Posted Thu, Jun 28, 2012 by jeffprime
Turbine has really stepped up their game in the areas of graphics and sound with Menace of the Underdark. The music is emotive and varies from the tranquil melody when you're walking around Eveningstar to fast-paced percussion when major fights take place. The ambient sounds while you're in an adventure are well done, such as muffled screams in the background or growls of unseen creatures. Of particular note is the voice acting which occurs throughout the expansion. Whenever you find an exploration point, you'll hear narration from entities such as Elminster or a Drow priestess.
The graphics for this DDO expansion have been upgraded for DX10 and 11 and it shows. The foliage and water areas look amazing and you can see the tall grass swaying in the wind as you move through it. It's refreshing to see a color palette other than brown, which is the official color of Eberron. The Underdark looks like I always imagined it, full of dark passageways with only the glimmer of luminescent fungi to light the way. The Drow city of Sschindlyryn comes across as cruel and foreboding and captured the depraved elegance of the Drow. Perhaps my favorite effect is the Darkening, which occurs when you come across a large number of Drow on the surface. When they appear, the sky will darken so they can safely move about in the daylight and once you've dispatched them, the sky will slowly lighten until normal daylight is restored.
There are some other features in Menace of the Underdark that DDO players will want to take advantage of. First is the new Druid class, which players have been asking for since the game launched. This shapeshifting class stalks the realms with an animal companion and will probably be the most popular new class for some time. The level cap has been raised to 25, but I'm not going to go into that as that feature is free to everybody and not contingent on buying the expansion.
Epic Destinies are introduced in this expansion. These are essentially epic enhancements which can add new abilities to your character. There are four types of epic destinies: arcane, primal, martial, and divine. Players can learn more than one epic destiny, but you can only have one active at a time. However, you can use abilities from an inactive epic destiny if you unlock a twist of fate by spending fate points.
There is also a challenge pack available if players bought the standard edition or are VIP members. This pack contains five different challenges which are short scenarios that are usually completed in about ten minutes. They can range from arena combat to defense scenarios and have multiple levels of difficulty. They're a fun little diversion if you have a few minutes to kill in DDO and you want to pick up some xp.
There are some issues with Menace of the Underdark. First, some adventures have an incorrect level associated with it so players will find themselves with crappy chest loot and no xp for all their hard work. This situation can be quite the buzz-kill. Another issue is that some items do not show up on the map correctly such as certain vendors, which makes running around Eveningstar a necessity. Hopefully, Turbine will fix those problems quickly.
Issues aside, Menace of the Underdark is worth the price of purchase, especially if you're a long-time D&D player. The setting is well captured from its source material. I love the wilderness areas and the random encounter system found therein. The adventures are well constructed and strategy is more in play than just running forward, bashing everything in sight. Graphics and sound keep on improving with every update. A lot of familiar creatures make their DDO introduction and to see the size and scope of the dragons really screams D&D to me. Plus, there's evil Drow and Lolth to fight against. What more do ya want?
Now when is that Greyhawk expansion coming?