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Mountain hiking in DDO: Shadowfell Conspiracy's Stormhorns


Dungeons and Dragons Online: Shadowfell Conspiracy, the game's second expansion, isn't just mucking about in a trashed prison city with your new premium classes. Turbine is taking us beyond Forgotten Realm's civilization to the Stormhorns, a mountain region that comprises DDO's first mountain wilderness area.

For our third tour through Shadowfell Conspiracy's new content, we put on our hiking boots and headed out for some fresh mountain air. Will this region bring out the beauty of Faerûn or show the creaky underpinnings of this aging title? And why are we going out there to begin with?

Mountain hiking in DDO Shadowfell Conspiracy's Stormhorns
To get to the Stormhorn mountain, you cross a bridge leading out from Eveningstar. Turbine's woven the story of the Drow and the Netherese together as it's pieced together the old and new Forgotten Realms zones. The transition between civilization and wilderness as you head into the Stormhorns is abrupt and captivating. For normal mode, you'll want to be level 19 to head out here, although epic mode instances are tuned for level 27.

The landscape is described as "huge" -- huge in area and massive in features. The Stormhorns aren't quite the largest wilderness area in the game, but they're the tallest by far. It's a breathtakingly beautiful area full of pristine mountain streams, waterfalls, pine trees, flowers, and of course, looming mountain summits in the distance. It's a very vertical area, so you'll be going up, up, up as you explore. We liked how open it felt, too; you won't be penned in with forest walls or canyon cliffs. Don't expect it to be dull and safe, either, as random encounters and monster patrols are everywhere. And owlbears. Lots of owlbears.

One random encounter was shown with a few satyrs. Sometimes the satyrs will be hostile, although this time they were just partying-hearty out in the open. To get the best of that encounter, you'll be invited to dance to impress them.

Mountain hiking in DDO Shadowfell Conspiracy's Stormhorns
DDO's new AI tech is put to good use with the Stormhorn's satyrs, dryads, and harpies. Every fight will be different, as various classes of enemies will force you to adjust your tactics to counter their varying attacks. AoE attacks, group attacks, enemies that buff their friends, mobs that come to the defense of other mobs -- all of these encounters will definitely keep you on your toes. It gets rougher the higher you go, so it might behoove you to get the swing of the new fights early on before climbing up into a nest of orcs.

Up in the mountains you'll find the Harper's Glade. Here players will meet up with a Harper agent who's doing some investigating the great number of monsters amassing in the mountains. Right as he warns you, Netherese wizards show up and kidnap him right from under your party. What's cool with this scripted moment is that you'll bump into the expansion's big boss, Amskar, right at the beginning. You follow in hot pursuit into the nearby caves, colliding into many of the new random encounters that Turbine has planned.

Mountain hiking in DDO Shadowfell Conspiracy's Stormhorns
Another mission, Tumblerock Pass, takes a cue from tower defense games by allowing players to set up traps and defenses before the enemy forces arrive.

The Storm Horns mission takes you to the very top of the mountains, where the snow and danger is plentiful. Even here the vistas are screenshot-worthy, although if you get too lost in the visuals, you could get eaten by a small dragon or crushed by one of the local giants. We got to see a great final confrontation with Charmillion, a big red dragon that chats you up a little before trying to eat you. Turbine's developed a dragon kit that allows the team to create all sorts of unique visuals and special animations for these iconic beasts.

Turbine said that the Stormhorns hasn't had much visual representation in D&D, either in video games or in illustrations, so the team had to rely on written descriptions to help it craft the majesty and unique scope of the area.

Mountain hiking in DDO Shadowfell Conspiracy's Stormhorns
Players' journeys will eventually lead them inside of a glacier for an epic encounter with the Netherese. There are actually two of these missions. Rescuing the Harper is incidental when you discover that the Netherese are trying to power up an ancient artifact that will do bad things to good people. You can't let that happen, can you?

If you're worried that it'll take too long running around to get to the quest instances, fear not; Turbine's considered this and provided several shortcuts to get you right into the action. One of the most obvious of these is the inclusion of NPC guides with the ever-helpful DDO icon over their heads. And DDO's scaling tech is in full swing for this expansion, which means that if you want to solo through the Stormhorns' 10 instances, that's entirely possible.

So there you have it: Shadowfell Conspiracy's three new classes, two new adventure zones, and at least one very grumpy red dragon. It should keep DDO players quite busy when it launches on August 19th.

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?

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