With DDO's first update coming under their new F2P business model, Turbine invited us to go on a tour to see just how they're planning to reward veteran players in their newest content.
It was only a week ago I visited the universe of Dungeons & Dragons Online to check out how the game had managed to make the transition from its former pay to play model, to its current free to play micro transaction model. One important thing that I noted in my write-up was that when most MMORPGs make that shift from pay to play to free to play, development cycles and development "quality" tend to go down. If you don't believe me, feel free to check out games like Sword of the New World, a game that made the same shift as DDO, but ended up with zero updates for almost a year after the shift.
Of course, there are other MMOs that have made a much smoother transition, but DDO comes with a more awkward past, as the famed "module 9 update" ended up taking almost nine months to see the light of day (and the module was ultimately released with DDO's F2P shift). In this way, when Turbine announced that the free to play DDO would see more development than when it was subscription based, you can imagine how sceptical some people became.
Well, it seems as though Turbine intends to keep their word for now, as a mere two months after the massive update that came with the F2P shift, the team is back with a new content patch, "Update One," and they invited ZAM.com to check out the newest content with the team. We sat down with Fernando Paiz (Executive Producer), Eric Boyer (Producer), Stephen Muray (Lead Systems Designer) and Ricardo Liu (Senior Content Designer) to check out what update one entails, and what the team intends to do for the future development of DDO.
Before we began the tour, the team made sure to stress that they were calling this new patch "update one" because they want to move away from the "monolithic updates" that were associated with module updates. Instead, the team calls them "updates" because they plan to release them faster, with fewer long pauses of development silence. These updates can be tiny ones, released to address bugs and glitches, or they can be fairly sizeable ones, like update one, which comes with a new adventure pack and a new dungeon difficulty for the first five quests of the "Demon Sands" adventure pack.
After that little information session, we decided to go check out the new "epic" difficulty that Turbine is planning to put in for their older content. This new difficulty is intended for groups of level 20 players only, and they mostly involve lower level content that veterans may have blitzed through on their way to level 20. The team has made sure to revamp the challenge of these older dungeons, and players may find themselves eating dirt if they think it'll be the same old stuff with slightly higher levels. As a reward from these dungeons, players can also get tokens and ingredients that can go towards crafting, upgrading or augmenting their endgame weapons. While this epic difficulty is currently only available for the first five "Demon Sands" adventure pack quests, the team notes that they'll be adding this epic difficulty to more and more older content so that players can get more out of their old quests, instead of just going through a low level adventure pack just once, and never revisiting it again.
The next thing the team showed me was the level 16+ "Path of Inspiration" adventure pack, which involves the re-opening of the old, run-down port of Stormreach, which has been cleaned up by Dar Quat immigrants. The new inspired quarters (as this new area is called) are probably the cleanest of the entire town. Within this new area, however, not all is well, as there is a cult on the rise and it's trying to subvert the population by attempting to trap them in the plane of nightmares. Players with true sight might be in for a scary little treat if they pay close attention to what some of these cultists are wearing for "hats!"
The team then brought me to check out some of the quests in this new adventure pack, and one of the most notable things here is that players will be adventuring into their minds (and the minds of others!) to fight against these nefarious cultists. While I'd rather not spoil too much of what's to come, I must say that many of these nightmarish quests were visually stunning and the team has done a great job of immersing the player in the dangers of the cult. We also managed to take a peek into the mind of another comrade (players will remember him when they see him!), and it was quite impressive just how much effort the team put into rewarding the curious player. In this particular level, if players were innovative enough, they could access a plethora of secret rooms and discover hilarious hidden desires that can help adventurers in their quest. For this particular adventure, the friend we were saving had managed to hide one of his greatest desires from the probing eyes of these creatures, and our group discovered just how much one man can love his pork products.
You heard me.
All in all, the real theme of update one is to reward veterans and players who have stuck with the game from the beginning. Turbine is also introducing this wicked new system called "Veteran Status," where players with 1000+ favour can instantly create level 4 characters to begin their adventures. This enables users to skip the lower levels of advancement, and they can then move right on to tweaking their characters and perhaps even starting adventuring groups from the beginning. The epic difficulty was also intended as a reward to veteran players, and as Turbine adds more epic difficulty quests to lower level content, veterans can get more and more use out of their older adventure packs.
Either way, Turbine has now set the bar fairly high, in terms of development cycles, and with update one, the team has proven, at least for now, that they'll continue to be dedicated to the growth of DDO - let's hope they can keep this up!
Christopher "Pwyff" Tom