Sep 202010
 

I have gradually come to the conclusion that DDO is no longer a Role Playing Game (RPG). I am not sure what it has become instead: a racing game? A fighting game? A social network?

I am not even certain this is a bad thing, although I suspect so. Later I will introduce some ideas that might change this state, assuming change is desired.

  • Five ideas about items
  • Four ideas about experience points
  • Two thoughts regarding content
  • Two ideas that advance the player position rather than the character*

*And thank you to guild mate Yvonne for providing half of the player position ideas.

This is going to get pretty long. Hang on, here we go.

Definitions: End Game

The present DDO end game consists of:

  • Epic questing for Epic loot
  • The most difficult and rewarding raid, currently Tower of Despair (and perhaps the Black Abbot?)
  • Epic version of the latest content release, currently update 6

There hasn’t been a lot of pressure for Turbine to revamp the end game, or even to pay much attention to it, as the stream of F2P players has been a larger and more profitable focus area. But now even the casual F2P players are starting to enter the end game: this issue is going to become more and more critical to player retention, word of mouth/viral appeal, and one would assume, to profitability?

Definitions: RPG

According to Wikipedia*, an RPG is a game in which “players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting. Players take responsibility for acting out these roles within a narrative, either through literal acting, or through a process of structured decision-making or character development”

* I acknowledge that Wikipedia is hardly the authoritative source for any definition, but it doesn’t require a credit card and that will have to be authoritative enough

Refining this concept, computerized role-playing games (CRPG) are defined as subgenres of video games but with origins in pen-and-paper RPGs. Again consulting Wikipedia: “The player in RPGs controls one or several adventuring party members fulfilling one or many quests. The major similarities with pen-and-paper games involve developed story-telling and narrative elements, player character development, complexity, as well as replayability and immersion.”

It is possible to derive criteria from these entries and apply them to determine if the DDO end game is indeed an RPG or a CRPG.

Attribute DDO?

Player acting No, one cannot realistically role play running the same content endlessly *
Structured decision-making No, although this applies the first time a quest is learned it does not apply to repeat runs
Character development No, characters at end game are capped and no longer develop
Story telling and narrative No, repeating content prevents encountering any new story or narrative
Replayability Yes
Immersion Yes and no, very subjective and dependant on player opinion

* One could come up with a heavily-contrived time-traveling scenario (or maybe alternate realities?) and role play the metagaming too, but otherwise this is a non-starter

The end game of DDO passes only one of five objective criteria. I posit that disqualifies the end game from consideration as an RPG or CRPG.

Character Development

This is the one criterion that I expect may draw disagreement (assuming that anyone reads any of this at all). “But wait” I can hear you say, “you do advance your character. You get better magic items!”

What is character development? In literature or media, it is the gradual exposure of a character’s core being to the reader/consumer. In an RPG, it is a gradual increase in character ability and capability and a matching increase in the challenges facing the character. Neither of these occur in DDO end game. Consider:

  • Out of the 50-60 epic magic items introduced so far, all but a handful are inferior to non-epic magic items that are likely already acquired
  • The most accessible of these items (VONs, update 5 and 6) are those that are the least advanced
  • Even for those few items that are advances, they do not allow the character to oppose a greater and more appropriate challenge. They can at best make it easier to rerun the exact same content

Empirical Evidence

I had six characters capped at 16 and four of them moved into the end game when DDO went F2P. In fact it is the one-year anniversary of F2P that got me started down this thought path.

* The ultimate Groundhog Day scenario, Mawry’s capabilities rise and fall with each lifespan, but her overall capability has not advanced at all in the last year. I do not believe the TR cycle even counts as end game.

I have 35 epic quest tokens, 10 epic raid tokens, 30 Shavarath trophies, and have several epic item sets (item/scroll/seal/shard). None of my characters want any of the epic items I can make, I have zero ToD rings, and I’ve advanced these characters not even one millimeter in the last year.

Compare this to the event a couple of weeks ago when I capped the monk/wizard and earned Abundant Step. It was so exciting I had to write an article about it.

That was a perfect illustration of what I have been missing the last year. An entirely new capability earned at great difficulty but completely worth every erg of effort. Or in other words, it felt like an RPG again.

If DDO is not an RPG, What is It Then?

For some of us it is a racing game. We rush through the quest as fast as we possibly can, accumulating kills or ingredients or quest completions as we go.

For some of us it is a fighting game. We unlock combos and acquire power-ups designed to maximize DPS or PvP prowess.

For some of us it is an investment game. We guess what is hot now, or will be hot, invest and try to maximize return on our investment. Or we mine chests, hoping they yield an item that is salable.

