I’ve played Dungeons & Dragons Online since its early (rough) beta. With its click-to-swing combat and hand-crafted dungeons, DDO was unlike any other MMO I had played to date. Unfortunately, it didn’t make for a very good MMO.
At launch, the game didn’t have enough content to sustain you through all 10 levels, so you ended up repeating dungeons over and over again in order to advance. Add to this the fact that there was also an XP debt death penalty, and you had one grindtastic experience that caused many players, including myself, to completely lose interest in the game before ever reaching the level cap.
There was also the problem of grouping. The pen & paper version of D&D is by its very nature a group experience. In an effort to maintain this shared experience, Turbine made DDO solo-UNfriendly. In fact, it was downright impossible to complete any of the mid-level dungeons without a full group. Although I understand the developers’ intentions, I think they failed to fully appreciate human behavior in a virtual environment. Sure, it was possible to acquire a dedicated group of players, or guild, to adventure with. But people tend to honor their real-life game commitments more readily than their virtual ones. Trying to wrangle the schedules of 6 people on a regular basis to play an online game is no easy feat. This means that you must often resort to the dreaded PUG, which anyone who plays MMOs knows is like trying to play a game of basketball with a bunch of epileptic monkeys.
Finally realizing that the forced grouping was a detriment to the game, Turbine introduced the Hireling System. Now you can purchase NPCs, either in game or through the DDO store, to play through the dungeons with you. These hireling NPCs work similarly to pets in other MMOs. You can give them simple commands to react offensively or defensively to mobs, as well as cast spells or perform specific attacks. At least, that’s how they’re supposed to work, in theory.
I quickly discovered that controlling hirelings brought a whole new dimension to my DDO experience. I’m not good at pet management in any MMO. In fact, I avoid pet classes like the plague! Turbine advertises that each hireling has it’s own “distinct personality”. Yeah. That’s a fancy way of saying that their AI is more than a little screwy. I had clerics who refused to heal. Paladins who wouldn’t fight. And a fighter that would wade into battle completely oblivious to every trap in the room.
I’ve finally managed to learn how to control my hirelings (sort of), and even reached level 10 for the first time. Overall, the hireling system IS an improvement. But I still call my hirelings Team Retard.