Updated Fri, Jan 02, 2009 by Ethec
Maj'Dul, a city built atop a high desert plateau by Dervish Cuthroats in the years since the Shattering, is a city beset with danger and intrigue. The mightiest factions wage war against each other for control of the city, dragons swoop down daily from their high mountain perches, and evil, twisted creatures lurk just outside the city gates. All this set in a gorgeous desert dreamscape with a full spectrum of vivid color and "Arabian Nights" themes.
PvE and Conquest in Maj Dul
Not only is every NPC in Maj'Dul attackable, but each is assigned to... get this... one of over 70 factions that you'll have to balance loyalties with. Each small faction is held in thrall by one of the three major factions (the Court of the Blade, the Court of Coin, and the Court of the Truth) vying for control of the city. Conquest is attained by capturing the towers around Maj Dul for your faction. Tight guilds that wish to get in on the fun should decide early on which court they'll ally with
Soloers and group-adept players of all level will find some exciting opportunities in the Maj'Dul arenas, though the arenas themselves are another aspect of the faction wars raging on the streets outside. Apparently the Derv city is something of a timocracy: policies are passed not by an assembly but by which faction proves themselves strongest in the arena. What these policies affect is something of a mystery at this point.
Players may compete in several different Quake 3-esque arena modes ("Destroy the Idol," "Deathmatch," and "Capture the Flag") as either your character or a "Champion" - a looted or bought gladiator of sorts that fights on your character's behalf. You can choose to compete against NPCs or other players, and as part of a group or by your lonesome. Given the popularity of the Splitpaw Saga arenas, it will be interesting how such an open ended approach to arena play will add to the expansion.
While vertical movement isn't a completely new thing for MMOs - "City of Heroes" pretty much wrote the book on it - the range of left-right movement available while splayed against and climbing a wall, and the ability to escape an encounter by doing so - is definitely something DoF will introduce to the fantasy MMO genre.
How you handle faction in Maj Dul will determine how safe it is to walk around in certain parts of town, and the retooled "Persona" window (with faction reporting) is there to let you know which areas you're going to have to avoid or fight your way through. While everyone, mobs and players alike, will be attackable in Maj'Dul- PK action isn't tolerated by the Sha'ir, the level 65 wizard-police who patrol the city perched atop speedy flying carpets.
With DoF, the level cap is raised from 50 to 60, so many high-level players starved for action aside from raids can now enjoy a rather steep ascension through DoF's 30+ vibrant, desert-themed zones to the next experience ceiling. Those players who've never seen a dragon will be treated to the spectacle of the "twin dragons" who frequent Maj'Dul, and players travelling in large groups or raid might be actively hunted and attacked by heroic and epic targets.
The vast new quest progression is said to change dynamically to fit your unique character's history, with half of the new content geared to soloers and small groups (including one quest by which any player can get a garden-variety flying carpet!). Finally, voice emotes may alleve a little of the "VoIP- versus text-chat" controversy so common in raid groups.
On Sept. 13th, all the previews and speculation will grind to a halt as the "Desert of Flames" expansion is released. All in all, as SOE writes the newest chapter in perhaps the most prolific endeavor in MMO history (with over 60 new zones and over 2,000 quests added since launch, not counting DoF), many gamers are a little tense at the prospect that the infamous "Combat Changes" will be presented simultaneously. Without a doubt, it will be interesting to see where this flying carpet of an expansion takes us!