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Dungeons and Dragons Online: Stormreach

Score: 88%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Turbine Games
Media: DVD/2
Players: Massively Multiplayer
Genre: RPG/ MMORPG/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:

Although the look of the game can vary greatly on the system you have, the models are very nice, giving Dungeons and Dragons Online: Stormreach the propensity to be quite beautiful. Maxing the graphics capabilities on my VAIO desktop puts a strain on the system and introduces some laggy performance, but the graphics look really good. Mind you, my VAIO is not intended to be an extreme gaming machine, so with a more powerful gaming rig, you would probably lose the lag issue.

The coolest aural element in my opinion is the Narrator. While most dialogue with NPCs is conveyed by text alone, there is a Narrator who orates certain pivotal parts of an adventure. When you enter a dungeon, for example, the Narrator may say something like, "As you enter the darkness, your eyes begin to adjust to the lack of light. You can see that you are now standing in a subterranean cavern that appears to have been cleft from bare rock with some determination. The cavernous entry room has no decorations, save for deep grooves scraped into the floor, walls and ceiling. At the far end of the cavern, you can make out a large tunnel leading to the Southeast. A musty smell of salt, soil and mold hangs in the air." I can imagine myself back at the fold-up table, hiding behind a thin, three-panel cardboard divider screen - thin enough to be folded and slipped into a notebook, but strong enough to hide the fate I have planned for a stout Dwarf, a shadowy Rogue and an accomplished Wizard. Ah, those were the days... Perhaps the greatest part of all is when the Narrator describes the dialogue of a pivotal character and - acts the part out vocally in character. Oh, too much! And yet, somehow - just right!


Gameplay:

As an old-school D&D player (okay, usually DM) from way back, I was delighted to see D&D Online capture the spirit of the game so well. The Narrator may sound like such a small thing, but D&D was always about story-telling. A story simply isn't the same without the story teller.

The downside of D&D was always maintaining your character sheet - something that D&D Online helps with a bit. Since it's inside of the game, it handles all of the calculations for you, allowing you to concentrate on which item to equip, rather than recalculating what your AC will be when you're done.

D&D Online does impose weight restrictions, so you can't simply continue to gather knick-knacks as you travel about, or you'll find yourself unable to pick up your treasures when you find chests. This is especially important, since when a party finds a chest, each party member gets assigned part of the loot - by the game. No one else can collect your loot for you, so you'll need to save some room. Also, the items that you get may be more useful to others in your party - and vice-versa, so watch for items that could be useful in other's hands and learn to barter (somewhat frequently) with others.


Difficulty:

My advice to beginners is to take your time. Don't rush forward to see what the next really cool thing is until you've played through the early missions a few times and built up some experience. Otherwise, that next really cool thing will probably kill you. Quickly. And, once you've made it to Stormreach, you won't be able to easily return to the earliest training missions.

Another piece of advice I would give a new player is to ask people if you can't figure something out. You may feel stupid about not knowing how to do something, but there's a good chance that the person you ask about it may have just found out themselves. Often, there are really simple things - such as hot-key commands - that aren't all that easy to look up when you need to know, but can be very quickly supplied by another player. As far as I can remember, pretty much every player I encountered was friendly and helpful at best or simply ignored me and went on about their own way in the worst case.

Another consideration is the class you choose. Some classes are simply "hardier" than others. A Fighter will have much better physical endurance than a Sorcerer or Wizard, for example. While I typically always play a "Magic-User" type, I found that many of the challenges were considerably easier with a Dwarven Fighter than with a Human Sorcerer. One quest I was able to do on my own as the Fighter, while I had to play with a group to get past it with the Sorcerer. Careful consideration is important when rolling your character. Choose Races that favor the class you want, and a Class that provides the difficulty and experience you want.


Game Mechanics:

Anyone can make an online massive multiplayer RPG. (Okay, not everyone, but that's not the point.) It takes something extra to make a Dungeons & Dragons MMORPG. There's a huge depth of content to deal with and you have a large "installed" base of gamers to appeal to who have played the pencil & paper version who are already familiar with D&D. Therein lies the danger; if you try to change things too much or simply print the license on a random RPG, those who are expecting the feel of D&D will be upset. Word of mouth would work against you - quickly.

D&D Online, however, does a very good job of keeping as much of the Dungeons And Dragons feel as possible in the game. The occasional voice-work where the narrator (storyteller) says a character's part - in character - helps to preserve this feel, while providing some amusement as well.

It's also nice that when you attack or have to save versus something, your rolls are actually displayed on screen. While it would be possible to hide these "rolls" and try to make the game feel more realistic, showing the rolls makes the game feel a little more like the pencil and paper version. You can still pull up your character sheet and glance at your inventory and spells - you just don't have to wear the sheet thin by erasing and rewriting things with the electronic version.

Mind you, this is not an electronic version of D&D - that would require a player to be acting as Dungeon Master and running the game. However, for a MMORPG with adventures created by the game developers, D&D Online does the best job I could imagine at being D&D. As for additional content (or episodic content), D&D Online: Stormreach handles this much the same way as the pencil & paper game - with Modules. The first few modules are being offered free to current subscribers, although I don't know if this is to be their business model or if they will, at some time in the future, offer "premium" modules at a cost to subscribers.

If you're into D&D and like MMORPGs, then you owe it to yourself to try out D&D Online: Stormreach.


-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

Minimum System Requirements:



Windows® XP, DirectX® 9 (Included), P4 1.6 GHz or AMD equivalent with SSE, 512MB RAM, GeForce 2 or equivalent graphics card with 64MB of memory, DVD DRIVE REQUIRED, 3GB free Hard drive space (5GB for high resolution), 56.6 K modem (Broadband suggested)
 

Test System:



Played on two systems:

HP Special Edition L2999 Notebook PC:
Windows XP Home Edition SP2, AMD Turion 64 ML-37 2.0 GHz/1MB L2 Cache, 2.0 GB DDR SDRAM, 80 GB 5400 RPM Hard Drive, DVD +/-RW/R & CD-RW Combo w/ Double Layer Support, 14.0 WXGA BrightView Widescreen (1280x768), ATI Radeon Xpress 200M w/productivity ports, 54g 802.11b/g WLAN w/ 125HSM/SpeedBooster, DirectX 9.0c (from included disc), built-in keyboard, touchpad.
Sony VAIO VGC-R820G:
Intel Pentium 4E, 3.2 GHz (Intel Grantsdale i915), 1 GB RAM, AMI BIOS, Radeon X300 Series (128 MB), Realtek HD Audio, Floppy disk drive, 200 GB 7200 RPM, Serial-ATA/150 Maxtor HD (24760 MB free), DVD-ROM, Pioneer DVD-RW DVR-108, Sony SDM-HS73 Monitor, Cable Modem

Microsoft Xbox X-Men: The Official Game Sony PlayStation 2 X-Men: The Official Game

 
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