When I first learned that they were creating a Dungeons and Dragons MMORPG years ago I was extremely excited for the potential. I had played all of the Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale games as well as the Neverwinter Nights franchise and to see D&D make the transition for a full fledged MMO was inspiring. To say I was disappointed to find out that the game would take place in a new campaign setting is an understatement. I did end up playing Dungeons and Dragons Online: Stormreach (DDO) and then again I picked it back up when it went free to play with DDO: Eberron Unlimited. I could never reconcile the choice to have the game set anywhere other than the Forgotten Realms though and because of this I never played the game for extended periods of time. For that reason I welcome the first paid expansion pack in six years for DDO, Menace of the Underdark (MotU), and the promise it brings with introducing the Forgotten Realms to DDO.
Yesterday I took part in a whirlwind tour of the new expansion pack for DDO: MotU. Executive Producer Fernando Paiz acted as the tour guide while Senior Producer Erik Boyer served as the bus driver with Amanda and Leo of the community team holding the wheels on. The expansion picks up where the narrative left off at the end of update 13. Our characters have pushed the Spinner of Shadows, the Goddess Lolth's incarnation on Eberron, back into her home world of The Demonweb. The Demonweb serves as the bridge linking Eberron to the Forgotten Realms. Not long after you step foot into the Demonweb you will meet one of the iconic characters of the Forgotten Realms, Elminster, a mage created by Ed Greenwood. Mr. Greenwood also just so happened to create the Forgotten Realms and consulted on some of the details for this expansion. Not everyone you will run into the Demonweb will be happy to see you. The Drow, Draegoloth, spiders, and worms that infest it will do their best to kill you.
Menace of the Underdark promises to add a lot of content: three adventure packs worth at launch with an aggressive plan to continue to push content updates that take place surrounding Eveningstar. The first update is planned to go live in a couple months time. Eveningstar will serve as the new quest hub much as Stormreach did for the Eberron content. Story lines and quests are not the only things that are new with this expansion. The development team is hard at work updating the UI elements and adding quality of life features as well. One of the first things you will notice upon firing up the game is a new login screen. You will see the open plains behind your character and if you wait for it you will see a red dragon flying through the sky in the background. Once you are in the game you will see that the UI looks cleaner than it has in the past. They have also changed the popup for entering a mission. The screen has been graphically redesigned and has had new functions added. One of the new functions is the ability to set your group options. You can choose to lock your group and go about your quest without interruption or you can create an open group which will allow other players to join you on your journey. While your quest is open there will be an indication on the looking for group tool that you would like other adventurers to join you. As of now these pickups will have to travel to the quest entrance to join you on your mission but the DDO team is looking at adding the ability for new members to warp to your location.
D&D has a natural level cap of 20 but with MotU DDO will see the introduction of epic levels. These 5 new levels allow you to add Epic Destinies to your character. This is a deep progression system that will allow you to further advance and personalize your character. Eventually each character can open up all of the epic destinies. There will be 10 of them at launch and depending on your character class you will start at different positions on the map. For example a warrior would start off on the martial portion of the map but could progress their character towards the arcane section which a mage would start out at. While you will only be able to have one destiny active at a time you can carry over Twists of Fate. These Twists of Fate are abilities that remain active from one Epic Destiny while you are actively using another. You can have up to 3 Twists of Fate active while you are progressing on a fourth.
The Druid class is another major addition to DDO that is being introduced with MotU. The druid is a powerful caster class that has the ability to shape shift. You will be able to take on 3 main forms which have two sub forms each. The druid will be able to take on the Elemental form and can choose to be either fire or water and depending on which form you choose you will buff or nerf certain spell abilities. The fire form will be stronger at casting fire spells and weaker at water based. The druid will also be able to shift into a bear or dire bear from. These bear forms will best serve the druid for tanking. Finally the druid will be able to shift into a wolf, or dire wolf form. These wolf forms will allow the druid to be more effective at melee DPS.
For the new and returning players out there you should know that you cannot immediately start your adventures in DDO: MotU in the Forgotten Realms. You need to be around level 16 before you will be able to enter into the Demonweb and start your adventures in Eveningstar. Turbine is running a promotion though to help ease your leveling pain. If you have purchased the expansion pack you will receive a Stone of Experience. This stone can be used on any level 8 character that will instantly grant them enough experience to level up to 16. The stone also provides the player with a level appropriate set of gear. While this will not grant you instant access to the new expansion areas it will speed you along your way. If you plan on returning start bugging your friends for stones.
DDO: MotU is a welcome addition to the game. The new zones look great. The outdoor zones are lush and vibrant in color and the Underdark zones look like what you would expect: dark and cavernous with large vertical drops and deadly creatures around every turn. The music is also done very well and plays a large part in establishing the atmosphere of the game. The addition of the new adventure packs with the promise of a more aggressive content update cycle should give every player a reason to cheer. The new druid class was fun to play with and the new epic destinies should give players a lot of new skill builds to play with.