Dungeons & Dragons Online has had some strange detours over the course of its long life. Recently, with the Menace of the Underdark expansion, one of the biggest detours took the game into the Forgotten Realms, and shifted a great deal of the game's focus onto the Drow and the Drizzts and the Underdark. Update 17 will see the focus swing back into Eberron - specifically, the region of Gianthold. We got a hands-on tour of Gianthold courtesy of Turbine's production staff, including Athena Peters (Producer), Eric Boyer (Senior Producer), Ben Schneider (Senior Content Designer) and Leo Tan (Digital Communications Manager).
Gianthold has been around for a good long as a wilderness adventure area - a volcanic wasteland leveled some time ago by a magical explosion, and the battleground in a war between giants and dragons. The Ruins of Gianthold adventure pack is for level 10 - 18, with most quests in the level 13 - 14 range. Update 17 gives this area a bit of a rework, ramping up the content to the epic levels and replacing the end raid with a brand new one. Players who already have the Gianthold adventure pack will have automatic access to the content.
"This is something for our dedicated players," the team explained. The epic-level content updates to Gianthold are a major part of Update 17, and will appeal more to the long-term player who has reached epic levels and now wants more stuff to do. The update is more than just one area, however, and the less-hardcore are not forgotten. One major revision coming with it adds augment gems and augmentable weapons to regular treasure, starting as early as level 8 and available up to the epic levels.
"Loot is one of the all-important things in DDO," explained Eric Boyer, DDO's Senior Producer. The team hopes that adding these augment items to regular loot makes the system more accessible. Formerly, augment slots and gems were raid-only items that required expensive ingredients to make and use, but Update 17 adds them to regular loot tables. Lower-level players will be able to find augment gems and weapons with augment slots in regular dungeons.
The primary focus of the playsession, however, was on Gianthold and the cool new stuff there. The Wilderness area sees the battle between the defending giants and the attacking dragons rage on unabated. In the epic version of the Gianthold wilderness, dragons can be seen swooping around in the skies overhead, something players don't see at level 13. But, with a name like Gianthold, there's a clear focus on the defenders.
"We want to give players a dose and a half of giants," Eric said, explaining that the area uses a new random encounter system to generate enemy mobs. The area is huge, and players have a chance to randomly stumble across epic dragons or groups of confused giants defending their wasteland. Most of the enemies we encountered on our own excursion were of the giant variety - huge, rock-hurling brutes that rise out of the very ground and spam knock-downs and trip attacks, or flame-bearded Fire Giants with massive burning swords, or even the occasional troll.
But even the larger groups of trip-happy giants are pretty tame compared to the rare dragon encounters. They can be encountered sleeping near chests, with an automatically-bestowed quest popping up urging the player to try to open the chest without waking the slumbering beast - a task easier said than done. Or they might be encountered near a heap of dead giant bodies, swooping in with an aerial bombardment just when you realize there is a loot chest underneath that pile of bodies. Be sure to bring a tough group here, and be certain that the group contains at least one healer.
Explorers of the wilderness area will be rewarded by finding totem-like lore items left behind by the generals of the giant-dragon war here - Stormreaver and the Truthful One. Clicking on the giant-skulls-on-pikes or the tree-trunk-sized swords opens up an ongoing narrative of the battle from both sides.
Additionally, the team is updating the in-game Monster Manual with a third installment, so completionists will want to hunt one of everything for that.
If you are wondering why there were so many Turbine staffers on call for this playsession, be assured that there is a good reason. The new epic raid, The Fall of Truth, requires a big group. Once we were done noodling around in the wilderness area, Producer Athena Peters put the call out, and several more Turbine staffers joined the party to show off their new raid.
This raid is a major showdown between Stormreaver, the meaglomaniacal Storm Giant boss, and the Truthful One, a powerful dracolich that has been manipulating the dragons in the area for a long time. Though he has been working behind the scenes for the past six years, this is the first time the Truthful One makes an actual appearance in the game. And he does manage to make a grand entrance worthy of the wait.
The raid is a two-boss arena-style fight with a mechanic that requires both bosses to be taken down within ten seconds of one another. To complicate matters further, there are groups of paired lesser giants and dragons thrown into the mix as well, making the whole scene chaotic and crazy. The fight requires a well-coordinated and experienced team, and a choreographed and orderly execution. The Turbine crew did exactly that while I ran around the room getting screenies.
The Fall of Truth has gotten a lot of positive response from the DDO community already - there's even a (currently) 3-page forum thread petitioning for its designer to get a pay increase. It is challenging and engaging and not just raw player punishment, and any type of character will find something to do here.
Update 17 is scheduled to launch sometime in February. Let us know what you're most looking forward to from this giant update in our comments!