Every few months, the folks at Turbine get ready to roll out another content update, or module, for Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO). When this happens they call upon a small group of people in the games media to take a tour of what they’ve been working on. This time, as last time, I represented MMORPG.com on this trek through the continent of Xen’drik and the new content of Module 8: Prisoners of Prophecy.
We started by looking at the latest revamp of the starting area for new players. This is the second time that the DDO team has gone back to the beginning and done a complete makeover of the new player experience, and this time the changes are more drastic. Players start off on a once tropical island somewhere off the coast near Stormreach. The island has become besieged by a rather large white dragon who has altered the tropical climate to resemble the frozen lands where it’s kind normally dwell. The dragon is also the device that brings new players to this area, as it has taken to turning passing ships, on their way to Stormreach, into shipwrecks. As a survivor of one such wreck, you’re soon recruited to help stop this menace. You join up with some NPCs and they show you how to interact with the world, navigate it’s dungeons, and take care of pesky dragons.
Each time Turbine decides to redo the starting area they come up with something better than they had done before. The first starting area turned me off of the game entirely the first time I played, and while the second area was a marked improvement, this is the best one they’ve done thus far. When DDO launched, a common complaint was that there were no dragons to encounter. They added dragons in early modules, but now you get to face one early on, adding to the feeling that your character is a hero not just a professional kobold hunter. All in all, the higher level tone and content of the area helps to get players into the game with more of a bang.
If you'd like to know more, back in August we spoke to Dungeons and Dragons Online Senior Producer Kate Paiz about the new player experience and changes to character creation, and have a few informative videos that may be of interest.
Another new feature that helps players get into the game more easily is the new hireling system. D&D is generally built around a party of characters, but in video games a lot of people enjoy going solo. To fill the gap between playing styles, they have added a new hireling system. Players can now hire some help from a list of predefined hirelings at a local vendor. You simply purchase a one hour contract from the vendor and use the contract to summon your hireling when needed.
Each hireling is about as tough as a player of a similar level, so they can keep up with you or your party, and fill in any roles that may be missing. If your party is missing a heavy damage dealer, why not hire Kern Killer-of-All, the barbarian. Or, if you’re a fighter who typically goes it alone, why not hire one of several available clerics. There should be one or two that aren’t offensive to your character’s gods. Beyond filling a missing role in the party, hirelings can also perform useful duties like setting off traps, or picking up your soul stone when you go down. Hirelings also have soul stones of their own, and can be brought back in the same manner as a player character. Hirelings come fully loaded with their own distinct personalities. The clerics all pray to different gods, and the barbarian Kern Killer-of-All is harder to control than the others, as barbarians typically have a hard time listening when the blades come.
There will still be a few things that hirelings can’t do like human run members of the party. One notable task is that hirelings can’t swim. If you’re headed to a watery dungeon, they won’t be able to follow you from one patch of dry land to another. Fortunately, if you really need them, you can always re-summon them when you get your feet on land again. There are also a few classes that will be left out of the hireling roster, at least for now. Rogues and arcane spell casters won’t be available for hire when Module 8 goes live. The reason for this is that they still need to work out a few kinks in the behavior of these characters. The kink being that these classes “don’t appreciate how squishy they are at high level,” and tend to get themselves killed a little too quickly.
A new starting area and hirelings aren’t the only features coming in Module 8. The module comes loaded with 10 new low level dungeons and four new high level dungeons (some of which are randomized for replayability), four wilderness areas to explore, and several live events planned for the first few weeks after launch. The new dungeons also include new mini-raid style dungeons designed for six players, which looks to add the fun of a raid without the hassle of large scale organization. These dungeons also contain a number of traps and puzzles to figure out; one of the hallmarks of a DDO dungeon. There were bridges to be crossed with precise timing or a steam vent would send you flying, teleportation mazes, and treasure chests in the middle of break away floors or thin ice. The DDO team had a lot of fun with vertical spaces in this module. There are air ships to jump off, large chambers where you get around by riding geysers, and a number of well laid out break away floors. They’ve done a fine job utilizing all dimensions of the 3d world and improving the physicality of the game.
I’m not going to go to deep into the story of the game because it is based on the continuing story of characters that I’ve only just been introduced to.Also, I don’t want to ruin anyone’s adventures. The short version is that a storm giant and his cronies are recruiting dragons against their will for use in a dark ritual, and when some one says they need the spirits of several evil dragons for a ritual, you know they must be up to no good. To put a stop to their activities you’ll have to gather a party and take them through a series of elementally themed dungeons, one for earth, air, fire, and water, or ice in this case.
In one of the dungeons you have to fight more or less on the side of a white dragon when you find a mutual foe in the storm giants, and I have to say they’ve done a great job with recreating the iconic creatures of the Monster Manual. Storm giants, dragons, and kobolds not only look like their pen and paper counterparts, but act like them as well. I had seen dragons in DDO before, but I hadn’t seen them in their full glory in combat. I was pleased to see that the dragons didn’t just bite and scratch and use their breath weapon, but also utilized the tail slap and the wing buffet, classic D&D dragon moves. It’s not just that the DDO team included these secondary attack modes, but that they included them and implemented them smoothly. I didn’t like this game the first time I played it, but they’ve really made a lot of improvements and the game has come a long way since then.