PAX East: Dungeons & Dragons Online weaves a tale of expansion


With a huge, intricate spider web hanging down from the rafters of the Boston Convention Center, the Dungeons and Dragons Online booth is overshadowed by the evil presence of Lolth, the main villain for the upcoming Menace of the Underdark expansion, hanging overhead. The spider queen's presence lends an air of, well, menace to my time with Executive Producer Fernando Paiz and Senior Producer Eric Boyer as we take an extensive look through what Menace of Underdark will offer players, as well as a quick look at the Druid class and some of its abilities.

When we last left our DDO heroes, they'd defeated the spider-queen Lolth's manifestation in Eberon known as The Weaver of Shadows. This expansion continues that story, shoving players through the literal "crack in the wall" to the inter-dimensional zone of The Demonweb, which is both the link between Eberon and The Forgotten Realm, and the home of Lolth. This ethereal, space-like zone will have players traversing its asteroid like landscape on spiderweb bridge. Creepy, right?

Here, we experienced the first of the new enemy types we'll be facing in our fight again the Spider Queen: the half-spider-half-man Driders. These brand new additions to the game are powerful members of the Drow faction, and will do everything in their power to grief players. Chased by packs of these murderous minions of Lolth, we high-tailed it out of Demonweb and moved on to Evening Star, the first village that you'll visit once you hit The Forgotten Realms.

Before we entered the village, Boyer took our character into the first dungeon. The underground path winds until we battle a group of Forest Hags, which Paiz playfully described as DDO's version of Macbeth's witches. It's here that player will first learn about The Thread of the Weave, a powerful artifact of Mystra, the Mother of all Magic in The Forgotten Realms. When players arrive in The Realms after their dimensional travel, Mystra is missing in action, not sitting on the Throne of Magic like she should be. Lolth wants to gain The Thread of the Weave to gain some of Mystra's power and take control of the Throne.

After finishing the dungeon, and learning of the dangers that threaten The Forgotten Realms, players will then pass through Evening Star, which used to be a quiet, peaceful village. Nowadays, things are a bit more chaotic, as Drow raiding parties have been emerging from The Underdark to raid this once sleepy town.

We doubled back into the first wilderness area that we had traveled to, and ran into a few of those troublesome Drow raids. This race of below-ground dwellers, naturally accustomed to living in dark places, have the ability to create darkness around their group, effectively blinding us as we attempted to fight them off. This mechanic will become very important, according to Paiz, as players travel into The Underdark itself. Players with Drow characters will re-learn how to see in the dark (a racial ability), but players with characters of any other race will need to use specialized gear, like darkness-vission glasses.

One of the most visually stunning parts of the demo for me was when the character that Boyer was maneuvering around the wilderness was suddenly plunged into darkness and ambushed. This unnatural lack of light meant that his enemies were incredibly difficult to stop, creating a real sense of urgency and panic as he scrambled to find the Drow.

We continued through the wilderness, and ended our tour with the reveal of a very large Green Dragon through the forest. A stunning beast that towered over us, the dragon'll give you nightmares about poison effects (just like the classic Green Dragons in D&D lore). To quote Paiz, "It's about time players were afraid of poison again." Sounds good, although I don't think I was ever particularly fond of being poisoned in the first place.

According to Paiz, the expansion will have three adventures packs worth of content in it. One raid, three large wilderness areas, and six dungeons will populate The Forgetten Realms at the expansions launch—enough to keep players very, very busy.

Boyer finished up the demo by giving me a sneak peek of the Druid classes' transformation skills : a bright light flashes as the humanoid shifts into the shape of a lone white wolf. Three animal forms will be available to the Druid: Bear (tank), Wolf (DPS), and Elemental (DPS or Heals), giving players plenty of room to find a style they like.

There was one thing nagging me a I came out of this preview, though. Menace of the Underdark is, with the exception of the Druid class' shapeshifting, simply more of the same. That's not necessarily a bad thing: DDO has always had strong content, with plenty of Dungeons and Wilderness Areas to keep players busy. So while there aren't any major new dungeon mechanics or anything game-changing in that area, I still think fans of the game will have plenty of fun.

Keep an eye out for the Beta coming in May, and check it out for yourself.