Free Realm: Dungeons & Dragons Online Is Gratis

By Alec Meer on September 9th, 2009 at 5:00 pm.

If only you could *talk* to the wolves

Turbine might be challenging their publisher Atari to a bout of fisticuffs about the fate and funding of Dungeons & Dragons Online, but such conflict has not delayed the re-release of said formerly underpopulated MMO as a free-to-play affair. Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited, as it’s now known, can be had for the princely sum of no-pennies from here. There is, of course, a catch. Two in fact, but one of them might be my fault.

I can’t download it. I CAN’T DOWNLOAD IT. WAaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!!, to coin a phrase. Every time I try to sign up for an account and to reach that near-mythical download page, it tells me there’s an error but refuses to divulge quite what it is. Perhaps it’s because I’m a Britisher, but it would be nice if it at least told me that was the problem. After a dozen different tries, I’m giving up until someone pays me to continue. You may have better luck than I, in which case I will hunt down everyone you have ever loved…. and then congratulate them on what a fine, industrious friend/relation they have.

The second, more pressing catch is less than surprising – micropayments. Or “an innovative new pricing model”, if you speak marketingese. Specifically, that means purchasing gosh-wow items and, more interestingly, ‘adventure packs’. Does this mean the best content is withheld for paid DLC, as with, say, Rock Band Beatles, or is it more about there being a slow trickle of new stuff to ensure players remain interested? Well, if I could bloody get in maybe I could tell you.

Personally speaking, DDO doesn’t much appeal, but that’s just me and my current boredom with more traditionally-structured MMOs (edit – by which I mean fantasy settings and chasing experience points. I’m aware this isn’t a WoWlike monster-grind). Far more important is that there’s a good chance this might be the first grown-up-trousers MMO to really make the free-to-play thing work. Where other troubled MMOs have opted for unsuccessful fanbase-infuriating overhauls or have simply put up the white flag, this is taking a massive risk, and I applaud that. As long as the game isn’t constantly dangling paid content I don’t have over the free players, I don’t see why it couldn’t be a super-fun time. Not entirely sure Turbine’s claim that DDO has “the industry’s best combat system” rings true, but horses for massively partisan courses and all that.

Here’s a couple of videos to show you what you’re in for: first, character creation, and then the game’s first quest.

Sign up/download/scream at ludicrously unhelpful webpage here.

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81 Comments »

  1. ZamFear says:

    “WAaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!!, to coin a phrase.”

    Would the full length phrase be something like “WAaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! — A reckless disregard for dignity?”

  2. Dominic White says:

    Odd that you say you’re not interested in more traditionally structured MMOs, and then completely ignore D&D Online, which isn’t anything like a traditionally structured MMO.

    It’s much closer to Neverwinter Nights or maybe Phantasy Star Online than anything. Story-driven and built for tight co-op play, rather than wandering fields and bashing monsters.

    Anyway, on the micropayments front, you can continue to subscribe to the game as normal, which gets you all the content now and as it’s released, or permanently buy access to features and content as and when you want it.

    All you can eat buffet or a la carte, whichever suits you better. It’s a really smart idea, and I really hope it catches on.

    Subscribers also get a chunk of micropayment pocket-money each month too, for non-content-based purchases.

  3. kai says:

    The game doesn’t look too appealing, but I’ll try it anyway…

  4. JKjoker says:

    thats nice, not really interested, but i guess becoming a free-for-play micropayment based mmo is better than killing it and wasting all that juicy code.

    i just wonder when are they going to understand the mmo market is saturated while the single player market is currently going though famine

  5. Metal_Circus says:

    After one failed registration attempt, all I get now when I try to access the registration page is this:

    “Your submission contained an error. Please try again. Code: #FTx”

    How the feck am I meant to sign up if I can’t even access the page that lets me do it? Sigh.

  6. Dominic White says:

    Also, the ‘free’ stuff is (as far as I saw in beta) approximately a third of the current total game. Think of the free content as like the shareware days of olde, where you actually got a significant chunk of the product.

