The biggest buzz about Update 5 has been the changes to guild system, which has expanded to incorporate guild leveling complete with rewards. The guild panel itself has undergone some changes, while supporting the old functionality of seeing what players are in the guild and seeing whether they're online as well as their character information. A message of the day spans the top of the panel, while in the upper left is displayed the new guild level (ranging from 1 to 100). Below the message of the day is the renown counter, which acts as the experience bar for the new guild leveling system.
Renown may be the new guild experience, but it doesn't act like regular character experience. Renown represents a guild's fame as they become known for their helpful and heroic deeds. The greater the task the guild achieves, such as completing dungeons on higher level difficulties, the more likely they will earn renown. Renown can appear as Trophies from treasure chests and dropped items, to end reward option for completing quests. In addition, renown can decay away as a guild's reputation fades from the spotlight, meaning that guilds can in fact lose levels.
This news may lead to a little bit of panic, especially for smaller or more casual guilds. Decay has been implemented carefully, however, so that lower level guilds (to approximately level 25) will see no decay. Higher level guilds, however, will see slowly more aggressive decay, until the point where guilds in the 90-100 level range will have to be extremely active to maintain their prestigious status. Small guilds also get an extra bonus to balance out the drop rate of Trophies, allowing guilds to compete on a basis of activity rather than numbers.
Of course, the biggest part of the new guild system is the rewards. Rewards are spread out across all 100 levels, but are deliberately biased toward the first 50 levels so that functional rewards (including the much touted airship) are unlocked in the early part of the game. Later rewards are focused more on prestige, offering a chance for players to show off on their server and have friendly competition between other guilds after securing their benefits at lower levels. The early rewards for guilds are guild chat, the ability to invite players to the guild via the mail system, and vendors.
Among the new vendors are ones that sell augments, a special new enhancement offered only to guilds. Augments are a consumable purchased with in-game gold, temporary enchantments that last for a short time before expiring and needing to be replenished. Augments can only be slotted into new gear that offer augment slots. This means that all gear that players find while questing now has the ability to be guild-only, offering special augment slots. Even solo players who are guildless can find these items (as they might find items not for their race or alignment), but these items are also tradable, making it easy for the guildless to pawn them off at the auction house to guilded players who are interested.
The rest of the rewards for guilds are tied into the airship system. Airships have taken a more prominent role in Eberron. Players who may recall the airship tower in the Marketplace will now find that these towers have a place in each of Stormreach's districts. Airships can often be seen flying overhead coming in for a landing or leaving, previewing a variety of models and color options that guilds will have access to over time as they level. A special airship showroom has also been added to the Harbor, located conveniently between the Harbor's new airship tower and the auctioneer at the north end.
Guilds first get access to airships at guild level 20, an achievement that even hard working guilds will take a few days to unlock. There are two lines of airship (Windspyre and Stormglory) and three classes (small, medium, and large). The Windspyre series is your default ship, and can be purchased with in-game gold; the Stormglory is a luxury line that is slightly larger than the Windspyre but must be purchased with Astral Diamonds, a new DDO Store item (Windspyre ships are also accepted as partial trade-ins toward the cost of a Stormglory line ship). Guild leaders will be relieved to know that airships can be purchased over time, and that guild members can visit the showroom and donate funds toward the purchase of a new ship. The size of a ship, on the other hand, determines the crew size and number of amenities that can be added on. For those worried about decay, relax: you'll never lose your expensive crew-liner once it's purchased, no matter how much your guild decays.
Airships are, essentially, a private guild housing function. At their most basic level, they serve as a private meeting place for guild members, a travel system allowing players to travel quickly between districts, and a place to add a few bonus amenities such as NPCs that offer buffs, guild storage, tavern keeps, training dummies, and crafting stations. Amenities are purchased on lease with either a two-day, seven-day, or thirty-day option. While contracts are offered in the DDO Store as well, they are always at seven-day or higher and otherwise have no real difference from what can be purchased with in-game gold. Unguilded party members can also be invited up to the ship, and officers can boot players off the ship.
As for the experience of actually being on an airship: it's relatively exhilarating. Once on the airship, you're in flight away from the city of Stormreach itself. The wind and clouds whip over the ship, often fogging over your view briefly; below is the bright blue ocean (which you can jump into, if so desired, and wash up on a random Eberron shore). Below deck is cozy and smells like bacon; even the elemental powered engine room is incorporated. Large luxury ships get private rooms, one of which includes a complimentary hot tub to relax in. Airships give players a sense of being part of something noteworthy and powerful; a far cry from many typical guild housing systems.
