16 September, 2013
My MMO poison of choice these days is Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO). It's a great game and I love it a lot. These days, I mostly play with a few fixed, or "static", groups; however, I have played some solo characters on other servers when the fancy strikes me. But, for the most part, if I play the game I'm playing a character that plays with others.
Sometimes, however, the strain one has to go through to play with friends makes you wonder if other MMO developers actually play. Let's take a look at a recent frustration.
I love DDO, I really do....
I think DDO is the most fun MMO for my playstyle that is currently available. I love flexible characters, and once you understand the system you can make some amazing characters. For example, I really enjoyed my monk/rogue character, which I really enjoyed. The latest expansion revamped how the enhancement system works, making more like old-style WoW talent trees. While there are a few less-than-desirable changes, overall the trees allow for a lot more flexibility for characters, which has pleased me greatly.
But, sometimes the game makes it hard to love.
The importance of playing together
Now, I think group play is incredibly important for MMOs. Not that soloing should be abolished, but games should make sure that playing with others is a fun process without unnecessary hassle. Having things like quests where you have to fight for updates, or any situation where you are forced to "compete" with a friend when you don't want to really hurts a game, in my personal and professional opinion.
As I said, I do most of my playing in two static groups. One group plays with just one main group of characters, and the other plays about 3 different groups on rotation, depending on our mood. This is how I enjoy DDO the most these days.
One thing to understand about DDO is that they use D&D levels; originally the level limit was 20, meaning that a 1 level difference was actually pretty huge. Even with the level cap being raised to 25 and more recently to 28, the levels are still very tightly packed together. Being off by one level has huge ramifications in a party.
The wonderful world of DDO experience
In order to get to my point, I have to explain how DDO experience points and levels work. First, every quest is rated based on its level which corresponds to character level. But, quests also have difficulty levels which affect the actual quest level: Normal (+0), Hard (+1), and Elite (+2). Now, if you play a harder difficulty your first time, you get a bonus to experience. In addition, if you play the harder difficulty first on multiple quests in a row, you get a not-insignificant "bravery bonus" to experience points. The trick is that everyone in the group has to be at the right level; everyone can only be at most 2 levels over the base experience level, otherwise you lose the bravery bonus.
Let me give an example. Let's say there is a group of level 10 characters, and they can play level 8 quests on elite difficulty (+2) and and they will get the bravery bonus. But, what happens if someone gets to level 11 ahead of everyone else? Well, level 8 quests no longer give the bravery. So, the group loses the potential bravery bonus from running level 8 quests. If you're running with a static group, advancing levels is not something you should do.
Now, you have to actually go "train" a level, so in practice it's pretty easy to avoid getting too far ahead. Usually. Plus, you usually stop earning experience points at the point where you could gain two levels; so a level 10 character will hit the xp cap at one point shy of earning level 12. However, when the level cap was raised, the rules changed slightly for characters over level 20; given that you could earn experience for Epic Destinies (a form of alternate advancement over level 20), they removed the cap on experience for your normal levels. But, this has turn around to bite me on the rump.
Enter the reincarnation
Last post I talked about DDO's reincarnation system. Although I mostly talked about true reincarnation (TR), you can also reincarnate your character as a way to respec the character. With the most recent expansion, the developers decided to give everyone a free reincarnation. Since there were a lot of massive changes to how characters work with the new enhancement trees, they wanted to allow everyone to respec to take advantage of the changes and to fix some potential bugs. Hooray! But, in order to reincarnate, you must train up any levels you can beforehand.
So, our group of level 21 characters were to take level 22 in order to be able to respec. Except....
600 experience points too far
Guess how much experience my level 22 character has? 1.350,599/1,350,000. That's right, I'm 600 experience points into the next level! I did a lot of extra questing with this character, so I have a few hundred thousand more experience than other members of my party. But, unless I take that level I cannot reincarnate and adjust my character. But, if I take that level, I will be far out ahead of everyone else in my static group, and it will affect their ability to earn experience.
Of course, I did try to put in a support ticket to see if I could get my experience adjusted; after all, what harm is there in losing a bit of experience? But, sadly, I got the time honored "I cannot help thee with that," of MMO customer service disappointment.
So, in the meantime, I shrug hope there's no bug affecting my character from the recent expansion. I'll wait for the rest of the group to earn up enough experience, then I'll reincarnate when we finally take our next level. And, I lament the straightjacket of levels that put me in this odd situation in a game I otherwise love.
What about you? What group mechanics drive you crazy? Or, what strange situations have had you frustrated with a game?