Dungeons & Dragons: Still Online, Also Free

By Alec Meer on June 9th, 2009 at 10:57 pm.

Have we ever posted about Dungeons & Dragons Online before? It’s not an MMO that ever seems to make the headlines and, let’s be honest, most of us either thought it was already closed or was living on borrowed time. In a fairly audacious move, it’s instead gone free to play – rebranded as DDO Unlimited, and pitching itself as “the world’s first free-to-play MMO to offer the quality graphics and robust features previously only available in premium subscription based games.” Hmm. Is that strictly true? Grrrrubish as they were, didn’t the likes of RF Online and Archlord have that? Of course, it’s precisely because DDO is not rubbish that makes this surprise move so tantalising…

The game got somewhat lost amidst WoW’s initial world-eating and the successful emergence of Lord of the Rings Online, which perversely came from Turbine, the same studio behind DDO. While I’ve not played it myself, I remember reviews at the time admiring its combat and dungeoneering, even though the lack of exploration and visual personality was lamented. Were it anything else, I’d bet on going free being merely a prelude to being shut down, but when you’re talking a license as famous as this that seems a lot less likely. This could actually work, y’know?

Unsurprisingly, the free to play client will be funded by micropayment extras – “hundreds of convenience items as well as premium dungeon packs, additional character slots, hirelings (hired muscle), potions, character customization and more”, apparently. We’ll find out this summer whether these are strictly optional thrills, or are essential to truly enjoying the game – always a risk with this business model.

Existing subscribers will be (hopefully) mollified by having their accounts upgraded to DDO Unlimited VIPs – wherein they receive “every premium adventure pack, receive priority server access, 10 character slots, a shared bank slot, and a monthly allotment of 500 Turbine Points to spend in the new DDO Store.” Turbine Points? Oh, for goodness’ sakes. Whether this is enough to compensate for the months of money already spent on a game that’s about to change massively remains to be seen. Any existing DDO players reading who’d care to comment?

So, I think this might just work. Free is a powerful word, and unlike a lot of MMOs that failed to set the world alight – Tabula Rasa, Conan… – DDO doesn’t seem to have picked up a negative word of mouth. Curious to see how this all plays out come the Summer release.

You can register for the beta of DDO Unlimited here.

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55 Comments »

  1. Inanimotion says:

    I won beta to this game on it’s original release at PAX by playing through a dungeon with a “party” I gathered at the expo haha

    Never did end up playing it though. Maybe now I will.

  2. rei says:

    I’m fairly sure this only applies to the US players, though. For us Europeans it should be business as usual.

    I was in the beta and rather enjoyed aspects of it, but never bought the retail version. If you ask me, there never should’ve been a subscription in the first place. The game is extremely heavily instanced, and frankly it’s a bit of a stretch to even call it an MMO.

  3. Dominic White says:

    DDO isn’t really even an MMO – it’s more like Neverwinter Nights with a better combat engine and a semi-persistent world inbetween quests.

    This is a good thing. It’s pure D&D. You get together with your friends, go on an adventure, and each class actually DOES things. Rogues actually get to evade traps and pick locks. Wizards get to solve riddles and cast interesting spells, fighters get to kick things and take their stuff, etc etc. It uses the full D20 ruleset (you even see your dice rolls onscreen), and each adventure is self-contained and feels like a proper tabletop D&D game.

    It’s good stuff. Terrible by yourself, but that’s the nature of D&D. It is notable for encouraging creative play. There are whole Rogues guilds which specialize in stealthing through whole quests, never engaging in a single fight all the while. It’s possible to sneak in, pick all the locks, disable all the traps, steal the artifact from under the nose of the boss, and sneak out again.

    And the great thing there? You get the same amount of XP for stealthing it as you would for fighting your way through it all. And at no point are you asked to wander around a field, randomly killing animals for body-parts to trade in for experience and a handfull of change. It’s all structured quests, all the time.

    The game has also grown a huge amount since the original release. At launch, the level cap was 10. Now, 20 – if you know anything about D&D, you’ll know that’s the difference between ‘Veteran hardass’ and ‘Deity-bothering uberadventurer’.

