ZAM takes a look at DDO's newest expansion pack!
Turbine is releasing the latest expansion for Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO) this week with Menace of the Underdark. We had first been told of the expansion and its setting with the last content update, update 13, but this time we had a walkthrough with Executive Producer Fernando Paiz and a chance to view a lot of the content that is to be released on Monday. Interested in seeing what surprises await players in the Forgotten Realms? Read on!
“As you’re logging in you may have noticed that your character has a new background in the load screen, and there is a new orchestral score for the game that we’ve recorded just for this expansion,” Fernando began as we logged into the character selection and loading screens. “Characters that log out in the Forgotten Realms will see a new background for their avatars than those in Eberron. This is the biggest release we’ve ever done for DDO, bigger than the free-to-play release or any of our live updates.”
“The big features I want to highlight are first, the druid class. Druids are the last core Dungeons & Dragons class from the old pen and paper rules. They are very versatile casters; they have a full complement of healing spells like the cleric, and they also have a nice suite of nature-themed and elemental magic.” As Fernando spoke about the druid spells, one of my fellow GM guides showed off some spells that overran the ground with flowers and vines.
“Druids also have an animal companion. For DDO, we’ve given everybody a wolf that they can take with them and customize. The wolf is a little bit like the artificer pet released last year. At level 1, you’ll start with a little wolf pup, and as you progress you can customize your wolf pup, name him, and choose certain enhancements or gear to equip on him. Lastly, druids can shapeshift. They are our first-ever shapeshifting class. They have an ability called Wild Shape that lets them assume a different form. There are currently three different lines of Wild Shape: the wolf line (regular wolf and winter wolf); the bear line (normal bear and dire bear); and the elemental form (fire and water elemental forms). The elemental forms enhance different magical abilities, so a water elemental will have improved magic potency for all ice and water-based spells. The elemental forms are about enhancing your natural magic; the wolf forms are about dealing melee damage; and the bear forms are about taking a lot of damage and being a tank for your group. “
From the druid spells, Fernando went on to explain the new leveling concept found in Menace of the Underdark. “The other thing players are excited about is the level cap increase to level 25. If you hit Ctrl E, the “Epic Destinies” UI opens. This is an all new leveling system for high-level players. In the D&D rules, levels get a little bit funny past level 20. Usually past level 20 you get a heroic character and that’s sort of the end of your natural progression, and then you go into something called epic levels, which we have never done before. The character will gain levels and epic feats, but, instead of doing the ranks of advancement like we did for the heroic levels, we added this new system of epic destinies. From level 20 onward, players will be advancing two things in tandem: one is their epic levels, and the second is their epic destiny. As you make your way through the game you can keep leveling up one particular destiny, or you can decide that you want to try a different destiny.”
Fernando described the map view of the Epic Destinies UI. The destinies are arranged into 4 destiny spheres; these are like the domains for different types of abilities. There are marshal, arcane, divine, and primal spheres; all of the destinies fit into one of these spheres, and all players will start in one of them depending upon which heroic class they have most leveled in. A fighter would begin with one of the three destinies in the marshal sphere, for example. As you complete destinies, you will begin unlocking paths to neighboring destinies, which eventually connect to other spheres. Eventually, a character can unlock all the destinies on their epic character.
“As you level up multiple destinies you will earn Fate Points, which can be used to purchase “Twists of Fate.” These will enable you to slot some of your current non-destiny abilities so that they can still be used with your current destiny. Each of these destinies are like little prestige classes. DDO has always had as one of its great strengths the diversity of character customization; we let you multiclass three different heroic classes from level 1 to 20. This new system will let you layer on any of these destinies on top of any of your heroic levels and keep up to three twists of fate from other destinies on as well. It provides nearly countless possibilities of character build that can be applied on top of everything that we already have from heroic character builds. We expect that by the time a player hits 25, they will have had time to level two destinies more or less to the top of their tree (level 6). So destinies actually level a good bit faster than the epic levels.”
With all these features pointed out, Fernando led me directly into the story behind the expansion, and the new areas we’d see. I’ve tried to include many screenshots to display the areas and enemies talked about below.
Update 13 culminated in a fight with the Spinner of Shadows, which was Lolth’s incarnation in the world of Eberron. We’re back in the same room where we fought her, but it looks very different now. The rift that was opened by Lolth at the end of that experience has grown and has begun to consume the majority of this room. Lolth’s home domain of the Demonweb has begun to consume this part of Eberron. So as we start to adventure, we are actually in the Demonweb. There is a gatekeeper who says that there is nothing they can really do to fight the rift… and since we players were brave enough to fight the Spinner, perhaps we’ll be brave enough to survive inside the rift?
So this is the way players will go from Eberron to the Forgotten Realms. Going through the Demonweb we will eventually emerge in the Underdark, the underworld of the Forgotten Realms. Early on, players will meet a high-level creature that will tear you apart before level 25. Luckily, an ally appears: Elminster, a famous character in the lore of the Forgotten Realms. Elminster is brought to life in the game through the voice-acting, as he tells us about the Spinner of Shadows as Lolth has been causing all sorts of troubles for the people near his home in the land of Cormyr. The followers of Lolth are the Drow of the Underdark. While she is from the Demonweb, she is worshipped by the Drow. Elminster sends players through a passage that will lead them to Eveningstar.
The Demonweb environment is one of three major new types of environments released in Menace of the Underdark: we both start here and end here. Players will return at level 25 to fight Lolth. We also ran into some Dretch, a class demon enemy from the Forgotten Realms.
After leaving the Demonweb, players emerge in a cavern in the Underdark controlled by the War Wizards and Purple Dragon Knights of Cormyr. The cavern leads to the town of Eveningstar. The area around the town shows evidence of technology upgrades done by Turbine. Eveningstar is the new home base in Cormyr, and the campaign will extend out of the town, introducing new storylines, quests, enemies, and factions as content is regularly churned out with live updates going forward. The first live update will come in just about two months. Heading to the nearby gates brings players to the King’s Forest.