Some of us are playing Barbie. We dress up our characters in some outfit or another, buy them haircuts, and try to collect the right equipment and accessories to go with our new Barbie Townhouse/Guild Airship. *

* I apologize if this sounds snarky. Just to set the record straight, by this definition I am spending a lot of time playing Barbie too.

For many of us – and I suspect I really mean most of us – it has become a social occasion, a way to interact with people we’ve known for months or years, and the game itself is secondary; we could as well be playing bridge.

Interesting? Sure. Fun? Usually. Roleplaying game? No, not at all.

What Do We Do About It?

Up until now I have been discussing facts that I can back up with argument and/or evidence. But now I am leaving the world of facts and entering pure speculation. Time has shown Turbine to be highly creative and far more capable of generating solutions than I. Yet the lure of creative problem solving is irresistable. But there are constraints:

  • Assumption: It would be better if the DDO end game still functioned like an RPG
  • Assumption: It will never be possible to produce content as fast as we can play it

Given these assumptions, one may advance ideas that are intended to bring DDO back in line with RPG concepts: leveling, character development, etc., while keeping the ideas possible. Generally speaking, impossible ideas are less helpful.

Epic Item Changes

These ideas work towards increasing the “epicness” of epic items while at the same time making it possible to target a specific epic item and eventually acquire it. This assumes that the reasonable acquisition of truly epic items counts as character advancement: I am not certain it does, but it seems like it ought to be part of the larger solution.

A combination of these would be ideal; attempting to implement all of them could be bad:

  1. Add another augmentation slot to almost every epic item
  2. And/Or globally reduce the capabilities of non-epic items that are already stronger than their epic equivalent
  3. Give all epic quests a 20th completion end reward (as raids have today), and put the seals/shards/scrolls from that quest in that list
  4. And/Or Add epic vendors that sell seals/shards/scrolls for (a lot of!) epic tokens
  5. And/Or Remove the binding from seals and shards so they can be traded

Example: if greensteel did not advance the damage die of each weapon, the only way to get a 2d8 maul would be to get an epic version. I could choose to target the Epic Hammer of Life and have a reasonably assured chance of acquiring it in 20 (or so) VON runs.

I understand the implications of having my greensteel nerfed. No one said this would be easy.

Experience Changes

These ideas work towards increasing character development possibilities by restoring experience points and level advancement. As with the epic item suggestions, it would likely be a bad idea to try implementing them all.

  1. Add epic character levels based on the simple epic level model from 3rd edition D&D
  2. Raise the level cap
  3. Raise the level cap but not the class level cap – now I can make a fighter 20 / cleric 20 (but not a fighter 21)
  4. Reduce the XP penalty for multiple TRs

Of these I strongly prefer epic levels. It is really hard to earn an epic level (and much much harder to earn a second one, etc.), and you only get one Epic Spell or Feat for doing so. Of course that one spell or feat is very powerful 🙂

Raising the level cap is a temporary fix. It is difficult to code, and there would need to be content appropriate to the new levels, and in six months or a year Turbine would have to do it again. Also there aren’t any higher level spells in the D&D source material. Yet, it would be awesome for the players if there was a way to do it: it has to be part of the discussion.

Allowing multi-classing over the level cap may be easier to fit into the existing game. Not easy, just easier. And it puts off the level cap question for a long time, especially if levels above 20 continue to increase in XP costs at the rate they do up until 20. Imagine how much level 59-60 will cost!

Finally, I think reducing the XP penalty for TR might make the Completionist path more attractive to more people, although I remain dubious that it counts as end game.

Content

Releasing low-level content but including an epic version was genius, it let Turbine address both player bases at the same time with one set of content. Is it enough?

End game content is by definition high-level content, something that is apparently difficult to justify in business terms. Consider that it has been nearly two years since we last received a new raid, finally we are getting one in Update 7, yet it is not new (it is reworked Devil Assault) and it not high level (is for 6th level characters).

Running the same limited high-level content will never feel like character advancement. This discussion must include a discussion of content to have any validity whatsoever.

  1. New, epic-only content
  2. Player-generated content

Epic-only levels would feel like advancement. Gaining access to new content is indeed a new capability, especially if it is difficult to unlock, for instance if it could only be purchased with epic tokens. I have no idea how to make this business case to Turbine, it is (apparently) a very expensive proposition.

Player-generated content is rife with exploitation possibilities. A common answer to this issue is to prevent characters from rejoining the main game once they’ve entered player content. Applying that approach in DDO would remove player-generated content from the end game discussion altogether. Some form of QA/Moderation/Approval process seems a requirement, and that sounds expensive too. Can QA/Approval be crowdsourced?

Without a continuous stream of new high-level content, I and others will continue to feel that we have already “beaten” the game. When you’ve beaten the game, you eventually get tired of the replays and move onto something new.

