Welcome! Now, go kill things.

Welcome! Now, go kill things.

The Warcraft (WoW) and Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO) starter zones throw you into two very different games. While they may share many standard features of MMOs, right way you can see a difference:  WoW and DDO are built on different principles, and the starter zones in each clearly demonstrate this.

Starter zones: making an impression

Starter zones can make or break the game as far as players are concerned. It’s in these areas that we decide whether or not to invest the next couple of months, if not years, of our life with a particular game. So developers need to strike a balance – making it accessible, but also interesting. So how do the starter zones compare?

Let’s have a look.

WoW: solo friendly

My Blood Elf (BE) Paladin starts her journey on Sunstrider Isle, a tiny island North of the Eastern Kingdoms. The art work is very good, I’ve always enjoyed the aesthetics of BE architecture, armour and weapons. It combines a distinctive blend of Medieval Japan and Vikings with a vivid palate of reds, golds and greens. The Isle itself is “shrouded” with a mystical glow.

The starter zone acts as a very gentle introduction to WoW that will teach you the very basics of the game: collect your quests from a NPC with the famous yellow !, kill requisite number of rats, hand in for XP. Oh, and level. Level as fast as you can.

Some of the exciting tasks the quest masters will give you include:

  • Killing feral cats
  • Killing feral floating eel thingies
  • Killing feral trees that look like Druid tree forms

Fortunately the Isle is a well designed and small quest hub, so you can power your way through these quests within an hour. You should zoom past your fith level and collect a few additional spells by the time you’ve completed the quests on Sunstrider Isle.

However the experience is kinda forgettable – nothing really stands out as a fun or unique experience. It’s pretty, and BE’s are the best looking avatars in the game, but really the idea is to put you on the levelling path.  To me, the levelling process is like going on auto pilot – enjoyable, meditative but not particularly challenging.

After the Isle, you’ll move into Eversong Woods and reach the BE Capital of Silvermoon City. The quality of the quests do pick up, and the artwork is simply gorgeous. It’s here you’ll also have a chance to pick up your professions.

The most important thing you will learn is just how easy it is to solo the game. The message is clear: take your avatar all the way to level 80 by questing. Grouping really is an option and for those who like the social aspects of MMOs, or want to see the content. But really, a solid month of playing WoW will allow you to easily level form level 1-80 without breaking a sweat. WoW really is built for the casual player. You can jump in for ten minutes or spend all day grinding quests. Go as fast, or as slow as you want.

Still overall, it’s a good introduction to WoW. If you enjoy yourself here, it’s very likely you’ll love the rest of the game.

Overall ratings

  • Artwork: 4/5
  • Quality of quests: 3/5
  • Enjoyment: 3/5

DDO: instanced group experience

DDO dumps you on the shorelines of Eberron. You stand dressed in rags, confused and somewhat dazed. Wreckage litters the beach, and a small halfing waves you over for a chat. Soon he escorts you to a small camp where you meet one of the Warforged, a humanoid robot thing.

One thing you’ll notice is how much text there is to read. DDO is a very literate experience. Like a true RPG game, you can select different questions to aks the NPC. Reading all the text options gives you the back story. For WoW players this will seem very slow and annoying. “You mean I have to read the text! Just tell me which 10 foozles to kill/collect!”.

From there you’re directed to your first instanced dungeon experience. The starter dungeon teams you up with other NPCs who conduct you through a of walk through of the dungeon. The purpose it to get you acquainted with grouping mechanics and the nature of dungeons in the game. Overall, it’s a fun and satisfying experience. It’s not challenging, as it is effectively a tutorial.

One of DDOs interesting features is the Dungeon Master voice over. As you enter a dungeon, and proceed throughout you will hear a voice tell you “You notice a lever…” or “There is a strange shuffling noise ahead of you…” This is a classic nod to DM’s of yesteryear and adds to the overall atmosphere of the game.

During this first dungeon you’ll learn about combat, healing stones (waypoints where you regain health), basic group mechanics and traps, locks and puzzles. All in all a terrific introduction to the what DDO is about.

Following this you’ll enter Stormreach, the local town and quest hub. I started just after the F2P launch, so the place was packed with hundreds of players. From there you can gather some quests and jump straight into even more dungeons.

Right at the start you can select the level of difficulty of dungeons: from simple to expert. The simple “setting” is ideal for those attempting to solo. Expert content is great for those in groups. My advice: find a group, and the rewards will be better and the experience will be a lot more fun. DDO shines as a group experience. You can also run the same dungeon again, and again.

The quality of DDO’s dungeons, even in the very early stages is very high. Indeed, some of WoW’s later end game dungeons cannot compare with the variety and ingenuity of an average dungeon in DDO. You’ll be asked to solve puzzles, disarm traps and find secret doors. Because the combat mechanics are very different, each time you run a dungeon the experience will be very different.

There is a profound difference between DDO and WoW. DDO is a much slower experience – it’s less about levelling, and more about exploring dungeons.

However, I missed the feeling of being in open world with forests, skies, rivers and mountains in the background. Because most of the action takes place in instanced dungeons, DDO can feel a bit more claustrophobic than WoW. Like it’s pen and paper parent, DDO is all about dungeon crawling with less emphasis on the wider world. In WoW, you feel your travelling across a large and varied world.

Still, I’m impressed with my first foray into DDO.

Overall ratings

  • Artwork: 4/5
  • Quality of quests: 3/5
  • Enjoyment: 4/5

The point of difference: accessibility versus “challenge”

If I had to summarize the difference between the two is WoW’s accessibility versus DDO’s more traditional RPG focus. DDO is about building your character to compliment its group role. WoW allows you to create an avatar that can easily solo the entire game.

You can take your WoW Paladin into instanced dungeons or group to complete some of the quests, but that’s not really necessary. In DDO, you must group to get the best out of the game. The combat mechanics, emphasis on puzzle solving and grouping make DDO more challenging.

But DDO has a steeper learning curve than WoW, and it’s hard to beat Blizzards knack for making things accessible.

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