  4. Mil says:

    So, I assume this game’s dragons are turbofan-propelled.

  5. Tei says:

    there was a trial, and whas lots of fun to play the first missions. now the fun will be longer. hope this change dont break something for a game that was aready good (but living in a small niche). just a comment for these that dont know the game:
    theres no health or mana regeneration, and you can be dual or triple class, and even a simple class as loots of deep based on what you chose.

    good luck everyone!

  6. Aphotique says:

    I played DDO when it was released. I was a very solo oriented player those days, and DDO was horrible for solo content (as compared to WoW and LoTRO at the time). I also remember having a caster and having limited spell castings that could only be refreshed at specific dungeon points (I might be wrong, its been over 3 years since I touched it) which only made solo that much more unforgiving. So yeah, I played it for about a week then moved on.

    I might give it a try again, but I’m enjoying my time in Vanguard for now.

  7. Blast Hardcheese says:

    Bizarrely enough this may be exactly what it takes to get me to reinstall this game, having demoed it twice before.

  8. Dominic White says:

    Tangentially, Turbine seem to be one of the least talked about MMO studios, but they’re also doing very well for themselves. They’ve been turning big profits, and have recently expanded operations.

    Mainly due to Lord of The Rings Online, which is still getting regular expansions, and seems to be retaining quite a sizeable playerbase. Still, even their older games like Asheron’s Call are still running with a modest number of players.

    Turbine don’t do anything particularly huge, but aside from the (arguably Microsofts fuckup) fall of Asheron’s Call 2, they’ve been very successful these past few years.

  9. mandrill says:

    Theres an update to the massively article which tells you exactly what you get if you play for nothing, which seems to me to be just that, nothing. This is Hellgate all over again, iti didn’t work then and I’m willing to bet that its not going to work this time either.

  10. Devan says:

    Hm, yeah that does look pretty restrictive. I’ll probably still give it a go, but with only “basic” races and classes to choose from, and a significant geographic restriction, it doesn’t seem as great as I first thought.

  11. Vincent Avatar says:

    So did they update the classes to bring them in line with the new 4th Edition rules? First CRPG to use 4th Ed gets my money, no doubt.

  12. Psychopomp says:

    I attempted the trial awhile back.

    Apparently gnomes aren’t cool and edgy enough.
    But, oh, big suprise, they get drow and warforged.

    Needless to say, that was a deal breaker for me.

    That said, I’ve heard wonderful things about it’s PvE content, but cutting gnomes in favor of “cooler” races just angers me.

    Some of us aren’t raging powergamers, and *like* playing a race for the flavor. The eccentric gnome is, by far, my favorite DnD archetype.

    Also, squirrelock.

  13. Stromko says:

    It’s not free yet, ‘DDO Unlimited’ is launching this summer according to their website.

    My main disappointment with DDO was that I would always end up with groups that just wanted to charge through the same dungeon chain over and over again. The multi-step dungeons were massively more lucrative in terms of XP and loot, the caveat being that they were huge and took hours to do… that is, unless you just charged through at full speed.

    There were all these interesting environments, encounters, and tactical situations but no time to appreciate them. I remember going through a dungeon that Gary Gygax had actually narrated, but nobody took the time to listen.

    Really this was my own fault for not bringing friends or seeing if I could find a guild that matched my preferred playing style. Once DDO goes free to play, it should be a lot easier to bring friends in so I’m not relying on random pickup groups.

    I had a lot of fun with DDO as well. My favorite character was a dwarven wizard with high Tumble– I’d roll all over the place in combat, which presumably made it difficult for enemies to hit me (or at least reduced the chances of attacks of opportunity), and casting Chill Touch. For an early level spell CT’s rather devastating, but in tabletop it rarely occurs to me to match it with Tumble so that I can safely get within melee range. The somewhat actiony combat in DDO made this more obvious.

    Aphotique: I think they eventually added ‘Solo’ difficulty to many dungeons to give single players something to do, but it’s definitely not a game for someone who wants to solo. The most lucrative dungeons in terms of XP and loot require the biggest, most well-coordinated parties to complete. They even added Raid instances later on, which I’m sure are even more crucial for those wanting the best gear.

