Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Grab the Dragon by the Horns

Well, I have to take a slice of Humble pie... I'm only going to put the pie onto my plate, I'm not actually going to eat it yet... the reason is, that after playing a good solid couple of hours of Dungeons and Dragons Online, I actually got something accomplished. And it didn't drive me insane doing it.

In short order, I finished a couple of instances, I made rank 2 of level 1, I got to grips with the interface and I played about with the graphics options.

First off, let me explain something which I think has an important bearing on where my opinion of DDO spawns; I've never played Dungeons and Dragons... I know, you're all gasping in horror and closing your Internet browser's of choice without a second glance... but, having never played Dungeons and Dragons as a table top game I only had a rudimentary idea of what to expect from the intellectual property of the online game. Unfortunately I have played other online multi-player role playing games, notably WoW.

So I have to take my cap in my hands and admit that I have come towards trying DDO from a WoW perspective, and let me tell you lovely folks out there... 'Coming at DDO from a WoW point of view is unfair, semi-unjust and may make you miss out on a title you enjoy'.

Having said that, I must make myself clear on one point, that I don't think it is unfair to come to any contemporary MMO offering and no expect to apply WoW metrics to evaluating it. Blizzard did so many things right to popularise the genre it's probably unfair on players to move the goal posts too far; whether this is stifling innovation in the development of new MMO's or just making titles older than WoW seem awkward I think is for a whole other post.

But, as unfair as it is to the makers of offerings other than WoW in the genre we have to admit that unlike any other title Blizzard have hit the spot and defined “the norm”. And not taking a pinch of Blizzard's “ways of working” is awkward to new players whom have only ever played wow. [Which sadly now-a-days is going to be the vast amount of PC based MMO players].

Anyway, onwards and upwards, I was pleasantly surprised, oh yes I was. I got into my first instance, I chose to play this on “normal”. When you begin instances in DDO you can choose to play them in one of five escalating levels of difficulty. From Solo, through to raid. I assume at this point that the levels of difficulty reflect the level of reward which will be made available at the end.

So, for my first instance I chose Normal, and in I went. I had to fight past the obligatory little mobs and I found a little puzzle of pulling levers to access new areas, all very fine, I was however quite interested in the proper puzzle room at the end of the instance, the idea of this was that you worked out how to get power from one central stone to those at each corner by moving the tiles on the ground to align them and allow the power to flow out from the centre. And I have to say, I really enjoyed this little mechanic, the first time I'd seen such a thing in an MMO [I think, certainly the first time I remembered it] and I got to work out the puzzle and feel like I'd achieved something.

The puzzle wasn't even the end of the instance, but it was fun. Something that other MMO's miss in spades is fun, WoW aims for grind to make you keep wanting to play, Runes of Magic aims for play time and breadth of experience to keep you wanting to play and other MMO's have other mechanisms for keeping you there in your seat. DDO however did it to me this evening by at least giving me something to work out...

Not that the experience was perfect, far from it, but I enjoyed this little aside.

One problem I came across was the lighting effects, if you are in a room with two lamps on a wall say, you will get yourself a nicely cast shadow from the closest lamp, if you them move towards the other lamp, suddenly as a mid point as you cross from being closer to one from the other, your shadow will suddenly flip [that's the best description for it] from the direction of the first lamp, to the new now closer one. It is a little jarring to the eye.

Don't get me wrong, I'm well aware of the difficulty of decent stencil masking to make shadows work out, but in this case, I'd have rather had no shadow than a broken shadow.

That said the shadow stencil is quite good, reflecting well what your character is doing, it is just rather poor at deciding when to switch from one light source to the next, and there is only one shadow, where as between two light sources in the real world you'd expect to have two shadows... go look yourself outside between to lamps you'll see what I mean :)

But, tonight, was all-in-all, a decent experience, and I can't wait to have some more.

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