DDO
The vanguard of the free-to-play MMO movement is bearing down on the industry this spring, as Dungeons and Dragons Online prepares for its sixth birthday, its 13th update, and its first expansion. We sat down with Turbine Executive Producer Fernando Paiz and Senior Producer Eric Boyer to talk about this coming Monday's Update 13 and what players have to look forward to once it goes live.

Update 13 comes at what could be seen as a renaissance in the game's history. Following DDO's transition to F2P, Turbine saw an upsurge in players and profits that continues to this day. Paiz said that "the game is doing very well," and while he did not disclose numbers, he feels that DDO's status as one of the first F2P adaptations gave it a lead that others have yet to overtake.

Even so, with only five updates in 2011, it's hard to deny that DDO has faded into the background somewhat as newer titles and more recent F2P transitions hogged the spotlight. Turbine means to rectify this: "I think it's safe to say that this year we're making some noise again," Paiz said confidently. He went on to share just why this Monday's patch will be one of the most pivitol in DDO's history.

Big ol' gatekeeper
Come into my web, said the spider to the fly

The core of Update 13 is a very special adventure pack that's being made free for all players (as an aside, Paiz said that Turbine likes to put out at least one free adventure pack per year). Normally a free adventure pack is a good enough reason to celebrate, but this one is more special than that, as it will serve as the functional bridge between the game as we know it and the Menace of the Underdark expansion this summer.

The Web of Chaos adventure pack is a chain of three quests that is steeped in story and importance. It begins in Stormreach Harbor, where a mysterious crack across from the Waterworks has appeared. Agents of the Silver Flame are investigating it and task players to head to a cult hideout in the region to dig up more information. The cult is known as the Lords of Dust and is filled with tiger-humanoids known as Rakshasas and a much more sinister strain of Drow. Without spoiling too much, we can say that players will find that this cult worships an ancient spider-demon known as Lolth (who exists in the Forgotten Realms) and is attempting to do her bidding.

Despite the players' best efforts, the crack in the wall will widen and reveal a passageway down to Khyber, a hellish prison. It's there that the cult is trying to free a particular demon known as the Spinner of Shadows. The Spinner is actually Eberron's alter-ego of Lolth, kind of a "forgotten little sister," as Paiz put it. The Spinner gets free and players have to contend with both her and Lolth as a portal opens between Khyber and the Demon Web, an abyss between worlds. The Web happens to be Lolth's home turf, and it's here where she recruits the Spinner to grab some of Eberron's dragonshards and join her for future nefarious deeds.

In the space of three quests, two worlds become totally screwed. Perhaps you see where this is going? So players will be making an epic journey from Eberron to Khyber to the Demon Web to the Underdark to the Forgotten Realms.

Believe it or not, it wasn't easy for Turbine to figure out how to connect the Eberron campain with Forgotten Realms, and the studio had to work with Wizards of the Coast to concoct a believable reason within the game's rules in order to do so. As a result, this quest chain will serve as a mandatory gate that must be crossed through in order to access the expansion content.

Fortunately, it won't be that terribly hard to make the transition. Web of Chaos will be rated at CR 16, although on its easiest setting, players could tackle it as level 13 or 14. It also scales up all the way to epic difficulty, which will make it relevant as players head to level 20 and beyond.

Because of the events of the adventure pack, the Agents of the Silver Flame call in some help to figure out what to do next, which results in an influx of the Gatekeepers into Stormreach. Gatekeepers have a large Druid contingent, which is the in-game explanation for why they start appearing in great numbers all of the sudden.

"We spent a lot of time sweating the details of the storyline," Paiz admits, noting that when the expansion was first announced with no explanation as to how the two campaigns would connect, players threatened to ragequit if it didn't make sense. There are high hopes at Turbine that this quest chain will quell any disagreement over the change and instead will get players excited about the joining of two worlds.

Warforged
Happy birthday to us!

The adventure pack isn't the only thing coming with Update 13 -- far from it, actually. Turbine plans to host a series of events and activities on a regular basis between now and the expansion to celebrate the title's sixth birthday, but players who log in with existing characters on Monday will also get a special treat: six-year-old birthday cake.

"Ew," we said to Turbine on the phone. Paiz laughed and told us that we didn't have to eat it, as a genie appears and will be glad to take it off your hand in exchange for one wish. This has happened only once before in the game, on DDO's second birthday, and Turbine has updated the wish list with a variety of very tasty rewards. Paiz expects most players to jump at a free +2 stat tome, although there are many other DDO store items as well. Veteran players might get a laugh out of one of the wish items, an exploding barrel with a pig perched on top that results in a "rain of ham."

It's very important to note that these cake slices will be given out only to characters created prior to Monday, so if you're interested, make sure you do so this weekend!

The new DDO Store catalogue is in

The affluent gamers among us will be delighted to hear that Update 13 is adding a few interesting new options to the DDO Store. Veteran status level 4 (the ability to just start a character at level 4) proved to be so popular that Turbine's adding veteran status level 7. For those who don't want to shell out money to buy it, it can be purchased with 3000 in-game favor (making it the most expensive favor reward to date).

The store will also be adding omni-spelldust, a universal spell component that can serve as a substitute for any component that you may be lacking at the time. It's a nice space saver as well, Paiz noted. New gear and weapons will show up, offering lower-level players a quick boost up if they're unable to find that crossbow or sword they need. Some of these items are elemental touch weapons in all flavors of the elemental rainbow.

Expect to see some statted ger as well, such as rings and cloaks. Paiz said that these are strictly convenience items for early play and are easy to obtain elsewhere in the game.

Quality of life improvements

Finally, Turbine's going ahead with two welcome changes to the current game. The first is that any stats that players gain through tomes will persist through reincarnation. Previously, if you reincarnated, you'd lose any tome benefits, but that is no longer the case.

The second improvement is a new "three quests and you're in" rule (that's our term for it). Basically, if you run most quest chains three times, the third will wrap up by giving you access to all of the named items that are part of the final loot table. So if you've had your eye on a certain named item, you'll be guaranteed it the third time around. The devs wanted to stress that this isn't for every quest or even chain, but most of them should have it.

That's not all we talked to Turbine about, of course, but you'll just have to stay tuned for the rest! In the meantime, check out some exclusive screenshots from Update 13 below.

Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?

This article was originally published on Massively.
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