ZAM takes a look at DDO's newest expansion pack!
When players arrive, there are a couple of quests to complete in town and also some challenge quests available from a challenge board with blue swirls on it. The challenge board offers an opportunity for players to sample new content and some of the environments before they fully dive into the expansion. But once they are level 20 or above, players will want to get into the bulk of the content released with Menace of the Underdark by heading out into the King’s Forest. The content released is about the size of four large live updates. In this case there is a challenge pack of five challenges from within the town of Eveningstar, and three large adventure packs, each of which includes a public area like the King’s Forest and several dungeons each.
Inside the forest, and all throughout the new content, players can search out hidden messages from Elminster. These messages are marked by floating blue star symbols, the symbol of the goddess Mystra. There are forty total to be found, and they are used instead of explorer points.
We ran across some enemies: Drow. Fernando noted that when several Drow are in an area together, the sky changes color; this is a magic called The Darkening, which is what has helped them attack the people of Cormyr. Normally the Drow keep mostly to themselves in the Underdark, but lately they’ve been coming to the surface to fight and search for something nearby.
Further on in the forest, we come to a marshlands area with reeds and wet ground. Several water elementals and will-o-wisps nearby. Further into the forest there is the Deep Forest, with a thick canopy and large trees. Showing off some more of the graphical upgrades, light will briefly shine down in rays through the canopy. Climbing up a hill, we reached a scorched part of the forest that the Drow had destroyed, followed by a Drow stronghold that is another entrance to the Underdark; there are several such entrances around the Forgotten Realm.
Inside the Underdark, the view can be altered from the normal dimly lit view to a black-and-white, heightened vision by using Melchior’s Under Sun Goggles, a magical item automatically granted to characters when they descend into the Underdark. While the Goggles are fantastic for seeing distant enemies and interactive items, taking them off truly reveals the vastness of the Underdark. This area is the largest underground area ever created in DDO, with some of the ceilings almost a mile high. The Underdark is very dangerous: everyone in the Underdark (including the enemies) has a bonus to Hide, and Drow love to stealth around and ambush players. The Drow have also brought humans from the surface underground to work as slaves; killing the slave masters but sparing these slaves will bring increased experience and rewards. The goggles help for this, as the slavers stealth around while the slaves are forced to fight, but the Goggles boost Spot and should allow players to kill the slavers before needing to dispatch the slaves.
Dodging Salamanders and Drow, we were alerted that a red dragon also occasionally patrols the Underdark (although it was absent for my walkthrough). Further on we discovered a Hag’s hut, where we were lucky (?) enough to find the rare enemy at home. Agathea is a Night Hag that summons animated armor to attack players; she and other fey creatures such as dryads will attack players, as there have been dark alliances made between these races and Lolth. After killing the Hag and gathering the loot, we proceeded to another area past earth elementals that glowed red when using the Goggles. A Purple Worm emerged from the ground to attack our group; the worm can swallow players whole, forcing them to fight their way out of it before they are digested. One of the quests in the Underdark requires fighting an Elder Purple Worm, which swallows the whole party at one point, thus continuing the quest inside the worm as you battle your way out.
After defeating the Purple Worm, we moved on to Shindylryn, the City of Portals. It is built on top of a magical ziggurat, where the Drow built a temple to Lolth. Without the Goggles on, the architecture and decorations were more easily viewed; but with them on, seemingly dozens of Drow appeared all around the group. Having instant-kill GM abilities was quite useful for this part! Many high priestesses are in the area, and as some of the most powerful Drow in the entire faction they pose significant danger to players. The city contains a number of quests requiring players to infiltrate some Drow houses and eventually face off against the high priestess at the top of the ziggurat. Completing these quests unlocks the Demonweb for players, which is the third large environment, and our final destination.
Skipping back out of Shindylryn, we returned to the Eveningstar Cavern to enter the Demonweb. This quest is to be the only one in the entire expansion that is not intended to be soloed. All other quests are fine for a single player if completed on Casual or Normal difficulty; however, the only reason we were not turned into paste in the Demonweb was due to our GM protections. The Demonweb is designed for a group of 12 players, but our merry band of three jumped through the enemies in order to see the sights. Off in the distance, a pink glow denotes Lolth’s home base, although we don’t need to reach it. Along the way we met up with the souls of Drow who have died and travelled to the Demonweb as a sort of afterlife for “good” Drow (ie, the meanest, most despicable and loyal of Lolth’s servants).
At the Altar of Lolth we are reunited with Ana Brabener, an NPC from a previous quest who was kidnapped. Ana works to draw power from the artifacts around the Altar; the power can then be turned on Lolth, who can then be attacked by players. Our tour ended before Lolth’s defeat; it feels a bit cheesy to use GM powers to one-shot a god, after all.
In closing, the expansion goes live on the 25th. Those who preordered will be the first in line to try the new content, and the extra goodies that comes with the deluxe version. Turbine is also running a promotion for the expansion called the Stone of Experience, which allows players who bought the expansion and have a character of at least level 16 to claim stones of experience that will level up any other character who is at least level 8 to level 16. Forgotten Realms first opens at 16, so this will let players level their friends and jump into the new content almost instantly. As Menace of the Underdark is the size of four regular live content updates, players should find plenty to occupy their time in the Forgotten Realms!
Paul "LockeColeMA" Cleveland, Staff Writer