Last night I took my initial steps in Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach. The game is two years old and still supported. I heard good things about it from the Gamers With Jobs podcast and decided to have a go, as I haven’t played a modern MMORPG at all, really. Anarchy Online was my last attempt.
It’s pretty enough, albeit a little generic. It runs smoothly on my med-spec PC with everything maxed out. Being a console player, I find the user interface a little difficult, but it’s nothing distracting. My initial impressions are not good: both of the characters (a human Paladin and a warforged Fighter) I’ve created have disappeared after logging out for the first time. I find it hard to motivate myself to create a third character.
I haven’t played it enough to really pass judgement, but there is one thing I want to bring up: the Dungeon Master. When I got into the first dungeon, a narrator’s voice boomed out, giving a bit of atmosphere and setting the scene. This being Dungeons & Dragons, I found this entirely natural, even though I don’t recall a similar approach from any other game. Things quickly moved on: when I encountered a crazy man, the Dungeon Master explained that the man was addressing me, badly acting out the crazy man’s voice in a melodramatic fashion – exactly like a less than stellar, real-life Dungeon Master would. This felt extremely weird to me. I haven’t witnessed anything comparable in a videogame.
I took it in stride, because I feel that the narrator is a great device. I can take the generic dungeon settings and lifeless characters much better when they’re being supplemented by the narration. The narration makes the game feel like a tabletop experience; I’m giving the audiovisual execution more leeway because I’m being asked to do so. Without the narration I would probably bemoan the way the game can’t match a tabletop experience, but this device conveniently bridges that gap and makes it feel like Dungeons & Dragons. Then again, it wouldn’t take much for the narration to begin to grate.
I’m looking forward to some more Stormreach, although I don’t expect this to turn me into a MMORPG fan. It had better not, too – I agreed to not get lost in these games (well, World of Warcraft, specifically) when I signed up for my new job as a videogame producer.