The Dungeons and Dragons Online world had been caught up in a spider-web of plots and plans by the Drow Goddess Lolth, the long hated and powerful spider-queen of Faerun, the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting. She’s set her sights on Eberron, wanting to use the power of the Dragonshard crystals found there for her own purposes, but her realm, the Demonweb Pits, have started to swallow up Eberron in the process and have opened up a bridge between Faerun and Eberron, letting the DDO players over into a new set of areas, provided you’ve paid your toll, and Elminster, a powerful wizard mainstay of the Forgotten Realms setting, is there to guide you through how to stop the Drow Goddess from wiping out your world as you know it.
The developers at Turbine have been sowing the seeds for this new expansion for awhile, teasing players with a free quest series that set up your access to the new expansion, along with a great video tease featuring Lolth and one of her minions. I’ve been running around and savoring the expansion while I work up a review on it, as there is a lot to take in. The new areas aren’t quite like anything we’ve seen in DDO before, and you can easily see the design differences between the Forgotten Realms and Eberron, just in the buildings and explorer areas alone. Once you’ve entered the Demonweb Pits and gotten a brief escort from Elminster, you’re dumped outside a town called Eveningstar, which is nothing like Stormreach or the other settlements we’ve been to in Eberron at all. Even the rest shrines, something that’s never changed between any of the quests in Eberron, are markedly different visually. All of the Forgotten Realms areas have this kind of elegant fantasy feel to them, which does fit with that setting quite well. In fact, if you do a Google search for Eveningstar you’ll get a link to a Forgotten Realms wiki with a little bit of information on the town, and I’ll be damned if that map doesn’t look awfully like what we’ve got in DDO.
The new expansion is open for players from Heroic level 16 through the new Epic level cap of 25. More on Epic Destinies and the Epic levels in anther write-up. I just wanted to make mention that, if you have the expansion, you can get there before you hit the original level cap of 20 and start working on your Epic levels, which is good. Eveningstar acts quite a bit like the Harbor and Marketplace in Stormreach. It’s a quest and town hub, and has your trainers, quest chains, challenge and rewards traders, and of course, the mailbox and the tavern. There is no Guild Airship access here however, which makes sense given the lore, and you can go back to Eberron with ease by heading into the caves near Eveningstar and popping through the portal to the Demonweb Pits to get back to Eberron. Going that way, you can even go directly to your guild airship. Once you’re in Eberron, as long as you’ve done the quests to get out to Faerun, you can just click through into the entrance to the Demonweb pits and go directly back to Eveningstar. This method works a lot like what we have in game now through the Twelve to get to Shavrath, the Devil and Angel Battlefield to do the quests there, since it’s on another plane of existence from Eberron.
Eveningstar isn’t a huge city by any means, but it feels like a sizable and lively town. Nearby is where I’ve been having most of my fun, although I’m gearing up to take on the Underdark next. The first quests you have to deal with take place out in The King’s Forest, which is right nearby. The King’s Forest itself is enormous. Fighting your way across most of it can and will exhaust your ship buffs, which last about an hour. My wife and I have duo’d Shavrath Rare and Explorer runs in half that time, and we hadn’t even done The King’s Forest before we went back to repair our gear and buff back up. It’s also extremely well laid out and looks fantastic, given the limitations of an MMO game engine that’s over 5 years old. There’s a coursing river that cuts through it with actual current you’ll have to fight when you swim across, Drow infesting most of the Forest to clear out, new enemies in the form of Dryads and Dire Bears, and then the Mudmen, Water Elementals, and Forest Trolls we’ve seen before.
The King’s Forest doesn’t have Explorers quest rewards like the other big open explorer areas in Eberron. They’ve gone with a different system here, which was interesting and actually a bit tougher to complete. In Eberron you basically ran around the explorer area looking to hit up certain points on the map to trigger the explorer in the quest, and get a bit of exp, then a bigger chunk when you had all the explorers. In The King’s Forest, Elminster has scattered 40 different messages around the forest for you to find, each one with a bit of history about the Forgotten Realms and the cultures there. I say this is a a bit tougher because the messages are simply labeled 1 through 40, with no clue where they are on the map, and they are scattered everywhere. The Explorers in Eberron had a brief description to at least clue you in on where they were. Some people have some decent maps up pointing out where the messages are, but where’s the fun in that?
There are rare encounters out there, grouped up by faction, with several for each in Eveningstar. These range from saving villagers from Drow Slavers to gathering up enough Dryad remains to heal someone. These encounters give you some decent experience points, which are always useful, but also give out commendations that can be turned in with the traders back in Eveningstar for some rather excellent gear. Each trader has a different set, each one good for varying classes, some of which can be doubled up. I’m planning on using what I figure is the monk set and the cleric set, for example. While my Cleric will be doubling up on Wisdom, which won’t stack between the sets, for example, the extra Charisma and Constitution bonuses, along with the complete set bonus from the Cleric set, will be fantastic.
There are a few quests that aren’t part of a chain; Murder by Night has you investigating the murder of a Doctor at a hospital, and The Riddle has you looking for a War Wizard named Bertrand, for example. One of those two quests may just involve werewolves. The first quest chain, Menace of the Underdark: The Darkening in Eveningstar, takes place entirely in the King’s Forest and Eveningstar itself. Impossible Demands has you venturing out to locate a farmhouse where the Drow are holding people hostage, and you have to try and eliminate the Drow before they kill the hostages. The whole time in this quest, you have to avoid being seen by the Drow Priestess, as she can kill a hostage to power herself up. The Unquiet Groves has you venturing to a graveyard to stop the Drow from raising the town’s dead. That one is a pretty straightforward run through and kill everything quest. The Lost Thread was interesting. Ana Brabener was captured by the Drow, and you have to go out to an abandoned Temple of Mystra, the Forgotten Realms Goddess of Magic, to try and rescue her. There are Drow Slavers in there with lots of collared villagers for you to rescue, but you have to kill the Drow Slavers first to do so. It seems they wanted Ana for something, and that carries over into the last quest in the chain, The Battle for Eveningstar. The last quest is also pretty straightforward and reminded me a bit of the Attack on Summerfield quest, where you have to defend the area against an invading force. The tactics are a bit similar, but instead of rescuing downed soldiers, you’re lighting large fires to help keep the Drow at bay, since they are used to the dark.
Overall, I really like the feel of this new area. It brings something quite new to Dungeons and Dragons Online as far as the look and feel, and at least two of the new quests have some mechanics we haven’t seen before. All of the chain quests were a lot of fun, and the new gear is nothing to shrug at either. Sometimes the trader gear can be very hit or miss, but this time I’d say they’re all pretty much right on the mark this time. I’m loving this expansion quite a bit, and I definitely think quite a few of the new changes to the game through it are more in the direction I was hoping they’d take the game to help keep everyone interested and having fun. More on Epic Destinies and Epic levels as well as The Underdark and The Demonweb quest chains, and a full on review of the expansion, in the next few weeks.