Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Online

DDO: The Darkening

With the rest of Eveningstar quests out of the way, it’s time to return to the Menace of the Underdark storyline. This takes place in three quest chains, so I’m digging into the first one — The Darkening. Apparently the Drow have been streaming up from underground to be more aggressive, and in “Impossible Demands,” they’ve taken a farmstead hostage. I head in to investigate.

This is a supremely clever quest. So the Drow priestess here reveals that she can kill and drain hostages of their life force to heal herself, then she starts pathing around the farmhouse. You can see her on the radar, so the quest is to make sure she isn’t near, then run into a room, defeat the bad guys, tag the hostages, and get out without her rushing in to kill everyone. Once all 10 were pulled out of there — and yes, I got them all — you can fight and defeat the priestess for good.

I guess I was hoping for something a little more creative with Drow necromancers plundering an entire graveyard in “The Unquiet Graves” — but no, it was a straightforward and unimaginative fight against some skeletons and mages. I mean, at least it was short, but where is my 70-foot skeleton mammoth?

From necromancy to slavery, there is no deviancy that the Drow will not explore. So it is in “The Lost Thread,” where they take a bunch of villagers captive and work on plundering a temple to the long-vanished goddess of magic. In there, I find and rescue Ana, a powerful mage-in-training who helps me nuke all of the slavers.

This Drow tomfoolery all comes to a head in “The Battle for Eveningstar” — another straight-forward fight-fest through a burning village. It was pretty mindless, save for the fact that I had to light up bonfires to keep respawns from triggering. The instance finished with a rather epic fight against a super-tall spider-scorpion-thing and its Drow rider. Piece of cake — and another major chapter of Menace of the Underdark done!

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DDO: Eveningstar odds & ends

I’m taking a couple of weeks off of quest chains in DDO to work on the four heroic stand-alone missions in Eveningstar. I kicked it off with “Search and Rescue,” a, erm, search and rescue of five lost friends inside some tomb or another.

The DDO wiki page on this quest warns that it’s tougher than it should be at this level, and boy is that right. There are a lot of intense encounters in here with mephits, undead, and… kobolds? Well, they’re all worshiping some big ol’ red dragon in the way back, so they have backup. I didn’t have time to do the optional side quest here, unfortunately.

In “Mask of Deception,” I had to infiltrate a cult compound to steal their super-duper special mask (which ends up being a fake anyway, spoiler). Now, of course the devs want you to stealth in using a cultist’s mask, but this is DDO, and DDO never quite begrudges you if you want to do things your own way. Like, say, screaming and gunning your way through packs of mobs. Which is, of course, what I did. AAHHHHH pew pew pew pew.

It probably was for the best, because once I grabbed the mask, alarms went off anyway. Going back out was through a whole host of traps which I approached with the same subtlety — running and screaming and hoping for the best. I barely got a scratch!

I got all excited thinking that “Murder By Night” was going to be a murder mystery quest, but that’s not how it played out. Instead, I got thrust into a war hospital that was suffering from an outbreak of werewolves. It was a decent re-use of the same set from the druid questline, only now with more random lycanthropic transformations. I thought that the background howls and screams were decent atmosphere.

To wrap up the one-off quests, I went down into a dank cave for “The Riddle.” My goal? To find a wizard who was investigating strange and troubled dreams in the village. As one might expect, it was night hags all along.

I was a little daunted by the “long” quest descriptor, but this one wasn’t too bad. A bit twisty-turny through caverns, perhaps, but I never got lost. It all got done in record time, and I even got to squish an eyeball along the way. Bonus!

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DDO: The Secret of the Storm Horns

This week I kicked off the five-part Storm Horns quest series, starting with “The Tracker’s Trap.” Up in the mountainous Storm Horns, I find a Harper who’s spying on some Netherese activity up there. He gets kidnapped and I go on the chase.

I felt this quest was notable for fighting some Gnolls — an enemy type I haven’t seen much of before. The hyena-men look suitably vicious.