    Psychopomp: Yes I always told myself if they added gnomes I’d come back. And still no gnomes. Ridiculous.

    Vincent Avatar: And anything that uses 4th Ed I run the hell away from at full speed … The main problem I’d have with 4th ed used in an MMORPG is it’s too simplistic for that. There’s not really enough variety on tabletop, let alone an online world where you’ll be surrounded by dozens of characters that have pretty much the same powers as you.

  14. Psychopomp says:

    @Stromko

    Tumble, at least in PnP, doesn’t reduce chances of being hit, just attacks of opportunity.

    Edit:This is of course assuming you have a DM who treats the rules a gospel, rather than guidelines

    Lord knows how annoying they are.

    Edit duece
    I, for one, love 4th edition. I’m would love a 4th edition MMO. You’d have far more control over your build then, say, WoW. You only get one of *at least* five powers per level, and then there’s the, as of now, almost one hundred paragon paths and dozens of epic destinies

    I’d just like to see how they would work in the Deadly Trickster’s final power

    Basically, once per day, you told the DM he just rolled a 1.

    No. rerolls.

    Also, the way healing works in 4th lets healers do things other than heal, or be pure damage.

  15. Derek K. says:

    I think it’s awesome.

    If you’re a sub now, you become a VIP, and pay the exact same amount, and get the exact same stuff, plus turbine points to buy pots and such. So if you’re a sub, and you want to keep paying $14.99 a month, you get a few more items, and it stays as it is. I see no downside. I think you can also buy more slots over the 10 you have.

    If you’re a new player, you get 2 characters, most races, most classes, and you can buy the rest for your account. So you get more than the nothing you had.

    If you’re a former sub (like me), and you go free, you get 4 slots, rather than 2, you get to keep drow if you’d unlocked them, you lose Warforged (suck) and Monks (semi-suck), and can buy up the other slots, items, etc. You get to come back for free, play most PCs, and be very happy.

    The real anger seems to be from long term players upset that they haven’t gotten a new update lately.

  16. Anthony Damiani says:

    I will give this a try, and consider actually picking up some of the pay classes or areas provided the free version doesn’t restrict you to no-voice-chat. That was pretty key to enjoying the game, when I played.

  17. superking208 says:

    HEY PSYCHOPOMP
    BY WHICH I MEAN IAN
    when the fuck are we going to play DnD irl again?

  18. Blast Hardcheese says:

    @Psychopomp

    Really? I mean the Cleric or two I played were never strictly good (stuff like chaotic good or true neutral or even lawful evil) so I’d go around summoning armies of the undead from the corpses of my foes, keeping a bless and a few heals handy, and devoting the rest of my spell slots to things like Spiritual Weapon and Sound Burst and Destruction. In fact you never HAD to take any healing spells at all, and because of the difference between Divine and Arcane spellcasting, you always had plenty of variety.

  19. Jason says:

    Well I think the problem is that it WASN’T good. I played it for quite a while at launch, and got fairly far in (not to endgame).

    My friend who is the hardcore stealth gamer hated the way it did stealth (basically, there are some encounters you just cannot stealth past, no matter what.) So that previous comment about stealthing through the entire dungeon – that wasn’t the case when we played.

    Also, since the bean counters got involved, the game was incredibly grindy. At mid levels you had to grind the same dungeon chain over and over to level up.

    Lots of good things about it, but it deserved its fate.

  20. Blast Hardcheese says:

    Come to think of it, it’s about time they started wielding ‘sexy’ as a 1d10 sledgehammer like everyone else. And what more D&D appropriate than a Succubus?

  21. .backslash says:

    Always wanted to try it, never had the time. Guess I will now.

    I’m kind of bothered by apparently having to buy character customization options and end game content with real money. I don’t have trouble with shelfing a few bucks, but it defeats the whole “free” thing they have going on.

  22. Dominic White says:

    Welcome to the internet. You make large chunks of a previously pay-to-play game free, and people bitch because other chunks aren’t free. You have to realise that they’re not going to give away a still-profitable MMO absolutely gratis. This is a shift in sales structure, that’s all, and one designed to make it easier for newcomers to get into the game.

