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The Digital Continuum: Four days with Dungeons & Dragons Online

Kyle Horner

7:41pm Tuesday, April 7th

I just spent my first night with Dungeons and Dragons Online since it first launched in 2006, and came away from the experience pleasantly surprised. The trial client download was snappy, at around 45 minutes. The graphics have definitely seen an upgrade and overall my initial experience has been one of enjoyment. I was expecting to be left a little wanting and instead ended tonight's session quite begrudgingly. Why?

I needed to write this first entry. And oh yeah, I also required some food, too.

The new player experience has completely done away with what I remember back during launch. Now the game is both very solo friendly while also still being equally group friendly. I'm assuming greater rewards are given for players who do instances on the greater difficulty settings, but my solo encounters allowed for plenty of looting. In D&D, proper treasure pay-out is important and Turbine is giving plenty of options, but not so much loot that it all becomes inconsequential.

"-classic D&D storytelling employed at its best by Turbine."

One thing I made sure to do was to actually read and comprehend the quest dialogue. There's reading, and then there's reading and if you want to understand why it is you're doing what you're doing and why it's so important you perform the latter. I'm glad that I did so, because the story of Korthos Island and the peril its inhabitants face have up to this point been classic D&D storytelling employed at its best by Turbine.

As it stands now my Human Monk is level 1, rank 3 and only two more dings away from level 2 -- but this style of leveling still bothers me a bit. Every rank gives the player an action point, which can be spent at a trainer to gain a minor overall boost of some kind. It doesn't really feel all that different from going level 1 to 4 in Lord of the Rings Online, as I did gain new moves with some of those ranks, but the illusion of seeing your level grow by one numerical degree each ding is still very strange.

I'm curious to see what a ding to level 2 is like. Will it be like a super ding? I'll find out tomorrow, but you'll find out in just a second.

9:19pm Wednesday, April 8th

Yup, super ding indeed. More hit points, new feats, skils and boosted saving throws. This happened after finishing the main storyline of Korthos but not before the completion of every quest. I really dig the way Turbine uses instances as a proxy for a developing an ongoing story. Lizardmen, Zombies, Skeletons, Mindflayers and Dragons were represented in full during the course of my newbie experience. Sure, there were a few giant rats and spiders here and there, but this largely felt like a good introduction to the D&D way of baddies. You can't rescue a powerful wizard without cracking a few giant rodent skulls.

"Somehow, I don't think this would work for just any game."

I know that even at launch Turbine captured the feel of playing the tabletop game by implementing an ominous disembodied voice to describe aspects of the dungeons -- or in other words a virtual Dungeon Master.

What's really smart here however, is that all these voiced segments veer away from visual description for the most part and focus on smell, touch and hints at puzzle objectives. When a deep, commanding voice says something like, "You feel an unnatural breeze touching your face. There's something ominous about these halls." it increases my level of involvement with the task at hand. Somehow, I don't think this would work for just any game.

Puzzles, traps and hazards are just as much a part of D&D as combat and nothing has done them as well as Dungeons & Dragons Online. Actually, I don't think many games actually even have done them, at all. Shame, that. The ones I encountered weren't particularly tough, but still offered a nice break of "wander, wander, combat" pacing that most MMOs fall into constantly. I'm curious as to whether no not less traps are employed with the solo dungeons, or if Turbine has a way to tell if you're able to disable them before loading you into the dungeon. Seems a bit much for a three year-old game, but one can wonder!

I ended tonight's play session just before heading into Stormreach, which I'll save for tomorrow. Maybe I'll find a group to play with or maybe I'll keep chugging along with my party of one.

Gallery: Four Days with Dungeons and Dragons Online | 19 Photos

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