Although I haven’t actively played DDO for a year I do follow the news of the game, and today I was shocked by the news of the expansion to the game coming this year.
Key features are:
- Addition of the Druid class to the game
- Addition of levels 21-25 (epic level content in D&D parlance)
- Several new play areas as part of a crossover with the Forgotten Realms setting and that setting’s underground area called the Underdark
I have extremely mixed feelings about this, not least as it’s a paid expansion and I’m just not that interested in the game anymore to want to spend money on an expansion. I have said to friends for a long while that the druid class would be ‘the’ one feature to drag me back into the grindfest gameplay of DDO. I love playing druids and have always chosen them over any other class whether in pen and paper RPGs or computer games. So I’m very happy to read that the class is finally near completion and that it will have the heady mix of unique spells, animal companion and shapeshifting as it does in 3.5 D&D.
However the content focus going forwards is this cross over with the Forgotten Realms setting not the current setting of Eberron. This stinks, it’s basically Turbine’s DDO team admitting that they always had problems building stories out of the Eberron setting and that it’s just easier to sell the FR setting to make more money: the FR as a setting has been done so many times before (Baldur’s Gate on PC & console, Icewind Dale series, Neverwinter 1&2 + now a new game by Perfect World etc). The Forgotten Realms is ‘monty haul‘ gaming at its worst. Power player NPCs dominate the world and the gods are very heavily involved in meddling. In books, published WoTC modules and computer games you see this rapid power growth when playing and the tendency to ‘pull out the big guns’ as a narrative device. Elminster the Sage or some other star of the world will always make a cameo and either save the day or solve the plot puzzle for the poor players.
Eberron at least in the pen & paper setting was subtler and less black & white. The setting is rich with politics and organisations that may or may not be hostile to the players. Regardless of the players level it was always clear that level’s, magic and treasure are not all that makes you powerful – recklessness and arrogance could easily be punished by a ‘level 3′ NPC because they happened to wield great political power. I have enjoyed for many years running D&D sessions in this setting (so I’m biased of course). DDO the computer game does have nice hints of lore hidden away amongst the dungeon-crawl gameplay. But DDO has always been a story-lite game compared to other MMOs dungeons are quests and vice versa so there’ s a lot less text to read in game.
To me adding the FR in is akin to STO’s producer thinking they should add in some Star Wars:
STO production discussion
Lead producer: Figures are down and F2P hasn’t bought enough money in, ideas?
Designer 1: What about we add in Lightsabers? Sith are a much cooler bad guy than the Borg!
LP: Erm, we don’t have the rights for that..
Designer 2: I can see it now, cut scene of an Imperial Star Destroyer chock full of angry Sith arriving through a spatial anomoly near a starbase. Transmission arrives to nearest starship of control centre in chaos, smoke billowing and sparks from damaged consoles, the Captain of the starbase desperately talking at camera “overrun, unknown energy weapons, strange powers..”. Captain is cut off with sudden look of panic, he reaches for his throat as though he can’t breath. A glowing blade decapitates him and a strangely armoured figure steps into camera shot laughing menacingly…
LP: I’ll get on the phone to Lucas Arts!
So maybe the above is slightly exaggerated but to me it’s the same. Eberron had so much potential for a game setting but Turbine built a game in a tiny outpost on a mostly unsettled continent instead of basing it in one of very detailed major cities of the settings main continent (Sharn, city of towers, would have made a very unique potential setting). Many of the later updates were about extra planar creatures instead of the many threats native to Eberron, a lazy reliance on ‘big bad meanie’ enemies. <sigh>