    Remind me never to gift anyone a horse on the internet, because I’m sure I’ll get it sent back with all its teeth extracted and examined for tracking bugs.

  23. Larington says:

    I used to play DDO, but eventually I got put off by playing a cleric who could only ever be a cleric, especially when everyone else keeps wanting to do dungeon runs on elite.

    There is NOTHING fun about having to sit two or three corners away from the action because those beholders might decide to blast the cleric who isn’t even allowed to attack anyone.

    So basically, it was player attitudes to the game that drove me away.

  24. Dominic White says:

    It’s a great game to play with friends. Get together a classic D&D group and play it that way. The people who have managed to grind their way to success, however, are horribly un-fun individuals who WILL suck the life out of the game.

    I am not kidding when I say that there are people who will find the most XP-efficient quest, and repeat it endlessly rather than play something they’ve not tried before. It’s the same kind of mentality that led people to use the wrench exclusively through the whole of Bioshock and then complain that there was no weapon variety.

    Never underestimate peoples ability to take something fun and turn it into work.

  25. Heliocentric says:

    Battleforge then this? Desirable titles for free.

    D&D online wasn’t competitive at its root so micropayments suit it well. I’m going to press gang a few friends to play it and we can in through the content as a party dungeon slasher with all the trappings like sending the rogue up first and then having to rescue him when he awakens a troll.

    Me? Cleric or monk, i’m either half naked and fully equipped (will smith would approve) or i’m back up by the fury of a deity equipped in full plate and buffed so much that i’m faster than a monk and hit harder than a barbarian.

  26. Larington says:

    Might be worth trying to pull together some old planetside outfit buddies together to hack away at this. Of course, if it is only US servers then that could complicate things.

    Meanwhile, I am sorely tempted to go back to DDO again.

  27. Solar says:

    As far as I can make out, the current beta is for US servers, but once the expansion is released it will be worldwide. This is due to be late Summer but could easily be Autumn.

    This definately looks like something my RP buddies would be interested in. Thanks for the heads up.

    Also, certain classes will be locked (Monk or Warmaster race). I hope the extra modules don’t cost silly amounts of turbine points, was hoping to unlock them with play rather than pay.

    Useful info from forums via ArkoHighstar to maximise your experience:

    … if you are looking to get the most bang from your buck find a ddo box for 5.99 and activate prior to unlimted going live, that way you get full chat, you can get a drow for free if you want to grind for it, and you get 4 slots

    In other words, pay for the game now to get extra stuff, especially the chat option. Content will still need to be ‘purchased’, as well as shared bank slots. Nice to know purchases are permanent.

  28. Mentalepsy says:

    And the great thing there? You get the same amount of XP for stealthing it as you would for fighting your way through it all.

    Is that the case now? I tried the beta briefly – as a rogue, in fact – and the end-of-mission experience tally had seperate totals for quest completion, monster kills, and number of breakable objects destroyed. Being that I was playing as a rogue, I felt rather cheated.

  29. Tei says:

    @Mentalepsy: Yes, is still the case. Of course, some missions have “bonus” for completing optional parts, and some competition to be “the guy that break more crates” and stuff. Ignore that thing, the important thing is: You will not get XP if you can’t complete a dungeon, even If you kill a zillion crates, gnols and dragons. If you die, and no one can raise you, you will get a penalty. Soon, you will be replaying missions in “elite mode” to get more px, and some challenge. Also, you are not a rogue, you are a thief, and your role is disable traps. The DDO dungeons are full of traps.

  30. Bob Bobson says:

    Cool – I bought this DDO last weekend (as part of a pack of 10 atari games that was pimped in the bargain bucket a couple of weeks back) but wasn’t going to bother installing it seeing as it was supscription. Now I will certainly check it out.

  31. Larington says:

    Looks as though this is going to be US only, at least for the time being: http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/no-free-to-play-model-for-dungeons-and-dragons-online-in-europe

  32. Solar says:

    Thanks for the clarification Larington. Much depressed now.

  33. Larington says:

    I think it might end up being possible to play the US version as free to play from europe anyway. In an odd sort of way, players may end up being able to choose between two different implementation of the same game concept. This could be interesting to watch.

