PC REVIEW: Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach

This is not your daddy's Dungeons & Dragons. by Cass Andrusiak

March 22, 2006 - Dungeons & Dragons: Stormreach is a lot less dorky than the dark ages of the 1980s when groups of nerds secretly gathered around their parent's kitchen table, (while they were out bowling and getting drunk) to play the tabletop version of D&D with pen, paper and dice in hand. D&D was a safe and convenient way of becoming someone powerful that you'll never be in real life. It was also surefire protection from ever getting messed up in a relationship with a member of the opposite sex. Girls? Who needs 'em when you have friends like Gimble and Tiny that don't like girls either.

D&D Online: Stormreach is a massively online multi-player game that has more in common with Gauntlet than with D&D. It's less about individual role-playing, with a focus on cooperative play as teams of up to six players take part in exploring dungeons and fighting monsters they encounter. The leveling-up process is more drawn out but the action is virtually relentless. There is seldom a dull moment.

Unlike the traditional Lord-of-the-Ring fantasy worlds, Stormreach is more of a futuristic, sci-fi city with medieval overtones in the architecture of the buildings and the dungeons that lie below the city in the aquifers, caves and sewer systems. The quests, for the most part, are mission based. There is a sense of purpose for your actions. Exploring is still a part of the gameplay but it's downplayed in favor of a more structured style, one more suited to team play.

If you want to go it alone you're in the wrong game. You can try it if you want but you'll get hit hard and will end up crawling out of the dungeon instead of crawling through it. You need other members in your party in order to survive. Each have different skills such as magic, healing, strength, melee combat and the ability to detect booby traps that can help the party survive. Classes include wizards, barbarians, rogues, clerics, bards, rangers and healers. There is less focus on customizing each character individually. Although they can specialize in certain skills, they can also be made more adaptable since the parties are relatively small.

Combat is relatively easy. It's not turn-based but performed in real-time. The hack-and-slash nature of the combat guarantees that even beginners will get picked up online to join more experience party members. Whether you choose spells or weapons you will be doing a lot of mashing buttons during combat which usually is too busy for its own good. It's difficult to see exactly what you or the enemy is doing, never mind what your teammates are up to. Online stats display the number of hit points you have left and the status of your weapons or spells, but you'll be so preoccupied with the battles that these stats will be relatively meaningless until after the end. Experience points are awarded only after you successfully complete the trials of the dungeon.

Dungeon crawling is both rewarding and dangerous. It's a good source of upgrades and experience points but it's also filled with monsters and pitfalls. Here you will experience a variety of gameplay elements including combat, puzzle solving, action, exploring and tactics. An auto map will help guide you through the dungeon. You can recover hit points relatively easy in the dungeons through the use of magic and other items found, spell points are much more difficult to recover. Healers will help characters regain their health and there is at least one recover zone where players can rest and recharge their health and regain their hit points.

Communication is essential to a party-based game. All you need is a microphone and you can chat with players in real-time. It's way better than typing. The chat works great in the dungeons where you need to work together to defeat the monsters and foil the traps but it also comes in handy when you're meeting in the town pub in between missions. These rest stops aren't very long since there seems to be plenty of people waiting to tag along. Once you get a team together it's off you go.

Unlike most RPGs, you're not encouraged to re-visit the same dungeons time after time in an effort to earn more experience points. In fact, you will earn less points each time you re-visit a dungeon. Sometimes you'll need the extra points before you go to the next dungeon but the game basically forces you to take chances by taking on new missions and exploring new dungeons. If you're a beginner you'll probably encounter players that have been through these dungeons several times. It's up to you if you want them to spoil the surprises or if you want to take the time to recruit all new players so the experience is fresh for the entire team. Each dungeon crawl is unique for each team as it's unaffected by other teams' previous visits.

D&D Online is not a great looking game but it's diverse. The characters suffer from some blocky graphics which make them look like origami figures, especially in the limb sections. Even some of the animations are a little stiff. A dungeon master presides over each dungeon, highlighting the tales of antiquity of your next dangerous adventure. It's a good addition that instantly creates a specific atmosphere for each stage which is enhanced by the soundtrack.

Your first month online is free with the purchase of the game. If you want to continue past that you're going to have to pay a monthly fee. More content is continually being added so by the time you complete the first month, you might have another month or two of content to keep you busy. It's certainly worth the price for the first month and if you find a team of friends that you really like, this could be your new social life.

Features:

  • Unique: Create a unique individual with millions of different combinations of looks, skills, stats, feats, races, and classes.
  • Gorgeous: Turbine's highly advanced 3rd generation 3D game engine brings the city of Strormreach, characters, dungeons, and monsters to life!
  • Dangerous: Use your brawn, your stealth, and your wits to survive dungeons filled with monsters, traps, puzzles, and other interactive challenges.
    Fast: Get to the fun quickly with DDO's exclusive Instaport feature which eliminates tedious travel and waiting.
  • Real: Elements like d20 and DM text make it authentic Dungeons & Dragons, lovingly created for the online world.
  • Smart: Gain masterful skills and world-dominating powers without endless combat with DDO's quest-based experience system!
  • Fun: Custom adventures for you and your party provide instances to shine as a hero - or a team - without interference from other players. Public adventures provide opportunities for large groups to tackle even bigger challenges.

By Cass Andrusiak
CCC Freelance Writer

Rating out of 5
Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach (PC)
4.2
Graphics
The architecture is a blend of ancient and futuristic. It's done very well considering how large the maps are. Character models are good but suffer from large polys and poor animation.
4.4
Control
Very responsive controls. By limiting the party members there is no latency or slowdown.
4.2
Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The dungeon master sets the tone for each adventure. The music perfectly highlights the situations.
4.1
Play Value
You'll have enough to keep you busy for the first month. With new content begin added you might find enough here to keep you busy for a few years.
4.1
Overall Rating - Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
System: PC
Dev: Turbine Ent.
Pub: Atari
Release: Feb 2006
Players: 1 - multi online
Review by Cass

Review Rating Legend
1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid
2.0 - 2.4 = Poor
2.5 - 2.9 = Average
3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
3.5 - 3.9 = Good
4.0 - 4.4 = Great
4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
5.0 = The Best