This past week, Turbine invited us to preview Update 23 for Dungeons and Dragons Online, an MMO that launched in early 2006. During the event, we were shown the return of a high-end villain from raids long past and new mechanics that would greatly enhance gameplay for a number of players. Hosted by Digital Communications Manager Leo Tan, the stream included Executive Producer Athena Peters, Senior System Designer John Cataldo, Lead Designer Ricard Liu, Design Manager Rob Ciccolini, Community Manager Jerry Snook, and 'Tech Wiz and High Overlord' Steve Rogers. The announcements were in keeping with the preview release notes currently available on the forums on ddo.com.
The first announcement they had for us was a new enhancement tree that would be made available to all players called the Harper tree. In it, players will be able to improve their character's abilities according to the usual process of tiers and APs. It will be available free to VIP accounts and via purchase in the DDO Store for everyone else. We were also treated to an overview of additional features in the hireling system, tweaks to make the hirelings behave a bit more sensibly, and provide a one-click option to get multiple hirelings to interact with the same target at once.
The next intriguing item presented to us was the Mirror of Glamering. Purchasable from the DDO Store as well, occasionally (read: rarely) dropping via Daily Dice, the Mirror will permit players to make cosmetic copies of armor, docent, or helmets to allow them to keep a particularly nice-looking piece of gear. These copies are bind to account but docents will retain any racial requirements the original item had.
We were also told that there would be adjustments made to several maps that would allow players to travel to adventure areas much more quickly and easily, but the meat of the update is in the lore and new story to play through. Back in the day, players had a heroic epic story culminating in a raid versus the fearsome Black Abbot that supposedly led to his death. Not so fast! Turbine will be releasing additional chapters to that story that will reveal that all is not as it appears, and it's up to them to discover how he managed to survive to fight another day.
Part of the story involves the two opposing organizations, the Order of the Emerald Claw and the Silver Flame, where the Emerald Claw is working to distract the Silver Flame with an outbreak of werecreatures such as werewolves. It will all lead to a 12-person epic raid featuring, you guessed it!, the Black Abbot. The developers made a point of saying that they wanted to keep the basic notion of an epic raid, but came up with new mechanics to keep things fresh.
The Abbot will mostly feature magical attacks, and he'll have adds appear from doors on the sides of the room. These Death Knights will need to be defeated to continue. A puzzle is also involved where one player has to loot a sarcophagus to acquire special goggles and lead his or her compatriots to other items that will help complete the puzzle.
Next, the team will face a bigtime lore character that was cheerfully described by one of the devs as 'half elf, half dragon, all lich': Lady Vol. The last carrier of the Dragonmark of Death, she features in the raid as a character whose goal is to regain the ability to use the Dragonmark, which can only be wielded by the living. One of the cool features of the raid will be that players will get to see the Dragonmark of Death in action... on them.
Should the players survive, they get to go after the Abbot again, and then it's a dogpile on the raid as the Death Knights respawn, the Abbot is still fighting, and even Vol joins the fray. Sweet loot is the players' reward should they succeed in their challenge. It will all be a higher level than before, and because the Abbot is a magic-themed character, the loot that will drop will have a magic or divine theme to it, stuff that is deadly to liches. That will make Lady Vol happy.
The raid will be included in the Orchard of the Macabre adventure pack. If players already have the pack, there's no additional purchase necessary, but if not, then they have to pick it up in order to join in the raid.
The other major change listed in the stream was a boost to melee classes through revamping heavy armor. The devs stated that their goal was to help melee classes, particularly paladins, to be more effective in higher-end gameplay and to balance them better against spellcasters and ranged characters. They also wanted to open up more character build options by adding three new ratings to heavy armor: Physical Resistance, Magical Resistance, and Melee Power. It had always seemed odd to me not to have such stats on heavy armor, but now DDO will have them, and their melee armor classes such as paladins won't feel quite as squishy. There will be benefits for characters who use shields, with bigger bonuses to characters with larger shields, but also removing evasion from characters who use heavy or tower shields.
While the level cap is not increasing beyond 28 for this particular update, it seems pretty meaty to the casual bystander. Only time will tell if the balancing of the classes winds up being truly beneficial or whether it's too much. The new raid certainly looks interesting from a mechanics standpoint, and more lore is always welcome in an MMO.