Ladies and gentlemen, clench your fist and blow on your twenty-sided die – we play dungeons & dragons! For once, however, we leave the character sheets and basic rules in the closet, because today we're going to the digital D&D battlefield. Dungeons & Dragons Online is now ten years old and still enjoys a solid fan base that consistently defends the game against critics. Like his brother, The Lord of the Rings Online, DDO not only has a long time, but also a gigantic bunch of extensions under its belt. Some players may even rub their eyes in disbelief, because even if the average WoW fan doesn't even know about the existence of the game, the developers have never stopped developing their project. The result is an absolute dungeons & dragons juggernaut that literally blasts titles like Neverwinter in terms of diversity and complexity. The sheer mass of possible class combinations alone should completely overwhelm today's MMORPG players familiar with tutorials – and that is exactly what makes the game so charming. For these reasons, after a long break, we have now made an extensive visit to DDO and report for you from dark dungeons, dense jungles and the trenches of the last war. We strongly recommend that you take a rope, a three-meter rod and a spare weapon with you – no adventurer should ever leave his home without these items. In addition, of course, you need your well-worn bite stick, because Dungeons & Dragons Online makes absolutely no prisoners.
First of all, the most important thing for interested newbies and old D&D rabbits who also make dungeons unsafe with pen and paper: Dungeons & Dragons Online basically offers you three so-called "campaign worlds", i.e. several separate and fundamentally completely different planets or levels of existence between them you can travel back and forth with your character. Veterans shake their heads critically as they read these lines, but we deliberately keep it short because DDO is based on the cosmos of Edition 3.5 by Dungeons & Dragons. And this is more difficult for laypersons to understand than the Mongolian instruction manual for launching a semi-mounted ICBM, so from this point on we simplify things drastically. The world that every newcomer will see first is Eberron. Instead of a commercial,
A small reality check awaits you in a magical fantasy world: instead of sitting on your butt during a two-thousand-year medieval stasis, the residents of Eberron realized that the orderly use of magic could significantly improve their lives – magic-powered ships, trains and elevators here as well as large cities with several hundred thousand inhabitants.
In Eberron, "magicians" are not mythical characters, but honest craftsmen. After a seemingly eternal war, daily life is largely controlled by the "dragon painting houses": industrial giants who control special economic fields through their natural magical talent. Is that too crazy for you? No problem, because also the traditional fantasy world Faerûn, who is known for example from the Baldur's Gate series, is part of the party, including dark elves, evil orcs and the magical superhero Elminster. Ravenloft is the third candidate to do what real D&D veterans in particular should be happy about: the so-called domain of fear represents its own level of existence with a malicious willfulness and is aimed at more experienced players. There are mainly elements of Gothic horror here. Dungeons & Dragons Online should have something for every taste, at least in technical terms.
Murderous history lesson
As soon as it comes to the actual gameplay, players who have previously only played amusement park MMOs such as WoW will definitely face a small hurdle: There are also the traditional open areas of an online role-playing game, but the lion's share of dungeons & Dragons Online, as the name suggests, takes place in dungeons. The interesting thing is, however, the way you visit the dungeons, because short 15-minute runs with four bosses and a treasure chest at the end are not to be found here. On the contrary, the DDO dungeons are usually large, winding and bristling with puzzles and traps. Do you want to prevent an ancient evil from resurrecting itself? The associated mechanism is not operated with a simple lever, but with a tile puzzle that extends across the floors and walls of a complete room. Do you want to storm the castle of a slave hunter ring? Then you should have a good mechanic with you, because the traps inside the fortress are absolutely deadly. The first (paid) "campaign" that new players come across is called "The Seal of Shan-to-Kor" and leads you deeper into the city of Stormreach in its last dungeon. You cross the sewers, break a barrier and find out why the goblins are afraid of the dark. Then you will find earthen caves, a complete hidden city and, even deeper underground, ancient dark vaults. Here you finally defeat the last boss after an hour and a half to two hours. One of the best features will be especially appreciated by pen and paper players: As is customary at D&D, all of this will be told by a game master! The disembodied voice magnificently underlines your actions, for example by describing simply opening a door: "When you enter the old warehouse, the smell of mildew and moldy wood hits you. Abandoned cobwebs blow high in the ceiling in an invisible breeze." A great idea, which binds new players to their armchairs every time they make their first journey towards the maximum level. As a bonus, even internet celebrities from role-playing channels such as Maze-Arcana were hired. On the other hand, if you find a talking weapon, you might hear the sonorous voice of fantasy authors like Ed Greenwood and nerd icon Wil Wheaton. The ultimate super bonus? Gary Gygax, the late Dungeons & Dragons inventor, also set some of the adventure modules to music. What more could you wish for as a true D&D fan?
