Now I can already hear you saying, "Fresh? But this game is more than 15 years old!" and yes this is true, it is a fairly old game but the things it does are so different than most big games of the genre (and in some cases than all games of the genre) that it feels extremely fresh and different, I slept on it for 15 years and now I am completely in love with it, my love for the genre has rekindled and I'm not some hopeless husk of a mmo gamer anymore. This post is so people on this board who are like me who would love this game don't sleep on it any longer than I did.
So, what makes this game so special and different you may ask? Well, a lot of things, so I'll separate each aspect I think is worth mentioning into paragraphs, I don't expect anyone to read all of it, but not everyone cares about the same things so I'll try to cover a lot of ground anyway :
Character customization is easily one of the strongest points of the game, there are layers upon layers of systems to customize your character and as a player you make every choice from beginning to end. Having a completely gimped and useless build IS possible if you are not careful, but if you go at things logically you should easily get something decent. So what are these layers of customization? Let me explain, you can skip this if you only care about knowing about the customization and not what it entails. PnP players can skim over the first few parts too, it's the same.
Ability points (stats) : When you create your character you start with 28 points to allocate (this can go up eventually) or 32 if you play as a Drow. Every race has its perks so some races will start with better stats than other, it also affects how high you can raise them initially. They all start at 8 and can be raised to 18, but if you have a penalty or a bonus to that stat (either +2 or -2) then the cap goes to 20 or 16 respectively, this matters a lot because there are stats you want to get as high as possible for some classes and starting at cap is a huge boon, so you want this cap to be high. Every few levels you will get to add +1 to an Ability of your choice.
Feats : Feats are basically special abilities that your character can do, they can either be passive (like a proficiency with two-handers) or a skill (like cleave, an AoE attack). You get to choose one at character creation, some classes get a bonus one like Paladins get a bonus religious one, and Humans always get a 2nd free feat. You also get free feats at specific levelss depending on your class, most of the times these are not a choice though, for instance Rogues gets Evasion at 2, which allows them to ignore trap damage if they successfully pass a Reflex check, without Evasion you take half damage. At set level you also get to choose a new Feat. The choices you get depend on your stats though, for instance to pick Two-Weapon Fighting you need to have 15 dex, so your stats doubly matter not only for what they do inherently but also because of what feats they unlock. Feats are not tied to class for the most part, so even though Two-Handed Fighting is a Strength feat, a wizard with a lot of strength could take it, although it would be a very weird build.
Enhancements : This is something that is different from the PnP games, In DDO every level is composed of 5 ranks. For the first 4 ranks you get Action Points, then every 5th rank you level up. Action Points are what you spend on Enhancements, Enhancements are basically skill trees. Each class get 3 skill trees and each Race has its own skill tree. So A fresh character will have 4 trees to spend points in, and they tend to be quite different so two players with the same class can have extremely different builds. And finally there are Universal trees, these are mostly earned through Reputation (Favor in DDO) with various factions, these have different niches but can be used with any class. Inquisitive for instance is focused on Crossbows and Vistani Knife Fighter is all about Daggers. A single character can spend points in 6 different trees at the same time, which means options are ridiculous. There are also other Enhancement trees that use separate points, Epic Destinies and Reaper Enhancements but that's more advanced stuff so I won't cover that here.
Multiclassing : This is a very complex thing that also exists in the PnP game, basically you can play multiple classes on the same character, but that doesn't come for free. The base level cap is 20, so while you can multiclass you can only reach 20 total level so multiclassing can be good but some builds do NOT want it because their strongest abilities are only possible if you have 20 levels of their class. A common multiclass choice is to start as a Rogue to have the ability to pick locks and disable traps and then reclass into something else after and never put levels into Rogue again (or only 1 more for Evasion).
Skills : Skills are things like "Search", "Bluff", "Jump", "Pick Lock". Abilities your character have that allow them to interact with the world, numerous times you'll have to use those skills to help you in dungeons. To find hidden doors, to convince a NPC to help you, to access a hard to reach area, etc. At character creation you spend points on the skills you want, some classes suck at particular things so it costs twice as much to upgrade those things but it is still possible. You get to spend points on skills every level, but generally you want to boost those you already have high.
