of the quests in the game. When you complete a quest for the first time on a new difficulty setting, you get favor with the quest's associated House. (There are three difficulty settings. Completing a quest eight times on (normal) won't gain you any additional favor, but completing it on (elite) once will net you three times the (normal) favor.) Then if you gain enough favor with a House, you get some sort of bonus. For example, if you get enough favor with the Coin Lords, you get a new bag for your inventory, and if you gain enough favor with House Deneith, you're allowed to buy special equipment from a Deneith shopkeeper.