Druids, Drow, and destinies in an epic DDO expansion tour

DDO
On Thursday, Turbine will take the wraps off of Dungeons and Dragons Online: Menace of the Underdark and commence with the closed beta. It's a heady time for both the team and playerbase, as this 2007 title steps into the big leagues of expansion-holding MMOs. And because we know you hate waiting for all the goods, we joined Turbine on the test server for an advance look at some of the hottest features coming with June's launch.

On the phone with us was Senior Producer Eric Boyer, Community Specialist Amanda Grove, and Design Director Ian Currie. "We want to show players how big the expansion pack is and how much it'll be changing the game," Boyer began, telling us that levels one through 20 were merely "heroic" -- now it'll be time to make the move into epic territory.

From a look at the much-anticipated Druid and the previously vague Epic Destinies to a lightning tour of your first day in the Forgotten Realms, the team was out to convince us that Menace of the Underdark is fully worthy of the "expansion" moniker. How's it looking so far? Take a look for yourself!

Druid forms
Bears and wolves and elementals, oh my!

It's safe to say that the Druid has been the most demanded and anticipated class in DDO since, well, forever. It's been a long time coming because Turbine's wanted to do the shapeshifting class right. While we didn't get a chance to play the Druid ourselves, we did get an up-close look at a dev showing off the various forms and fighting moves that this class has to offer.

The Druid promises to be both a flexible and powerful class. "Adaptability" was the key word that Turbine adhered to when building the Druid, and this starts with the class' four basic forms. Players can shift from humanoid to a bear (a melee tank with an emphasis on strength), a wolf (a high-DPS melee attacker), a fire elemental (strong fire spells but weak toward ice and water), and a water elemental (basically the opposite of its fire counterpart). If specced right, the Druid can also unlock better versions of its animal forms: the dire bear and winter wolf.

We asked which forms the team were partial to, and the response was, well, it depends on the day! Wolf used to be the form du jour, but recently bears have become the golden child. Boyer confessed a preference to fire elementals and their awesome DPS output.

Druids are restricted in armor to leather, as putting on metal plate or wearing a shield will conflict with their druidic oath and render several spells null. In addition to shapeshifting, Druids can summon a pet to aid them in combat (a new pet opens up at every level).

The devs laughed and said that players could be a one-person wolf pack in the right situation: "You can be a wolf, you have a pet wolf, you can charm wolves, and you can have a creature companion that's a wolf," Boyer said.

While they don't begin as powerhouse healers, Druids do get access to strong healing magic later on in their careers. These spells include a mass heal and their form of resurrection called reincarnation.

Initially, Druids will be available only to those who purchase the expansion. You can expect to find Druids in the DDO store when Update 15 hits a few months later as well.

Epic destinies
It is... your epic destiny

While we previously heard of "epic destinies," all we had was a vague description that the system would help players customize their characters past level 20. Now Turbine is prepared to expose the system for all the min/maxers to pick apart at their leisure.

The idea is that the epic destiny system will take over the role of enhancements once you hit level 20. You'll be asked which one of 10 destiny lines you want to initially pursue, from Faesinger to Grandmaster of Flowers. Each epic destiny loosely corresponds with one of the game's classes, although Turbine's intent is that they're more about roles than about specific class abilities. Some epic destinies will synergize better with specific classes.

Once you've chosen, you'll level up your epic destiny from zero to five with special experience points that will be awarded alongside traditional XP. You'll accrue a total of 24 points to assign to a 50+ point tree to choose the active and passive abilities that best suit you.

Epic destinies
While this sounds much like any other MMO's talent trees, there's a neat twist in that you can collect additional epic destinies (and ultimately, all of them). When you hit level three on any epic destiny, you can claim one of the neighboring destinies that are linked on a special in-game map. From then on, you decide which epic destiny you want active, and it's that epic destiny line that gets XP and determines which abilities are active on your character. Switching between them is fairly painless, we're told.

To take some of the sting out of switching into an epic destiny that isn't as strong for your class or role, Turbine's also giving players the ability to earn "fate points." Get enough of these points and you can unlock up to three special Twist of Fate slots. It's here that you can drag any ability from the first two tiers on your unlocked epic destiny trees and retain their use no matter which epic destiny you use.

"There will be some very interesting combinations -- not just which epic destiny you pursue but how you combine them," Currie commented.

Epic destinies are loosely divided into arcane, divine, martial, and ranged specialties. Turbine said that if you decide to reincarnate at a high level, you'll retain your epic destiny progress on that character (but can't use those abilities until you reach those levels once more).

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Your first day in the Forgotten Realms

From there we took the people-mover through the first set of quests and zones that lead from Eberron to the Forgotten Realms. The first step will be an instance called The Rift Between the Worlds, which has you stepping into a colorful abyss. If you look to the left, we were told, you can see the giant pink nest of evil Lolth. Over here to the right is a guy named Elminster. You've probably never heard of him.

Following that was a jaunt into the giant Underdark, a cavern system that reminded us strongly of Lord of the Rings Online's Moria. Once we were through, we rescued a number of villagers, including an important NPC named Ana. Apparently, once you've gone through this quest, you'll be flagged on that character so that you can jump between worlds on a whim.

Eveningstar
We took a look at the town of Eveningstar, and right away it was apparent that this was a much different world from Eberron. The architecture, sky, and even plants all reflected this. If you have DX10 or 11 enabled, you'll be treated to some new visual tricks, like tall grass moving in your wake as you run through.

In the neighboring King's Forest, we encountered some hostile Drow who were popping up out of the Underdark with increasing frequency. Apparently the Drow can summon something called The Darkening, which turns the sky black and red, to avoid getting those severe sunburns that are their undoing.

Back in the Underdark, we were shown one of the many special encounters that adventurers can discover in their journeys: a giant purple worm that can and will swallow team members. What happens then? Why, you have to fight your way out from the inside, of course!

Plans in motion

Turbine's got plenty of projects in the mix following Menace of the Underdark's release. The UI is being reworked step by step and will include an improved menu button and an interface that more accurately reflects traditional MMO setups. The team also is working to revamp the enhancement system so that it supports the style and ease of the epic destiny screens.

Menace of the Underdark goes into closed beta on May 10th and releases on June 25th.

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This article was originally published on Massively.