DDOoooooh no

I feel like I’m Mister Critic-Pants lately. Unfortunately this post will only enhance that image. I’ll try to post happier things in the days to come.

One of the only breaks I had this weekend was trying the 7 day free trial for Dungeon & Dragons Online. I’d read some reviews that pointed out problems with DDO; Strange design decisions that seemed to fly in the face of other Massive Multiplayer Role-Playing games, but not in a good way. Things like:

– There’s no actual world to explore, just a city with a bunch of instanced dungeons.
– There’s no crafting skills to create interesting items or invigorate any sort of economy.
– The only way to gain XP is by completing quests, almost all of which require extensive team play.
– If your character dies you gain less XP for the quest you’re currently on, penalizing you for grouping with strangers even though the game stresses that same teamwork aspect.
– Real time twitchy combat controls requiring button presses for dodging and blocking, which sounds okay until the server is being pounded by lag.
– Railroaded plotlines with almost no variety between quest paths.
– Low overall power as you make a brutally slow crawl to the equivalent of a 10th level Dungeons & Dragons character.
– The game being set in Eberron, the new anti-classic fantasy D&D world. This pushes away the loyal D&D hardcore who would have slobbered all over a game built around the far better known Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk settings.

The screenshots looked okay. The video footage looked uninspiring but passable. But the game was free for 7 days so I figured ‘Why the heck not?’

I won’t need the other 6 days of my subscription. Holy crap, does this game suck.

How many creativity-sapped bureaucratic zombies approved this mess? It doesn’t feel like any part of the development team looked at the product as a whole and asked “Is this compelling and fun?”

All the above problems are quite true, but let me add a few more that blew the brains out the back of my head:

– This game chugs. My computer is damn beefy with an AMD 3000+ processor, GeForce 6800 video card and 2 gigs of RAM. This game twitched and stuttered along even when I was going down small hallways alone or fighting against a single creature in a tiny room. How they expect you to utilize the real time combat like this is beyond me.

– The art design bores me to absolute tears. Mannequin realistic-esque figures coupled with unbelievably stiff and lifeless animation in a world that manages to look ho-hum even though it’s supposed to be bristling with unique magical elements. I don’t know why so many 3D designers think that dead-eyed cardboard photo realism of the fantastic is some plateau worth striving for.

– The narrator/Dungeon Master. Yup. Rather than getting actors to do voices for key NPCs to flesh out the feeling of immersion, they’ve got a stoic sounding guy telling you extra details about the adventure or cheering you on while you play. I think it’s some sort of lame attempt to mimic the tabletop D&D experience.

How bad is DM Man? Let me tell you.

Video games, shockingly, have both audio and visual components. When my character is standing in a perfectly clean looking dull room and DM guy says “You notice multitudes of footprints have traveled over this room’s dusty floors.”, I feel cheated. Take the money you just paid that voice actor and texture the room with some dusty footprints, dammit! DM narration is used in tabletop role-playing because there’s no actual audio and visual components! This is a visual game – Show me, don’t tell me! Who could’ve possibly thought this was a good idea?!

Ten times worse than that, however, is that Mister DM Guy actually SAYS NPC LINES as part of his narration. So he’ll spout shit like “The cultist dashes towards you with a look of hatred in his eyes and says ‘Fool! You will never escape here alive!’” while mucking up his voice as he spews the bad guy’s lines as if he’s a C-grade community theatre actor playing Captain Hook. It’s quite embarrassing. I didn’t play far enough in to see if that would include him doing a painful falsetto to mimic any lines for women, which would actually be icing on the cake.

Thinking about it now, I guess DDO is true to the worst clichés of the “D&D experience”: repetitive dungeon crawls, railroaded stories, crappy rewards and an obnoxious person cramming disconnected modules and witless drama in your face.

If I’m missing some hidden genius within this sad game, feel free to let me know.

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