    Alternatively, a very very large demo.

  7. Alec Meer says:

    Re traditional/non traditional – I meant setting/experience point-hunger. Doesn’t excite me at present. But my interests come and go in cycles.

  8. ChampionHyena says:

    Additionally, in-game quests can provide Turbine PhunBux, so if you’re really committed to not paying for anything, you can still acquire some of the select stuff.

  9. Markoff Chaney says:

    I downloaded the 3.8gb client the other day for me and the missus in antici…pation of the game, but couldn’t sign up before work. I think I remember a few months back Turbine said the F2P model was only for North America, but that could have changed since their initial announcement. Some feedback would be nice, though.

    Really, we are just looking at this as a free co-op dungeon crawler with some real life friends who don’t live close enough to pen and paper any more. We’ll see how it turns out. I’m grateful for the chance to play it again since I didn’t have very good impressions from beta a while back.

  10. Mr Wonderstuff says:

    I’d like to give it a go..but this isn’t available in the UK is it?

  11. Jim Rossignol says:

    I think it might be IP blocked from UK and just throwing up non-specific error as a result.

  12. Adam says:

    I’m in the UK and I’ve downloaded and played it today. So it’s not a region thing.

  13. TotalBiscuit says:

    There is something very unique about this game and that is, as Dominic mentioned, the fact that it is not a traditional MMO level grind. I’d say more on that particular topic but it’s best just to link this wall of text on the matter – http://blueplz.blogspot.com/2009/09/why-dungeons-and-dragons-online-wipes.html

  14. Devan says:

    I participated in the beta for this free-to-play thing. I’d never tried DDO before that and while I can understand that it could be enjoyable for some (particularly fans of the tabletop game), it just isn’t something I want to invest my grind-time into.
    Compared to other MMOs I’ve played, I think it’s most like Guild Wars, except without as many of the things that made GW good.

  15. Durns says:

    Fantastic alt-text Alec – you owe me a keyboard…

    Little touches like that are a great part of this site.

  16. Noc says:

    And I’m in America! and I can’t even get the page to load.

  17. Dominic White says:

    With stuff like this, I’ve found it’s usually best to just give it a day or two before even trying to join up. Something will always, ALWAYS break on launch day, even if it is just a relaunch.

    Oh yeah, one nice thing of note – the game is MUCH bigger now than it was at launch. When first released, it only went up to Level 10, which in D&D standards is ‘comfortably heroic’. Defeating evil warlords and storming castles and the like. Maybe taking on a young dragon, if your party is well built.

    Now, it goes all the way up to Level 20, which covers hopping between dimensions, blatting demons and irritating gods. And not a single paid expansion required either, which is nice.

  18. Vinraith says:

    I may have to have a look at this (as though I had time for an MMO). I recall being told the mechanics bore no real resemblance to D&D rules, can anyone confirm or deny that?

  19. Dominic White says:

    Huh? It’s almost perfect D20 rules, albeit with a few tweaks to make it workable in realtime – you even have a little on-screen dice when you attack, and your combat log has your full dice-rolls listed with modifiers.

  20. 18Rabbit says:

    Oh, and if you ever subscribed/played before, your existing characters are all still there (though there’s a limit of 4 per server so I had to pick one character that I didn’t want access to without paying for another slot).

  21. Vinraith says:

    @Dominic

    Apparently I was (grossly and repeatedly) misinformed, then.

    Crap, I really do need to have a look at that.

  22. JKjoker says:

    maybe the site doesnt like your browsers/plugins ? ive had a few problems with that lately but i just cant use a firefox without noscript and adblock, it feels … wrong

  23. Kalain says:

    Downloaded the game ok, tried to register but the site is now saying it’s down for maintenance…. those darn gremlins are back!

  24. Xercies says:

    Hmm I may have a go at this…I didn’t really like D&D Online when I played the 14 day trail but I was mostly solo then and I’m guessing this is a more party game. And its free so there should be nothing holding me back.

