A song of trees and fire: A deeper look at DDO's Update 15

Justin Olivetti
J. Olivetti|08.24.12

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A song of trees and fire: A deeper look at DDO's Update 15
A song of trees and fire A deeper look at DDO's Update 15
Earlier this week, Turbine released Update 15: Song of Druid's Deep for Dungeons and Dragons Online. Seeing as this was the first post-expansion update and that it took us further into the Forgotten Realms setting, we had to get a closer look at what Update 15 added to the game.

Lead Content Designer Ricardo Liu and Community Manager Amanda Grove invited us along to a tour of the new content. Liu said that the speed of Update 15's arrival is a sign that Turbine wants to kick up the pace of releases. The update includes a new four-quest adventure pack, the monster manual, and an additional challenge.

With Update 15, many more options are available in the DDO store. Turbine's set the pricing as follows: Menace of the Underdark adventure packs are 2495 Turbine Points for all, account-wide epic destiny unlock is 995 TP, the Eveningstar Challenge Pack is free for VIPs and 695 TP for others, and the Druid class is free for VIPs and 1495 TP for others.

The pricing details out of the way, we got right into the fun of all of Update 15's new adventures. It's a tale that will give the green thumbs among you a plague of nightmares.

A song of trees and fire A deeper look at DDO's Update 15
Song of Druid's Deep adventure pack

The four new adventures with Song of Druid's Deep begin with an outbreak of a disease in the village of Eveningstar. The war hospital is overrun by patients who are exhibiting signs of nasty plant infestation. We're not just talking a poison ivy rash, folks -- think "roots crawling into bowels and taking over internal organs."

First things first: We went into the war hospital and were asked by the doctor to check out the patients and find a few ingredients for a spell. Easy enough, right? Of course not; this is a CR 17+ quest. Nothing is easy.

A song of trees and fire A deeper look at DDO's Update 15
Behind closed doors in the war hospital, patients are turning into plant zombies and the walls are running... green... with the spread of the plague. Lockpickers have the option to jimmy open extra doors to aid a few of the lesser affected, but otherwise it was straight on to a mini-boss fight and the aforementioned ingredients.

A song of trees and fire A deeper look at DDO's Update 15
"One things plants don't like is fire," Grove cackled as she lit them up with a traveling sphere of flames.

The hospital's healer then sends you to a different section, where "Patient Zero" (not his real name) is staggering about. After introducing him to magical weedwackers, we took him down and discovered that he was a local fisherman.

Guess where we went next?

If anything, the fisherman's lodge was even more overrun by the infestation of dangling plants and angry plant zombies. Even worse, we bumped into one of the fierce new monsters of this campaign: wood woads. Think of these as the "tanky" tree mobs, sort of like a fat guy wearing bark instead of sweats.

A song of trees and fire A deeper look at DDO's Update 15
In the basement of the lodge, two big secrets were revealed. The first was a surviving member of the Harpers, a major troubleshooting organization that's well-known in the Forgotten Realms setting. Turbine worked closely with Wizards of the Coast to bring the Harpers into the game. Of their membership is a certain wizard by the name of Elminster, although we didn't bump into him save for a loading screen.

The Harper showed us a secret tunnel where the source of the plague hid. Turns out that there's a grumpy dryad back there, and her appearance triggers a tough boss fight. When the dryad is hurt enough, she retreats back to her source tree, and players have a limited window to kill both her and the tree.

Also, there's nothing like a bear attacking a tree, right?

With the dryad out of the way, you'd think that all would be well, but we were only two quests into this four-quest pack. The big question remaining is who was behind the beginning of the plague, and that would lead us deep into the King's Forest for the answers.

A song of trees and fire A deeper look at DDO's Update 15
Skipping ahead to the last adventure, we jumped into the forest where plant zombies, spellcasting wisps, and the first appearance of enemy Druids lay in waiting. It's not a happy forest that you're in, by the way. It's the deep, deep forest, where the trees are exceedingly old and tall, and where most people never return if they dare visit.

Our goal was to find the DDO version of Stonehenge, and with it, the mastermind behind this whole Scary Homes and Gardens attack. To avoid too many spoilers, we didn't quite get to the end of the whole affair. Liu said it should take players around 30 to 45 minutes on their first run-through to complete.

Ruin's Keep Challenge

We briefly discussed the new Ruin's Keep challenge. This fort, tucked inside the King's Forest, continues to be under attack by various nature monsters. The new challenge asks players to defend a war wizard who is establishing defenses for the fort. Because players are in a fort, they have the option to repair the fort's previous defenses for the fight (if they want to).

The challenge is 10 minutes long, and is playable between levels 17 and 30. You can choose to play it solo, with a couple of friends, or with a full party. Turbine's worked hard to tune the scaling for the challenge; Liu says that this is the best the team has done in scaling thus far.

A song of trees and fire A deeper look at DDO's Update 15
Monster Manual

Be they lowbie or highbie, all players are able to experience the awesomeness of the monster manual with the update. "We wanted to be very evocative of the original D&D sourcebook," Liu said. "It has different categories of monster types. It gives a general description of the monster as well as hints about how to deal with them."

As the name suggests, the manual is a list of creatures in DDO, categorized by species. Within the pages, players can seek to complete two varieties of achievements for each mob: exterminate deeds (kill 500 minotaurs or 3000 minotaurs, different tiers) and hunter deeds (which breaks it down by type, such as minotaur warrior vs. minotaur chieftan).

There are a variety of rewards for completing these achievements, from XP to concept art to additional creature companions. If a page is fully completed, players will unlock the mastery deed for that monster, allowing them to see the mob's hit point counter in combat.

"We think a lot of our more detail-oriented players will be interested in it," Liu said.

The monster manual is currently broken up into three volumes. The prologue is more of a sampler, with five generally low-level monster types available to everyone for free. Volume 1 is available to all VIP and premium players but is inaccessible to free players right now. Volume 2 is available to VIPs and purchasable for the rest. Apart from the prologue, the volumes contain 10 monsters apiece.

So will there be a volume 3 soon? "That's the direction that we're going," Liu hedged, "but we don't want to give away when it's coming out."

A song of trees and fire A deeper look at DDO's Update 15
Bits and pieces

Before getting off the phone, we asked what classes the devs personally played. Grove said she's been recently into the Artificer, although she says it takes some getting used to shooting from two hands instead of one. Liu, on the other hand, has always had a soft spot for his Elven Ranger, which he specced into a dual-wielding Tempest.

As for the Menace of the Underdark expansion and its reception, Turbine was unable to provide any numbers on sales (Warner Bros. keeps a lid on these things). So is there any indication that a second expansion might be in DDO's future? "No comment at this time," Liu chuckled.

We want to thank Turbine for taking the time to show us how agriculture can go so very wrong.

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