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Exploring Eberron: One isn't the loneliest number

Rubi Bayer, @@rubi_

Two weeks ago on Exploring Eberron, I talked about my preview of the Crystal Cove event in Dungeons and Dragons Online. Design director Ian Currie and producer Eric Boyer joined me on the Lamannia server to show me around the upcoming event. It was a great time, but I was still very curious about how the event would go once it arrived on the live servers.

The thing about a developer tour is that you get to see the best of everything -- and that is both a blessing and a curse. It's great on one hand, because I can see the event and have the details explained to me without my having to navigate the hectic and busy aspect of a crowd of players all participating at once.

On the other hand, there was an important question that I really couldn't find the answer to until the event was live and I tried it on my own. One of the things I love about DDO is that it acknowledges and provides for the solo player. Right from character creation, the game tells you which classes are and are not good for soloing, and the addition of casual mode offered even more options. It seemed that a server-wide event like this might have a harder time keeping up that tradition, and I wanted to find out for myself.

So how did it go? Follow along after the jump and see!

Morning event

I logged into DDO at about 10:15 a.m. EST and immediately knew I wasn't the only one with the same idea. Loading into the harbor for the first time took over a minute. Rather than being annoyed, I was excited -- hopefully this was a signal that lots of people were hurrying to participate in the fun.

My first order of business upon arriving to Smuggler's Rest was to snag myself an awesome pirate hat. My inventory contained a "Birthday Parrrrty Invitation" that included instructions to turn it into Euphonia's Hat Box for my pirate hat. The invitations are color-coded according to several factors including how much you've played with that character. My Rogue Rubialina had a red invitation, and I was delighted to find out that it was tier six -- the top tier. My Dread Admiral's Tricorne was enchantable and gave a 35% boost to doubloon drops while fighting pirates in Smuggler's Rest. Very impressive.

The only thing I don't love is the appearance. Don't get me wrong; the hat itself looks great! Unfortunately, it's plagued with a typical hats-in-MMOs problem: You can have a hat, or you can have hair. Not both. I have to say, my red-headed Elf doesn't look so great bald. After a while, I hid the hat, which was kind of disappointing.

Going solo

I jumped in right as the event started -- a time when most of my guildies are at work, so I was the only one around in the guild. That worked well for my purposes, so off I went to check things out. The first order of business was to chat with Euphronia and see how many map pieces she wanted. The number was undecided a few weeks ago, and I was relieved to see it was only 5,000. With the fact-finding behind me, I set off to smack some pirates around.

Unfortunately, this part of the event simply wasn't very solo-friendly. Guild groups seemed plentiful, and I saw a fair number of people asking for a group in general chat, but I didn't see any public responses. As things progressed, I saw solo players warned off of areas by groups more than once: "This is our farming spot." Haste is almost a necessity if you're not camping one particular spawn area; I approached several groups of pirates with the intent of taking them on only to be beaten to the punch at the last second by fast-moving player groups. A group can take out an enemy mob and move to the next much more quickly than a solo player, obviously. In the end, I found myself hanging out with Euphronia, watching the number of map pieces drop until I could enter Crystal Cove. (This also meant I didn't gain a compass as a drop -- thankfully, the cost of a compass in the DDO store is a very reasonable 50 points.)

It's important to note that this is not a condemnation of players or the event. In a server-wide event like this, the mechanics of the game and the event simply combine to create an environment that is a lot more group-friendly than solo-friendly. Very few aspects of gaming work out perfectly for every player, and that's OK. Judging by the rapid accumulation of map pieces, things progressed just fine anyway.

Crystal Cove is another story entirely. You can choose your specific level -- not just casual, hard, etc., but numbered levels from 1 to 20. Loot and XP scales accordingly, of course, but it's a soloist's dream. I wanted to get a feel for the instance and for the strategy, so I knocked it down to level 6 (my character was level 10) and headed in. I'll be honest and say that, if you're soloing, you may well fail the quest the first time or two unless you've done some serious planning, reading, and preparation. Give it a few tries to get used to it -- you keep your compass for free re-entry if you fail, and you'll get the hang of it pretty quickly.

Your top priority is to guide the Kobold union workers to crystals scattered throughout the area with a strategic placement of torches for light. The torches emit a beam of red light when they're close enough to one another, and the Kobolds need a continuous red line from the foreman at the beginning of the area to the destination that you've chosen or they'll get confused and stop collecting.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, you can use some of the accumulated crystals to purchase handy items from the foreman. After some trial and error, I determined a must-have first purchase: the Kobold teleporter. Place it where the Kobolds are collecting crystals and they'll use it to teleport instantly back to the foreman to turn in their loot. It costs five crystals and is worth double that, particularly if you're running solo. The torch arrangement pictured above is what you start with, and it provides enough light for the workers to gather quite a few crystals before you have to move them at all. The best strategy for me was to stand at the foreman for a moment, allowing the Kobolds to turn in the first few crystals before I purchased a teleporter and started running.

If you've got a character set up for solo play, you're going to blow through this and have a great time. Even if you've got a character with only mediocre solo abilities like mine, bump the difficulty down a few levels and head in anyway -- you're going to have a blast once you figure it out. Kudos to Turbine for making this part of the event friendly for everyone.

Overall, you're going to have to plan ahead if you want to run solo in the public areas. Study up on which enemies are on your level so you can go straight for them, and buff up -- don't forget Haste. But once Crystal Cove is open, dive in!

On a side note, I'm thrilled with how smoothly this event has been running so far. Testing on both Lamannia and the live servers did its job beautifully, and the Turbine team's hard work has paid off. Thanks to all of you for providing this. With that, Euphonia only needs 1,400 more map pieces, so I'm going to get ready to start running torches!

Exploring Eberron is a novice's guide to the world of Dungeons and Dragons Online, found here on Massively every Friday. It's also a series of short summaries of lower-level DDO content, cleverly disguised as a diary of the adventures of OnedAwesome, Massively's DDO guild.

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