However, we would like to give you an urgent warning: Dungeons & Dragons Online (buy now) is not an accessible MMORPG – on the contrary. As great as the game master and the lovingly designed dungeons and stories are, the rest of the game is so complex. DDO wants to bring the table role playing game Dungeons & Dragons to your screen and does not take prisoners. Your fate is in your hands, both in terms of your survival in the dungeons and the establishment of a functioning character. Should you fail to do so, then DDO shrugs – with great freedom there is necessarily a high degree of independence. The love of table role playing goes so far that you don't regenerate life points, for example. Once lost the lifeblood and utter magic
stay away until you find a place to rest. This suddenly makes life points for new players an extremely valuable resource, because even healing spells cannot be cast infinitely often. The only remedy is provided by individual NPC companions who, after making a small gold donation, will travel through the darkness with you. Perhaps the concept seems familiar to you: a hostile environment full of traps, which you roam as an armed hero and only rest on flickering fires. Life energy and magic only regenerate after a rest and with a friend by your side, the dungeons do not look quite as gloomy. Right, Dark Souls also used typical table role-playing tropes back then (with full intention!). So you can already guess what lies ahead.
However, we are not finished yet, because next we kindly point out the so-called "rescue throws". Dungeons & Dragons Online also adheres to its pen and paper role model here, because values such as "reflex" and "willpower" let you resist various unpleasant effects and spells. If you mess up your save, you take more damage from an area attack, for example, you have to deal with the rest of the dungeon with permanently lowered attributes … or you die. Correctly read: In later adventures you will encounter extremely powerful monsters that will simply and killing you. We remember very well our first fight against a viewer, one of the iconic D&D monsters. Our cleric was disintegrated, our warrior suddenly fell dead on the face, our villain turned into a stone statue – and we ourselves were thrown from a bridge thirty meters away. You beat a monster but it doesn't take any damage? Then your weapon does not have the right material, because fairies, for example, are only sensitive to weapons made from cold-forged iron. Do you use your valuable magic weapon to attack a slime or rust monster? Then your artifact is now a pile of steaming slag. We sincerely hope that you followed our tips and packed a cheap second weapon. Dungeons & Dragons Online has been offering D&D in its purest form for ten years. Some are happy about the challenge. Other players take a look at the so-called "Mind Flayers", the paralyzed adventurers instantly tear the brains out of their heads and leave the room in reverse. Did we mention that there are optional hardcore servers with permanent character death? Dare!
Level up with class
The consistent orientation to the large role-playing role model also continues in the class and tier system. You don't choose a single class like in World of Warcraft and then distribute a few talent points in a tree. Imagine: Just arrived in Azeroth, you level three levels as a warrior and then suddenly switch to the villain because you find some of the damage talents in the assassination talent tree interesting. Five levels later, it concludes that a little healing is not bad and combines the Warrior, Rogue and Paladin classes into a self-made character class package. The whole thing sounds very cool, but also extremely complicated? Then you know what to expect in Dungeons & Dragons Online. In twenty normal and ten epic stages, you can combine all available character classes with each other to create a hero that is exactly tailored to you. The disadvantage of this variety is, of course, that the player can end up with a completely messed-up cucumber character at the end of his journey. If you don't plan your character from level one to thirty, it is extremely easy to maneuver into a corner. If you prefer to play a single character class at level thirty, you can do so without problems, you do not suffer a disadvantage. But even with a "pure" character, the meticulous planning does not fail to materialize.
