The Underdark Revealed - A Look at DDO's New Expansion

Posted Mon, Jun 25, 2012 by Shayalyn

Dungeons & Dragons Online has undergone many changes since its launch six years ago, not the least of which is having become one of the first pay-to-play titles to successfully convert to free-to-play. But today Turbine took another huge leap forward, answering fans who have long been clamoring for a Forgotten Realms setting with DDO’s newest expansion, Menace of the Underdark. The expansion not only brings the Forgotten Realms to vivid life but is DDO’s biggest expansion to date. Last week, we embarked on a whirlwind tour, accompanied by DDO Producer, Fernando Paiz.

"This expansion is sort of like a players’ wish list of Things You’ve Always Wanted to See in DDO."

“We had two big requests from the moment we launched DDO six years ago,” Paiz told us. “The things we’ve heard most often are ‘When can we play the Forgotten Realms?’ followed by ‘When can we play the Druid class?’ This expansion is sort of like a players’ wish list of Things You’ve Always Wanted to See in DDO.”

Menace of the Underdark ushers in many new features and upgrades including the Druid class, a level cap increase to 25, the Epic Destinies system (check out our Epic Destinies preview for more details), a new public group option to help players automatically find groups, and an upgraded engine for better performance and visuals. There’s something for all players level 16 and up in the expansion. Although we’ve been fortunate enough to preview the expansion before, this time we were not only able to plumb the depths of the Underdark and take the Druid class for a quick spin, but we got an awe-inspiring glimpse of the Drow goddess, Lolth.

The expansion is the equivalent of about 4 of Turbine’s usual live updates. It includes four Challenge Packs around the town of Eveningstar and three large Adventure Packs, each with a large wilderness expanse and four or more quests as well as random encounters--mini quests, if you will--scattered throughout. (Paiz said that players could expect to come across four or five random encounters during their travels through the various areas.) The last of these areas, Demonweb, includes a 12-person raid against Lolth, the Demon Spider Queen. More on her in a moment.

The story arc in The Forgotten Realms begins at level 16, but it can also be soloed by a level 20, or played by a level 20 group as an Epic challenge. The different challenge levels allow for a wider variety of players to take advantage of the new content.

Menace of the Underdark Screenshot

The Druid in an elemental form.

The Druid

Although there wasn’t much time for actual playing, I was able to journey with the DDO devs as a Druid. The Druid offers powerful nature magic and shape shifting. My character was able to shape shift into wolf, bear and elemental forms. As you might expect, the elemental forms amplify elemental damage, the wolf form focuses on DPS, and the bear form specializes in tanking.

Druids can also call a wolf animal companion, which begins with them as a pup and levels into a full-grown wolf the player can equip with gear and customize as he sees fit. “Essentially,” said Paiz, “the pet is like a hireling that doesn’t count against your group count, so he’s very handy.”

New Places to See

Menace of the Underdark Screenshot Menace of the Underdark Screenshot

The King's Forest and the quest hub, Eveningstar.

I won’t linger long discussing some of the sights we were able to see in Cormyr: the vast outdoor woodland of The King’s Forest, the quest hub city of Eveningstar, the Underdark and Demonweb. I will mention, however, that the expansion brings some fantastic visual improvements to DDO, which take advantage of DX10 and DX11 technology--in short, everything looks great. It’s a richer, more colorful visual experience than the one I remember from my days in Eberron several years back.

Read on as we step into the gloom of the Underdark...

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