Dungeons & Dragons Online has always held a special place in my heart. I have been playing MMOG since Ultima Online, but I have been playing Dungeons & Dragons since the early 80’s. So when DDO was announced I was one of the first people to sign up for their forums. I was extremely involved in the community, helping establish a large IRC chat channel dedicated to the game that was often frequented by the developers. I was lucky enough to be one of the first alpha testers allowed to play the game, and even got the chance to play with Dave Arneson, Co-Creator of Dungeons & Dragons. The entire team at Turbine has always been a class act and very hands on with the community, to the extent that I had on several occasions received emails from the CEO at the time asking about my opinions on the game. The dedication of the team amazed me, and still does to this date.
DDO was also what launched my career as a writer (if you can call an obsession that costs more than it pays a career). A smart editor saw how he could turn my obsession about the game into money for mere peanuts. So it was really quite heartbreaking when I realized that DDO was not going to be able to keep many subscribers, myself included, from leaving to play other games. The quests were well designed and original, but there were simply not enough to keep me entertained for 30+ hours a week month after month.
When DDO announced they were going Free to Play with a microtransaction system, I had renewed hope in Turbine. It seemed like the perfect fit, DDO is well suited for the system, and I have found myself playing more and more of late (which means spending way to many points in the DDO store).
While at PAX East this year, we got the chance to see a preview of the new content with Update 4. It grabbed my attention immediately when the new monsters they showed were better than zombies (and it’s hard to beat zombies), and better than pirates. They were zombie pirates! That’s right zombie pirates! I knew I had to get my hands on the new quests and take them through their paces. So I suckered, I mean I convinced my editor, to let me review the new content. Once he agreed, I grabbed fellow writer Jeffprime, hired a few NPC henchmen and headed out to kick some zombie pirate ass.
Update 4 gives players a new Adventure Pack called the Sentinels of Stormreach available for levels 6 through 8 and also available for level 20 characters on Epic difficulty. The pack is made up of 5 new quests where players are tasked with helping House Deneith prevent a pirate hoard from attacking Stormreach. The missions are straightforward and take about 20 to 45 minutes to finish each one.
The quests start you off taking out a hidden pirate market called, "The Blood Bazaar", appropriately enough named, where the pirates sell their stolen goods. You then have to find the necromancer that has been raising dead pirates (making them zombie pirates) and put an end to this evil (evil, but I must admit smart and resourceful) menace. After which you get to invade the pirate stronghold to determine how the pirates have managed to get spies into House Deneith, and this is followed up by the final encounter as the pirate captain invades House Deneith personally.
Gameplay - 95 / 100
There are two features in DDO that are simply outstanding and should be incorporated into every MMOG ever made.
Best traps ever
The first of those are the traps. Turbine does traps better than anyone out there. From floors dropping out from under you, boulders dropping on top of your head or fire shooting from the walls as you are ambushed by waiting monsters. DDO will make you say, “Oh shit,” more than any other MMOG out there. Their traps are truly superb, and in Sentinels of Stormreach, they haven’t dropped the ball. There are plenty of fire traps and buzz saws of death that come spinning out of nowhere that you will need to stay on your toes; or you will find you and your group releasing to try it again and again if you are not careful. There are several traps and ambushes that had Jeffprime and me swearing at each other over who messed up and caused a wipe. You feel you accomplished something when you survive some of the traps waiting for you.
The second thing DDO does better than anyone is their hireling system. It’s one of those things that some die hard MMOG fans won’t like, but I find it incredibly useful. Between working full time, raising a family, and writing for Ten Ton Hammer, my time in game is precious to me. I simply don’t have the time to sit around for an hour trying to get a group together to run a dungeon. With Sentinels of Stormreach, Jeffprime and I logged into the game, I asked if anyone else was looking to run the Adventure Pack, and after 5 minutes of waiting, I just grabbed a few hirelings from the DDO Store and we were ready to go. Sure they were not as competent as other players would have been, but they did well enough that we were able to tackle the entire quest chain on our own.
Sentinels of Stormreach use these innovations to their fullest and gives players even more. The dungeons are well laid out and varied. As you travel from a pirate market place, to an underground lair with a pirate ship, to the gates of House Deneith itself, Turbine keeps it fresh from quest to quest. You won't find yourself saying, "I'm bored." or "how many caves can we see?" The environment, monsters and strategies needed to win change constantly. I never once looked at my XP bar to see how I was doing, the content was engrossing enough to keep me going. I didn’t play to level, I played for the content. It’s hard to ask for more than that from an MMOG.
The boss fights are really the only reason the score isn’t higher. While they were interesting and unique, they were far too short. After fighting your way all the way through a dungeon you expect a boss fight to take a couple of minutes to resolve. Especially when you are fighting cool mobs such as a kobold riding on the shoulders of a minotaur, much like Master Blaster from, "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome". Most boss fights were over within 30 seconds. While they were still fun, this was a bit of a let down after working so hard to get there.
Graphics - 87 / 100
New pirate ship
The graphics are on par with other content in DDO, which is to say, well done. What is nice about Sentinels is that you can see the new assets that were added to the game. From the new water elementals, to the pirate ships and Blood Bazaar, Turbine didn’t just take old assets and arrange them in a new way.
Sound - 82 / 100
The sounds and music are well done and functional. Much as I have come to expect from Turbine. The real jewel in Sentinels of Stormreach is the humor. From the zombies that remember what it was like to have pants without holes in them, or bugbears that promise when they kill you they will raise you from the dead, just to kill you again. The humor written in the Adventure Pack had us laughing out loud. It would be nice to see actual voices given to the monsters, but it is still well done and entertaining.
Value - 97 / 100
The price for Sentinels of Stormreach is currently 450 DDO points, or about $7. This is without a doubt an exceptional deal. 7 bucks for 5 new dungeons is a no brainer. In case you missed it earlier, that's 5 quests that have zombie pirates, great traps, and lots of different environments. That's not to mention the cool new water elementals, and seeing a kobold ride a minotaur. While you can knock out the new content in a few hours, you have to appreciate that Turbine didn't just throw a bunch of old content up with a new mob or two. They put some real work into this one, and for $7 it's a steal.
A real treasure hoard
It must also be noted that the treasure room alone is worth buying the Adventure Pack. Your not hearing things, I said, "treasure room." You can't have a pirate horde without pirate treasure can you? These pirates have apparently done very well for themselves. No mere chest for these swashbucklers, they have an entire room of gold, gems, and magic items laying around. It was an added bonus that instead of everything sitting in the chest, you actually got to go around the room looting all the different treasure piles.
Lasting Appeal - 90 / 100
The quests are fun and well designed, that in and of itself will be enough reason to play through it a few times. Where they really hook you at though is in the different choices you get to make. Late in the quest chain you are provided for 3 different approach paths you can take to assault the pirates. You will find yourself replaying it again and again to pick the different paths and see which is better. All told I have run through Sentinels of Stormreach 5 times now. That's 5 times for $7.
Turbine has done an excellent job with Sentinels of Stormreach. It's nice to see a game company that continues adding content for all levels of play, not just end game. You can quickly level a new character to 6 in a few days and jump into this Adventure Pack, and with the difficulty system you can play it at higher levels as well. It is entertaining, well designed, and reasonably priced. Can anyone ask for more than that?
Overall 89/100 - Great
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