Since you will only climb thirty levels in total, each level of experience represents a noticeable increase in strength that is guaranteed to put a grin on your face. Here, too, Dungeons & Dragons Online is based on its great role model. The action points, which can be distributed five times per level, differ drastically in their function from the P&P variant and take on the function that the talent trees at WoW Classic fulfill. Some of the trees are tied to the currently activated classes, while others can be earned in-game or bought for real money. As a "falconer", the hero uses the help of a trained bird of prey – which can also be an eagle or an owl, for example. "Harp agents" attack in close combat through their tactical understanding with their intelligence value instead of their strength, while "Vistani knife fighters" use daggers and even get new animations. Finally, "Inquisitives" represent a mixture of Judge Dredd and Dick Tracy and use two rapid-fire crossbows with infinite ammunition. Just to understand: The specializations just mentioned are not classes! Even if you play a pure warrior, for example, you can use the knife fighter tree to inflate your damage. We go one step further and dare a little thought experiment with you.
Our example build should be able to do everything: conjure, beat and heal yourself. For this we choose the people "Aasimar", a person with angel blood, who can strengthen his natural healing ability in his folk talent tree. We also choose a pure mage, who generously uses the "Eldritch Knight" specialization, thereby increasing his hit dice, armor class and damage. A few points in "Pale Master" give us the opportunity to activate our phantom form and thus automatically render enemy hits ineffective in close combat – and the ability to heal us through negative energy away from positive energy such as healing spells. Do you remember the harp agent's talent tree? Exactly, we suddenly attack in close combat with our intelligence value, which we also use to cast our spells. Et Voilà, we created a character that would be completely overpowered in any other MMORPG. In Dungeons & Dragons Online, however, we single-handedly deal with demon princes, dragons and demigods at later stages. To make that possible
the developers tried the so-called "Epic Level Handbook" and practically adopted the strongest skills from it one to one. As an illustration, we present a skill of the "Grand Master of Flowers" – a monk who has achieved physical perfection.
"Everything is nothing: Your shining consciousness enables you to change the tissue of the planes and to tear your enemies out of the space-time continuum. Up to six enemies make a saving throw, if they fail they are deleted from the multiverse. If the save is successful, they suffer a temporal shock instead and are paralyzed for six seconds, after which they take 1,000 points damage. " Reminder: We are still talking about an MMORPG. What would we not give for taking this ability into the WoW raids only once? The moment a player arrives at this point, he has done it: the dungeons at DDO no longer have a challenge that they cannot destroy with the flick of a finger. There's nothing left to do and no way to accumulate more power … right?
Reincarnation for the masses
Veterans who have already earned everything in DDO can add even more power to their characters by tackling reincarnation: at levels 20 or 30, there are several ways to revive the player. In plain language, this means that the character starts at level one from scratch – but now with slightly increased attributes and the knowledge from his previous life. The whole thing can be completed as many times as you like, with the attribute bonuses no longer increasing after the third reincarnation. That previously mentioned knowledge is expressed in bonuses to skills, bonus talents, better saving throws or an increased pool of hit points. If you actually manage to reincarnate all available classes and races at least three times, you have an absolute monster of one character. Is this necessary to participate in endgame activities such as raids and the so-called "reaper dungeons"? Absolutely no way! Is it fun? Definitely! If we learned one thing during our stay, then that Dungeons & Dragons Online doesn't know the word "overkill". Of course, this means that the level of difficulty so highly praised at the beginning will soon no longer apply. If the player is already crumpling iron Golem as a level 1 character with a bare fist, there is malicious joy – but there is no good old feeling of a dungeon crawl. The same applies to the sonorous voice of the game master, who no longer exudes the same magic after the tenth time as at the beginning. However, since DDO has a massive amount of content, at least this problem is still far away for newcomers.