Player Advancement Changes

These ideas attempt to re-inject RPG into DDO by allowing those with capped characters to advance their Player Position rather than their individual characters.

  1. Allow us to retire characters as demigod hirelings
  2. Allow us to earn XP after level 20 that can be spent in the DDO Store

If I could create a pool of custom epic hirelings that are available only to me (or maybe to my guild, or maybe under exceptional circumstances available to anyone), my Player Position improves even if none of my individual characters improve. That would feel like advancement. Many more details about this idea are available in this thread.

My guildie Yvonne came up with the idea of earning XP over level 20 but having it only apply to DDO store purchases. Sort of an alternative favor? I like it, there are DDO store purchases that improve characters and even more that improve the Player Position. It would feel like tangible advancement again.

Final Summary

  • The existing end game is more of a social gathering than it is a role-playing game, and for some of us, is really not very much fun
  • The F2P players, even the casual ones, are reaching end game now too. This issue (if you agree that this IS an issue) will become more paramount and not less
  • Correcting this will not be a simple change, and is likely to require multiple new capabilities and also reductions to some of our existing capabilities. No one idea is going to step up and solve this
  • Suggested improvements include changes to existing epic items and how they are disbursed, changes to XP and levels, changes to content, and a dash of entirely new ideas as well

Thank you to anyone who had the (fortitude? misfortune? way too much time on their hands) to read this entire missive.

  6 Responses to “At end game, DDO is not a role-playing game”

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  1. I always wondered why people seem to be eager to reach the so called “end game”.
    Is that endless grind that fun?

    People tend to blaze through the low and mid levels, skipping as much content as possible and repeating the same “XP efficient” quests over and over, in order to join the boring grind as soon as possible.

    In my own, very personal, humble and difficult to understand opinion, before changing the “end game” (and I like some of your ideas) I’d like to see improvements to the rest of the game.

    Apart from character acting, what makes an RPG? Stats, dice rolls, skills and the need of overcoming tough situations using what you have at best.
    DDO probably lacks almost all of these, also because of the “big numbers syndrome”.

    E.g.: to-hit bonus is meaningless when either you can hit rolling a 2 or can’t hit rolling a 19. Both cases are VERY common. They probably shouldn’t be.
    And don’t get me started on blanket immunities! 😀

    Also what about the whole “overcoming tough obstacles” concept? People just run through elite traps and laugh at it, zerg past 50 enemies then kill them all with a single Wall of Fire, and so on.

    Good post here, but I would apply that to the whole game.

  2. I would argue the the ‘Barbie’ playing as you describe it, is actually part of the RPG aspects.

    I have many guildies with quirks which are often part of roleplaying. Although these may be player quirks as much or more than character quirks.

    * Some examples are breaking most every box in every quest and going out of one’s way to pick up collectables (and being excited about them).
    *Another guildy almost immediately drinks every potion of wonder found – and I almost got him to break out of combet to run back for one last week.
    *Another guildy almost always plays halflings.
    *I play toons that mostly don’t have vowels in thier names.
    *I play strangely built toons.

    I would argue that many types of static groups coutn more as RP-ing. Either PermaDeath or possibly G.I.M.P. groups/guilds.

  3. You seem to be coming from the preconceived notion that the most important part of the game starts at level 20…..if that were the case we should all just start at level 20 and let the fun begin there.

    Sarcasm aside, RPG is entirely possible through L1-L20. At L20 you retire and join The Twelve and start over again. The issue is the games original base does not scale well beyond L16 let alone L20. When you have a 200k HP monster then roleplaying has already left the building. At L20 the game should be nearing the end for any character as currently designed. The only problem with this game is that the credits never roll (there is no money in that).

    RPG could cre creep to Level “21”…”22″….”23″ as content is added. If and only if Turbine starts adding real content at that level.

  4. @JP: believe me I did not rush to the endgame, quite the opposite, I have 14 characters on one server (and others elsewhere) and like to play all of them. Yet, given enough time, everyone gets there eventually…

    @Jeffrey I don’t think anyone in permadeath or G.I.M.P. is at the end game (and p.s. what an awesome name you have!)

    @spoon: The argument here is NOT that the game begins at 20, it is that it all but ends at 20. And I don’t want it to end 🙂

  5. I know what you mean – just getting my first to L20 (hopefully today) and will cap shortly. But its obvious to me that Epic is a poor implementation as it is in place now and was never really meant to be. As such expecting RPG improvments at this point is kind of a cart before the horse issue.

    Epic as it is now is more of a response to those capped characters screaming for content than any planned well thought out expansion of the game.

    Everything has to end somewhere thus my comment that the credits have to roll sometime. After the credits roll you start your next character and enjoy it all again. 30 times through and it may be health to move on. Just my opinion tho.

What do you think?

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