  34. Weylund says:

    When do I find out when I got into the beta? Damned internets.

    I avoided DDO because I distrust games where I can’t, if necessary, solo. Sounds like they’ve made some allowances for that since launch. Oh, and it’s FREE. This might scratch my MMO itch for me (rather than going back to the trifecta of quit games – WoW, LOTRO, or Conan). Is it better than these?

  35. Dominic White says:

    @Weylund: It’s a very different kind of game. Ever play Neverwinter Nights 1 or 2? Imagine that with a slightly more involved combat engine. It’s scripted dungeon adventures through and through, and while it IS possible to play it solo, it’s really not reccomended.

    Dungeons & Dragons as a game (and they’ve used the pen-and-paper RPG rules for the most part) is not designed for a single player.

  36. Weylund says:

    I understand – in dire straits, though, I do like an MMO where solo play is at least balanced for in some way. I can think of quite a few instances in which, D&D-wise, a GM and a single player might have quite a bit of fun. Glad to hear they might not have overlooked those.

    Hmm. So, in terms of quality of play, are there the constant rebalancings and boredom-reductions of WoW/Conan? Or, because they’ve stuck with the rules, do they just leave it at that for the most part?

    Also what about grinding and end-game focus? D&D was always about the experiences along the way, as opposed to running the same dungeons for a purple sword of awersumniss. It sounds like PUGs in this game are pretty uneven – do you NEED to bring the friends?

  37. Tei says:

    Hahaha…. so we europians get screwed again? Free in USA and P2P in europia? Good thing some people has moved to the USA servers anyway. The ping is good, and the community is much bigger, the game is just better on the USA servers because of that.

    Is ridiculy easy to buy and play the USA version. A 3 steps digital download.
    But ridiculously hard to buy the EU version. The owners of the EU version just don’t want your money enough.

  38. mujadaddy says:

    As I said when this was first released, base a game on the original AD&D, and I’ll make a Magic User and you won’t see me until I’m level 20… …that’d be awesome.

    Or a capped-level Monk or Druid, but Magic User would be my choice.

  39. jalf says:

    Tei: Enlighten me. If I buy it on play.com, I get the EU version, I assume? And it can only be used with EU servers?

    Where can I grab the US version without having to pay a bajillion for shipping?

  40. superking208 says:

    >So basically, it was player attitudes to the game that drove me away.
    Ah, MGO Syndrome, or the other way around maybe… The beta was only good because only the people who were already subjected to Kojima’s exhilarating batshit insanity of MGS3 were playing. When the game came full circle on the PS3, the CoD4 Shoot Shit For Justice Serious Business Internet Badasses moved in and made it the generic action game that it would’ve been without the original fanbase…

  41. damien says:

    i’ve loved this game for awhile. i’m pleasantly surprised to find people to group with all of a sudden.

    (it was pretty lonely as a lowbie in the game last summer, i’d go for weeks without finding someone anywhere near my level who wanted to group for dungeons)

    the downside, of course, is that there’s the usual “omg change!” insurrection going on on parts of the DDO forums. (i’ve read the term “unwashed masses” about twenty times more in the last 12 hours than i really ever wanted to.)

    its an interesting way to breathe life into an aging but brilliant game, tho. as well as an interesting experiment in game-culture – watching how different sets / cliques of gamers end up figuring out how to get along (or ignoring one another).

  42. Tei says:

    humm…?

    search google for ddo digital download, there are links like this one:
    http://store.turbine.com/DRHM/servlet/ControllerServlet?Action=DisplayProductDetailsPage&SiteID=turbine&Locale=en_US&Env=BASE&productID=41590100

    from turbine directly. $14.99, is a 2.6GB download. Seems the USA version.

  43. Mentalepsy says:

    Tei, what does disarming traps have to do with it? Either you get the same amount of XP for stealthing the entire dungeon, or you don’t…

    I’m not sure what you mean by “you are not a rogue,” either. The name of the class is rogue.

  44. Tei says:

    @Mentalepsy: My point is…. you get reward all the XP only trough the success of the group. If you play poorly, tryiing to get more XP from the mission, and the group fail, you fail. So the group sucess is the thing that is important, any other individual bonus are cool, but is not the focus of the game. Note: I could be very wrong, cause I am a newbie on the game.

