Dungeons & Dragons Online: Shadowfell Conspiracy

We take a tour of Wheloon in anticipation of DDO's next expansion

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There is something undeniably cool about the concept for Dungeons & Dragons Online’s next expansion, Shadowfell Conspiracy

It’s a concept that has been seen before—for more details, watch John Carpenter’s Escape from New York  and thank me later—but taking a city and walling it off, in order to create a prison overnight, opens up a lot of possibilities for story and adventure.

That sounds right down the alley of any D&D player—a dark and scary alley.

To get more details on Shadowfell Conspiracy, which launches August 19, I attended a livestream dev tour hosted by, among others, Turbine senior content designer, Charles Miller, and content designer Ryon Levitt.

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The dynamic duo explained the stark transformation of the city that houses the expansion, Wheloon. Originally a normal town populated with average folks, reports of nefarious activities perpetrated by Shar worshippers—disciples of shadow and general bad stuff—began to circulate. To counter the threat, the king took action and walled up the entire city.

Not only were the insidious Shar worshippers trapped in Wheloon, but the poor native inhabitants suddenly found their travel plans severely curtailed. Throw in—literally—a growing number of convicted criminals and you have a social experiment destined to end in something tragic and explosive.

If this wasn’t bad enough, the Netherese saw Wheloon as the ideal place to start an invasion and so, using the Shadowfell, broke into Wheloon and started recruiting Shar worshippers to raise an army.

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It was into this intriguing catastrophe that we ventured, initially climbing to the high wall encircling Wheloon and clicking on a whirly portal to signify the journey into the prison. Like the rest of the poor souls to arrive, you are thrown off the wall onto the streets below—with a satisfyingly unsettling/amusing scream as accompaniment.

Wheloon is a ragged town that is half in ruins. The winding streets crack under the weight of their own decay and the populace is violent and wild in a nightmare of social Darwinism. Though Wheloon isn’t massive in its geographical size, it is full of encounters. Traveling through the streets is a very dangerous proposition, with flying gargoyles added to the plethora of dangers—including inmates ready to tear you apart.

Climbing to an elevated position isn’t necessarily a safe move either. Since every flat roof in the city can be run across and jumped from—necessary to access some restricted areas—they have their own dynamic events to keep you busy and constantly on the run.

You are adventurers though, so you’re not just running around to get into scraps and count teeth—well, not all the time—and the several dungeons in Wheloon lead you through the overall story of Shadowfell. We were taken on a quick tour of the first story minded dungeon, a sewer that the native inhabitants of the city have taken refuge in. Bright crepuscular rays from the city above reach down into the dankness, adding a creepy contrast to the sewer’s filthy cobbled stone—as well as hinting at potential danger to come.

Forced to abandon their homes and livelihoods, the citizens eke out a less than enjoyable—or hygienic—life among the subterranean denizens of the sewers. Unfortunately for the unhappy and smelly dwellers, it seems the criminals have had their fill of the situation and are ruthlessly decimating any pockets of resistance.

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Your first job, after discovering the initial carnage, is to warn another camp of natives—I’m going to say Wheloonians because it pleases me—from the threat. Luckily for them, you arrive just as the criminal gang attacks.

Time to lay the smack down.

The criminal NPCs are briefly delayed by the citizens who raise some gates, but soon they are dropping in through sewer drains and a chaotic battle ensues. Defeat the invading brigands and you will accrue the thanks of the locals and gain access to Harvest Hall, the headquarters of the remaining Wheloonites. As well as providing shelter for the original Wheloonies, Harvest Hall will become your base of operations—if you overcome the dungeon, of course.

After directly coming to the aid of the Wheloonitunes—OK I’ll stop now—you will be sent to another dungeon to rescue a magistrate who is being held by a particularly menacing opponent. This boss whips around a chain with evil intent and summons howlers—demonic beasts—who produce a stacking debuff when they howl together, much like a barber shop quartet.

There are a number of different enemy types to keep the wanton destruction varied: trapsmiths can cause many problems with their, ermm, traps; shadow puppeteers can take control of friendly NPCs and turn them against you—as well as hit players with crowd control—and shades have one of the creepiest sound effects you will ever hear.

To imagine the noise, think of Hannibal Lecter talking about eating a liver if he hadn’t any teeth. In hell.

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The culmination of Shadowfell Conspiracy resides in Oldstone Hall, its central tower looming over the city as purple bolts of energy from the Shadowfell pour out of its ramparts. The hall exists in both the Shadowfell and natural planes—which players can switch between through the use of mirrors—where different opponents exist on each level of reality.

Creatures of the Shadowfell will be weaker to light-based attacks, which made the Morninglord—one of the new Iconic character options in the expansion—very useful. Our play guide unleashed Amaunator’s Brilliance with regularity, a spell that dishes out light damage with an impressive range and particle effect.

One of the other player characters was a Shadar-kai, a very cool, gritty looking humanoid with a face full of piercings and tattoos for that “Last Person to Mess With” fashion statement. Screenshot

We were shown one of the bosses who is present on both planes simultaneously. The duality of his existence gives players a choice to make: attack in one dimension and then switch to lower his health in the other, or split up the group and attack in both realities at once.

My favorite fight came in a Netherese tavern where a particularly infernal trap turned inanimate objects into dangerous projectiles, swirling around the room until eventually forming a boss. The creature formed its torso out of a barrel and the rest of its appendages and head from chairs, tables, lamps and anything to hand.

When I asked Ryon and Charles if all the monsters from these traps were the same model, they stated that in fact the appearance of each one would depend entirely on whatever objects were in the vicinity. So unless you’re springing a trap in a local pillow factory, keep an eye on your environment.

There seems to be a lot to look forward to for DDO fans in Shadowfell Conspiracy—available now for pre-order—and we will delve further into what gamers can expect in the days ahead.

 Scott “Jarimor” Hawkes, Editor in Chief

Follow me on Twitter @Jarimor

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