Any title with a Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) license faces the challenge of staying true to the original game without losing the playability that most gamers want. While DDO: Stormreach still has several rough edges, Turbine has done a good job of combining the two.
Despite some rules being sacrificed to gameplay, DDO:Stormreach plays a lot like a classic pen-and-paper session. Experience points are only doled out for mission completion rather than kills or actions, and you get a specific amount of points to spend on character stats (rather than rolling them), but this helps to keep the overall game balanced and fair.
Level design is very good, with plenty of variety, and elements that make putting together a well-rounded party essential - let's just say there will always be a slot for a rogue - and you won't find any of the repetitive "grinding" for XP that other MMORPGs are famous for.
But the problem with being faithful to the D&D group-based model is particularly apparent when you're an Aussie player. Unless you have a reliable group of mates, finding a party that's not only looking for your character type or level, but also wants to run the next mission on your list can be a time-consuming and frustrating affair when you're not logged on at the same time as the rest of the world. If you could play solo, then this would matter less, but the dungeons are simply too hard (and sometimes impossible) to complete on your own - unless your character is ranked significantly higher than the target level of the mission (in which case your XP handout is significantly reduced).
Once you're in, though, DDO: Stormreach is great fun. The party chat feature can be both a blessing and a curse, allowing more effective direction and communication, but also exposing you to the random comments of younger players, which can ruin the experience slightly. Graphically, it's superb with great animation, plenty of variation in character types and equipment, and a level of detail that you rarely get from other MMORPGs. The music and ambient audio is also pretty good, though it can get a little repetitive. You're not entirely confined to the city environs, either, with marauding missions available outside the city gates.
Given the complexity of the game rules, Turbine has tried to provide assistance to the newcomer, but it's still a pretty steep learning curve - originally, the game would quite happily let you spend all your cash on equipment that your character couldn't even use, though this should have been patched by the time you read this.
Overall, DDO: Stormreach can be a lot of fun, with plenty to keep you occupied as you make your way to the Level 10 limit (and more on the way), but there's no point in going it alone, so you need to have your mates around you.
Verdict: A level of depth, detail and involvement that you just don't get from other MMORPGs, but the party-based D&D model can cause problems if you can't find a team to play with.
Score: 4 out of 5 stars
Price: $89.95 + $US14.99/month