And I even got to kill a pseudodragon, the end boss’ familiar! Little dude went down like a chump.

The Netherese are trying to supply monsters with weapons (or vice-versa, wasn’t paying that close attention), and I’ve got to put an end to that nonsense. In “Lines of Supply,” DDO gets absolutely nuts with a different quest mode. There’s a valley through which nine or so supply lines move through — and I’ve got to kill them before they get all the way through. It’s a turkey shoot, plain and simple, and it’s a whole lot of fun. There’s even a super-sized Norse warrior at the end for a final bout.

Well, this is a DDO first for me. “Breaking the Ranks” was the first time that I died far more trying to GET to the quest than DOING it. This sucker is tucked waaaaaaay up into the mountains, and it took me forever to figure out where the path was going up to it. As a bonus, said path is littered with scores of mobs, and if I tried to race by them on a horse, the dungeon alert would go to red in a hot second and summon every mob in the zone on me. So I died. Four times. If this game had a physical form, I might have headbutted it.

Anyway, I beat the quest. Moving on.

“A Break in the Ice” presents a truly unique setting — a dungeon set entirely within a glacier. It’s a cool concept, although the artwork with this quest wasn’t quite up to what I was hoping. At least I knew it was a glacier, because the dungeon master only said that word a dozen times (and in the cool way, saying “glay-see-er” instead of “glay-shir”). The quest itself has me teaming up with a giant to beat a wizard… at which point the giant turns on me and I have to kill it, too.

We’ll finish up this quest chain with “What Goes Up.” This brought me back to the glacier, only this time I was ascending up inside of it to the very top. It’s a looooong quest, upwards of an hour, and it got really nail-biting at the end. The final fight is the dooziest of all doozies. There are a constant stream of adds, several pillars to destroy, four incredibly tough mini-bosses, and one boss — all in the same space. And did I mention that at this point the glacier is a flying fortress that you can fall off of?

I did fall a couple of times but recovered with a long run. I had to turn off post-processing effects because of the Shadowfall FX. In the end, it was worth it for the finale — which involved jumping off and watching the fortress spiral into the side of a mountain. Neat-o.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Online

DDO: Song of Druid’s Deep

It’s time for a new Forgotten Realms quest series! Next up is the four-parter Song of Druid’s Deep. This one starts with a strange outbreak sweeping through a local hospital.

In “Outbreak,” I investigated the healing center and found it infested with leafy growth and green zombies. This quest proved incredibly tough, with CR26 bosses giving me a run for my money. I think I may have accidentally put this on epic rather than heroic mode, eh?

The worst part was when one boss struck me with a four-and-a-half-minute weakness affliction, during which I couldn’t fire my crossbow, use any spells, or drink any potions. All I could do was run and outwait the timer while mobs whittled down my health. It was a close thing, but at 26 health and zero seconds remaining, I popped back to full strength, healed myself, and got to revengin’.

Moving on to “Overgrowth,” I’m assigned the mission of investigating the overgrown home of the previous quest’s boss. “Thick murky green” is the light palette of the day, with every room strangled by plants and infested with vine horrors, wood woads, and even wolves.

The search through the house — a very linear progression that twists and turns — leads to the cellar and a secret room, where a dryad is revealed to be the source of the corruption. I like how in DDO if you’re battling a dryad, it’s absolutely essential take out her tree, too. Otherwise, she’ll respawn on you.

In any case, a Harper shows up and mentions that the previous homeowner brought some artifact home from the King’s Forest, so that’s where we are off to next!

DDO has its beautiful moments more often than you’d think, and I found myself instantly enchanted with the thick woods of “Thorn and Paw.” Deep into the King’s Forest, I’m tracking down a druid responsible for this plant corruption. I think I’m going to kill a lot of nature tonight.

This quest does a great job portraying a claustrophobic forest environment. Everything in here is a little too tight with not much room to backpedal or strafe. Mobs pop out of crooks, and twice I fell into hidden spike traps.

