Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO) has been around for over six years now. When it went free to play, the game picked up over a million new players and its revenue increased by 500%. I'd call that successful. It was one of the first games to prove that "free to play" doesn't mean sub-par gameplay.
I've dabbled with DDO here and there since its launch back in 2006, and the thing that has always kept me from playing it more was the setting. When DDO came out, it was set in the Ebberon universe, which was probably a good choice because the developers had more freedom to create things since there is less lore and fantasy connected to it than other Dungeons & Dragons campaign settings. But I wanted to be able to run around in my favorite D&D setting, The Forgetton Realms. The Forgetton Realms has been used as the universe for most D&D PC games including Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, and Neverwinter Nights. It's a familiar setting to RPG gamers, and it's one that I would love to explore in an MMO.
The first expansion pack to DDO, called Menace of the Underdark, will allow players to quest in the lands of The Forgotten Realms with three new massive quest packs. The druid has also been added as a playable class. While DDO is still free, this new expansion will cost you at least $29.99 to play. That's not too much to ask, but is it worth it? Let's find out!
The evil spider deity Lloth has decided to try and attack Ebberon. Any level 16 character can get a quest that will let them discover this in a series of dungeons. A rift has been opened between the worlds of Ebberon and the Forgotten Realms. Players travel to the city of Evengstar in the Forgetton Realms to start their questing. The first major zone players will get to enter is The King's Forest, which is huge and filled with things to do. Later on, players will also get a chance to enter the Underdark to kick some Drow ass. The final adventure pack brings the fight to Lloth's home plane, The Demonweb.
These three adventure packs add over 40 hours of new content. It's all interesting content, too. The quests are narrated by Elminster, a wizard that pops up all over the place in the Forgotten Realms. His crackly old voice is perfect for describing the dark regions that players will explore. The quests just seem like more fun to me. I can't put a finger on anything that they are doing differently, but they are more enjoyable. I know that being in the Forgotten Realms makes me more interested in what's going on, and I feel like most RPG players will agree. Even if you haven't played a D&D game like Baldur's Gate, the setting will still feel familiar with its giant green forests and dark caverns to explore. It's much more of a traditional fantasy setting than the slightly steampunk Ebberon.
All of this new content is cool, but it's meaningless unless players can continue to progress. Players can now level up to 25 and they have access to Epic Destinies. Epic Destinies will take the place of enhancements as characters work their way towards level 25.
Players get to pick which Epic Destiny they want to have and they earn points for that destiny as they gain experience points. Epic Destinies have five levels; once a character reaches level five in a Destiny, they can choose to have another Destiny active instead. They will then start to level up that Destiny from level one. It's possible to reach level five in every Epic Destiny with enough time.
Switching Destinies is simple enough. Players just have to pay a visit to a Fatespinner, which are now in most public areas next to class trainers. You don't lose any progress you might have made leveling another Destiny, but you can't use any of the abilities from it unless it's active and you can't level it up if it's not active.
The Epic Destinies are divided into four spheres: Arcane, Divine, Martial, and Primal. Each sphere has classes associated with it, and you must have at least six levels in that class to start with a Destiny in that sphere. For example, if I have a level 20 Wizard with no levels in any other class, I'll have to start with the Arcane Destiny. Once a character reaches level three in an Destiny, they can switch to a another Destiny in the same sphere, and at level four it will start to be possible to unlock Destinies in other spheres.
I lied a little bit about not being able to use abilities from a non-active Destiny. There is a system in place called a Twist of Fate which allows a character to use an ability from another Destiny. Fate points are awarded every time three Destiny levels are earned and can then be used to unlock slots to equip abilities from other Destinies. These slots at first will only allow access to low-level abilities, but Fate points can be used to improve the slots and allow the use of better abilities.
All of this stuff might sound really complicated to non D&D players, but you don't have to learn all of it at once and it's introduced gradually into the game. It's simple to learn and quite easy to use. It's also deep and if players want to spend time maximizing their stats and abilities, there is plenty to play around with here.
Rounding out all of this new content is the addition of the Druid class. The Druid will be familiar to just about anyone who knows the basics of D&D. And if you don't know anything about D&D, pretty much every druid in any videogame is based on the D&D Druid class.
The Druid can change his shape into a wolf, bear, fire elemental, or a water elemental. Each of these shapes has a set of special abilities. Druids can also summon animals to fight with them as pets. Early on, they are mostly a melee class that can cast the occasional spell, but a high-level Druid is an awesome spellcaster that can take on the role of a healer, damage dealer, or even a tank.
It's a good, multi-purpose role that can flex to the needs of the party. If you are a VIP subscriber, you'll have access to the Druid without having to buy the expansion.
Menace of the Underdark has a lot of content in it. It breathes some much-needed life into a six-year-old game and serves as a great reason to jump back in if you haven't played in a while. If you have never played DDO, you might want to give it a try. It won't cost you a dime to get started. Sadly none of this new content really affects the free portions of the game. You'll have to dish out some cash to play this new content.
I know there will be people on the Internet complaining that they'll have to spend money in a free-to-play game, but not everything can be completely free. $29.99 will get you into Menace of the Underdark with the Base edition, and that's less than the price of two months in a paid MMO. The Standard edition of the game is priced at $49.99.
There is definitely enough content to keep you busy for a couple of months, and if you stick around, you'll just get to keep playing for free. It's a pretty good deal to me.