Dungeons & Dragons Online is set to receive its first ever expansion in June since launching over six years ago. Aside from the obvious significance of this event, it also marks the game’s transition into most D&D fans’ favorite campaign setting – the Forgotten Realms. During this year’s PAX East, we had an opportunity to check out a pre-alpha version of the upcoming ‘Menace of the Underdark’ expansion and speak to Turbine’s Fernando Paiz about what players can expect.
Before we got into the actual content of the expansion, Fernando gave us a rundown of where things are now following the events of Update 13. In Update 13, players were introduced to the storyline that would connect Eberron to the Forgotten Realms with the new expansion and that particular story arc culminated with the opening of a portal from Lolth’s domain in the Demon Web into Eberron. The Spinner of Shadows, Lolth’s aspect in the realm of Eberron, escaped into the web and this is where players will enter and ultimately come out into the Forgotten Realms once the expansion goes live.
Once out of the Demon Web, players will enter the Underdark, the underworld of the Forgotten Realms and home to the Drow, but this will only be a brief sequence as players will look to escape to the overworld and enter the town of Eveningstar which will serve as the launch point (similar to Stormreach) for the majority of the player’s adventures in the Forgotten Realms. Fernando was quick to remind us, however, that both the Demon Web and the Underdark will be important areas in the expansion. While players will pass through both the Demon Web and Underdark in the beginning of the expansion, eventually things come full circle and the player will take the fight to the Drow in the Underdark and eventually to Lolth herself within the Demon Web as part of a 12-man raid.
As part of our demo, we were shown a slice of the Demon Web wilderness area content from towards the end of the expansion, including the new half-Drow, half-spider ‘Drider’ monsters and a brief look at the menacing but magnificent Lolth herself. Following our brief tour of the Demon Web, we were transported to Eveningstar, where we were shown one of the first dungeons players will experience as part of the expansion. Fernando noted that players entering the Forgotten Realms are still heroes of Eberron, with the overall goal of trying to figure out how to resolve the situation in Eberron and what sort of threat Lolth may pose to their realm. However, in order to accomplish this, players will get caught up in the troubled town of Eveningstar, which has been subject to numerous Drow raids.
Our peek at the expansion’s first dungeon had us fighting new Forest Hag creatures that have aligned themselves with the Drow. It is through this beginning storyline that we learn of the Thread of the Weave, a powerful object that gives Mystra, the mother of magic, her power. Mystra, as it turns out, is missing from her throne, and Lolth is looking to acquire her power in order to usurp her.
After we were done spelunking in the hag-filled dungeon, we were treated to a tour of Eveningstar and the wilderness area of the King’s Forest. Turbine’s approached the design of the King’s Forest so as to establish a sense of continuity with the town of Eveningstar. While out in the wilderness, you’ll be able to see the town and vice-versa, for example. Going forward, Turbine plans on an aggressive timetable for new updates once the expansion goes live, as they look to continue to expand further into the new Forgotten Realms campaign setting. We learned that the first new update, Update 14, would go live as soon as two months after the launch of Underdark.
In a nod to dungeon masters everywhere, Turbine looked to recreate the feeling of having a DM around by adding a bit of a dynamic element to the exploration of the King’s Forest. To that end, King’s Forest itself will be comprised of an array of mini-quests that will crop up as you explore, and these mini-quests may be a bit different even when you encounter ones that appear otherwise similar. For example, a lost villager may ask you to guide her home. Later, you may find another similar looking villager later on who also wants you to guide her home, the difference being, this time she’s really a Forest Hag in disguise and will quickly attack you once you turn your back on her.
Fernando also spent some time giving us a look at the new Druid class coming with Underdark. Druids are, of course, one of the most iconic D&D classes, and Turbine is looking to pull out all the stops in delivering on the Druid experience. Players will be able to take on a variety of ‘wild shapes,’ including several wolf forms, bear forms, and even elemental forms, each with their own focus, abilities, and style of play. Druids will also be able to run with their own animal pets and even gain access to repertoire of healing spells to round themselves out. While this may sound like a jack-of-all-trades master of none class, Fernando was quick to note this won’t end up being a disadvantage for Druids in the end.
In addition to all the new content coming in Underdark, there have been a number of under-the-hood updates to the engine to allow for some new visual effects in the game. For example, you’ll notice that the grass and leaves will move around in the forest, shader and environmental tech for the trees, and one of the more notable technical feats, Dark Vision.
When fighting Drow in the King’s Forest they will bring the darkness with them as it provides them an advantage (they can see in the dark and are susceptible to the light), and players will eventually be able to learn this key power for use within exploring the Underdark itself. Fernando described to us the moment of first using Dark Vision in the Underdark as feeling claustrophobic in the darkness and then giving way to a massive grand canyon of an underground space that player’s wouldn’t be able to imagine was around them just a few moments earlier.
Dungeons & Dragons Online: Menace of the Underdark will launch on June 25, 2012. Pre-orders are now available and you can find more information at the official DDO website.