We recently had a chance to catch up with Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach, the upcoming online game from developer Turbine Entertainment and publisher Atari. The new game will be based out of the massive town of Stormreach which exists on Eberron, a new world created for the game's recently revised 3.5 Edition rules. The town will be broken up into seven different districts, or wards, from which you can find many, many different quests and adventures from various characters in town. The game has been in development for some time and has entered a closed alpha testing state; beta will begin, according to Turbine president Jeff Anderson, "soonish."
We watched a brief demonstration of the game's character-creation system in action. In staying true to the game's source material, each character will have a full-on "character sheet," a series of menus that resemble the classic single sheet of paper that summarizes a character's inventory and abilities from the tabletop game. You'll be able to choose race, class, and gender for your character from the game's roster of humans, elves, dwarves, and warforged (the heavyset race of "golem" creatures found in the Eberron setting of Dungeons & Dragons). Different races will have different racial attributes that make them better for certain professions, just like you'd expect. For instance, dwarves will have a bonus to their constitution (their overall health and toughness), which makes them ideal to play as a frontline fighter. You'll be able to choose from a wide list of professions all from Dungeons & Dragons, and you'll be able to multiclass freely, just like the recent 3.5 Edition rules allow, complete with racially favored classes and experience penalties when you do a little too much multiclassing. You'll also be able to spend points in a wide range of skills (including intimidation and diplomacy, which help adventuring parties keep monsters focused on the armored fighters and away from the vulnerable wizards) and feats, which, just like in the tabletop game, you'll gain more of as your character grows stronger by gaining experience levels.
We had a chance to sit through a few different adventures with a two-character party of a human cleric and an elf sorcerer, including one mission in a dank underground tomb, and, later, one that took place in a lush outdoor glade. But all the game's instanced adventures are referred to as "dungeons" regardless of whether they're underground or not. Fortunately, the game is planned to launch with a great many of these dungeons that will not only accommodate players who may or may not have a group handy, but will also accommodate those players who may not have a whole lot of time every night. One of the shorter ones we watched involved defending a hapless scribe from an assassination attempt in his library for a certain period of time. While the scribe hid in the corner, dozens of giant scorpions crawled out of the woodwork to attack him (and us) until the brief time limit ran out and the scribe was safe.
In all cases, dungeons will provide players with both loot and precious experience points that will let them advance their characters to the next level. However, loot won't be dropped often from monsters, but rather, it will be found in treasure chests and other caches, and it will be predetermined as to which character will pick it up. Should you end up with loot you'd like to trade with your party members, you can. Basically, this system will forcefully put an end to the dreaded practice of "ninja looting," in which obnoxious players immediately make a grab for the treasure before anyone else can so they can grab all the best items. In addition, you won't gain any experience points from any dungeon until you've completed it (though you can use camp points to abandon an adventure if you need to leave), so you'll be encouraged to try to complete the entire dungeon as you play.
Both the tomb dungeon and the outdoor dungeon did a good job in showing off the game's various features, which include "DM text," a text narrative that appears onscreen to describe your surroundings, similar to how a dungeon master (or "DM") player would in a tabletop game. The game will have highly interactive environments, so you can expect to be smashing open stone urns full of hidden treasure, flipping switches to open secret doors, and using healing shrines to revive your fallen comrades. Extremely high-level cleric players can use "raise dead" spells to revive their fallen friends, while parties without clerics can pick up their dead comrades' "soulstones," which are glowing items that can be brought to a dungeon's healing shrine to coax deceased adventurers back into this world. (Interestingly, just like in the tabletop game, characters are considered "unconscious"--but not stone-dead--if they reach a health level of zero to minus nine. This means they can actually be revived with basic healing abilities at that level of injury.)
We also got a good sense of the varied tactics that enemies will use in the game to encourage players to think tactically. Undead ghouls will attempt to use their paralytic touch on just about any unfortunate adventurers they can get their claws on, while skeletal archers will hang back to avoid direct conflict. Furthermore, wight priests will hurl curses (and other nasty spells) at you from afar. Combat takes place in real time, and you can choose either to have your character repeatedly "auto-attack" (just like in EverQuest, World of Warcraft, and practically any other massively multiplayer game) or "actively attack" by repeatedly clicking your mouse buttons and using keyboard shortcuts to make the most of your characters' attack bonuses and feats. The game itself seems to be coming along well and is scheduled for release early next year.