So I toyed around on the stress test for the past day, hoping to win a beta invite. Sadly, I failed at that, but I did manage to get a feel for the game with my mighty level 2 sorcerer. So here’s a few non-NDA breaking thoughts on it.
The following will most likely contain gratuitous use of D&D 3.5 references, so if you’re not interested in that you’re hereby warned.
D&D Online is quite obviously an attempt to bring the D&D 3.5 system online in MMO form. It does this in the Eberron campaign setting, in the city of Stormreach, on the lost continent of Xen’drik. Sadly, while I assume the city is fairly geographically correct and everything, a lot of the Eberron-unique charm is missing. There’s warforged everywhere (and they’re even a PC race), but I haven’t encountered any shifter or Changeling NPCs, for one. Moving on from that, it does capture the feel of a D&D game pretty well. The art is detailed, if pretty generic fantasy drivel, there’s all sorts of tiny details and references all over the place and the soft music really gives the areas a nice feel. But what’s really neat is how there’s a DM Narrator that tells you, well, what a DM would tell you about your surroundings. Stuff like the scent of the room, barely audible noises, etc.
Non-combat skills are pretty neat, too. Having high listen and spot skills often means the DM gives you more info, Bluff, Intimidate, Persuade and Haggle are all very useful in dealing with NPCs, and the first three can even be used in battle with some enemies.
The combat itself is fairly interesting. Basically, take the D&D 3.5 rules, toss them in real-time combat along the lines of City of Heroes/Villains, add more emphasis on positioning, then change the rules where needed to make combat more fluid. You can actually dodge and weave your way past enemy attacks and traps, and only when you get hit do your actual stats come into play. There’s a variety of combat-oriented feats, ranging from staples like Power Attack and Combat Casting to stuff like Whirlwind Attack and Mobile Spellcasting, and differences in PC races are noticeable beyond simple stats. If you’re huge Warforged Barbarian wielding a greatsword, enemies react differently from when you’re a tiny halfling sorcerer, and traps are much the same. You can also manipulate enemy behaviour by use of some skills, as I pointed out above. Intimidating kobolds is fun.
Spellcasting isn’t done using the standard system, but rather, a modified version of the spellpoint system offered in Unearthed Arcana. Basically, casters have a certain amount of spellpoints (mp) according to their class, stats and Action Points (see below). Every spell costs a certain amount of spellpoints, which can be altered by use of metamagic feats (which are basically toggles in DDO, adding the metamagic benefits for a greater spellpoint cost). Sorcerers and Bards can cast all the spells they know at will as long as they have spellpoints left, while Wizards and Clerics need to memorize a small selection of their huge spell repertoire when they’re in a tavern or resting, and then they can cast any combination of their memorized spells at will. It works pretty well, though just like in the PnP version, Sorcerers are laughably underpowered compared to Wizards, simply having more spellpoints and only having a very limited selection of spells (Wizard at level 1 gets 7 spells and can memorize 3, Sorcerer only KNOWS 2. This is with 18 int and cha, respectively.) Sadly, I don’t really see this getting fixed until the PnP version does it, which probably won’t happen anytime soon.
Resting is handled in a pretty nice way. Basically, you have no hp or sp regen. The only way you can heal up (and memorize spells) is to stand around and idle in a tavern (buying food to speed up the process), or if you’re in a dungeon (which are all instanced, by the way) to find a resting point. Every resting point can only be used once by a certain member of the party, so this makes it important to manage your hp and sp effectively, and not spamming spells every fight. Next to a resting point is always a res point, where you can get revived if you die. If you die, you leave a “soulstone” on the floor where you died. You can only move so far away from it’s position before getting teleported back to it, so you either have to get a friend to carry it around for you until you can get to a res point, or res in the tavern.
Action Points are taken from the Eberron Campaign Setting. Basically, every time you gain a sizeable chunk of exp, you gain one action point. After you’ve collected 4, the next exp chunk gives you a level up. At your class trainer, you can cash in Action Points for permanent buffs, such as more spellpoints or extra damage. If you level up without spending your Action Points, they’re gone, preventing AP hoarding to instantly get the top tier enhancements.
Currently, the Human, Halfling, Elf, Dwarf and Warforged races are available, as well as the Fighter, Paladin, Barbarian, Bard, Rogue, Ranger, Cleric, Sorcerer and Wizard classes, and the level cap is set at 10. The cap will get raised to 20 eventually, and more races/classes will be added (monk, druid and artificer aren’t in yet due to certain hard to convert class abilities they posses. No clue about the absence of half-orcs and gnomes, though the fact that they’re fairly rare in the Eberron Campaign Setting might have something to do with it.), including prestige classes and multiclassing. Stats are determined using the point-buy system, with I believe 28 points to go around.
Overall, despite the atrocious amounts of bugs and lag I experienced (yay early stress test), D&D Online is promising to be a pretty interesting group-focused MMO, and I’ll probably give the finished product a spin myself. It is missing several fairly obvious MMO features (friends list, etc), but I’m sure that will get tossed in there eventually. I’m not going to hang up my dice over this, but it’s certainly worth a look.