  25. Hümmelgümpf says:

    @Alec Meer:
    Not sure how well it comes across in D&DO, but Eberron isn’t a particularly traditional setting. It owes as much to Tolkien as it does to pulp magazines and film noir.

  26. Heliocentric says:

    Usa only? Great, i was actually interested in playing this game and potentially paying some microtransactions (i find monthly subs unethical because of crossed interests of making the player suffer and having the player have fun). So in short, hurrah for corporate racism.

  27. Dominic White says:

    Yeah, Eberron is more swashbuckling adventures, rogue robot factories and airship-pirates than traditional D&D. There’s also a lot less focus on the absolutist alignments of classic D&D.

  28. Psychopomp says:

    @Vin

    Pretty much the only difference between this and real D&D is NO GNOMES.

    WHY NO GNOMES?

    How many years, and still no gnomes?

    Oh, we get Drow, because they’re cool and edgy.

    Even 4E has the most basic of rules to play one at launch!

  29. Dominic White says:

    Oh, and I don’t think it’s US-only. No mention of it so far. I think people were just assuming IP blocks beause the site wasn’t working for a while.

  30. Vinraith says:

    @Psychopomp

    While I’ve never been a gnome fan, I really don’t understand why they’re being phased out the way they are. I certainly think better of them than I do some of 4th editions “LOLZ IM A DRAGON” type races.

  31. Serondal says:

    No such thing as gnome in Eborron any how I believe. They have diffrent races than most other D&D worlds (for example none of the other ones have those Golem looking people whatever they’re called, war something or nother :P)

  32. Heliocentric says:

    Gnome’s are better than alot. But i’d rather run a gith vs ilithid vs random madness campaign in limbo.

  33. Serondal says:

    I Like the gnomes from Dragon Lance the best.

  34. Serondal says:

    I was wrong, there ARE Gnomes in Eberron
    In this case I think they SHOULD be added ASAP, I love me some gnomes.

    Proof
    http://www.wizards.com/default.aspx=dnd/ebds/20041129a

  35. Heliocentric says:

    I want a game where i can be my neutral lawful priest channeling negative energy with my legion of full plate armoured undead.

    Necromancers are really put out when you claim their army. ^_^

  36. Serondal says:

    It’s a lot of work raising an army of the undead, what do you expect ? :P You just prance along out of no where and snatch the army right out from under his nose. Not to mention he had to go to the trouble of getting all that full plate armour. Do you think that the undead were all burried in that, come now. There isn’t really a such a thing as “undead black smith” either it isn’t like they’re still skilled in their previous life crafts ;P That stuff is expensive lol.

  37. Markoff Chaney says:

    Damn these proxies at work but I know, in June, it was announced to be North America (not US) only. I can vaguely see some people cursing at Turbine for not following suit for Europe, but that’s only through some caches.

    Found one – Source

  38. Warskull says:

    Its not very free. They charge you to continue every 4 levels (on each character) and most of the higher level content costs $6-12 to access. You can’t get anywhere on a free account.

  39. Metal_Circus says:

    This sign up process is screwey. I’m entering my REAL first name and it keeps telling me it’s wrong. Goddamnit, that IS my name. how can my own name be invalid?

  40. Metal_Circus says:

    Oh fuck this. After all that it gives me the error. Gah. I’ll try again when people have acctually gotten into it.

  41. mujadaddy says:

    Warskull says:

    Its not very free. They charge you to continue every 4 levels (on each character) and most of the higher level content costs $6-12 to access. You can’t get anywhere on a free account.

    Completely false.

    1. You do need a dropped item (“Leveling Sigil”) to advance past the divisible-by-4 Levels, but they’re pretty common.

    2. Define “most of the higher level content,” as people who’ve played much longer than I (about a week, 2 weeks ago) say that you’re not missing much.

