DDO: The Harbor Reunion Tour ’17

Huh, DDO can still be pretty in 2017. Helps that it has this odd magitech, exotic continent angle.

If you’ve ever come back to an old favorite MMO after years — 5, even 10 — of being away, you’ll know that absolutely surreal feeling that’s a mix of nostalgia and long-buried memories coming to the surface coupled with “whoa everything’s a bit different.” That’s how it is with my recent DDO sessions. Currently it’s more familiar than not, since I’m just going through all of the Harbor quests, and I had those down pat back in the day. Kind of nice to be able to steamroll all of them with my 32-point Artificer.

What I’m probably enjoying most, other than the flashes of “oh YEAH I remember this!” are the instant gratification nature of the adventures. I always enjoyed DDO’s highly instanced design that (largely) cut out travel to get you right into a story dungeon. The varied length, difficulty, and focus of each keeps me from getting to antsy, too. I mean, there was a dungeon that I think I did in under a minute, while others have taken me up to 20 minutes to fully clear out and solve.

Of course, I’m greatly enjoying the DM narration, finding little secrets, and being a part of these short stories too.

One shocking reminder to me that DDO isn’t your average dungeon crawling game came about four or five instances into the Harbor when I abruptly failed a quest because I wasn’t fully paying attention to the objectives. I didn’t even register that there WERE fail conditions, but yeah, sometimes there are, and it can change your whole approach to a dungeon. Trying to fend off waves of spiders without destroying coffins that are everywhere is trickier than you’d think.

My character has leveled up to four, and along the way I picked up a very useful feat: Construct Essence. This makes me part-construct so that I can use my repair skill on my own body (and thus, get a heal). It’s not the most efficient heal spell, but it’s better than nothing and I have a pretty deep spell point pool to fuel it.

And definitely the highlight of the Harbor Reunion Tour ’17 was getting to see the goofy pirate leader Yaaryar again. Always loved this guy, even though I have to kill him. Good to see he’s still trucking even a decade or so later!

I’m still working on finding a guild, but that’s slow going. Nobody seems to be advertising for newbies on Ghallanda, so I pulled up the /who list and sorted by guild names, then sent tells to guilds that looked like they had a healthy population. Either I was shut down, told to go fill out an application somewhere (seriously? For an 11-year-old game?), or ignored. Making me think of moving to a different server, I don’t know.

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DDO: Gatling crossbows and robot dogs

What is it about Dungeons and Dragons Online that keeps calling to me, years and years after I had left its full-time service? Maybe it’s exactly that: that I had invested so much time that it was only natural to develop long-lasting fondness and nostalgia.

Maybe it’s because when my attention eventually turns back to it, I realize that there isn’t anything quite like DDO in the MMO space. Certainly not Neverwinter, which is a fun game in its own right but so far removed from DDO that the family resemblance isn’t even recognizable.

In any case, I started to think about DDO lately and how much content’s been added to the game over the years since I’ve left. Two, three expansions? Plus tons of updates? And there’s a new expansion on the way too for this fall. So plenty of adventures and a lot of refinement. Why not jump back in?

Again, it made best sense to start from scratch, so I dove into a class that I think came after my time: the Artificer. It actually is the perfect class for me and feels totally overpowered, what with a robotic sentry dog, a repeating crossbow, the ability to conjure her own bolts, lots of Rogue utility skills, and plenty of spell points to whip around. I’m going to have to invest in a healing spell if I can, though, because I don’t have any easy way to recover HP. Other than that, I feel like an unstoppable machine.

This statue was so goofy-evil that I couldn’t help but laugh. It’s good to know that even the bad guys have a sense of humor.

Thus my little Gnome started her journey back into Eberron (now Eberron-Forgotten Realms, soon to be Eberron-Forgotten Realms-Ravenloft). I limbered up by doing a few of the intro dungeons solo, gradually increasing the difficulty level until I felt like I had a handle on things. Hard feels right, as Elite inflicts a little too much damage on me right now to survive.

All of the little things that made me smile kept popping up those first few nights. The familiar sounds. The generally excellent and moody DM narration. The weird dice-rolling combat. Fights where I get hit but don’t actually take hit point damage. And all of the fun dungeons.