The payment model: money rules the multiverse
We come to the topic that was already responsible for the rise and fall of some MMORPGs: the payment model. Taking a quick look is no problem for even the most frugal player, because DDO is a free-to-play title as you know it. If you download the launcher and create an account, you can take the first steps in Eberron and complete a few dungeons. Interesting: Dungeons & Dragons Online was one of the first MMORPGS in 2010 to switch from a subscription to an F2P model – and saved itself through the big MMORPG crash from 2008 to 2010. But what can a player expect who doesn't invest a single cent in DDO? Pure F2P players have to accept a very limited dungeon selection. On the other hand, free players are initially restricted to the world of Eberron, which may provide a culture shock for fans of traditional fantasy. Races, classes and talent trees are also largely adorned on the selection screen by the dreaded "Buy Now" button. The good news: some of the races can be earned in-game, as can some of the best available classes – and all bonus talent trees, such as the "harp agent" mentioned earlier. Players who like to be in Faerûn have to wait until level sixteen and accept the quest "Network of Chaos", after which access is permanently secured for this character. If you do not want to invest anything, you have to expect that you will need several reincarnations to reach the power level of your fellow players who like to spend money. And that brings us to a point that many players should be pissed off with.
In Dungeons & Dragons Online there are so-called "improvement books", which permanently increase the attributes of a character by up to eight and his skills by up to six points. These books can be earned while the game is in progress and will continue to exist after reincarnation. You know what has to come now and of course you are right: You can also buy these books for a lot of money in the shop. From level one. This can be understood as an "abbreviation", but in the truest sense of the word using your credit card to hit your own character until it gets stronger could also be described with the dreaded words "Pay to Win". Do you want to go to a certain national capacity after reincarnation? Buy them in the shop. Do you need another +5 long sword that can wreak evil demons? Buy it in the shop.
After we had previously acted as a prophet of doom, we now come to a (limited) all-clear: the whole thing sounds terrible, but in practice it is only half as bad. The books, like the weapons and folk skills, can be earned. If you spend a gigantic amount of money, you are significantly stronger than your fellow players – but since PvP does not play a role in Dungeons & Dragons Online, the difference in power is half as bad. Everyone has to decide for themselves whether they really want to shorten their hero journey. We even expressly recommend that you enjoy the hard start without real money help in its full pen and paper splendor and instead invest the money in adventure packs that bring significantly more fun and benefit in the long run. The only real downer is that large expansions such as the city of Sharn or the horror level Ravenloft have to be bought separately and at a hefty price. If you are more interested in DDO, we strongly recommend the Ravenloft expansion, as it offers a complete world map, including atmospheric adventures and the mega-dungeon at Ravenloft Castle. The "Ultimate Fan Bundles" with more than one hundred euros are only recommended for the ultimate fans mentioned – or for players who want to explicitly support the developers with hard currency. Lastly, a quick warning: At the time of writing, the Corona pandemic triggered all adventures and dungeons for free. Time will tell what happens when the countless, thoroughly enthusiastic new players race from the end of the free period in front of a wall of paid adventures.
Conclusion: great adventures with overwhelming real money shop
All in all: Our two-month visit to Dungeons & Dragons Online was worth it. Above all, the carefully designed dungeons, with their traps and surprises, together with countless dedicated narrators, left a very positive impression. Compared to the ingenuity of DDO, other MMORPG dungeons appear colorless and sterile. The ability to design your own character exactly according to your own wishes, as well as the danger of "killing yourself", is a pleasure that today's games simply no longer offer. However, graphic enthusiasts will not be very happy with DDO, because there are no great animations and effects. The game is more than ten years old, didn't look very good even then, and even the age-old launcher looks like it was in good hands on a lost AOL CD. The almost overpowering real money shop also casts a shadow over the positive aspects, but should not be a major obstacle for hardcore D&D fans. The use of well-known role-playing personalities and fantasy authors in particular is a real feast for pen and paper enthusiasts. Players who can't stand a shred of Pay to Win in their free-to-play games, however, prefer to stay far away from Dungeons & Dragons Online. We are looking forward to your opinion: Did you play Dungeons & Dragons Online at its launch or did you start over in the free period? And to all the role players among you: What is your opinion about a dungeon master who sets WoW dungeons to music? We are looking forward to your answers!
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