DDO Update 16 Hands-On Preview

Turbine continues to add new Forgotten Realms content to Dungeons and Dragons Online with the upcoming Update 16: The Netherese Legacy. Not only do players get to adventure on behalf of the fabled Harpers, but a new druidic epic destiny is introduced: the Primal Avatar. Ten Ton Hammer got a hands-on preview of Update 16 from the Turbine team.

dungeons and dragons online update 16 preview

Turbine continues to add new Forgotten Realms content to Dungeons and Dragons Online with their upcoming Update 16: The Netherese Legacy. Forgotten Realms, the most popular setting for the pen-and-paper RPG, was introduced to DDO with the Menace of the Underdark expansion and then followed by Update 15: Song of Druid's Deep. The latest update to DDO continues to flesh out the world of Faerun. Ten Ton Hammer got a hands on preview of the new content with Amanda Grow, Head of Community, Ricardo Liu, Lead Content Designer, Erik Boyer, Senior Producer, and Athena Peters, Producer.

Update 16: The Netherese Legacy for DDO contains several items: a new adventure area, five new dungeons, and a new epic destiny called Primal Avatar that is especially useful for druids. What should get old time D&D players going is that the Harpers are the center of attention in this update. For the uninitiated, the Harpers are a pseudo-clandestine organization in the Forgotten Realms that seeks to oppose evil and work for balance in the realms. They're a loosely organized group whose members tend to operate singly or in small groups.

High Road of Shadows Adventure Pack

Foremost in Update 16 for DDO is the new adventure pack, the High Road of Shadows, that contains five adventures and a new wilderness area. These new adventures have a challenge rating of 24, so they're definitely geared towards the upper levels. The theme of the new adventure pack revolves around the players working for the Harpers attempting to keep a powerful scroll out of the hands of the evil minions of Netheril.

dungeons and dragons online update 16 preview
The King's Road.

A person named Oriphaun has in his possession a Nether Scroll, an extremely powerful magical item of forbidden power. Operatives of Netheril, an evil and magically powerful nation, are attempting to get the scroll and they pursue Oriphaun down the King's Road to do so. Unable to destroy the scroll, Oriphaun manages to divide the scroll into several pieces and hides them as he flees from the Netherese agents. The players, of course, are trying to stop the Netherese and find the pieces of the scroll.

The intrigue begins when the players enter the High Road, an area to the northwest geographically from the King's Forest. Players can go to the High Road area by transporting there from Eveningstar by clicking on a cart next to the King's Forest entrance. Adventurers will have to travel through the High Road area to get to the entrances of the five dungeons (adventures) in the new adventure pack.

The High Road is populated by lots of Netherese wizards and their mercenary sellswords. In addition, the Netherese wizards can summon shadows to aid them in combat. Most shadows can drain strength from the players, but the most powerful, usually encountered as bosses, can drain levels. The look of the High Road is similar to the King's Forest, but while the King's Forest is a preserve, the High Road is a settled area with a number of small villages. Its scale is similar to the Red Fens. Most of the villagers in the area are hiding or cowering with fear as the players explore the area. The Netherese invaders have completely cowed the local populace and are rampaging unchecked. The forces of Cormyr have been pulled away to deal with the Drow menace and other border tensions, leaving the local area unprotected.

dungeons and dragons online update 16 preview
The swamp where the players square off against a medusa.

DDO continues their use of random encounters in Update 16 by having them populate the King's Road wilderness area. Random encounters are a throwback to the pen-and-paper RPG and can spawn in different areas of the wilderness. Some random encounters can be very simple whilst others can be more complex. While running around, I stumbled across two. The first was to investigate an odd tree that spawned a horde of giant spiders to drop from the branches to attack me. The second was to defeat Theodas Riveron, the bandit king. Overall, I like the random encounter system as it does remind me of the tabletop game and also that it adds some variety while running around the wilderness.

There are five adventures in Update 16 for DDO and they are reached by traveling through the King's Road wilderness area. The adventures are:

  • A Stay at the Inn
  • Detour
  • Rest Stop
  • Stuck in the Swamp
  • The End of the Road

The first four adventures can be done in any order that the players wish. Once the first four have been completed, the fifth adventure, The End of the Road, will be unlocked. Once all five have been played, the players can play the five adventures in any order that they wish from then on.

dungeons and dragons online update 16 preview
The menacing locale of The End of the Road.

The Turbine team ran me through three of the adventures (A Stay at the Inn, Rest Stop, and The End of the Road) and I then go to spend some time by myself to explore the other two.

Rest Stop took place in an abandoned castle that is now being used as a resting place for adventuring parties as they travel. Inside the castle, the player will get to interact with members of two separate adventuring parties, learning of their squabbles, friendships, and other drama. The player will learn that they remember Oriphaun, but that he disappeared one night. Examining the area, the players will notice something odd about the fireplace, which has one of its torch sconces empty. The players will need to locate a torch and put it into the sconce. When done, the back wall of the fireplace will open and the players can progress deeper into the dungeon where they'll cross swords with the forces of Netheril. Enterprising players can also help a dying adventure by removing the bear trap from his leg, which can be used later in the dungeon. This quest also features a number of magical barriers that the players will need to find specific items to bypass.

My next sojourn was A Stay at the Inn, which takes place at an inn/tavern in one of the small settlements in the King's Road. This adventure had me looking through the guest rooms of the inn and then seeking a key in the inn's huge barn, all the while fighting the agents of Netheril. Umbral rats made their appearance here as the Netheril mages use them as guard dogs.

dungeons and dragons online update 16 preview
The fort where the final showdown takes place.

