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Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach Preview

Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach Box art
Publisher:Atari (Online systems handled by Codemasters)
Genre:Fantasy MMORPG
Official Site:http://www.ddo-europe.com/
Release Date:March 3rd (UK)
Writer:Ben Atkinson (Jammin)
Buy at Amazon.co.uk

Dungeons & Dragons is a well established and popular desktop game, as most of you know. Quite why it has taken this long for an MMORPG to made in the D&D world amazes me, it has been a massive contributing factor in the birth of the whole fantasy RPG genre and will no doubt have a huge fan base for many years to come, with or without PC games.

So, last week I had the chance to visit with Atari and Turbine and get a glimpse of their new MMORPG; Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach. An invitation a fantasy MMO fan like myself is not going to turn down. We were treated to a detailed explanation of the main features in the game from the lead designer himself – David Eckelberry. Then as you might expect got to play the game for an afternoon, plenty of time to get reasonably familiar.

Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach is set, as the name might suggest, in a city called Stormreach. There is only this one city in the game, travelling around the world shouldn't take all day. Travelling will be a more or less non existent part of the game for better of worse. There are 5 races to choose from and 9 basic classes, from there you can customise your character in quite a wide variety of ways, such as mixing class skills together, making your character look very much unique, with a wide variety of changeable features. Definitely much more customisable than say World of Warcraft. When it comes to Classes, the game itself has pre-picked the optimum attributes of a character for each race, however for the more advanced players there is the option of completely rearranging things to suit your needs, I left well alone for now.

Stormreach itself is in the World of Eberron we've previously come across in the RTS Dragonshard, a world that was apparently created by a D&D fan in a worldwide competition and selected from thousands of applicants.

The game has many new features and compared to what I have seen and experienced in previous MMO’s, many were quite impressive. Turbine have tried hard to break away from the status quo of MMORPG’s, Firstly by introducing a reactive combat system and team based game play. Now to some diehard Fans of the MMO genre, this might not be welcome, and perhaps it's not for you if you usually choose to play the "Auto attack" style, as David put it. However I think that after playing the new way for a while, players will probably stay as it's a lot more fun. Of course, all of this within the D&D Rules, although maybe tweaked a little to make things more enjoyable.

Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach Screenshot 1

The combat system itself deserves a bit more coverage, it's completely different from what I have seen before in MMO's, resembling more than anything an action based game. You need to block at the right time, retreat from certain attacks and attack when you know monsters are most vulnerable. You know, there might actually be at least some skill involved in this MMO, playing longer than anyone else might not be the only key to success. I must say I quite enjoyed myself while playing the game and didn’t feel like I was merely pressing "Attack" and waiting to see what happened.

David posed the question "What is one of the most boring parts of playing an MMORPG?"… "Doing nothing!" he said. We were really very shy you see, he had to answer for us. Anyway on to the point, Dungeons & Dragons Online has taken away many of the dull aspects of gameplay in the dungeon, for instance there is no longer the need to rest, since you generally don’t do anything! There are designated spots in dungeons where players can visit to regain a lot if not all of their health and mana points. If you choose, you can leave them for later, using them tactically when you or your party might be at their most fatigued. It really is a good feature that will take away the hours, possibly per night that you might normally spend sitting doing absolutely nothing.

Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach Screenshot 2

When not in the dungeons, players can only regenerate in taverns which act as not only healing points, but social points, since everyone from level 1 to level 10 must go there to recuperate Obviously there are a few different taverns spread out through the city though, so things don’t get overcrowded. The retail game will only allow players to level 10, I asked David why, he explained that in the table top version, players can reach a maximum level of 20, and he didn’t want the game to become capped soon after release (I think it was aimed at all those hard core players out there).

It sounds like it will take 150-200 hours of in game play time to reach the maximum level though, so by the time most of us more casual gamers have got there I’m sure there will be a lot more content to keep us busy, possibly even a level cap increase. However, you shouldn’t worry if you think 10 doesn’t sound a lot, as on the way you get mini bonus’s called feats for reaching 20% of every level. Basically feats do not completely change gameplay, but help you along your way to your next level in some way, a nice addition I think. Effectively that means there are 50 steps on the way to level 10. That should mean that players will always have another goal while playing, the next feat or level up should never be too far away.

The game itself looks beautiful, the dungeons are crafted very well with little bits of detail wherever you look. One of the other new things I liked in this game is the option of choosing the difficulty of a dungeon. Adding quite a lot of replay value, not only will you get better items from completing it, but there will be different monsters and new areas to explore when you increase the difficulty rating. The only thing that I would say seemed bad about the game to me was the lack of a PvP system. David explained this was basically because it's not part of Dungeons & Dragons, the table top game is all about teamwork, not ripping each other to shreds. However he did say it had not been completely ruled out and imagined after the game has become a stable product, plans for PvP may start, Don't quote me on that, it's just an educated guess.

Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach Screenshot 3

Lack of PvP may put a lot of people off D&D Online, perhaps understandably, this is a big part of most MMO’s. However there is still a lot to be had in the PvE side of the game. One thing I should mention is that Stormreach has voice communications built into the game, talking is much easier than typing after all and will no doubt prove popular, if even for people to call each other noobs, hehe. I Would say that D&D Online could be the perfect game for slightly more casual player, playing in a group with friends is the focus, just like the table top game.

On the whole Dungeons and Dragons: Stormreach looks like a very promising addition to the MMORPG genre, and will implement a lot of new things that I’m sure will be taken up by the rest of the industry. It's refreshing to see a game in this genre being made that is proud to be different, although that may be due to the 3 million strong Dungeons & Dragons fan base it can rely on to make the game a winner. As an added bonus, the European beta is now active and you can go try it out for yourself, something which I would definitely recommend.

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