Roaming the Halls of PAX East I wanted to make sure I to Turbine to talk about Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO Unlimited). Having been a steady pen and paper role playing guy since I was a kid and a current DDO Unlimited player, I wanted to see what they have in store for the game.
Meeting them at their large expo hall booth I was quickly re-introduced to the world of DDO Unlimited. DDO is a Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) set in D&D’s Eberron Universe. While the game shares many of the common MMORPG traits it is very story driven and has a deep combat and magic system. Unlike most games where you simply click a button to attack, DDO has side-steps, dodges, parries, and blocks at your disposal. This deeper combat on top of the puzzle driven dungeon scenarios adds elements rare and refreshing to the MMO scene.
Previously a subscriber driven game, DDO has become a free to play MMORPG. This has worked well for them. In fact, since they went free to play last October, DDO has gained 1 million subscribers. They generate revenue based on micro transactions and VIP memberships that give benefits and free Turbine points monthly. Turbine points can be used to buy in-game items, characters, and races. The model has been very successful for Turbine and it is enabling them to aggressively update DDO Unlimited so the experience is always fresh.
I was shown the first of six planned updates for this year which is simply called "update four" as it is the fourth major enhancement since the game launched. Update four has two major additions, a half-orc race and guild housing in the form of airships, and a significant plot driven experience.
The new half-orc race is truly a big deal for games like DDO Unlimited, it is not as simple as slapping a new skin on another model. The half-orc is huge, has more facial customization than any other race, and needed to be balanced heavily so it fit in the world. According to Ian Currie, a design director at Turbine, who demoed the update for me, the half-orc was the most requested race to be added to the world. Often played as assassins, fighters, or barbarians the half-orc’s huge strength (+2 for all the hardcore out there) and natural resilience make them a brutal character to play.
The half-orc was very interesting, but so is the second major addition, the guild housing. Housing by itself would be cool enough for most, but the housing in DDO Unlimited will be airships. Yes, elementally fueled airships will be used as bases and transport hubs for your guilds. The first ones most folks are going to have available will be akin to houseboats Turbine's Erik Boyer, a DDO Producer, told me. They will be small and not terribly flashy, but will be functional and, it is still an airship. Larger guilds, or those who are willing to spend for it, will be able to get the larger and more fantastical airships. Think yachts and luxury boats Boyer said, the larger airships will be something to behold and admire.
The demo then moved on to the new narrative experience which not only shows off the new larger airships, but gives DDO zombie pirates, which is never a bad thing! You see, you are recruited by House Deneith to stop the invading zombie pirates and there are three choices on how to approach the undead brigands — you can storm in through the front; sneak through a hidden pass; or teleport to an, ahem, safe spot. This is a nice thing to see in the MMO space, choice on how to approach a scenario and the ability to use tactics instead of just the attack button. This experience will be a midlevel campaign (CR7), but of course it can be replayed in hard or Epic if you are a VIP member to add additional challenge.
During the scenario there will be all the things we have come to expect from DDO — some great puzzles, challenging combat, and dialogue ranging from humorous to ominous. The playthrough of the scenario showed some great graphical touches in the airship portals and the zombie pirates looked excellent. The fourth update to DDO Unlimited will release in a week or two and should add some great depth for new and existing players.
The team quickly mentioned to me as well that they are always constantly tweaking the difficulty levels and adding a casual mode that you can choose if you wish to solo all the way through. The game has always taken solo players into consideration, but the casual mode is a further step in differentiating DDO Unlimited from other MMORPG’s. The playthrough had me interested in heading back to Eberron and you can be sure I will be booting up when the fourth update lands in a couple of weeks.