Dungeons & Dragons Online: Menace of the Underdark Preview

12 May 2012

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Warner Bros.
Developer:Turbine
Release Date:2012-06-25
Genre:
  • Role-Playing,Massively Multiplayer
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
Long-time Dungeons & Dragons Online fans will remember that Turbine was preparing a paid expansion pack entitled Forsaken Lands back in 2006, but ended up cancelling those plans and instead released the Sands of Menechtarun-based content for free as the game's third content module. Fast forward six years and a hugely successful free-to-play business model switch later, and we're finally going to be getting a proper add-on for the game that's loaded with three adventure packs, a new raid, a new set of challenges, epic level advancement, and the long-awaited druid character class. And to sweeten the deal even further, Menace of the Underdark will be taking us out of Eberron and sending us into the Forgotten Realms and its drow-inhabited underworld.

In order to get us (and, ultimately, you) a closer look at the expansion, public relations representative Leo Tan, senior producer Eric Boyer, and community specialist Amanda Grove took us through some of the add-on's initial content earlier this week. Each of the new adventure packs will be based around a new wilderness area, with The King's Forest and the Underdark being some of the largest we've seen in the game to date (Eric likens them to the size of the Menechtarun desert, with the added bonus of the Underdark spanning multiple, difficulty-varying levels). There are several dozen new experience-granting explorer points within them, too, with The King's Forest featuring 40 voiced journal messages from Elminster and the Underdark featuring its own set of voiced messages about drow culture from one of the high priestesses.

Beyond voicing some journal messages, Elminster actually plays a big role in the add-on's storyline. In short, the Spinner of Shadows we dealt with at the end of the Update 13 "Web of Chaos" adventure pack is involved in a plot that seeks the destruction of entire worlds (remnants of crushed civilizations can be seen hanging in the Demonweb as you travel through it) and Eberron and the Forgotten Realms are next on her hit list. As you and Elminster have a common enemy, he'll aid your party in breaching the path between your world and his during the initial (free-to-play) "Beyond the Rift" quest, and then assist you in bringing the fight to Lolth herself in the game's most difficult raid to date.

Taking down a goddess is no easy feat, but luckily players will have a lot more firepower at their disposal with all of the new content that Turbine is introducing. The first notable addition is the long-awaited druid class, which I suspect will be very popular thanks to its range of highly adaptable Wild Shape feats, the not-to-be-overlooked scimitar proficiency, and an assortment of both devastating and party-saving spells. The Wild Shape feats are unlocked throughout the heroic levels - the wolf is picked up early in a druid's career (and it can later be upgraded to a winter wolf), the bear will be attained somewhere around level 8 (and it can later be upgraded to a dire bear), and then we have the fire and water elemental forms that are granted at specific intervals past level 10. Each of these Wild Shape feats has specific strengths - wolf form is great for speed, bear form is great for soaking damage, and the elemental forms are great for dealing damage (though as with the sorcerer's prestige enhancements, shapeshifting into either elemental hinders the damage done by spells of the opposite element).

Without question, the biggest surge in epic-level power for players will be obtained through the new Epic Destiny system. In this system, a player will speak with a Fatespinner NPC to initially choose from one of ten separate destiny trees that they'd like their character to gain experience toward (Eric assures me that more destinies will be offered after the expansion ships, too). Each of the destiny trees is geared toward a specific role or theme, but there is nothing stopping, say, a barbarian from picking the "Exalted Angel" destiny to gain access to an assortment of divine bonuses and abilities that might be more synergistic with their particular character build. As normal questing experience is accrued, it is divided between two pools - one for regular leveling and one for epic destiny leveling - with the latter awarding action points at certain intervals that can then be spent on the destiny tree that they currently have chosen.