I purchased Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach Saturday evening before catching Ultraviolet. Upon creating my account and logging in at midnight, ALL 14 servers went down at the same time. Upon reading the forums the predictable bitching, threats, and sarcasm ensued. The posts grew at a exponential rate in response to the vague “we don’t know why all the servers went down, we’re currently investigating” announcement.
I figured, however, that this was a good sign. Star Wars Galaxies had a lot of server glitches in their initial 6 months with a scathing forum used as the sole place for customer support, announcements, and feedback. Additionally, I had gotten beta notices months ago about 3 distinct server peak tests so I had assumed it was either a code problem they knew about already (since they were taking them offline Tuesday for half of the day), or that all of the TV advertisting starting from Sci Fi Friday coupled with Spring Break meant they were vastly overwhelmed in the amount of players.
However, upon logging in, there was a lot to be desired. Some are my opinion but some are fact. For starters, there are no text bubbles. This has been debated since the days of Ultima Online & Everquest. Ultima Online had text that you spoke that would appear over your head. This gave you context to who spoke, and clearly defined (expect in a crowded town) who was saying what, and when. You could view the chatlog if you missed something. Everquest didn’t have this and made the visual part of the game really lacking because you interacted with this horribly ugly chat text window littered with colors to seperate content. For a social game, one would think this was old hat. My guess is they assume parties would be formed by those who know eachother in real life, and would use the built in voice chat.
Secondly, there really isn’t isn’t much in terms of public information and control. For examle, NPC’s are differentiated by yellow text for their name which appears above their model, whereas player characters have blue text. You have to physyically click on the characters to get information about them, which is a small thing, but it was a lot easier to see stats for someone in SWQ.
They implemented the concept of world instances. Meaning, if a public town gets too crowded, they’ll spawn a new instance of it. You can even switch between instances if you’re friends happen to be in the “same town, different instance”. Town population is definately a problem that needs to be solved. SWG suffered from this pretty bad. If you went to any main town on Tatooine on a Saturday night, lag was prevalent and and your fps low. However, while this may be a great technological solution, it kills the connectivity aspect. Suddenly, you’re town is meaningless, and the feeling of connectivity is lost. This is excercabated by the “private dungeons”.
One problem in massively multiplayer online games is if a particular dungeon is popular, suddenly overcrowding becomes a problem. It’s a race to battle over who gets to kill the monsters, usually resulting in hordes of well equiped individuals unleashing hot fury onto any monster or villian unlucky enough to “spawn” in their midst. Since they do, this spawn -> pounce -> process is repeated since most games provide powerful monsters in remote dungeons as gaining a lot of experience and treasure. Since it’s overcrowded you have to work that much longer and harder. Going at remote hours doesn’t help since in this 24 hour world, there is always someone awake in the US, UK, Australia, Korea, or Chinese farmers.
DDO’s solution is to spawn a unique dungeon just for you and your party if you have one. While this really adds to it, also removes yet another feeling of connectivity for the MMO world. It seems to me that DDO was really aimed at providing a small group of people the ability to play online together vs. creating an online world like other MMO’s. That being the case, they really did it wrong. They should of just spawned an entire world instance for a set group instead of mixing the public worlds to private dungeons. The concept just doesn’t work well, and removes a lot of the flavor. The one success of SWG over Everquest was the “no loading screens” while traveling around. Granted, travelling to a planet did generate one, but one could wanter the entire planet of Tatooine, visit a multiude of towns and enemy bases and not generate a loading screen once. It really helped give the world a feeling of connectivity and being alive and growing.
This makes the server crashses worse. If you’re game isn’t to that caliber, then I’d expect your hardware to work as good or better… but it doesn’t. And the game itself lacks in a lot of areas, mainly small, but they all add up to make it not fun. SWG set the bar pretty high, and although I haven’t played World of Warcraft, from talking to friends it sounds like they got the “working product” part right. DDO’s server crashes are still acceptable considering we’re 2 weeks into the game… it’s still laughable this stuff isn’t caught in beta, but if SWG was any indication, “good enough software” in the MMO world is finding the bell curve of where those will accept sh** will continue to stay even when you give them the most horrendously piece of junk product that works enough to keep them satiated. If you can keep it at, or slightly above that level, you can ignore the millions of frustrated customers because at the end of the month, they still bought your game for $50 bucks and still pay their $10 a month… all 6 million of ’em.
The lack of player created content is pretty bad too. Character customization is pretty low, and clothing from what I’ve seen is standard. All items are purchased from NPC’s, providing cliche money sinks. No character houses, shops, or character created economy. Could it be any more processed & pre-fabricated feeling? Eberron the D&D campaign setting has a dark and extremely magical flavor. The near “commodity” of magic provides ample opportunities for Artificers and Alchemists to build player character needed items. It boggles my mind whey they didn’t capitalize on this concept.
Even crazier sitll is how much of a degeneration this game seems from Never Winter Nights. They were an extreme let down to me since I had high expectations lasting over 2 years waiting for the game. Still, they did a lot of things right. Un-obstrusive interface, awesome tools to allow community created content, and an interesting merging of single and multiplayer servers. Hell, even some of the NPC’s speech was audible (those that were important to the story and justified voice talent money).
Bottom line, DDO is just boring. I’m cancelling my 2 day old account, and putting the game on Ebay. Damn shame that such a beloved brand couldn’t even save it.