  45. Mentalepsy says:

    Well, you have more experience with it than I do. I only played the first solo tutorial mission. I mostly stealthed it and ignored the monsters and breakable crates, which of course meant that I missed out on a good bit of XP. Granted, a group is going to kill everything anyway, so it probably doesn’t matter that much.

  46. Funky Badger says:

    4th Ed’s already a simplified version of MMO-of-the-week. Very dull and un-flavourful. If that’s even a word.

    (Clerics in 3rd Ed are just about the hardest characters you could want to pick)

  47. Psychopomp says:

    @Badger

    If it’s dull and un-flavorful, you’re playing with a bad DM.

    The problem with 4E isn’t 4E, it’s that many people won’t give it a fair chance.

  48. Stromko says:

    I played 4th ed for about six sessions (over the course of maybe 8 weeks or so) with one of the local groups at the community college. It just didn’t scratch that tabletop itch.

    Taken alone it’s a pretty good system. It’s designed to give an almost predetermined amount of joy, with the rest depending on how much you like spending time with your gaming group. The DM doesn’t so much run the game as administer the system, with players guaranteed a certain amount of character advancement and loot. It’s all level-locked, with each level being only a few percentage points better than the previous so that one PC’s never much stronger than any other. Each has one or two clearly defined, narrow roles(such as DPS or crowd control) and so they must depend on the other party members. A bad GM who follows the rules can still give a good play experience with 4th ed, it’s much easier to run to give players the experience they expect.

    This would be well and good, but 3.5 is no longer supported and no longer being licensed (or so I’ve heard), so for anything new, it’s 4th edition or.. something else. That’s not to say the books are spontaneously combusting and forcing us to buy new ones, whoever’s running the publisher now lacks that power thankfully. I’m lucky enough to have a choice between playing in a 3.5 Eberron campaign or a 4th edition generic or Forgotten Realms campaign every week. Sponsored events are of course going to be all about pushing 4th edition now, but if you can find a group outside of that then you should still have a choice.

    As a marketing decision, 4th edition is genius. It gives all those WoW players something to do every weekend aside from raiding. It is still a real roleplaying game, and if it attracts new players I’d give it kudos, but it’s a more narrowly defined and level-stepped experience than I’m used to.

  49. Psychopomp says:

    “It is still a real roleplaying game”

    Well, at least *one* of the detractors can admit that. The holier-than-thou “4th is all combat lolz” got annoying. Fast.

    “the DM doesn’t so much run the game as administer the system, with players guaranteed a certain amount of character advancement and loot.”
    This is really all down to DM’ing style, there *are* those of us who run 4th edition, who consider the rules to be little more than guidelines, just as we do with every other system.

    All in all though, I *still* prefer non-d20 based systems, 4th just solved a lot of my gripes with DnD.
    Namely, 1)players treating their alignment as the definition of their character, and not the other way around, and
    2)MASSIVE BALANCE ISSUES. Seriously, what the hell is up with multiclassing in 3rd/3.5?

    Edit:Also, inspired by MMO’s=/=as deep as them
    Last I checked, the only choices you got to make with your characters in MMO’s is what gear you take, and where to put your talent point.

    There’s still dizzying amount of possible characters in 4th edition, when you add multiclassing into the mix.

    Paladin/barbarian <3

    Edit 2:Why is there a URL in my name?

  50. Solar says:

    Table top RPG will always win due to the flexibility players can take with the rules system (whichever system you play), auto balancing rules and excitement as the game unfolds. Of course this completely relies on the experience and ingenutity of the GM and players to give the right balance for the game. While online/computer based RPGs have stringent rules (patch to patch variation of course), the main advantage is being able to get together to play across the globe. To have something even close to table top play is a bonus due to familiarity more than anything else. Looking forward to this.

    Psychopomp re URL name: Have you wrote something in the ‘website’ option? Otherwise I’ve no idea.

    On other info:
    Got relative confirmation that you can set up US account as long as you purchase a US game and register Turbine account with US flag.