Dungeons & Dragons Online First Impressions

We get a chance to see this upcoming massively multiplayer game in motion. Gameplay and combat details inside.

Turbine's Ken Troop explains how Dungeons & Dragons will go online. Double-click on the video window for a full-screen view.

At a recent press event, publisher Atari and developer Turbine showed off a working version of Dungeons & Dragons Online, the upcoming massively multiplayer online game that will take place in the officially licensed fantasy world of Eberron. Like other such games, you'll be able to create a single character of a fantasy role-playing-game profession so that you can go on adventures with other like-minded players in search of treasure, experience points, and levels that will increase your character's power. As of press time, there were only four character classes available to show--the fighter, the rogue, the cleric, and the sorcerer--but the final game will have a total of nine playable classes, and it will also give you the option to "multiclass," which allows you to take on a different, additional character profession.

The demonstration we saw included a romp through a dank subterranean dungeon, as well as a visit to an aboveground desert town. Currently, towns and dungeons are planned to make up much of the game's starting content, since the game is intended to re-create the look and feel of playing as part of a small adventuring party in an actual tabletop session of the classic pen-and-paper Dungeons & Dragons. That is, you'll receive quests from townsfolk to explore adventuring areas, such as dungeons, but most of these areas will be "instanced" for only your party, which means that different versions of the same areas will be generated only for you and your friends so that you won't have to worry about sharing the same crowded dungeon space with a bunch of other players.

In Dungeons & Dragons Online, adventures will be tailored to hunting parties, rather than thousands of players wandering aimlessly.

In fact, Turbine is attempting to eliminate typical massively multiplayer game issues, like overcrowding and "camping," by withholding all experience rewards and even treasure rewards from players until they fully complete their quests. So there will be absolutely no point in making your way through half a dungeon to find that one monster that spawns in place repeatedly so that you can kill it over and over for the best yield of treasure and experience. Instead, you simply won't get any treasure or experience from that one monster. You'll get your rewards only when you successfully conquer an entire dungeon. Naturally, this makes completing a dungeon in one session far more important, so Turbine plans to add waypoints to most dungeon areas that will let you return to that area of a dungeon if you happen to get disconnected. Network stability will also be more important, because it must support the game's full-on, real-time combat.

That's right! Dungeons & Dragons Online will feature combat that you'll control in real time. This will let you run through hallways, click your mouse buttons to swing your sword, use your mouse pointer as a targeting reticle for aiming arrows, and use your movement keys to dodge incoming attacks. Turbine made this unusual decision with support and input from Wizards of the Coast, the publisher of the original Dungeons & Dragons, in hopes of creating a massively multiplayer online game with truly dynamic and engaging combat. The combat system is being designed to take advantage of the instanced dungeons, and since only a small party of adventurers will be in each dungeon, the game can provide more-responsive controls (rather than having to handle an area with 100 different characters that are all running around).

According to lead designer Ken Troop, the combat system will add additional layers of strategy to the game on top of creating and developing a distinctive and powerful character with the appropriate skills and heroic feats--which are special abilities that Dungeons & Dragons characters may choose to acquire as they gain experience levels. For instance, by choosing the "dodge" feat, you'll receive a basic defensive bonus that your character will benefit from whenever you're attacked, but it will also let you perform an evasive roll-away maneuver with your keyboard. As another example, Troop explained that according to the standard pen-and-paper rules, high-level characters gain "base attack bonuses" that increase their chances to strike true in combat. This ability will be represented by special attacks that can be pulled off with good timing. So a fighter character with a +5 attack bonus might have a five-part sword attack that can be pulled off by clicking the mouse button in a correctly timed fashion.

That doesn't mean you won't get into big fights. But there will be plenty of skeletons to go around.

Similarly, your enemies will also attack you in real time, so knowing the particular strengths and weaknesses of certain monsters will also give you an edge. We watched as a fighter character stood off against a minotaur monster, which, in the demonstration, began its attack with a devastating forward charge. If the minotaur missed its charge, it would often run headfirst into a wall and be momentarily stunned--and vulnerable to a counterattack. So knowing the minotaur's fighting patterns makes it a much more manageable enemy to deal with.

On the whole, the game will feature a number of intriguing and innovative features, and if Turbine can make these features work, then Dungeons & Dragons Online will be a highly distinctive game that will feature fast-paced, responsive combat and authentic party-based gameplay. The game is scheduled for release in 2005.

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