But the worst was the BARS. The dire bars, so to speak. These nasty brutes are tough to put down, and the final fight pit me against about six of them and a giant den mother. It was quite the frantic fight before I won… and found out that my princess was in another castle. Er, my druid was in another zone.

And that zone is found in “The Druid’s Curse,” the final quest of this chain. Having tracked the evil druid back to his grove, I have to put an end to him. This quest was notable for a very long — and not that eventful — underwater swimming sequence. Since I can breathe underwater by now, there’s no challenge to this.

Naturally, because this is a video game and has a druid boss, the final confrontation has to take place in a faux-Stonehenge. This guy went down super-easy, even after spewing out a Shakespeare play’s worth of comments.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Online

DDO: Disciples of Shadow

For this week’s quest pack, I’m going with Disciples of Shadow, a trilogy of adventures around Shar worshippers in the region.

The first quest, “Disciples of Shar,” sends me on an infiltration mission to a nearby cave infested with Shar worshippers. And when I say “infiltration,” I mean “go Terminator on every last one of them and give no quarter.” The cave itself is rather drab and not terribly photogenic, I’m afraid. Lots of levers and doors and more levers and more doors.

Taking all of the Shar prisoners from the previous mission, “Escape Plan” asks me to guard them from an ambush while a prisoner convoy is camping for the night. No problem.

The first part of this is perfect for my build — I could just stand in one place and pivot to gun down all of the lizardfolk rushing in. They try to rescue the prisoners, but not even one of them gets close to doing this.

Then a shaman pops up, opens a dimensional door, and yanks the leader of the prisoners through with him. I have a merry chase through the forest before finding him, at which I’m told that he’s a hired merc for some unknown organization that wanted to free the Shar.

Doing this quest sparked a memory — I recall playing this a looooong time ago as part of a developer preview. Remember back when DDO was headlining stuff? I vaguely do!

All paths in this expansion eventually lead to Wheloon, the giant city-prison, and it’s in “Shadow of a Doubt” that I get my first taste. I don’t get to go inside, but rather help defend the docks against a prisoner outbreak (assisted by enemy shadows). Nothing too exciting, but it’s straight-forward and doesn’t confuse me. That’s something!

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DDO: The Netherese Legacy

After a long, long journey, I’ve arrived at Menace of the Underdark’s Forgotten Realms, which is visually a break from Eberron (and Ravenloft and Feywild). Very old-school, pretty landscape fantasy stuff.

This is neither here nor there, but DDO’s maps drive me nuts. They really are the worst, because the minimap is too small to be useful, so you’ve got to keep the square map open at all times. But for that to be useful, you have to reduce its size to function as a pseudo-minimap… which means that you don’t have a large-sized map for quick access to show you the whole zone you’re in. So it’s a constant trade-off — either you’re always flipping that map on and off to get a bigger view, or you’re always resizing it. I don’t know if I’m explaining it right, but it’s much worse than it is in LOTRO.

I will say that there are a gob-ton of quests and quest chains here, so it’s time to pick one and get to nibblin’ away at it. Since the first quest led me to the Netherese Legacy chain, so be it, I’ll help these helpless Harpers recover an important scroll lost by one of their trainees.

As I pick up “Detour,” I have to ask the question — does poking fun at an escort mission make said mission any less of a nuisance to bear? Actually, it’s not that bad. The escortee defends himself (and cannot die), so the result is a straight-forward, if lengthy, twisty windy run through the woods and a number of ambushes.

I rather liked “Rest Stop’s” locale, which was a partially crumbled castle which serves as a camping spot for adventurers. In the opening part, there are plenty of friendly NPCs to talk with, but after unlocking a secret fireplace, I got to explore the dangerous rest of the place and get another part of the scroll. I thought it was cool that in several places where there wasn’t a roof, you could see the stars and hear the insects.

During this quest, I achieved a personal first in the game — my first level 20. Epic levels, here I come! I went with Exalted Angel for the extra spell points, super-jump power (always could use more jump in this game!), and extra survivability.