My last escorted expedition was the capstone dungeon, The End of the Road. Here the players have been told by the Harpers that the agents of Netheril have pieces of the scroll and have taken over a fort abandoned by the Purple Knights of Cormyr. The players must fight through a wilderness to reach the fort. Once they have reached the massive wooden fort, they will need to find their way inside the main structure.

Once inside the main structure, the adventurers will come across the wizards of Netheril disobeying their orders and deciding to put the scroll back together. Haven't they seen what happened to the nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark? Naturally something bad happens and a Glabrezu, an extremely powerful type of demon, appears. This leads to a three way fight between the players, the Netheril wizards, and the demon. The demon is particularly nasty and will knockback the players onto wooden stakes, causing them damage, and also summoning other demons to aid him. All in all, a very entertaining fight.

The other two adventures I played solo were Stuck in the Swamp, where you have to fight a medusa and her minions in a swamp, and Detour, where you have to escort an elderly Harper to a refuge. The Detour adventure was amusing as the elderly mage had a piece of the scroll and it would periodically summon a creature when it was jostled when he was hit during combat. Another interesting bit was fighting a powerful mercenary bard who would spout lyrical descriptions of the combat situation.

Players will definitely want to take a rogue with them during these adventures. There are a number of traps and a liberal use of spell wards by the Netherese wizards. One encounter in The End of the Road had the players fighting a horde of bad guys in an area full of spell wards that only affected the players. The adventures also feature the normal DDO fixtures of having optional objectives that the players can fulfill and different difficulty levels. Personally, I'm a fan of optional objectives as I tend to fully explore a dungeon. You can look for evidence of Netheril activities in Cormyr in The End of the Road or help trapped souls in Stuck in the Swamp to find peace.

dungeons and dragons online update 16 preview
A wizard of Netheril.

The look of Update 16 for DDO continues their post-Eberron look to the Forgotten Realms more lush, and greener!, palette. The visuals are very strong in this update. The King's Road has the softer, natural feel of the King's Forest, while the areas in Stuck in the Swamp and The End of the Road are extremely foreboding and menacing. The wooden fort in The End of the Road is very striking with it's large size and somber feel. I noticed that all the wizards of Netheril also had the emblem of Shar, their patron deity, on their robes and staffs. A nice touch for us D&D geeks.

The sound quality for the update is also high. Gone are the days of DDO when the standard DM voice tried to speak as different people during an adventure. The various voice-overs are now individually and professionally voiced, such as the various journal entries of Oriphaun that are found throughout the King's Road, providing background information of the area. The musical score is well done from the softer background themes to the more dynamic combat sections. Of particular note for me was the ambient noise of the King's Road itself. The noise of crickets chirping, the hooting of owls, and other sounds of nature made me want to sit on a rocking chair on my porch and drink some mint juleps. While not earth-shattering, it did get me in the groove of wilderness adventuring.

dungeons and dragons online update 16 preview
The Primal Avatar Epic Destiny.

Primal Avatar Epic Destiny

The next big addition to DDO in Update 16 is the new Primal Avatar epic destiny. This epic destiny is geared to druid players, but any class can take this epic destiny if the wish to do so. This epic destiny features stat gains in strength or wisdom, which are perfect for druids. There are a few abilities that are noteworthy in this epic destiny. The first is Dryad Elder, where the player can summon a dryad to fight alongside them. The second is Friends of Nature. This ability has the player being able to summon a small, woodland creature to add buffs to the party. These creatures can be killed in combat, but they do their best to avoid combat as they are quite scared of the monsters the players will be facing. The player will be able to summon different creatures, each with their own unique buffs. One of the Turbine team summoned a frog that added +3 to Jump and +2 Physical Resistance.

Probably the most interesting ability for the Primal Avatar epic destiny was Avatar of Nature. This ability allows the player to transform into a hulking swamp-being with enhanced unarmed melee damage and being able to knockdown foes. To shape-shift into this form, the player will need to build up Spirit. Once they've built enough up, they will be able to transform. However, Spirit depletes naturally. As the player's Spirit drops, the player's form will shrink in stature and strength. Overall, there are four stages to this transformation. What should really get players excited over this is that you don't need to be a druid to get this epic destiny. That means that any class in DDO can shape-shift into this powerful form if they pursue this epic destiny. The Primal Avatar epic destiny is free to players who already have access to epic destinies.

dungeons and dragons online update 16 preview
The Avatar of Nature.

Future Plans

One last tidbit that Turbine leaked to me was a hint about the upcoming winter festivities for DDO. It appears that the winter games that DDO players have enjoyed in Stormreach Harbor will also come to Eveningstar. No other details were given, so it will be interesting to see the winter landscape and festivities that will come to Eveningstar. Better pick up those halfling-sized long johns now!

Overall, Update 16: The Netherese Legacy is a solid addition to DDO. Long time D&D players will enjoy the introduction of the Harpers and the evil forces of Netheril to the game, further adding additional background and lore from the Forgotten Realms setting to DDO. The new adventure pack is well designed and adds my favorite thing, new content. The adventure pack is free to VIPs or available for purchase in the DDO store. Druids will be happy with the new epic destiny, as well as players who wish to add shape-shifting to their arsenal. The release date for the update is in mid-November. Now if only Turbine would start work on a Greyhawk expansion!

Our thanks to Turbine for giving us this hands-on preview of Update 16: The Netherese Legacy for DDO.

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