If this sticks, there’s a huge re-learning curve ahead of me. Going to have to find a guild, that much is for certain. Going to need to figure out the path of advancement, because I have no idea where to go for which levels. As for my class, I was too worried about gimping myself that I selected the default build for starters, figuring that I will make choices from there. So far it’s been working out well, and at least there are quests and dungeons that I find vaguely familiar from back in the day.

DDO: Gnomes, noises, noses, and nostalgia

I won’t bore you too terribly with my own personal gaming crisis, because (a) it only applies to me, (b) will come off sounding like I’m a petulant man-boy who can never be entertained, and (c) further illustrates how wishy-washy I am on any given day toward various MMOs. To sum it up, I haven’t been able to really settle down with MMORPGs this summer. The burnout that started in WoW seems to be extending all over the place for me, and all I really want at this point is one game that will grab me, keep my interest, and give me plenty of goals.

I’ve been flicking through various titles just to get outside of my immediate roster, kind of like how you might do with other games or books or movies (for the record, I’ve been scaling back on games this month to do more writing and reading, so it’s not like I depend solely on MMOs to be my free time entertainment). Revisiting some older titles, trying out a few different ones, and thinking about ESO’s Morrowind now that it’s gotten some good reviews and word-of-mouth.

One of my old favorites I did return to was Dungeons and Dragons Online. It was like jacking into an overdose of nostalgia. Back in the day — around the beginning of Bio Break’s run, in fact — DDO was a heavy part of my gaming rotation. I loved this game so very much and enjoyed the group runs with friends immensely. I still think that the format, the multiple campaign worlds, the sheer variety of class and race builds, and the GM narration is brilliant. Of course, the visuals are dating even more so than LOTRO, but I suppose you have to get over that if you’re going to give the game a chance in 2017.

I rolled up a Gnome Bard. The Bard wasn’t new to me, but the Gnome was. Somewhat bigger nose, funkier hairdos, and a little leaner than the halfling race. I liked it, and I know that I always had a fondness for the Bard’s hybrid approach. I didn’t do any grouping that night, but I did run through the familiar tutorial quest and then the first dungeon solo, trusting in my fleet footing and ability to heal myself to save the day.

When going back to old favorite games, I find that sound design is a crucial key to unlocking memories and familiarity with a title. DDO has such distinct sounds, and it wasn’t long before they were triggering a flood of feels.

I have no idea how many people play DDO these days, but I think I might spend a little time finding that out and seeing if a brand-new character can find any company for some of these dungeon runs. There has been so much content and so many features added to the game since I last played in, oh, 2010 or so that I imagine that I’d be set for most of the summer if this was something I really wanted to do.

For now, I’m going to bash some skeletons, see if I can find my machine-gun crossbow again, and have a lighthearted fling with a former friend.

6 reactions to the new LOTRO/DDO studio

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I’ve had a little over a day to process the rather sudden and shocking news that LOTRO and DDO are being transferred to a new indie studio, Standing Stone Games, and that Asheron’s Call (and AC2) are being shuttered next month. I don’t have a cohesive essay on the subject, but rather a half-dozen internal reactions on this move.

1. Turbine is done as an MMO studio. And it might be done for good.

Once upon a time, Turbine was a shining beacon of what an indie MMO studio could be. It was blazing out titles, with two Asheron’s Call, DDO, and LOTRO. It was on the forefront of the F2P revolution. Then it sold itself to WB, started to get out of the MMO-only business by branching off into MOBAs with the disastrous Infinite Crisis, and shrunk in both size and importance. Earlier this year it made the statement that Turbine was a mobile-only studio, so I suppose offloading LOTRO and DDO logically follows that.

My prediction? Turbine’s mobile games will flop and the studio will be no more in a year or two, tops. This is EA Mythic all over again — remember that studio’s flopped MOBA (Wrath of Heroes) and flopped mobile game (Ultima Forever) and how it offloaded its MMOs to a new indie studio (Broadsword)? Turbine’s done as a relevant studio and that’s sad.

2. I’m really glad that Standing Stone is keeping the devs.

It’s the people who care about these games and have experience with them instead of a brand-new team. Business as usual, just under a new name and with perhaps less baggage? We’re already seeing a little more communication from the team about the games’ upcoming future (such as LOTRO’s avatar revamp, which sounds pretty neat).

