DDO Menace of the Underdark Review
Dungeon and Dragons Online has launched their first true expansion, Menace of the Underdark. Players will now be able to adventure in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, D&D's most popular setting ever. However, there is more to the expansion than just questing in Faerun, such as the introduction of the druid class, epic levels, and epic destinies. Is buying the Menace of the Underdark expansion for DDO worth the price? Read on and find out!
It is a safe bet to say that players have been waiting for years to be able to play in Faerun as that the Forgotten Realms is the land and lore most commonly associated with D&D. While I first cut my role-playing teeth in Greyhawk (I've been playing D&D since 1981), the majority of my various characters' exploits have occurred in the detailed lands of the Forgotten Realms. When DDO was first launched, I was initially dismayed by having Eberron serve as the campaign setting for DDO, but it eventually grew on me. However, I have always hankered to adventure in the setting that I knew so well and had played for decades in. With the release of Menace of the Underdark, I can now do so and face fierce foes such as the Drow in their naturally evil and sadistic state. Let's examine various aspects of DDO's Menace of the Underdark to see how well the expansion stacks up.
Setting and Gameplay
The Menace of the Underdark expansion focuses on the players' struggles against the vile and evil Lolth, chief deity of the Drow. All the action focuses around the town of Eveningstar, located in the kingdom of Cormyr. To get to Eveningstar, players must first travel from Eberron through the rift opened from the Web of Chaos adventure pack from Update 13. From the rift, players will travel through the Demonweb (where they will meet the most famous person in Faerun, Elminster) to the Underdark and then to Eveningstar.
When players purchase Menace of the Underdark, they get three adventure packs that are set in the Forgotten Realms setting: the King's Forest, the Underdark, and the Demonweb. Each of these adventure packs has their own wilderness area and several adventures. The wilderness areas are huge compared to the wilderness areas we're normally used to in DDO. You can literally spend hours walking around investigating them thoroughly. The King's Forest, in particular, is enormous and the Underdark has a good variety of differing heights and maze-like paths. Make sure you have a feather falling piece of gear equipped in cause you step off a ledge in the Underdark as you will probably fall for some time.
One of the biggest changes to occur in Menace of the Underdark is random encounters, which is a throwback to the original pen-and-paper game. Rare encounters are no longer locked in one single spot but may occur in various areas of the wilderness. These encounters are not necessarily the usual defeat the named creature scenario, but can include other interactions such as skill checks. Certain events can also trigger an event, such as killing woodland creatures in the King's Forest could result in dryads spawning and attacking you. I really like this system as it adds some nice randomness and variety to your explorations, and as a rogue, I love to show off my skills.
Since I play mainly as a rogue, I was interested to see the new traps in Menace of the Underdark such as bear traps and spell wards. If you come across bear traps, keep an eye out for dire bears as you can be sure a pack of them are hanging around. Be warned that the creatures and adventures in this expansion are challenging. I went into my first few adventures prepared to kick ass and take names and found myself fleeing for my life. Most of the adventures can be soloed, but it's always best to have some friends. Preferably, friends who run slower than you!
There are a lot of new monsters in the new expansion which will be familiar to long time D&D players. Dryads, werewolves, purple worms, dretches, dire bears, and more populate the land to challenge the players. The biggest additions, literally, are the dragons who are now truly to scale in all their glory. My initial foray into the King's Forest found my group stumbling across a purple worm and seeing the massive height of the beast really amped up our enjoyment of the fight.
Of course, the Drow take center stage in Menace of the Underdark in all their vile evilness. These are the Drow that I'm used to where stumbling across a Drow raiding party was always certain to wipe that smile off your face. In my group's first encounter with the Drow, I had a nerdgasm when the Drow I was fighting whipped out his hand crossbow and shot me with it. (To the unitiated, the hand crossbow is synonymous with the Drow from 1st and 2nd edition D&D.)
A new creature type makes its introduction in this expansion. the controller. These range from necromancers to slavemasters. These controllers have absolute control over other creatures and you'll need to take them out first in a fight. The longer they stay in the fight, the more problems they create so kill them quickly.
Sights and Sounds
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.
Other Gameplay Aspects
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?