Airships and renown
Let's address the newest addition to the DDO solo vs. group play discussion first: guild airships. One of the chief complaints to this addition when it came about last year was that it punished solo players. Airships offer players the chance to purchase conveniences such as on-board bartenders, more storage, and a huge variety of buffs for the asking. It was natural for solo players to feel a little bit left out, and to a point that feeling was justified. Of course Turbine was rewarding players who worked together for a common goal, because that sort of thing is one of the foundations of MMOs. But a nod toward group players doesn't necessarily have to be a slap toward solo players, so those players needed to be considered as well.
There was some balancing to be done there across the board in the areas of guild size and renown decay. As time passed and Turbine worked through bugs and balancing, things evened out a bit. Some new solutions also presented themselves. With the renown bonus for smaller guilds, solo players could form a guild of one and still have all of those bonuses within reach.
The player community adjusted nicely as well. I saw more than one guild recruiting as solo-friendly, with the message that solo players could join up, do their own thing with no pressure to group, and still enjoy all the benefits of a high-level guild. I loved seeing both the developers and the community take steps to help even solo players take advantage of what is essentially a group mechanic. It speaks well of everyone involved.
What about general gameplay?
DDO has taken some impressive steps to make the game more solo-friendly. Granted, there are some things that will force players to either group or just not participate, simply because of the foundations of the game. If you're a hardcore solo player, you are probably not going to be doing epic raids any time soon.
On the other hand, DDO has always had the door open for soloers, and it's been gratifying to see that door open wider over the past year and a half or so. Solo players can get a helping hand right at character creation -- every class tells you how solo-friendly it is. You can view it as a bit restrictive because some classes aren't very solo-friendly, but overall it's a great little feature to help you get the most out of solo play.
The addition of casual difficulty in dungeons flung the gates open wide to soloers and was a huge advantage for them. Before that, a limited number of adventures offered solo difficulty. That number got smaller and smaller as players reached higher levels, effectively shutting solo players out of high-level content after a certain point. Casual difficulty let players regain that access and enjoy so much more of DDO than they could before.
If you've got to have extra classes of a certain type in a dungeon or you can't quite make it on your own, hirelings are another feature of DDO that really gives solo players some love. You can spend some in-game cash for a regular hireling or spring for some gold seal hirelings in the Turbine store if you're looking for a fuller party. You can only have one regular hireling at a time, but the number of gold seal hirelings is only restricted by party size. If you're a solo player and the gold seal hirelings seem useful, don't forget to keep an eye on the DDO store updates every week, because they go on sale from time to time.
Overall, I'd really like to see Turbine continue taking steps to include both solo and group gamers. From a simple business standpoint, it's been a smart move -- solo players' money is just as valuable as that of group players, and it only makes sense to give them a good MMO home to enjoy. Hopefully 2011 will bring more of the same, but if you're a dedicated solo player, this is a very good time to revisit DDO -- or visit it for the first time!
Exploring Eberron is a novice's guide to the world of Dungeons and Dragons Online, found here on Massively every Friday. It's also a series of short summaries of lower-level DDO content, cleverly disguised as a diary of the adventures of OnedAwesome, Massively's DDO guild.