Review: DDO Unlimited and Runes of Magic

Hello Children! I think I am coming down with the Hamthrax, and I have just concluded a very difficult week of trying bad people, so this one will unfortunately be short.

In an effort to broaden my MMO horizons (and survive the really easy raid schedule of pre-3.3. WoW), I have decided to cycle through some free-to-play (F2P) and “freemium” (I hate the word and promise I will never use it again. Mea culpa. From now on, it is F2P+!) games.

Yay! Eberron! Finally put to good use!
Yay! Eberron! Finally put to good use!

Dungeons and Dragons Online has been around for a while, but it has very recently been re-launched as a F2P+ game. It is possible to have a paid account and to buy microtransaction currency (think XBox points), but not necessary.

Graphically, one could run DDO on a very low setting, or kick in the DirectX 10, up the sliders, and watch one’s video card sweat. Like most Turbine games (LOTRO stands as a shining example), it is aesthetically pleasing. The character model textures are well done, the environments suitable and creepy, and the spiders actually frightening.

The sound is more than passable for an MMO, and the gameplay is actually very interesting. My WoW guild has a DDO guild that we play during server downtime, after raids that finish early, etc. The fun thing about DDO is that it does not require the intense statistic-balancing gameplay of WoW. There is no spending three hours in the LFG channel asking for a healer. Your standard party size can be anywhere from one to six members, including purchasable “minion” NPCs. Need a mage? Drop by the market and hire one! While the NPC gameplay is not perfect (traps, for instance, pose unique challenges to characters too stupid to avoid them), it is more than passable for most situations.

DDO requires players to think through the dungeons. Each “quest” is associated with an instanced dungeon, which can be played on several difficulty levels, from “solo” through “expert,” with reward quality increasing in tandem with difficulty. Much like the pen and paper hack’n’slashes of yore, players will group up, venture into the dungeon, and continue until the boss is found, at which point the boss must be slain. Various optional objectives appear in the quest tracking frame from time to time, requiring such skills as twitch-like jumping or painstaking, dice-rolling searching for hidden doors.

It is still advantageous, as it is with any Dungeons and Dragons game, to have your basic character types in a party: a ranger, a fighter, a thief, a cleric, and a wizard. This is because the challenges you meet will vary in the unique obstacles they place in your way: a lever might require a certain strength skill, and without a brawny fighter to pull it, your group might not get to experience that part of the dungeon. However, each dungeon is re-runnable infinitely, and with scaling difficulty, it can provide fresh challenges each time.

The game plays almost entirely like a hack’n’slash module. There is not a huge amount of depth to the skills required, but the system is very true to the D&D rulesets we all enjoy (if one enjoys late-edition D&D rulesets).

The microtransaction system feels like cheating. I admit, I often purchase huge stacks of Cure x Wounds potions for pennies. In a game where you do not often have a pocket healer, these potions are invaluable. If I need a new +2 greatsword, it is about $2.50 USD away, instantly delivered to my bag.

Do not think you will be behind the game at this “late date” even if you are just creating your character now: purchasable potions allow you to gain XP and loot at alarming rates, making leveling new characters a breeze. The variety of dungeons and quests that exist make sure that leveling is never the same, nor boring.

The downside, however, is that the environment is heavily instanced. Zones exist, and load times can get quite long at peak hours. The Eberron setting is not quite as fully realized as one might hope, though I have high expectations that if the game does well, it will expand. Players that prefer sandbox-style games with wide open environments to explore without running into attacking monsters at every turn will be quite upset with the game’s almost console-like environments.

Why is female armor always so uncomfortable-looking and impractical?
Why is female armor always so uncomfortable-looking and impractical?

Our second offering is European company Frogster’s F2P+ WoW clone. I say WoW clone with all the love I can muster. Graphically, it looks like WoW’s wannabe little brother. Gameplay-wise, it is virtually the same.

Thankfully, the default interface and user frames are somewhat modifiable, though nowhere near the level of WoW. Seriously: compare the UIs:

An in-game example of my highly-modded WoW UI.
An in-game example of my highly-modded WoW UI.
The developers example of my RoM UI.
The developer's example of my RoM UI.

Other than that, the game plays exactly like WoW. Get quest, kill monsters, loot item, turn in quest, get new quest, go to dungeon, kill boss, return with loot. The microtransaction system is less invasive than the DDO Store; there is no purchasing of +2 greatswords or full plate. Instead, the best (and only) purchases I have made are an XP boosting potion to speed the leveling process and an epic mount.

Gameplay is also entirely too easy; I mean no-challenge easy. I think that the game is likely targeted at younger players whose parents might not want to shell out a monthly fee for an online game, what with all the Myspace predators and whatnot online. On the other hand, this was quite literally the only MMO I have played where high level characters roamed the lowbie areas offering help.

In short, I like the concept of a WoW-lite with a friendly player base and some interesting ideas, such as GM-controlled enemies. While it is not stunning graphically, aurally, or strategically, it is free and appears to have an active player base and dedicated development team. I am rooting for this little mensch to pull through and become a good MMO in its own right.

Well, that is all I can take for the evening! Have a good weekend, constant readers.


  1. “On the other hand, this was quite literally the only MMO I have played where high level characters roamed the lowbie areas offering help.”

    *stunned silence*

  2. I set this for 12:00 noon tomorrow.


    Well, cat’s out of the bag and my body is in wide-scale revolt against whatever pathogen has clawed its way into my cells.

  3. “Why is female armor always so uncomfortable-looking and impractical?”

    Its widely know that the best defense is to make the enemy so aroused that they stop attacking, and instead try to impress you.

  4. Your UI is insane. And also intriguing…
    I’ve always used the default UI. I have seen some pretty headily modified ones, though. Yours is very impressive.

  5. The default UI is useless, I say.

    I am a fan of minimalistic UIs in general, but being a raid tank requires me to have many different pieces of information readily available in a usable format. The add-on NUI+ provides most of these in one package — the map, the unit frames, the chat window, action bar replacements/keybind macros, the HUD, it’s all there in a single bit. I’ve also added cooldown counts, scrolling combat text, and notifications to let me know when I need to use certain special abilities.

  6. Well, when one is used to FFXI’s clunky macro system, the default WoW UI seems positively REPLETE with features. As a Mage, it is fit for my purposes (and I did very well with it as a priest, too, back in the day!): but of course, I’ve never tanked.

    We will have to talk more about UIs on Sunday. I think I am ready to move beyond what Blizzard is giving me–if only because I think it is rather ugly-looking.

  7. The female armour in the Runes of Magic logo above may indeed take the cake for the most impractical armour ever.

    It’s not armour at all: it’s a bikini.

  8. @lusi – I doubt her allies or enemies will be complaining much though. I know I ain’t.

  9. I actually like the fighting, abilities, and UI better in RoM.

    If you like WoW…you HAVE to like this game. It’s nearly identical, and totally free (other than micro-transactions, which you don’t really need).

    I think WoW’s art direction is a little higher budget, but I still think RoM’s assets are stellar.

    I also wouldn’t say RoM’s mechanics are dumbed-down for kids. I think the way you play is just as deep as DDO…it depends on the toon and class. I find myself gathering abilities in both games that can be strung together and benefit by strategy.

    Don’t play down RoM…it’s totally on the level.

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