    3. You can get everywhere except the pay-to-play content for a grand total of zero real-world dollars. You can even earn “Favor” to be able to build a character of a pay-for race or class. There are a few things (read, literally 2 or 3) that aren’t available through Favor, but they didn’t interest me, so I didn’t pay attention there.

  42. JonFitt says:

    @TotalBiscuit Thanks, that was a well written blog post which laid out nicely why I should give this a try. It sounds much more interesting that the usual grind.

    My only reservations are on exactly what is free and what isn’t. Do you constantly feel like a poor lamo without any paid for stuff? Do paid-up members ride you into battle like a horse?
    If I buy content or items are they permanent? I am opposed to any kind of MMO subscription model: I have enough monthly bills as it is thankyouverymuch.

  43. Dominic White says:

    Normal and free characters are essentially the same. Subscribers and people who have spent money have access to an extra race/class or two, but they’re no better, just different.

    The main limitation of a free account is that you don’t have access to all the areas. You basically buy unlock packs that open up new quest chains and regions, and it’s a permanent thing for your whole account. You basically buy as much content as you want to consume.

  44. Heliocentric says:

    Had a pnp campaign where the dm allowed me to invest xp in advancing my understanding of the undead.

    Bare with me, skellies take full damage only from bludgeons, but what happens when you coat them in inch thick rubber? My gimp skellies were easy to make. Just a quick dip in the tank (portable hole full of hot (portable holes are perfect insulators when closed) rubber).

    Yeah, gonna be a while ’til an mmo lives up to my expectations of d&d.

  45. Knight Of Cydonia says:

    So am I right in thinking that free players can earn enough PhunBucks or whatever the fuck they’re called to unlock a significant portion (but obviously not all) of the paid content? Or is the number of free PhunBucks too limited for that?

  46. We Fly Spitfires says:

    I wasn’t that excited about DDOU but the videos make it look nice. I’m totally bummed though that it’s not available in Europe :(

  47. Kalkyrie says:

    People on the DDO forum believe you would have to level 12 characters at the same time (doing all quests) to about level 10 to get enough points to buy enough dungeons to get you to the level cap.
    With those dungeons, I think you could get nearly full access to the game by leveling up your 12 characters to max level, then buying a dungeon, running through it with all characters, buying another dungeon, etc etc

  48. postmanX3 says:

    Hell, I’ll try it because it has the DnD name on it.

    I love Dungeons and Dragons, and (horror of horrors!) even the 4th edition!

  49. Kalkyrie says:

    Previous comment should say ‘comfortably to the level cap’. You may be able to get to the cap quicker via buying one or two dungeon packs and repeating them several times.
    Tbh it’s hard to figure out how much time you would have to put in as a minimum. But you can get an unlimited amount of points by rerolling characters after you’ve levelled them up.

  50. Serondal says:

    I really liked this game when it first came out. I played a dwarf warrior and I really got the feel that I WAS a dwarven warrior.
    It follows the real AD&D rules so you get a negative impact on your defense if you move without a certain feat so it actually rewarded me for blocking small passages in the sewer with my body (BTW this also stepped the enemies from moving past me because of the way the game works you can also hold up your shield to get even more defense boost) So I’d block the corridors off and allow my team mates to easily throw spells and shoot arrows and bolts over my head at the enemies. Oh and if there were two dwarven warriors watch out, working together we could seriously defend the entire group easily using these sorts of tactics.

    Sadly as the game went on and the levels went up I found that this sort of game play died away and was replaced by the standard MMO fair. It was okay but I lost interest.

    I would really much rather play a good MMORPG set in Forgotten Realms in the old school Ever Quest way where each race starts in their own home land and the world is huge without instances ect. I would love it if the Drow and other races had to start in the Underdark and there was an entire world there to explore for them while the humans could start in any of the major human cities along the sword coast like waterdeep or Neverwinter.

    Also would love it if it allowed wizards all the skils and abilites they have in the pen and paper game like the ability to create pocket dimensions to rest in ect, would make for interesting dungeon romps when you can take a break in an log cabin in another realm of reality :P