DDO's Update 20 - A Tour with the Devs
Turbine continues to push Dungeons & Dragons Online deeper into the Forgotten Realms setting, but manages to keep one foot firmly rooted back in good ol' Eberron. Update 20, due out on November 12 adds two new free dungeons - one in Forgotten Realms, one in Eberron - and revamps the Hall of Heroes and the Reincarnation system, making it easier to partake in both campaign settings.
We got a guided tour of the new content, lead by Senior Producer Eric Boyer, Systems Designer John Cataldo, Senior Content Designer Charles Miles, Community Manager Jerry Snook and Turbine's irrepressible Manager of Digital Communications, Leo Tan.
A Study In Sable
Our first stop was in the Forgotten Realms, the setting for A Study In Sable. This is a CR 26 dungeon that plays out like a dinner theatre murder mystery, only with more violent swordplay on the part of the dinner guests. Like the very best murder mysteries, this one takes place inside a sprawling mansion populated by bizarre and suspicious houseguests.
It quickly becomes apparent that the real culprit here is a vampire, and that several of the guests are his thralls. The player explores the mansion interviewing guests, determining whether or not they are thralls of the vampire lord, and the guests reveal clues - unlocking new areas, indicating where secret doors may be found and other juicy tidbits. Some of the guests can be saved from this hellish existence - one guest, for example, can be saved by distracting him with a complex puzzle, with which he becomes completely absorbed.
In the end, the player will encounter the genuinely scary vampire lord, Lord Sable, in his crypt, surrounded by any guests that were not saved earlier. The boss vampire needs to be weakened before he is susceptible to damage, which requires letting sunlight into the dark room by smashing pillars supporting the roof. Give him the gift of true death!
Brothers of the Forge
The second part of the tour focused on the Brothers of the Forge, a CR 28 dungeon in the Eberron setting, and the continuing trials and tribulations of Talbron Tewn, the Warforged sorcerer. Talbron will be familiar to most players who first encountered him in Korthos, and now he is seeking the fate of his long-lost "brother," Gorrin. To find out what happened to his fellow Warforged, you must travel to Cannith Training Facility No. 14, a foundry where Warforged are trained in the arts of combat and where they become living machines of death and destruction.
Obviously, the place is crawling with dangerous automatons, and the player is tasked with locating and using training patterns to fight the Warforged throughout the facility, and eventually with unraveling the story of what happened to Gorrin back in the day. Apparently, the brothers of this particular forge lived the Warforged version of Animal House.
According to the Turbine team, both of these dungeons are F2P - there has been some confusion about that, but, according to Eric Boyer, "Both of these dungeons are free, so VIP and Premium players can access these any time for no purchase." When asked to clarify later, he repeated, "Both of the quests are free."
Hall of Heroes
The Hall of Heroes, the final stop on the tour, is the central hub between the Forgotten Realms and Eberron campaign settings. But we weren't here to admire the statues - the major attraction here is the access to the Reincarnation chamber. Reincarnation is a way to completely re-roll a character from scratch, but with benefits based on the character's "past life." A level 20 Fighter, for example, could undergo a True Reincarnation to re-roll as a level 1 Wizard, with access to unique feats and additional points for the character's build. This has been expanded to include Epic characters over level 20, and now includes the Iconic characters introduced with the Shadowfell Conspiracy expansion.
Speaking to the Life Shaper in the Reincarnation Chamber opens up new UI which makes the whole Reincarnation process faster and easier. This replaces the previous all-dialogue Reincarnation system, and was built in response to player feedback.
Epic Reincarnation requires the character to be level 28, and the process takes the character back to level 20 - not level 1 like the Heroic Reincarnations - and Iconic Reincarnation will take the character from 28 back to level 15. These transformations, like all Reincarnations, require and consume a Heart of Wood of the appropriate type, which is available through gameplay as loot drops, or as a convenience item from the DDO Store.
Characters reinvented by way of Epic Reincarnation will gain new feats for their level 1 character, depending on the old character's Karma. For example, a Fighter character reincarnating to something new will have Karma in the Martial Epic Destiny, giving him access to one of the three new Past Life feats from the Martial sphere for his new reincarnation. A Cleric would have Karma in the Divine sphere, and would have a different set of three options for the reincarnation.
Also making its way into the game is the Eldritch Knight enhancement tree for Sorcerers and Wizards. This adds some melee capability to the squishy caster classes, giving them some survivability during close-quarters fights, or when the blue bar runs low. The Eldritch Knight enhancement tree adds a number of melee attacks, combining physical weapon damage and magical damage, and makes casters a lot tougher when the combat range closes in.
There was a controversy surrounding the acquisition of Hearts of Wood, which resulted in a large sit-in protest by the players. Turbine is aware of how players feel about the situation, and when asked how they plan to address it, Eric Boyer provided the answer.
"We had initially proposed removing the Heroic-level Heart of Wood from the level 20 epic quest, and requiring you to run a series of quests repeatedly in order to earn the item that you would then trade in. So there were two things that we had to address for this: one, that players have been accustomed to earning the True Heart of Wood over this last year, and the difficulty level we had for achieving it, and the quests themselves, so instead of putting that resistance to change out there and forcing it on players, we decided to leave that because it really was a pretty harmless change. We were just trying to consolidate how you would earn the Hearts of Wood and keep it as one system, but we recognized that it was a bit of an upset in the way people have been playing the game, especially those that are repeatedly running the 1 - 20 game loop and TR-ing multiple times on one character or a few times on several characters. So we've left that alone, that was one thing. And the other was to make a wider variety of quests available to play in order to earn the combinations that would get you the Epic and Iconic Hearts of Wood. In that beta period on Lamannia, we essentially redesigned the system based on player feedback to meet the demands that they were asking."
In other words, Heroic Reincarnation will remain basically the same, but Epic and Iconic Reincarnations will have more options for earning the needed Hearts of Wood.
Update 20 goes live on November 12.