The soon-to-be forgotten realm.
Dungeons & Dragons used to be synonymous with pen-and-paper role-playing
. Then Bioware came along and used the rich source material to make some great PC RPGs – the Baldur’s Gate
games. But while Bioware’s adventures along the Sword Coast were fun and immersive, they didn’t really capture the spirit of the original pen-and-paper style. No, Bioware left that task to the amazing Neverwinter Nights
. Complete with a smart and intuitive tool set as well as a Dungeon Master client, Neverwinter Nights
allowed players to create their very own dungeons and quests, then open them to the online public. Neverwinter Nights is
Dungeons & Dragons online.
Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach, on the other hand, is little more than an anemic group dungeon crawler. In spite of its name, it’s not very D & D, and it’s even less an MMORPG. The only thing massive is its cost – fifty dollars and a fifteen dollar a month fee – yet it offers less content than Guild Wars, which costs forty dollars flat. Like that game, Stormreach is really just a series of lobbies where players meet up to run instanced dungeons. While running through Stormreach’s massive and intricate dungeons with a group of players can be a lot of fun, it offers no other content while asking for a lot of your money.
The backstory is practically non-existent. The city of Stormreach is a wealthy city with a serious monster infestation, thanks to some incompetent city planner who put dungeons in everyone’s basement. While the surface is full of grandiosity, magical machines and gentle townsfolk, those dungeons, underground passages, and catacombs swarm with skeletons, zombies, giant spiders, floating eyes, and other RPG nasties. Naturally, such creatures are always surrounded by magical artifacts and priceless jewels, and those are precisely what you’re after.
In true D & D fashion, you can clean the city’s dungeons as a Human, Elf, Halfling, Dwarf, or the new Warforged. We know, it looks like a verb in the past tense, but it’s actually the name of a race of golems.
As any of these races you can be a rogue, fighter, barbarian, ranger, wizard, sorcerer, bard, paladin or cleric, however, some races are suited to certain classes. The warforged, for example, are big and dumb, making them great fighters and awful sorcerers.
Once you’ve picked a race and class, you can tweak your character’s facial features with an impressively deep set of options. There are at least two dozen skin tones and hair colors, lots of noses, and even neat extra features like nasty scars, glasses and eyepatches. After that you can set your attributes, pick some class-specific skills and start playing.
The first thing you’ll notice upon entering the world is the slightly bulky heads-up display. While it could have used some streamlining, the fact that you can move all its pieces anywhere you want helps. Once situated, you can run through some tutorial quests that teach you the gameplay basics of the Active Battle system. In Stormreach, your character can block, strafe, or tumble in any direction, attack with the right mouse button, and use special skills by pressing number keys. With all the dodging, charging monsters, and projectiles flying around, battles look pretty intense. But because everything is still based on dice rolls and statistics, you don’t feel that much in control. You will slash at a zombie and still miss, or roll away from the zombie's flail, but still take damage. It’s called an active battle system, but it’s still based on passive calculations, not skill or timing.
You’ll use these skills, along with those of the other members of your party, to complete quests for money, treasure and experience. In Stormreach, quests involve killing set numbers of monsters, destroying objects, collecting items, and killing bosses. Interestingly, these aren’t all assigned at the beginning of a given dungeon. Rather, you’ll begin with one or two main quests and gain new ones as you explore. For example, pulling a lever might open a gate, leading to a new dungeon branch with some new menace that needs slaying. It’s deeper than just running from point A to point B.
Finding a party is made easy by solid search tools. Right when you sign on, you set your passive status to "looking for group" so party leaders can find you, and then actively browse through available parties who are looking for more members. From one window, you can see a party’s relevant info, such as their class composition and level, and apply for that group directly. It functions much like City of Heroes, and it’s a good system, except that there's nothing to do in Stormreach while you wait.
No trade skills or auction houses means there's no global economy, and thus no way to make money or get better gear other than questing. Trading with players is rare and difficult, since there's no way to browse a player's wares at all. So you'll have to describe what you're buying or selling in a chat channel, and that usually takes more time than it's worth.
There’s no reason to simply kill monsters, because they don’t yield money or experience. Only completed quests benefit your character and aside from the initial tutorial quests, the vast majority cannot be completed on your own. Until you find a group, there is nothing to do in this game.
Finding one can take a bit longer than you might think, in spite of the smart search tools, if you chose a Warforged as your race. Even though Warforged make the best tanks in the game, healing affects them half as much as it does other classes. Instead, Warforged must be repaired, and only mages and rogues can do that. So, if you’re a Warforged and you can’t find a group with a mage or a rogue, you can’t play. Did we mention this game costs fifteen dollars a month?
It doesn’t look worth the money either. The textures are rich in detail, but the color palette is made up of washed out browns, grays, and dark greens that all seem to blend in together. The character models are jaggedly rendered and animate in jerky motions, and when running around corners, the camera occasionally gets stuck before stuttering and jerking around to correct itself. It’s not pretty.
The music in Stormreach is full of frilly folk tunes or basic medieval drumbeats with flute melodies. The Dungeons sound better, since the music dies down and is replaced by wringing chains, creaking gates, and ominous growls over groaning winds. A disembodied Dungeon Master narrates your quests, although he sounds way too sedate. He never says anything interesting either, it’s all "You hear a faint scratching noise, like fingernails on stone" or "The bodies of fallen adventurers litter the ground, you were not the first to enter here", but he never has to get the phone or explain to his mom when the trash will go out like a real Dungeon Master would. At least the game features built-in voice chat, so coordinating with your group is easy, as long as you have a microphone.
If you don’t, save the money you were thinking of spending on this game and go buy a headset with a mic instead. Then go buy another game that puts it to better use. For a title that costs more than World of Warcraft, Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach is unbelievably light on stuff to do. It does feature some decent dungeons that can be fun to run through with a group, but with no pvp, no economy, no trade skills and nothing useful you can do by yourself, this is a dungeon to crawl away from.