Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach
|a game by||Standing Stone Games|
|User Rating:||8.0/10 - 1 vote|
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One Of My earliest memories is walking in the English countryside with my family, up a titter-provoking hill called Ward's Knob. As we rounded a corner into an abandoned quarry, five curiously-attired men leapt out and started hitting each other with sticks, shouting, "Mighty blow!" and "Melf's acid arrow!" After 30 seconds, they sat down, breathing heavily and started rolling funny-shaped dice. It was weird, alienating and totally Dungeons & Dragons.
This heritage of knowing what people want and how people like to play geeky games with each other is key to why Dungeons & Dragons Online should be one of the best MMOs around. No organisation or body of designers has such a wealth of experience and a history in getting people to play together and immerse themselves in make-believe (apart from the Lib-Dems perhaps). Factor in the experience of the people adding the Online to D&D - Turbine, creator of Asheron's Call - and Stormreach offers a wealth of potential.
How Solo Can You Go?
So does it fulfil this promise? Well, there are a couple of initial problems. First, it's impossible to play by yourself, to 'solo' in MMO parlance. The training levels let you have a go, but most of the classes just aren't self-reliant enough; as there's no automatic regeneration of health or magic, you have to work with limited resources in every mission and there aren't enough for the solo player.
Second, it can be difficult to find an acceptable team; the group-allocation system is a bit rough and ready, the meeting points (taverns) laggy as hell. Automatic grouping points, as in World Of Warcraft, would be a boon, especially for the shorter missions.
Beyond these somewhat irritating elements, the character-creation system reveals the wizardy of the rules underlying the game. You choose from your usual selection of races (Human, Elf, Dwarf, Halfling and the slightly unusual Warforged golem), along with a wider-than-normal range of 12 archetypes, such as Barbarians and Bards. The rest of the system is instantly recognisable from any other D&D PC game, like Bcildur's Gate or Neverwinter Nights.
You can customise just about every statistic (within race restrictions), meaning you can make original character types easily.
Pick Your Own
These characteristics really matter when you get into a group and into the missions, as it's all about specialisation. Make a rogue who can't pick locks but who's excellent at backstabbing, and your group will still get through each mission, yet will miss out on those unlockable goodies. Choose a sorcerer' over a wizard and you'll be able to cast the same spell many times but have a far more limited repertoire of magic, which might be your undoing against creatures who are resistant to certain types of magic.
Caught In A Trap
In addition, all the missions are instanced like Guild Wars. Within them, the challenges aren't only monsters; often, missions are maze-like with intricate plots that drag you all over the map. There are also traps which only rogues can remove, secret doors that require spotting and optional side-quests galore. The missions aren't only hack-and-slash exercises either; you get no XP for killing most of the enemies, only for completing missions, and some missions don't even feature other combatants. One of our favourites was a Smash n' Grab exercise, where we had five minutes to destroy all the crates in an enormous warehouse, just running around smashing boxes willy-nilly.
Despite scrabbling for more criticisms, we can't fault the combat. Unlike the sleeptastic automatic combat simulations seen in other games (step forward WOW), this is truly involved. When you swing your blade, a thousand calculations come into effect; is the enemy blocking, are they resistant to the type of weapon you're using, is there more than one of them... All of these affect what your chance of hitting is and how much damage you cause. If you want, you can turn on automatic targeting, but it's deliberately slower than clicking yourself; to ensure success, you have to get hands-on and think about what you're fighting and who you're fighting it with.
We've not had a chance to mention how good the game looks and how atmospheric the sound is, nor the curious but elegant levelling system and the variety of items. We might not have seen any dragons in there, but we saw plenty of dungeons and we'll be visiting them again, and soon.
Toto I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore
If you played Dragonshard (it was you was it?), you might recognise the world of Eberron, where Stormreach is set. It's a typical D&D world with a history of mass bloodshed and destruction (yawn), but it just doesn't have the aesthetic elegance of the various planes of the main D&D universe that were represented in Baldur's Gate, all the pen-and-paper role-playing games and the thousands of fun, shlock fantasy novels under the D&D brand. This means all those kooky characters you want to see again, like Minsc and Boo, Drizzt and the Undying One, aren't going to be NPCs in Stormreach, barring some inter-dimensional plane-crossing event. Which we have to admit is, in a fantasy universe, entirely plausible.