“Lost in the Swamp” took me through an incredibly gloomy — and very dangerous — swamp area to track down a medusa and get her fragment of the scroll. I took this at hard difficulty, so I was slogging it out through CR23 mobs all the way. My kingdom for a self-rez, is all I’m saying.

To get the next piece of the scroll, I ventured out to a small abandoned town for “A Stay at the Inn.” I cleared out the inn, tavern, and barn of some sellswords also looking for the piece — and found out that the innkeeper was a bit of a dirty traitor who needed putting down.

“The End of the Road” takes me to the final part of this lengthy quest chain — an assault upon the Netherese keep itself. And hey, even though I worked really hard to get all the scroll pieces, they get them back anyway and open a portal to allow some giant demon through. That feels like a kick in the pants.

But one big ‘ol boss fight later, and I get back the scroll, save the day, and finish out the chain. Huzzah for me… and for loot that I can’t use until I’m level 23.

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DDO: Don’t menace my underdark while in the hood

With Fables of the Feywild done, I thought I’d go back and work through the game’s very first expansion, Menace of the Underdark. We’re time traveling back to 2012 for this, friends!

I started with “Lords of Dust,” which tasked me with infiltrating a cultist lair. At level 18 elite difficulty, this was a whole lot more challenging than what I’d been doing in the last few weeks. Lots of white-knuckle battles and a few incredibly deadly traps made for slow going. But I persevered and beat a series of bosses to finish it — even though the cult succeeded in opening up a portal to Khyber, wherever that is. Probably nowhere good. I like how the quest ended with earthquakes and rumbling going on as you exit.

Photogenic screenshot moment!

“Servants of the Overlord” sends me on a journey spiraling deeper and deeper underground to find the lair of the Spinner of Shadows. There’s that real uncomfortable feeling of “oh man I can’t go back now” every time I drop through a new hole. It’s a long and winding maze, and I was glad to be done with it by the end.

The final part of the prologue quest chain, “The Spinner of Shadows,” is essentially a protracted boss battle with the titular Arachne. It’s a finnicky battle that requires a lot of running around to fight little spiders, get their crystals, relight wards, and occasionally return to the middle to burn her down. Not impossible, not by a long shot, just time-consuming. At the end, she manages to summon Lolth from another dimension, which apparently is Not Good.

I’m encouraged to blindly enter the dimension-hopping portal left behind. Thanks for considering my well-being, NPC questgivers! This kicks off “Beyond the Rift,” a journey into this strange realm. Here in the Demonweb, I bump into Elminster (D&D Gandalf) who encourages me to meet up with him later on. From there, it’s a long journey through the Demonweb, then through the Underdark, and finally up and out to…

The village of Eveningstar in the Forgotten Realms. I’ll admit, this quest legitimately felt like a true journey between worlds, and the payoff when I arrived felt earned.

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DDO: Off on a wild hunt (or two)

Since I was already in the neighborhood of the Feywild, DDOCentral recommended that I pop over to the Court of the Wild Hunt to do the two new quests that came with Update 53. Why not? Gotta do them all at some point!

“Through the Tulgey Wood” sends me on my first hunt — to track down Hyrsam’s owl advisor. Said owl lies in the middle of a maze of hedgerows that can only be gradually unlocked by finding various levers and jumping through a series of portals. DDO really, really, really likes its levers. You’ll be clicking on more levers in this game than killing, sometimes.

To be honest, I wasn’t a fan of what was a quest clearly designed to waste my time through this method. I never had to resort to a map, so I guess that’s a good sign, but it’s the very definition of tedious.

That said, there are a few encounters that make the hunt worth it, such as a clearly inspired-by Alice in Wonderland tea party. I also solved a giant purple cow’s puzzle, confused two giant frogs, and eventually powered my way to the owl to get what was mine. (Loot. Loot was mine.)

Speaking of loot, today’s daily golden dice roll paid out in a natural 100. I got a new cosmetic suit of armor, a gobton of XP, and a tome that boosted my DEX from 26 to 32 forever. I am not complaining, folks.

