March 30, 2005

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Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach
(PC)
Turbine/Atari

It takes a special effort to rise above the cramped flock of Fantasy themed Massive Multi-player games for the PC. Dark Age of Camelot did it by introducing Realm vs Realm combat, World of warcraft by virtue of itís polish and itís 6 million inhabitants, and Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach by ... oh wait, nope sorry, back to the general admission area with you.

Yes, Stormreach has an undeniable pedigree in itís Dungeons and Dragons liscense. True, the best parts of pen and paper D&D receive faithful translation. Admitedly when you run through the instanced dungeons that make up the entirety of your gaming experience it is fun, the first time through. When you see a multi-eyed Beholder youíre sure to have a warm glow of nostalgia wash over you. But there are flaws, and they are legion.

The city of Stormreach, where the whole game world is located houses many dungeons each replete with traps, puzzles, hordes of monsters, challenging boss encounters and enough nooks and crannies to make an English Muffin jealous. Unfortunately, youíll see all of these dozens of times, and they will be exactly the same. Your leveling will be slow and you cannot move on, even at your own peril, until you achieve the proper level requirements for the next instance. This is, too say the least, annoying for those of us who enjoy kamikaze runs on high level encounters, or who choose to play for anything other than the lemming like drive to the level cap; like, say, for fun and entertainment instead.

Immediately players realize that being in a properly constructed group of the proper levels with the proper abilities is the only way to proceed. The missions and dungeons are calibrated for almost punishingly specific mixes of character archtypes and deviation from this template can result often causes you to forgo swaths of content.

Secondly, Stormreach sticks perhaps a bit to slavishly to itís D&D roots by insisting on a level cap of 10. Quizzically though it cheats around this by inserting 4 ranks per level effectively capping the game at 40 levels. Why? If you love D&D so much donít cheat Stormreach. Itís so wishy-washy.

Itís not that Stormreach isnít an accomplished virtual world, it quite obviously is. There is some wonderful voice work, beautiful design and a thourough character system. It just seems so tightly wound, like an over-weight basement dweller ready to sputter Cheetos deritus in a frenzied and aggrived rules clarification.

Much like the many reasons we all quit the original D&D (the discovery of girls, booze, punk rock or punk rock girls who drink for instance) we will find other better MMOs, that are prettier (World of Warcraft), rock harder (City of Heroes/Villians) or get us drunk quicker (Glenlivetís Dungeon Crawl Ď06: A Booze-tastic Dark-Elf Remix). C

ó Glenn Given.