Dungeons and Dragons embraces Free to Play model

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Today, Wizards of the Coast announced that the next version of Dungeons and Dragons (officially called DND5e, unofficially DND Next) will be free to play. Sorta. In a way, Wizards has embraced the Free to Play model a lot of MMOs use. In these MMOs, you can usually play a base class to a given level cap but to go beyond a level, or play different classes, you need to pay.

On July 15th (ish) along with the Starter Edition, Wizard will release a free PDF that’s basically the rules you need to play and the base classes (cleric, fighter, rogue, wizard) to level 20. If you want to play what they call an advanced class (Barbarian, Druid, Paladin, etc.) you will need to buy the Players Handbook which comes out a month later. The Basic Rules also have most of the equipment and some monster info so DMs can get their campaign up and running.

I think this is a great idea and also gets around the big problem I have with the 5E release: the timing. When 4E launched, I could by a nice little boxed set with the core rules. This time, they are staggering the Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and DMs guides by roughly a month each.

The other reason I think this is a great idea is it gets people to play and try out the new version of DND for free. I think 5E is far superior to 4E for reasons I’ll cover in a future post. Basically. 4E was a vey complex system. My character sheet was usually 7 pages long and half the skills were a reaction that required some type of event to trigger it. The fifth edition feels more like the 2nd edition, which was my favorite edition.

 

 

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World of Warcraft Cataclysm Review

Azeroth is sundered! A dormant dragon awakens. A colony of dwarves lose their ancestral home and need a hobbit to get it back — oh wait, sorry, wrong fantasy series. While Cataclysm ($39.99) is World of Warcraft’s third expansion, the overall changes to the world make this more like WoW 2.0, or, at the least WoW 1.5. What’s nice is a lot of the changes will be available to all current subscribers, even if you don’t buy the expansion.

What You Get For Free

As part of the — wait for it — Cataclysmic event that sundered Azeroth, almost every area in the game has seen its geography change; the only unchanged areas are the ones from the previous two expansions. An ancient dragon, Deathwing, has risen from within the world, and his hatching effected something similar to the movie 2012, only with better acting.

Blizzard has also learned from past mistakes and greatly streamlined leveling your character. Previous quests involved a gigantic amount of running around for little reward; now the quest hubs are gathered closer together and the game does a much better job at guiding you along your path.

New Starting Areas

Blizzard has introduced two new races: the Worgen (a lyncanthropic race) and the Goblins (short little green men with a love of explosives). Each race receives their own new starting area for new characters, complete with new and improved beginner quest mechanics. Each starting area takes about 5-6 hours to complete before you can enter the main game.

Of the two new areas, I enjoyed the Goblin one the best. Blizzard does well when it lets its irreverence and sense of humor shine, and the Goblin area is lighthearted, fun, and full of explosives. The Worgen area is much more serious. You’re cursed to become a lycan and during the starting experience you’re fighting to take back your city. Which would you rather do: watch the game fight a huge battle for you (your involvement in this epic event is limited), or roast zombies on a pair of rocket boots? I’m going with rocket boots, every time.

The Worgen area also shows an odd lack of polish by Blizzard’s standards.  Usually when there’s an epic battle at the end of a quest line, the game shows a “next battle in 10 minutes” popup so you know you should hang around for a few, or maybe see what the baby has been crying about all this time. There isn’t one in the last battle for the Worgens, and it’s easy to get thoroughly confused about what you need to do.

Raised Level Cap and New High-Level Areas

Cataclysm raises the level cap from 80 to 85, and it’s a much shorter journey to max level than in previous expansions. We were seeing “server first” announcements for level 85s less than 24 hours into the expansion launch, and even with my slow-paced leveling my character was 85 in less than a week. Previous expansions took me several months to reach max level. Frankly, I wasn’t upset at how quickly it happened. I enjoy the game more without the need to grind out levels, and taking new characters through the revamped zones is keeping me occupied.

There are roughly seven new zones in Cataclysm, a slight reduction in the number of new areas usually included in a new expansion. I found two particularly notable: Vashj’ir is an entirely underwater area, and Uldum is basically the plot of the three Indiana Jones movies rolled into one quest line. In Uldum, Blizzard again shows its sense of humor, and it’s my favorite of the new areas.