The quests are probably my favorite aspect of DDO. In most RPGs quests come in one and unique form: Talk to NPC, go to X, do X, get reward. There are some twists on the system like in GW2 where instead of Talk to NPC it's more "See thing in the distance" but ultimately it's the same. In DDO though quests are very different. You could totally say it is "Talk to NPC, go to X, do X, get reward" and it wouldn't be false, but it would be oversimplifying it tremendously. Basically in DDO every single quest is in its own instance, they can be very short like a single room for defense missions or can take up to a whole hour and be sprawling mazes. In these instances you will have your main objective, but along the way you will almost always find optional objectives to do that reward you with XP and Loot, a lot of quests also have hidden secrets and areas that only certain characters will be able to find, which means having a party is likely to help you be able to explore a dungeon completely. This makes questing in this game very fun because every single quest has its own story and dungeon, it always feels like a new and fresh adventure. It is also all narrated by the "Game Master" which comments on the events of the quests, does voices for the NPC and sometimes point things out to you (not secrets though), it makes it all very charming and memorable. Most players will have favorite quests that they know the name by heart, these quests they find the most fun and interesting. For me it is a quest named Partycrasher that has you sneak out inside a private party in order to thwart an assassination attempt. It is long, there are many ways to approach it, and the setting is super interesting. You can also repeat quests are often as you want although with an increasing XP penalty. Quests also give you the choice to choose your difficulty level, from Casual to Elite and with another special mode called Reaper (which I won't cover), the difficulty level affects the level of the mobs and loot and in some cases also affect how many monsters appear and some other things. Also a final thing, the quest progression is completely non linear, there are no hub to hub jumping, quests of all levels are found everywhere and they are extremely plentiful, you won't need to do nearly all of them to reach cap.
The Items in this game are pretty interesting, most of the time they are more than just stat sticks, they can have very interesting effects such as Slowfalling, Death retribution (chance to instakill an enemy that hits you), Deathblock (protection against death effects), Ghosttouch (no hit penalties against incorporeal enemies), Bane (bonus damage against X enemy type), etc. There is a slight gear treadmill, as you go higher in level the bonuses on gear go higher too, but the base items never change. There are also a LOT of items that never stop being relevant, most of them are referred to as "clickies". A clicky is a piece of equipment that you can use for a specific effect, in most cases it is a buff but they can also cast offensive spells, for instance yesterday I found a helm that can cast Lightning Storm. The beauty of these items is that they are Named Items. Named Items are items that have always the same stats (the buffs on most items is randomized) and they always drop in the same places, so it's totally normal for a player to farm a specific quest for a specific item that will live with you forever. There are so many of them it's almost impossible to know them all and sometimes you'll have someone link an item in chat and people will go "yo where did you get that?". One of the most famous of these is an item nicknamed "Jibbers" it's an item that can be used when dead to respawn as a Wraith for 1 minute before dying again, very useful to run to a resurrection shrine (these are placed at specific points in dungeons) or to cast rez spells on your allies. It's usable at level 1, and used by characters from 1 to 30.
The game is quite old so there is a ridiculous amount of content now, enough so that you will likely find things you haven't done even years later so there are ways to keep things fresh even on your third run through the game.
Almost Infinite Progression:
This is for people who would like a MMO where the "journey" never ends. In DDO when you reach 20 or 30 you have the opportunity to Reincarnate, when you Reincarnate (there are different types of reincarnations) you restart at level 1 (or go from 30 to 20 in one case) and start anew with a completely different character. The thing though? You are a little bit stronger. The first time and second times you reincarnate you get more points to put in your stats at character creation, you also get a little bonus depending on what reincarnation you did. These little bonuses add up (can stack up to 3 times each) and a character that reincarnates a LOT will have a big power boost over one that never reincarnates. It is never really needed though, 2 reincarnations for the biggest amount of stat points is all you really need to do a lot of end game, although most players will reincarnate a lot more often to break monotony, reaching cap isn't all that long either, it can take a few days only for experts. In fact there is a 3 days cooldown on reincarnations. But what this mean is that you can play the same character forever and even if you chance race and class every reincarnation you're still getting a little big stronger every time. There is a point where it stops, but it is very far and most players will never reach it (or won't want to reach it).
A few cons though, the game is old and it shows in its graphics and UI, if you can't go back to older games because you are so used to modern mmo UIs this might be a hard game for you to play. And also the F2P model is quite restrictive, but there is more than enough for someone to get a good feel of the game. Just paying for VIP (10$ a month if you get 3 months at a time) unlock most of the game, plenty to get hundred or thousands of hours of experience anyway. It uses the same business model as LOTRO, you can earn cash shop point as you play and eventually unlock everything. But imho VIP is very worth it and with the 500 points a month you can eventually buy the expansions if you so please.
But yeah, it's a long post, sorry about that, but I think this game is truly amazing and underappreciated, anyone who likes exciting questing and deep character customization should give it a shot. The community is also very very kind and helpful, a bit on the older side of the spectrum but I think it is why it's such a nice one.
Anyway, hope to see some of you guys in Eberron!
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