Never permit a dichotomy to rule your life

Having sorted out Italy in Napoleon: Total War I moved on to the Egyptian campaign, which proved slightly trickier on the motivation front as I faced the British for the first time. To get into character and see the appearance of a Union Jack as a threat rather than reason to stand up and salute I wore a beret, spoke with an outrageous accent and ate lots of croissants to steel myself to send the Rosbifs packing. Turned out not to matter too much; after devoting maximum resources to building up a navy (it took five turns to get one small corvette) I sent it out to scout the Mediterranean a bit, show the flag, discourage the landing of any troops on my lightly defended shores, and it ran into the British fleet. Which consisted of about twelve ships of the line, four frigates and a couple of sloops. There might’ve been an aircraft carrier in there as well, possibly a couple of nucelar attack submarines, it was hard to tell at the speed I was retreating, so my naval policy was modified to staying in port and shouting “zut alors!” from time to time. The land forces made up for it, though, storming through Egypt and capturing swathes of the Ottoman Empire to triumph in that campaign, but it’s going to be more difficult still for the final campaign, Europe from 1805. I’m rather hoping the British will go along with a plan to carve up Europe between us in a 100-years-early Entente cordiale, but that doesn’t seem terribly likely. Courage, mes amies!

Anyway. Much of the attraction of the Total War series is the way it combines two genres: the strategic turn-based campaign, where you build and govern your empire, and the tactical real-time battles that result when you send your armies into combat and trample the enemy with elephants. (If you’re playing as the Carthaginians in Rome: Total War, at least. Not so many elephant-based units in 19th century Europe. Unless the next Total War game covers the 1870 siege of Paris and you get to take the zoo animals into battle rather than just eating them.) You can skip either aspect if you really want, though; the games come with selections of historical battles and skirmish modes to leap straight into the real-time battles side of things, or if you’re more of a political leader and don’t want to get your hands dirty on the campaign map you can leave it to your AI generals and have the computer automatically resolve fights.

Over in Dungeons & Dragons Online I’ve gained a couple of ranks and therefore have some Action Points to spend, and poring over the range of enhancements available it struck me that, as with Total War, there are two quite distinct parts to the game: planning and building your character, and adventuring with them. Most MMOGs have the two elements, but the dichotomy in Dungeons & Dragons Online is particularly pronounced.

Combat in DDO is, for an MMOG, fast paced; when attacking you hit what’s in the cross-hairs in the middle of the screen, not necessarily a target selected by clicking or hitting Tab (there’s no friendly fire, thankfully, or 97.4% of adventures would end in bitter acrimony after the first encounter. Or possibly before, if somebody went to buff another player but forgot that left clicking triggers an attack rather than selecting a target.) Magic users will probably have a hotbar or seven filled up with different spells to cast, but melee characters tend not to have many abilities to activate in a fight compared to other games; my regular in-combat clickable abilities (as opposed to buffs, toggles etc.) are outnumbered by the sack full of different weapon sets I cart around for various encounters.

Where DDO’s combat is streamlined, the character planning side of things has many strange knobbly bits sticking out and causing turbulence. DDO’s rules are derived from a pencil and paper game: the Generic Universal RolePlaying System. No, wait, not that one, Dungeons and Dragons. The clue was in the title, in hindsight. With MMOGs being more combat focused than pencil and paper games the rules are quite heavily modified, but creating a character is still a rather involved business. In WoW, WAR or LotRO after picking a race and a class your toughest decisions generally involve beard style and colouring, in DDO you’ve got stats, skills and feats to worry about. As you ascend ranks and levels the choices open up further still, as DDO allows you to combine classes. I think this is almost, if not entirely, unique for a class-based MMOG, and as the saying goes “you haven’t seen hybrids until you’ve seen a Wizard/Rogue/Cleric and Paladin/Sorcerer/Bard duo in DDO”. It can be a bit daunting trying to choose from a list of 50 feats when you have a nodding acquaintance with the pencil and paper rules, let alone if you’re coming to it fresh.

Like Total War, though, you can, to a greater or lesser extent, skip either facet of the game if you really want. Recognising the complexity of character building, Turbine added Paths that your character can follow, so you just need to decide whether your fighter wants to focus on dealing damage, tanking or whatever, and the game sorts out the rest for you. It won’t give you the most ludicrously optimised min-maxing munchkin build possible, but at least you won’t end up with totally inappropriate stats. If it’s the character planning side of things that’s more interesting to you, there isn’t exactly an option to build an adventurer and hit an “Automatically Resolve” button instead of battling through a dungeon to gain loot and XP, but there is an out-of-game ecosystems of forums, spreadsheets and standalone character planning tools to tinker about with theoretical builds. Again like Total War, I think the game is at its best when you at least dabble in both sides, so time to check when the next rank of Tempest opens up and make sure I’m meeting the pre-requisites for it.

3 thoughts on “Never permit a dichotomy to rule your life

  1. Tesh

    The wealth of options is something I greatly appreciate, but DDO really needs a better respec system. When the learning process of trial and error involves regrinding a character or rolling an alt, it puts a huge damper on trying new things… and if someone doesn’t get it right the first time, sometimes it’s hard to want to try again.

  2. Zoso Post author

    That’s a very good point; there are some options around, trainers can reset enhancements, a Mindflayer(!) can change feat selections but needs some shards of some sort IIRC, and there are items in the store, Hearts of Reincarnation or something, but it’s not terribly clear, especially when you can really muck characters up with the array of choices out there.

  3. Jonathan B

    Yes, Fred the Mindflayer needs a Flawed Siberys formed by combining multiple Siberys shards at the stone of change by the bank. He also wants cash, although you can get your first Feat exchange free by doing the Dragonmark quest in the marketplace (even if your race is not eligible for a dragonmark, you still get the free feat exchange). I’ve not reached the point that the Hearts are an option for me, but they do show up in the store and apparently are also possible as quest pulls on certain high level quests. So I’ve heard at least; my highest character is only a 7 right now.

    I’ve done my first multiclass character just recently, based off a forum posting build someone else did, with a warforged rogue/wizard/fighter. One level each of wizard and fighter for splash. The one level of wizard is meant just to get you access to arcane wands, particularly the Repair wands for self-healing. The original poster made no use of casting, apparently, just the wands. But I selected repair light damage, summon monster I, and magic missile as my 3 level one spells. This gives me a modest self-repair ability without using up the wand (though I bought one as reserve) and the celestial dog is a useful addition for keeping some mobs busy and giving me sneak attack opportunities. The magic missile is not a great deal of use, being so little damage, but I have been known to plink away at oozes with it while staying out of reach, in a pinch. Plus, it’s force magic the same as the repair, so if I spend any enhancements on boosts to force skills to boost my repair light damage they’ll also boost the magic missile slightly as well. My focus now is to get to the next level so I can start building up my rogue levels and get a better hit percentage.

    Having to go back through the grind of a new alt if you mess up is indeed a bit intimidating. I’ve tossed three or four characters so far. One option by either purchase from DDO Store or grinding up a lot of favor on one character is to unlock the Veteran Status, which lets you start new characters at level 4 instead of level 1. I haven’t gotten there yet.

Comments are closed.