One drawback to the new areas, though, is how Blizzard has phased the zones. In Wrath of the Lich King, the previous expansion, Blizzard introduced phasing as a way of having your adventure area change as you completed quests. A town might be intact during one part, but destroyed later on in the story.With Wrath, the phasing was limited to a couple of high-end zones. In Cataclysm, it’s much more prevalent. Unfortunately, if you’re not on the exact same point in the story as a friend, you won’t be able to play with them. A friend of mine and I were “out of phase” and it was simply because I had accepted two more quests than she had. As a result, Cataclysm is likely to feel a lot more like a single-player game than an MMO at times.

Playing Well With the Mac

Blizzard has always released its products simultaneously for Mac (s aapl) and Windows(s msft), and Cataclysm is no different. Since it’s a native build and not a port using Cider, it runs very well on the Mac. I played through the entire expansion using a mid-2009 13-inch MacBook Pro with the Nvidia (s nvda) 9400M chip, and even with that anemic graphics processor it ran very well. I experienced no crashes or unusual hangups, although the main cities can drag your frame rates down.

Verdict

I like that rather than tack on more “previously undiscovered” zones to the game, Cataclysm focuses on the continents that launched six years ago. Other MMOs (I’m looking at you, EverQuest) have added so many new areas, that it becomes a little ridiculous. The hard mode in Cataclysm dungeons, called Heroics, are indeed fairly hard and require more player skill to complete than players will be used to — Wrath’s Heroics were fairly tame and a lot of us got lazy.

Highs: Big changes to the WoW game world, for all players.

Lows: Phasing takes quite a bit of the multiplayer out of this MMO.

If you’ve got a character that can take advantage of the new high-level zones, Cataclysm is a lot of fun. But even if you’re not a current subscriber, this is one of the best times to start playing. With the revamped low-level requiring only an active subscription, and with lots of old players creating new characters, there’s a ton of new people running around to play with, which is the point after all.

Guild Wars and MMO review cycles

I wrapped the *Guild Wars: Eye of the North* review this weekend. While I can’t comment on what’s in the review it did make me think about MMO reviews in general.

MMOs are a huge time sink—it’s in their nature and I don’t have a problem with that. The goal is too keep you playing, even a non-subscription game like *Guild Wars*. Finishing a review, though, gives me an odd form of closure; when I’m done with the review, I’m done with the game. *LOTRO*? Loved it. Only logged in once or twice after the review. Same thing with *Auto Assault*. When I wrapped the *Burning Crusade* review it was a few months before I logged into *WoW*—and was a combination of it running on my MacBook, an awesome guild, and the ability to get something done in an hour or so.

The industry is either shoving games out the door so fast you can’t think straight or they aren’t putting any out. It is not unusual for me to have reviews stacked up like planes at O’Hare National. January had *Burning Crusade* and *Vanguard* back-to-back and *LOTRO* wasn’t far behind. Usually when I do 2-3 MMO reviews in a row, I get burned out on them for a bit and by the time the urge strikes to play one again, well, heck, there’s another one that needs to be reviewed. So, as much as I loved the game during the review, the cycle the dictates I’m likely to not to do much with it afterwards. Even though I live in the world of Fun Tax Deductions keeping a lot of subscriptions going isn’t feasible (yay for companies that comp press!).

*Guild Wars* has always straddled that line. It’s free and, thus, well clear of the Anger Spouse With More Fees issue. But, it’s hit the Closure rule where I finish the review but make a note that I need to finish up a few things when the urge strikes—clear off some side quests, etc.. Which is where I’m at now. I’ve beaten *EotN*, but there’s a bunch of content I didn’t see. There’s bits from the older chapters I haven’t seen either. I’d like to think I’ll follow up in a month or so and cross them off my list. Since one of the driving forces on playing old games is if it’s something I’ll need for a future review, and *EotN* is the last of the *Guild Wars* line, I doubt I will. Besides, *Tabula Rasa* ships in a month…