We jumped in for a guided tour in Dungeons & Dragons Online's first expansion pack in six years: Menace of the Underdark
A month back during PAX East, I got the opportunity to interview Turbine's Fernando Paiz on Dungeons & Dragons Online's Menace of the Underdark (MotU) expansion, set to launch June 25th, 2012. Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance for some hands-on experience with the content so, when guided developer tours were being set up, I made sure to get in line. Joining me for this particular tour was DDO's Senior Producer Eric Boyer, as well as Design Director Ian Currie, so read on for my first experiences with DDO's Menace of the Underdark!
We started off our tour in Eberron, where our first task was to chase the Spinner of Shadows through the Demonweb as she scrambled to join her "sister:" the famous Forgotten Realms deity Lolth. Of course, making the jump from the Eberron campaign setting to the Forgotten Realms campaign setting also brings some major thematic changes, as Eberron tends to be more focused on steampunk and industry, while the Forgotten Realms are more about traditional high-fantasy settings like the lush King's Forest, the quaint village of Eveningstar, and the menacing caverns of the Underdark (see what I did there?). Nothing hammered this dichotomy home faster than making our way from the grimy city of Stormreach to end up in the beautiful and verdant King's Forest.
As we snuck through the Demonweb and past the roaming drow of the Underdark, Eric noted that our initial pass through was designed to be more about introducing players to the setting. In the final stages of Menace of the Underdark, players will be making a full circle; returning to the Demonweb in full force to take on Lolth herself as a hero of the Forgotten Realms. For now, however, we flitted through these zones to get to the King's Forest and the village of Eveningstar, where we would begin our real introduction to the Forgotten Realms setting.
I realize I've said this multiple times before, but the graphical additions to DDO for Menace of the Underdark are really quite spectacular. As the closed beta was taking place during my tour, several players mistook my character for a member of the development team, and almost all of the messages I received were praises for the game's new environments. Trees sway in the wind (according to Eric, they even shake when it rains), and watching the grass bend away according to my movement was delightful. The Forgotten Realms are also being designed with a more "open" feel to them, and the environments certainly feel larger and more connected than Eberron's heavily instance-based setting.
Moving through the town of Eveningstar to the forest, we managed to engage a group of raiding drow in combat. Since the drow in the Forgotten Realms are weakened by daylight, when they venture to the surface they bring a "darkening" spell, which brings about near instant nightfall in combat. Watching night come at alarmingly sped up rates makes for some epic encounters, although I wonder what sort of headaches it will bring in multiple encounters with the drow.
Later on, as we jumped through the King's Forest to the Underdark, Eric introduced "dark vision," an ability being introduced in Menace of the Underdark that allows players to see their enemies clearly in the darkness. Initially, the dark vision ability was intended to be a soft gate for later content (as in players would need it at some point to progress), but Eric noted that it's now seen as more of a tactical choice, with players toggling it to pick out their enemies in the dark (baddies are now highlighted in red at the cost of the environment taking on a very "washed out" look).
One of the final new additions coming in Menace of the Underdark is the new form of character progression: Epic Destinies. In general terms, epic destinies are a form of alternate advancement for DDO players, as players will gain both class levels (up to the new level cap of 25) and destiny levels while venturing through the Forgotten Realms. In terms of actual progression content, there is a significant amount of class development that can be made with destinies, as after gaining three to four levels in one destiny, a player will then unlock nearby destinies that can be leveled up thereafter. While only one destiny can be selected at a time, players can also unlock "twists of fate," that allow them to use up to three cross-destiny abilities. So, if your perfect build utilizes destinies that are far away from each other on the chart (see above), you're in for a lot of leveling!
Ultimately, DDO's Menace of the Underdark is a demonstration of what a great expansion looks like. With a new character development system being added with Epic Destinies, the introduction of a celebrated IP in the Forgotten Realms, along with a new class (Druids) and much more, there doesn't seem to be a better time than now (well, technically on June 25th with the launch of MotU, but you'll need to get to an appropriate level to access the expansion content!) to jump into Dungeons & Dragons Online.
Chris "Pwyff" Tom, Editor-in-Chief