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 DDOÂs newest expansion, Menace of the Underdark. The expansion not only brings the Forgotten Realms to vivid life but is DDOÂs 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 playersÂ wish list of Things YouÂve Always Wanted to See in DDO."
ÂWe had two big requests from the moment we launched DDO six years ago,Â Paiz told us. ÂThe things weÂve heard most often are ÂWhen can we play the Forgotten Realms?Â followed by ÂWhen can we play the Druid class?Â This expansion is sort of like a playersÂ wish list of Things YouÂve Always Wanted to See in DDO.Â
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. ThereÂs something for all players level 16 and up in the expansion. Although weÂve 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 TurbineÂs 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.
Although there wasnÂt 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. ÂEssentially,Â said Paiz, Âthe pet is like a hireling that doesnÂt count against your group count, so heÂs very handy.Â
New Places to See
I wonÂt linger long discussing some of the sights we were able to see in Cormyr: the vast outdoor woodland of The KingÂs 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. ItÂs 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...
Venturing Into the Underdark
After visiting the lush, wooded locales we headed for the Drow underworld, the Underdark.
ÂTrue to its name,Â Paiz said, ÂThe Underdark is...quite dark. ItÂs a huge underground space--the largest dungeon weÂve ever put in DDO, if we can call it that.Â
The Underdark is vast and has a strong vertical element. Looking over the edge of the cliffs we were winding along we could see below us the distance we had already traveled. While peering into the gloom below, I experienced vertigo and slipped right off the edge of the cliff (at least thatÂs my story; I may have been capturing screenshots and not really looking where I was going). Paiz laughed and said, ÂThatÂs not uncommon, and not entirely unintentional. ThatÂs part of the way it works in here in The Underdark. Gravity is strange here.Â
Although the Underdark is, you know, dark, MalchorÂs Undersun Goggles (provided to players upon reaching the Underdark) provide some light and reveal hidden enemies by making them glow red.
On the course of our journey through the Underdark, we encountered an enormous red dragon, Micahrastir. We decided that we werenÂt a coordinated enough adventuring party to take on the task of prodding him awake and stealing his treasure, but the dragon woke anyhow and wanted to play. (Even the devs I was traveling with were surprised by some of the tricks he had up his mythical sleeve.) Paiz mentioned that there would be other dragons to encounter in The Forgotten Realms, as well.
Before departing our tour of The Forgotten Realms, we entered The Demonweb, LolthÂs domain. Although we had limited time and couldnÂt play through the raid in its entirety, we did (through the magic of dev travel), get a visit from Lolth, the final encounter of The DemonwebÂs 12-person raid. Take a look at the screenshots below for a look at LolthÂs spectral image as well as the Spider Queen herself.
Before we ended our adventure, Paiz informed us of a nifty bonus for players who want to get their friends back into Dungeons & Dragons Online: the ability to level up any friend whoÂs played DDO in the last four years to level 16, the necessary level for exploring Menace of the Underdark content, for free. This ability comes with the purchase of the expansion pack.
If youÂve been longing to see The Forgotten Realms, Menace of the Underdark launches today, delivering familiar and well loved settings and characters along with tons of new (yet familiar) places to explore, characters to meet, and adventures to face.