I started playing Dungeons and Dragons Online: Stormreach (DDO) a few weeks ago. I've been looking forward to this for a while, as I'm a big fan of the D&D franchise, and felt it would make a fine concept for a virtual world.
Before the game's release, there was a lot of talk on the forums about how the game was going to be strongly instanced -- that is, that adventures would be isolated to a party of players (which is limited to six), and their adventure would be separate from another party that happened to be doing the same task. This is an idea that many games are now using, to prevent griefers (players that just wish to annoy other players) and to better handle server resources.
The rest of the world, I was to understand, was not instanced, so if you weren't on an adventure, you could mingle with the other people in the world. This is partially true; you can certainly mingle with others (in the taverns, on the street, or at the various trainers or quest-givers), but even the outside world is instanced -- there are four different "The Harbor" areas, and which one you end up in is based on the load in them all.
Now the game does supply a fiction-breaking method to hop between these four instances, which means you're not forced away from your friends, but this really puts a cap on the "multi" part of "multiplayer".
But is mingling with people what makes a massively multiplayer game or virtual world work? Should DDO be considered one at all?
I've been struggling to like this game. Part of that is because I'd like to play on my own if I wished, but the developers were pretty clear that the game was designed with party adventure in mind. It can certainly be fun when you have others with you (because you aren't dying all the time), but I don't care for the idea of having to find someone to go adventuring with every time I wish to leave the tavern.
I'll admit that the interface for finding others with which to adventure is a good one (although again it breaks fiction -- what's wrong with bellowing out in the tavern, "who wants to clear the sewers of their infestation?" But it does do a good job of helping you find a certain level cleric to heal the group or a rogue to disarm the traps.
But the party is still limited to six. This means you are sharing a common goal, a world event, with at most five other people. It's fun for small adventures, but what about the grand scheme?
And these adventures... I was under the impression, early in the development stage, that the missions had an underlying theme, but that the dungeon or forest or crypt would be different each time, so while you may have heard from others what the gist of the adventure might be, you couldn't know what was coming. I've yet to see this, and it is again fiction-breaking that you can simply redo the same adventure over and over again -- how many times can you save that girl, find the lost badge, or recover that darned healing potion cask?
It finally occurred to me the other day: DDO is not a massively multiplayer game. It's not a persistent world. A better way to define the game is to relate it to a game such as Diablo 2. You could go online, there were other people with which to adventure, you could trade items ... but there was nothing persistent. The only think that changes on the server when I finish saving that girl yet again is that I have a few more experience points, a few more copper pieces, and a damaged mace. But Stormreach is no better off for it; I haven't made things better or worse for other players; and that damned girl is just going to get kidnapped again.
There's no housing with which the players can litter the land. You can't even drop items on the ground -- a good idea from a resource management point-of-view, to be sure, but a bit immersion breaking. And there will be no epic battles as the world's fiction progresses, where dozens or hundreds of players from numerous guilds will come together for a lag-inducing grandiose battle against some great evil.
But perhaps I'm to blame for the misconception, because the game *is* exactly the way they said it was going to be. Perhaps it's my fault that I expected the experience to be more in line with previous entries in the field. Or perhaps they're culpable, because it's not truly a massively multiplayer game. But did they ever claim it was?
As I said, I enjoy the game, and now that I've gotten it out of my head that it's a virtual world, I won't be so critical. It's just an online game where you can see the other players walking around instead of in a roster (like blizzard.net, battle.net, Steam, etc.), and I can enjoy it more now that I'm conscious of that. But I suppose I'm a bit disappointed that we still don't have a D&D virtual world.
Perhaps MMORF can offer that possibility?