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I write this review with one word in mind: WOW!

Right from the starting page (two fighters and a mage battling a mighty Red Dragon) the graphics reached out and grabbed me. I have it set to the second best graphics setting and it looks great! Mind you, I am playing on a Radeon X850 Pro (256mB) but still

Dungeons & Dragons Online : Stormreach


Dungeons & Dragons Online : Stormreach

ESRB: Rating Pending - RP
Platform: PC Games
Category: n/a
I write this review with one word in mind: WOW! Right from the starting page (two fighters and a mage battling a mighty Red Dragon) the graphics reached out and grabbed me. I have it set to the second best graphics setting and it looks great! Mind you, I am playing on a Radeon X850 Pro (256mB) but still… Next came the character generation. You select race, gender and class (only one class is available initially), and then facial appearance. In other games I've played (the few that come to mind are Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale) you get some choices and/or can select some colours. In DDO, there are so many options. In addition to picking your character's face, you can pick hair colour and style, eye colour and shape, eyebrows and nose! You may even be able to approximate yourself due to the variety available. I would rather not play myself – squinty eyed, big nosed and chinless doesn't pick up the bar maidens or intimidate the monsters. Next come your stats and skills. The game can generate a character's stats for you (like anyone would use it) or you can select your stats. The system uses strength, dexterity, constitution, wisdom, intelligence and charisma. All stats start at base 8, modified by racial attributes, with 28 points to add where required or desired. My first character was an elven fighter who focused on archery and long sword, which required high dexterity and strength. Skills can help focus a character (my archer had point blank and rapid reload – excellent support fighter and mage slayer) or allow generalization (my elf had some rogue skills for good measure, at double the skill point cost.) It is entirely up to you. An interesting addition (although one that won't appeal to old school D&Ders) are the feats and enhancements section for your characters. These can be special abilities, active or passive, that allow your character to hit harder, recover faster, heal others better, etc., etc., etc. There are many and the game does give some suggestions as to useful feats based on class. As your character rises in rank, new and more powerful feats are gained, although a maximum of four is allowed. However, you can switch out old ones for new if desired - you will probably want to… Okay, enough about character generation. Time to game… You start in a small village with the tutorial telling you the basics you would probably get from reading the manual (for the men: a "manual" is the small book that comes in the package and gets thrown into the "things I don't need because I am male" pile with maps, instruction booklets and written directions). The tutorial is useful and gives good hints, some of which are very essential to play the game. However, sometimes a new paragraph will pop up with something very important which can be ignored by mistake. Fortunately, it will probably be repeated at a later date, until you select the "do not show again" button. What struck me immediately was the look. Even the small village, the tavern and the training areas, look good. Yes, there are certain things that look the same (boxes, chests, urns, etc.) but every room feels unique, similar to the way your character will be unique. The non-player characters (NPCs) who have something to say or a quest to give have a Grail (at least, that is what I think it is) over their heads. Make certain you talk to all NPCs, as they may have a quest or useful information for you. Veteran MMORPGers will probably find this tedious, but neophytes may glean wonderful tidbits to help in their future gaming. In the village, you will get the opportunity to do a few useful (and not totally dangerous) quests that gives you some training, experience points (XP), some helpful items and will enable you to tackle Stormreach with a slightly better chance. When you are doing these quests, ensure you look around for chests, break barrels and boxes, and activate special things like mushrooms or cabinets. Little goodies abound which will help you in future endeavours. Okay, fast forward to the first true quest. You meet a shifty fellow on the docks who tells you of the goings-on in Stormreach. HE also gives you the name of the local innkeeper. Of course, said innkeeper asks you to do him a little job. Pick up a keg of ale? Piece of cake! Of course, this is Dungeons and Dragons, and every job has a string attached, and every keg activates a secret door… The first two solo quests can be very tough, especially if you do not find all the healing potions during training or (like I did the second time) buy a starting weapon that you can't use (as I rummage through my "things I don't need…" pile for the beta manual.) My first cellar quest as a fighter took me 5 tries until I figured out what to do. The second time as a cleric (without a proper weapon) took me two tries, but I was stooopid and died after slaying only 5 out of 10 kobolds (hint: watch your hit points and don't die with spell points remaining.) Don't worry if you keep trying this one and keep dying. You may become frustrated and aggravated, but give yourself time. Eventually, you will figure out what your character needs to do and how to play effectively. It is at this point when you realize that DDO is not just an "attack antagonist with weapon/spell, determine affect (hit or mss), assess result (kill, wound, incapacitate, nothing) repeat as necessary until desired result is achieved" game. Think Battlefield 2 without automatic weapons… Position, movement, spell duration, weapon selection, magical use and anything you can come up with can increase your effectiveness and survivability. A ranged attack or two is effective, although your opponent gains +4 (20% bonus) if you don't switch to a melee weapon when they engage you in close combat. A protection spell can make you harder to hit or a magic missile attack can wear down or kill your attacker. A rogue's sneak attack can kill outright (not often enough for my tastes) and a healing potion enables you to take one more hit. You need every advantage you can get to finish the solo adventures on your road to greatness. The great thing about DDO is that no man, woman, elf, dwarf, halfling or Warforged is an island! Finding a group will make things much easier. Trust me. Don't be proud. Find people to party with and finish those quests. Unlike other MMORPGs, your character does not get experience from killing things. No wandering around 20 yards from the front gate killing small animals and weak monsters until your character has levelled up, ran back inside to heal/rest, or (dramatic pause) died. Cooperation is the name of this game. The integrated voice system can help, but is not necessary to the playability and teamwork. Experience points (XP) are gained from completing quests, pure and simple. Whether as part of a team or solo, once the primary objectives are complete, you will be rewarded with XP, an item (maybe) and a rank or level (not often enough) for which you can go get some training. As well, XP is not divided amongst the players present in your party. You will get the same amount whether there is one or six. The only thing (I think) that limits your XP is the amount of times you do a quest (many are repeatable) and the level your character is when you do a quest - low level quests mean less XP for high level characters. As for combat, work as a team. Flanking attacks, fire support, sneak attacks, offensive and defensive spells are all fair and encouraged. Slay quickly and without remorse for Bob the Kobold will do the same to you. Unless, of course, you find another, less violent way, as only the successful completion of the quest, not the slaying, earns you XP. After all this, to not sound too biased, I should talk about the negatives… There are huge lagging issues in town, especially when changing areas (channels) and entering city sections with many Player Characters (PCs) like Aspirant's Corner. It can be really tough to level if soloing (in fact, nearly impossible without repeating easy quests over and over…) I don't like the new rank and level system – please get rid of ranks and give me more hit points every level. Some weird beta things happen, like not being able to open a door because I am too close or having 40 quest items in my inventory since I completed quests with a party. Hopefully, some of these will be fixed with the gold release and others I will have to live with (rank and level system) if I want to play. I definitely want to play… Conclusion Overall, considering the few complaints I have versus the enjoyment gleaned, I must reiterate: WOW! It is a great game, matching in spirit the pen and paper version. There are technical glitches and some frustration that may be part of the beta, but not enough to stop any D&D fan. I think Turbine will work hard to make this a great online game. I highly recommend DDO, even if you have to pre-order to get 10 days of free playing. Now I have to get back to playing, my cleric only has 500XP to the next rank…


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