Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach
Dungeons & Dragons now has quite a history dating back to the 1970s when the pen and paper games appeared. There are books based on the Dungeons & Dragons universe, I believe there was a cartoon TV Series, and a whole string of computer roleplaying games of course. Pool of Radiance was one of the first, released in the 1980s, and there have been many, many more over the years. The popular Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights series are more recent arrivals ... it was only a matter of time before Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach appeared.
So if you are an ardent Dungeons & Dragons fan then this game is for you. It closely follows the latest official Dungeons & Dragons Rules (v3.5) which you can scrutinise minutely as you go, or just leave them rolling along in the background. It's set in Eberron in the troubled town of Stormreach where all sorts of slimy, scaly and other-worldly denizens are running riot, and there's also something ominous stirring in the murky sea.
There's a lot that's familiar in Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach, and some differences too, which will be obvious right at the start. For instance you can roll your character and dress them up (there's a myriad of choices of hair style and colour, plus different noses, lips and facial markings) as a dwarf, elf, halfling or human. Missing are the gnome and half-elf, replaced by a new race, the warforged. Now warforged aren't mere flesh and blood, they're more of the nuts and bolts variety. Instead of clerics taking care of the healing duties for this race, wizards do the repairs.
All the familiar classes are on offer. As well as a cleric or a wizard you can fashion a barbarian, bard, fighter paladin, ranger, rogue, or sorcerer, and you can choose to multiclass as well. There is also the usual array of skills and feats to pick and choose from and a short list of spells for spellcasters. You expand your repertoire of these extras as your level increases although levelling is a slow going affair in Dungeons & Dragons Online. To make it more encouraging each level is broken into 5 ranks and you can visit the trainer on reaching each rank to allocate any points or skills/feats you've earned.
In a word making friends is 'essential' in Dungeon & Dragons Online. There are very few quests that can be solo-ed unless you tackle lower level quests. In keeping with the Dungeons & Dragons ethos it's definitely a party oriented game and some classes are essential if you want to explore intricately and stay alive. On this adventure the classes come into their own, a rogue for leading to spy out and disarm traps, a fighter or barbarian to tank, a cleric to heal and other professions to spin their particular magic or whatever skills they have.
Depending on when you play, it can sometimes take a short while to organise a party. However there is a very good 'Social Panel' to hook up with other players. It lists parties looking for players with useful notes as to what classes are in the party (or what classes are welcome) plus which quest and what level is preferred. You can just glance down the list and contact (tell) the party leader. Or you can post your own listing inviting others to join you.
Both the music and graphics are quite impressive so the port of Stormreach feels good. The many lights give off a festive atmosphere and the drizzling rain makes you feel like heading for cover. It's a maze of cobbled streets with spidery walkways crossing the water, wooden docks, brightly lit bridges, ornate fountains, and open squares where trainers are likely to be waiting to offer help. There's specialist traders for buying gear and inns to rest in (health and mana don't automatically regenerate so resting at an inn is sure to happen often). There's a market place too, which looks a bit unfinished as yet, and some fantastic buildings as you climb the many staircases. Not to mention the dungeons, they come in all shapes and sizes, some are very short trips, others complex and longer.
It's the dungeons where the bulk of the questing is done. Quest givers are identified by a shining mark over their head and you'll be ridding cellars and other subterranean warrens of vermin, or looking for lost souls or items, freeing prisoners, and protecting various characters and the like. Each quest is logged in a journal with a description. When you embark on the quest you can access a panel listing the various objectives. If you watch this as you go you can see what's been achieved and what there is left to do.
Each dungeon is a separate 'instance' so your party is left alone to fathom its mysteries. They are mostly well designed and a lot of fun with locked gates and levers, traps to catch the unwary, ladders and subterranean waterways. Many of the dungeon quests are repeatable and, to vary the experience, there is a choice of three difficulty levels from a menu that opens each time you enter.
There are sparkling chests, too, to find, and a nice touch is that treasure is allocated to individual party members so there can be no squabbling over goodies. Just open a chest and your items are tagged. Quest givers will also have rewards, sometimes a long list to choose from, so if more than one looks particularly useful then there's incentive to repeat the quest.
Sprinkled around the place there are also collectables to watch out for. Old documents, alchemy ingredients, artefacts and the like. In Stormreach there are traders who are willing to swap collectables for various useful items. There are a lot of things to collect to sell or trade with friends, and there's a bank, too, to deal with overflow from your inventory.
Unlike other MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft, experience isn't accumulated for 'kills' it only accumulates when completing quests. This is a good reason to repeat quests although the experience reward has diminishing returns if you repeat at the same level.
Combat is fast and furious, more so than in CRPGs such as Baldur's Gate for instance. This took me some getting used to even with the initial tutorial. Creatures dance around you and weave back and forth, so it can be tricky to land a blow. 'Practice' is the operative word here, although players of more action oriented games will be quite adept I should think.
You can use the mouse or keyboard (re-mappable) to play Dungeons & Dragon Online. You can turn mouse look off and on and view from a distance or move in close to your character though not so close as to take a first person viewpoint.
There is a good map for locating all relevant people and places including quest locations. Along with the social panel, there an inventory panel, a character sheet and an options screen where you can adjust just about everything including activating voice chat. Each is neat and easily accessible There are a dozen or so action bars and you can move them around to suit. The inventory is quite small with tiny icons for items but these can be viewed in more detail in a circular window where you can get a description. Pity the magic scroll descriptions don't specify which caster can use them because the manual doesn't list spells for each class. (This would make a great addition in the future). This window also shows other players when you click on them and you can learn more about them too, or invite them to join you. Given the need to make friends I thought a 'talk' option would be a nice addition here to make it simple just to say hello.
There are a few glitches in the works, but that's to be expected, and regular patches smooth out the way. I've been stuck a few times and had to commit suicide to escape and one quest didn't complete the first time around, but it did a few days later. There are also new areas being added with the updates so Stormreach is growing. At the moment it's not huge but hopefully it will be.
Dungeons and Dragons Online: Stormreach is shaping up to be the place to be for Dungeons & Dragons fans. It's especially good for those who enjoy their adventuring along with others. For those who like to step out alone it's not so good, and there is no pvp as yet. Although it's not difficult to join forces with other players it can have its frustrations because there are popular or preferred dungeons and you can find it difficult to complete less desirable ones. It also diminishes the fun a bit when one party member is familiar with a dungeon and knows all its secrets. A first time quester can miss the opportunity to make their own discoveries and work out puzzles.
I had some fun in Stormreach despite sometimes waiting around to find adventuring companions. The dungeons make up for this with the various challenges and secret ways to ferret out. The very good news is that more solo content is planned. What an excellent idea! I also believe that pvp content is planned as well.
Copyright © Rosemary Young 2006.
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Win XP, Pentium 4 1.6 Ghz or AMD Equivalent with SSE (P 4 3Ghz recommended), 512MB RAM (1GB recommended), Disc Space 3GB, 5GB for high resolution, 64 MB Graphics Card, DirectX 9.