As many of you may or may not know, today marks the release of Module 4: Reaver's Bane, the most recent free update from Turbine's Dungeons and Dragons Online: Stormreach. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit down for a conversation with James Jones, the Executive Producer of DDO and Kate Paiz, the game's Producer to talk about the release, and what players can expect from it.
It is well known that any MMORPG is a constantly growing and evolving entity. Even when a game is released, a team continues to work on the game, both fixing problems and creating new content for their players to explore. Turbine's Dungeons and Dragons Online is no exception to that rule. Numerous game play elements have been added to the game since its launch a year ago. Previous modules and updates saw players able to: solo in the game, progress further as the level cap was raised, play and meet new and different races, the list goes on.
Level Cap Increase
Module 4: Reaver's Bane promises to continue to improve and broaden the player's experience. This starts by allowing them access to new levels as Reaver's Bane raises the level cap to 14, giving players a total of 70 ranks (think of them as sub-levels) to progress through. I asked James whether they were having issues with players quickly reaching the level cap and having to wait until the next module to continue their progression. He told me that while there are some players that move through the levels quite quickly, they are finding that players are choosing to create new characters to play with and that many are actively playing a number of different builds at any given time. After all, the game play experience you get while playing a wizard is quite different from that of a Fighter (DDO allows players to create as many as five different characters on each server, with no limit for characters per account).
Anyone who plays pen and paper Dungeons and Dragons using the 3.5 edition rules knows that your character's abilities are divided between skills and feats. Feats allow the player to do things that are extraordinary gaining improvements here and there while skills are the every day abilities like swimming, hunting and performing. While Feats and Skills are pulled right from the pages of the Player's Handbook, Enhancements were created strictly for the online version of the game.
Enhancements are stronger than both Feats and Skills, providing bonuses in a number of different areas. They can offer: resistances to things like cold and fire, increases to your abilities (like strength and dexterity), damage increases, feat increases and the like.
Under the old Enhancement system, you were only able to have four active enhancements on your character at any given time. You could then, as Jones said, "swap it out for another one."
The new system was described to me as "more of a tree", meaning that now that Module 4 has launched, Enhancements will function more like a skill tree. Not only that, but you can now hold as many as you like. Each enhancement carries a different cost, depending on its power.
One of the earliest complaints about Dungeons and Dragons Online was that there were no dragons. This was remedied in Module 2 when Turbine added a giant Red Dragon. Her sheer size was enough to place her as being beyond the Very Old age category and she held all of the majesty and danger that one would expect from a D&D dragon. Unfortunately, the addition of the Great Red didn't quite fill the description in the game's title. After all, this is Dungeons (of which there are plenty in the game) and Dragons notice the plural). It isn't until Module 4 that we finally "put the dragons back into Dungeons and Dragons".
Three new dragons are being introduced in Reaver's Bane. Blue, Black and White, they all fit into the Juvenile age category. While still larger than a lowly adventurer, they're nowhere near the size of their enormous predecessor. Dungeons and Dragons purists will be happy to know that the artists over at Turbine have done a fantastic job of creating living, breathing versions of Wizards of the Coast dragons.
Each dragon appears in his or her own lair, specially created to take advantage of the dragon's abilities. The white dragon, for example, appears in a cavern of ice, while acid accompanies the black and as for the blue, let's just say that electricity, the blue dragon's weapon of choice, has a tendency to conduct through metal. These locations give the dragons, even if they are younger, an advantage over those who would hunt them down.
Along with the dragons, comes a new form of treasure. Dragon scales! Players will be able to collect scales from fallen dragons that will allow them to gain the fabled dragon scale armor.
Outside Adventure System
Another of the complaints that players had about DDO was that there were no real outdoor areas that players could explore. Module 4 sees the introduction of two new areas for outdoor exploration. One is intended for high level characters, while the other one is meant to service characters from levels 2 - 5. These areas will function fairly well like any other. There will be kill quests, exploration, random encounters, and more, all available to players who choose to adventure under the open sky.
"We wanted to get players outside of the walls of Stormreach and have them begin to explore the continent of Xen'drik," said James Jones.
New AI and Path Mapping
The interesting thing about Turbine developing two huge IP MMORPGs in both DDO and Lord of the Rings Online is that one can easily borrow from the other. When DDO integrated auction houses, the technology was moved over to the fledgling LOTRO. In Module 4, DDO borrows from its younger sister as they integrate a new AI and path mapping system into the game.
For players, this will mean that the monsters will become more intelligent. They will become more aware of their environments, and won't have to think as long about how to get to you before coming to get you.
"The monsters are smarter," Jones said, by way of description, "and they will continue to get smarter."
Obviously, the wind has not come out of the sails of this MMORPG. Turbine continues to dedicate a fairly large staff to the game, who continues to add to and improve the product. I am also told that the folks over at Wizards of the Coast are still very enthusiastic about the project and are dedicated to its continuation.
Before the interview ended, I asked James if there was anything else that he wanted to add. He said: "It's been a year since DDO launched, and we have almost doubled the content since then. If people haven't played for a while, we think that you should come back for a trial."