Updated Sat, Apr 07, 2012 by Ethec
Menace of the Underdark, the expansion that will bring Dungeon and Dragons Online into the Forgotten Realms setting, is headed to beta just short of two months from today. At PAX East 2012, Executive Producer Fernando Paiz and Senior Producer Erik Boyer offered the PAX-attending press a first look at this summer’s world-changing Dungeons & Dragons Online expansion.
The preview kicked off where Update 13 leaves us, with Eberron Lolth defeated, the true aspect of Lolth looming, and a mysterious portal opened to the Demon Web, the abyss between worlds. Eerie purple hues, thick webbing, and translucent walkways wound through the Demon Web, what Fernando called “the start and end of our expansion.”
The first link in the chain from Eberron to the Underdark and finally to Eveningstar, the player hub on the Faerun side, the Demon Web is infested with Lolth’s underlings, the most powerful of which we saw were the terrifying priestesses of Lolth, scores of Driders (a cross between spider, human, and centaurs – a transformation formerly used as a punishment, Fernando explained, but now taking Lolth’s previous form is accorded as an honor), and a hulking, demonic minotaur known to D&D players as a goristo.
Turbine is keeping the Underdark under their pointy hats for the moment, so we moved straight to Eveningstar. Because placeholders pervaded the city, we weren’t allowed to film, but Turbine promises you the first of many video looks inside Menace of the Underdark in about a month. Placeholders aside, Faerun looks refreshingly verdant after Eberron’s greys and browns.
Fernando pointed out a few nice technical touches: wheat fields are disturbed in natural and believable waves as players move through, and Fernando mentioned using the moving platforms introduced in Update 11 throughout the expansion as well. Eveningstar is the spot where you’ll first meet Elminster, the other signature character (apart from Lolth) to be introduced in Menace of the Underdark. (No, Drizzt won’t make it in this time, though Fernando says you can’t count the popular Drow pariah out in the future.)
While the Menace of the Underdark expansion will include a few feature refinements – auto-grouping, levels in the enhancement system, and an achievement-driven Monster Manual for newer players to name three – the main draw is scads of new content. Most DDO updates include three to five dungeons and one wilderness area. The Menace of the Underdark expansion will contain three large adventure packs (each with their own wilderness and public areas), plus a challenge pack and a raid. These wilderness areas are forested, as you might expect, but will include variations on the arboreal theme, such as a drow decimated area, a sparsely wooded highlands area, and a forested wetlands area.
In the wetlands area, Eric ran into the first green dragon we’ve seen in DDO. Fernando noted that Turbine intends to deliver a lot more dragons (green and red, in particular) into the MMO auspiciously titled Dungeons and Dragons Online, and to do so, they’ve made dragons in a way that certain features are customizable from dragon to dragon. Specifically, the color, face, size, and name of the dragon could be changed by Turbine’s designers. As we watched, Eric drew Urklauth into the relative safety of a culvert where the poisonous dragon couldn’t follow.
Other beasties players might find in the forests of Faerun include the Dryads, the impish Dretch, the half dark-elf Dragoloth, and the Purple Worm. The dryads are part of nature’s unfocused rebellion against the drow incursion, and are highly sociable creatures that flee to the treetops when wounded. Players will have to shake the tree to finish off these creatures. The Purple Worm, on the other hand, is a fearsome creature despite it’s innocuous name. A Tremors-like man swallower, Purple Worms are huge and can burrow.
As for the environment apart from the creatures, Turbine is also trying a new approach with the new wilderness areas: Faerun will be a contiguous space, even while retaining DDO’s trademark instanced areas. Eveningstar proper leads to a forest area, for example, but once you cross the boundary you can look back and see Eveningstar on the other side of the gate.
Random encounters represents another new concept for wilderness areas that Fernando directly attributes to pen and paper gaming. Erik ran into a lost villager who was really a hag in disguise, and killing her kicked off a quest to eliminate a drow raiding party. The entire sequence might not have happened if the “lost villager” hadn’t been in the same place, or had simply been just a genuinely lost villager. That’s a small example of the randomness Eric and his team are building into the Menace of the Underdark wilderness areas.
The drow raiding party Eric ran into demonstrated a new effect reminiscent of the Globe of Darkness this race enjoys in D&D lore. By sacrificing a captive, the dark elves clothed the entire area in a curtain of darkness, which in practical terms limited Eric’s range of vision to just a few feet.
The effect was abrupt but not alarming – the UI didn’t disappear and feint outlines of the nearest enemies were visible - but this effect still might be a severe handicap as players enter the expansion. That said, every race will be able to unlock dark vision sooner or later - just how soon you’ll have this ability depends on your race and other choices.
Players won’t have to buy Menace of the Underdark to gain access to the Druid, and we were able to confirm several popular spells for DDO’s newest class. Storm of Vengeance created a thunderhead above as lightning scorched the enemy. Ice Storm had “placeholder” effects, but nonetheless rained down tinkling chunks of ice on the target. Two other effects – Contagion and Earthquake - had descriptive text, but no graphical effects just yet.
In addition to a robust set of abilities (which include healing effects too, not just the damage spells mentioned above) and pets that they’ll raise from pups, Druids will be able to take the form of three beings: a wolf (melee DPS), a bear (tank), and an elemental (ranged DPS). Each form has two sub-forms: wolf and winter wolf, bear and dire bear, and fire elemental and ice elemental. Each subform adds and removes special abilities or traits found in the other sub-form or forms.
Our thanks to Turbine’s Fernando Paiz and Erik Boyer for a first look at DDO’s Menace of the Underdark expansion, coming into the light on June 25th