The Carnival of Shadows
After getting a very thorough tour of the airship system, the DDO development team dropped us off in a slightly redesigned House Phiarlan. The area has become a little more decorated and lively in the new update, with more street entertainers – including a fantastic shadow play at the Livewood Theatre and a spry halfling balancing atop a trained wolf's nose. The area, along with the new adventure pack, “The Carnival of Shadows,” finally lends a little more realism into Phiarlan's front for the notorious spy chapter, the Serpentine Table.
The new adventure pack, designed for players of level 5 and including a level 20 epic mode, places players in the assistance of the Serpentine Table in investigating The Traveling Troubadors, a visiting carnival now located in the north-east quadrant of House Phiarlan. There are four quests total in the pack, the first three of which can be done in any order (although players can follow the NPC suggested order from Rouge). In each, players are tasked with being a little devious in order to prevent some suspicious activities.
The first quest, A Small Problem, sets players to helping the stage play at the Livewood Theatre, which tells the story of the Stormreaver. Unfortunately, the giant is currently cast as a halfling, and players are asked to recruit a real hill giant for the part. This is only a guise, of course; players are actually attempting to protect the actors from an attack that's predicted to happen. This very play is what players will get to watch enacted live in House Phiarlan, even without the quest.
While we didn't stop to recruit a giant, we did find ourselves in Party Crashers, the second quest and the longest one in the chain. A high society party is taking place, and players are sent to, at the least, sneak through a back passage to place a few extra names on the guest list in order to help prevent an assassination. The back passage is the Illusionarium, a special museum highlighting various locations throughout the world of Eberron, and the creatures that dwell in them. The illusions themselves here – pinkish-purple ghosts of their real form – act as the security system for the exhibits while closed, and of course, players are sneaking through after opening hours. This was a fun area, replicating various habitats from jungle to snow and forest, and even offered a few new monster models for players to discover, along with a great photo opportunity at the end with a giant purple dragon.
Once inside the main hall, players have a great number of new opportunities opened up to them – enough so that developers have allowed players to save their own names to the guest list, allowing them to save their progress so that they can return without having to revisit the Illusionarium. The party acts as a quest hub of its own, with several side quests available from the various NPCs attending. These optional quests are designed in such a way that not all of them can be complete on each venture, but each one you solve impact the final main fight at the end of the quest. Completionists will definitely be kept busy for a while, discovering all the sub-quests and outcomes, along with a few of the little special easter eggs thrown in the mix.
From an assassination attempt, the quest line moves on to The Snitch, where players try to case down a tell-tale in the Golden Wing tavern. Alas, this man with dubious intentions has been given a special wand to use for his own protection in cases such as this, and players will spend the quest chasing him down while fighting off whatever he summons up with his wand until, cornered at last, the halfling meets a presumable demise – while introducing players to a few new enemies.
Finally, players will enter the carnival compound itself, breaking the illusion of the tieflings behind the whole mess. This was, perhaps, my favorite glimpse into the quest line; the carnival feels every bit realistic to a real circus ground, complete with spinning wheels of ill-fortune, trained hounds (with a penchant for fiery orbs), and magic shows. The story comes to an end within the carnival's main tent, a three ring circus with a sexy ringmaster running the show.
Also of Interest...
The guild update and the new adventure pack make two stellar additions to DDO, and a great way to kick off a gaming summer for its players. It also introduces new feats and enhancements. Rogues in particular will be happy to enjoy trap making feats, which allow rogues to gather parts from the traps they disable to make both ground-based traps (which range from elemental damage to noise-makers and even Otto's Resistable Dance) and throwing “grenades.” I was able to play with both of these tools and while I can't comment on their relative damage (I was high level going through low-level content), they certainly added an element of fun that made me want to go roll a rogue.
Clerics are also getting improvements, with the ability to add a light or dark aura during battles to either help them heal their allies or harm their enemies. Monks also have two new prestige enhancements; the Shintao Monk, a light-based fighter, and the Ninja Spy, a dark monk who can even walk on water. Improvements to Pale Master have also been made, as well as “significant” improvements to lag in the Shroud raid.
There's no doubt, this is perhaps one of the most exciting and fun updates to hit DDO since its free-to-play relaunch, and it comes at a great time. With Update 6 to be released in a few months, and Update 7 already in development, the summer and encroaching fall look particularly exciting for DDO players.