The second Wild Hunt quest is “One Dame Thing After Another,” which reunites me with crazy windmill-fighting knight Dame Alonsa. I like her, even though her voice work (through the DM) is horrible.

This dumb unicorn right here wanted me to do a jumping puzzle. Golly, thanks for that. Aside from how much I generally dislike these, DDO’s unpredictable jankiness makes jumping a dicey proposition. But in my favor was feather falling and boosts to the jumping skill. Took me six tries, got to the top and a rather pathetic chest.

Aside from that, it’s a pretty straight-forward — and uninspired — quest. There IS an “epic chest!” in the middle of a room that turns out to be a faerie illusion that sends me down into a pit of hot mud. That got a whole bunch of pixies murdered right after, let me tell you, followed by the Huntsman’s beast itself. Don’t cry, he had a good life.

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DDO: Feywild mop-up on aisle 20!

With the main Fables of the Feywild storyline done — way to go, me — I wanted to mop up the remaining random quests scattered about the somewhat small countryside. First up is “Combating Corruption,” where I agreed to help a faerie by finding the corrupting force deep in the roots of a great tree.

I’d forgotten what it was like to run a “short” dungeon in this game — it’s kind of refreshing, honestly! Just run through a bunch of oversized tree roots, smash orbs, and melt packs of mobs down with arcane tempest. Good times. And hey, I actually got a really great cloak out of this quest which adds some extra hit points and seals me from any magical effect that would have otherwise insta-killed me.

Next up was “The Legend of the Lost Locket,” which sent me into an underwater grotto. With a permanent air bubble and gravity rather than swimming in full effect, this was more a cosmetic environmental change than anything else. Still, it was pretty cool.

Finally, in “The Knight Who Cried Windmill,” I followed in the steps of Don Quixote and fought an ambulatory windmill, along with an elderly knight. Ridiculous, yes, but it’s fitting in with the themes of the Feywild. And defeating it required more than just combat power — I had to lure the windmill over to certain gemmed dogs to have it squash them.

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DDO: Hide and seek with wanna-be dragons

In the effort to chase down the evil druid, my DDO journeys took me to the Treasure Grove. You know, with that type of MMO treasure that you can never pick up and use — just set decoration. This is “Needle in a Fey Stack” (pause for pun-appreciative groan), and it’s a chase from animal to animal who have this magic needle I need.

If you ever play DDO, do yourself a favor and actually read the quest and dialogue text. Sometimes it’s highly entertaining. Yoinkination indeed.

This quest ends on a hilarious note, where I literally had to play hide-and-seek with a little lonely “almost” dragon. No boss fight, just a fun game.

With the needle in hand, I can confront Hyrsam — if I can get into his fortress. For that, I need to call on a favor with the Lord of Frost in “Quid Pro Quo.” But the guy is a jerk and makes me do three additional tasks for him before he’ll budge. So, fine, whatever, let’s get this over with.

One thing that really sets DDO apart from most MMOs is that baked into most quests are multiple paths to achieve your goal. You can brute force it with combat (usually), but you can also use social skills, adventuring skills, magic spells or potions, sneaking, swimming, and so on. I love the choice in this, because it lets every type of character have a chance to do what they do best.

I came to the final part of the expansion’s main questline with “Immortality Lessons.” After Prince Frosty here made me a convenient bridge up to Hyrsam’s palace, I went up to see if I could persuade the jerk to hand back over the codex pages.

This mission ended up being a beast to complete. It’s essentially two maze-like dungeons in one, with a whole lot of confusing backtracking and puzzle solving to do. There were a couple parts I liked — such as the Red Riding Hood and Edgar Allan Poe references or playing a magic fiddle to manipulate the environment — but it took me well over a frustrating hour to complete.

In the end, hey, Hyrsam traded back the codex pages for the needle and the “mysterious stranger” got his knickers in a twist over it. That’s it for the main storyline, but I think there are a few more dungeons to do in this pack before moving on!