3. I’m cautiously hopeful this is a good move for LOTRO and DDO.

Going back to indie roots, shedding the WB overhead and non-MMO side projects seems like the best possible chance for these games to succeed (or not) solely on their own merits. If Standing Stone handles the finances well and keeps it trim, tight, and hungry, I can envision a more functional studio emerging.

4. I’m a little worried about the licensing but not about Daybreak.

Both DDO and LOTRO are tied to pretty significant IP licenses. The studio said that they’re retaining the licensing relationships, but could the Tolkien Estate and Wizards of the Coast look at the now-indie studio handling these games and get cold feet? Renegotiate? I really doubt that Standing Stone will have the resources to create a brand-new MMO from scratch if they lose one or both of their titles.

Daybreak is the publisher for out-of-country operations, and here Daybreak might actually be a solid choice due to its experience in handling MMOs worldwide for decades now. But then again, it’s Daybreak. I’m not getting worked up about it.

5. All of the publicity is reviving interest in LOTRO.

Weirdly enough, LOTRO seems to be coming back into the public consciousness as of late, and not just for Standing Stone. I’ve seen more than a few people saying they want to go back, and it’s always better to see people fleeing toward a game when big news like this hits than away from.

6. I’m sincerely bummed about Asheron’s Call.

Sure, AC probably had a very, very tiny population, but this is a legacy game that goes back to the first generation of 3-D graphic MMOs. Standing Stone should have acquired it and kept the lights on — or Turbine should have made good on its word to turn the source code over to the players to allow them to make private servers. This just sours the start of a new studio.

At least there’s a new home for these players to move into:

The transitioning Turbine

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“Turbine is transitioning into a free-to-play, mobile development studio, and as a result we are eliminating some positions. The Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons and Dragons online games will continue to operate as they do now. Re-focusing and reducing the studio size was a difficult decision for the company, and we are grateful to all of the Turbine staff for their considerable contributions.”

So grateful, in fact, that we kicked them out of the building! So long, see ya, we’re mobile now!

Oh Turbine, what happened to you? A death of a thousand cuts or a hundred bad decisions? Was it free-to-play in the end? Trying too hard to do too much? Your Infinite Crisis gambit? The decline of the MMO industry? Selling out to WB?

You used to be this mighty indie studio that pumped out beloved hits. You looked forward on MMOs and delivered an incredible vision of Middle-earth that we loved for years. You had three highly lucrative IPs under your belt.

I’m kind of furious about these layoffs. It makes me downright mad to see a studio that used to show such passion and talent for MMOs to be groveling for the scraps of mobile gaming. It ticks me off that good people who have poured so much work into these titles have been shown the door. And it makes me quite nervous for the future of the current library of titles.

Notice that Asheron’s Call 1/2 isn’t mentioned there. Maybe it doesn’t need to be; these games were put into maintenance mode last year and probably make next to no profit. But at least the gamers had the hopes that the light switch would stay on. That above statement does not give me the confidence that this will be the case.

And that whole “will continue to operate as they do now” is such an ominous and nebulous statement. What does that mean? This could be saying that the games will be kept running but no more development will happen (again, maintenance mode while they drain the last dollars from the pockets of the loyalists). It could be a statement of assurance that the games will continue running and receive some attention, perhaps from a reduced team. We really don’t know, mostly because bland and unhelpful PR statements like this are the worst.

Turbine execs, you better be going to bed tonight sick to your stomach at what has happened on your watch. Mobile studio? Shoot, you haven’t even proven you can do that much yet. And with that, I don’t have any further reason to care about what you do.

Five MMOs I’d be playing if I had all of the time in the world (which I don’t)

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I don’t care who you are — there ain’t none of us who have the time to do more than either scratch at the surface of a handful of MMOs or really dig deep into one or two of them. Even if you’re so “fortunate” as to have few responsibilities and copious amounts of free time.

Well, unless you’re this lady from NCIS, who apparently figured out how to beat all MMOs:

“You hold the high score in virtually every massively multiplayer online roleplaying game!”

Man, that clip never fails to crack me up.

While I certainly wouldn’t trade my job and family for something as frivolous as having more time just to game, it doesn’t stop me from creating impossible hypothetical situations in my mind such as, “If I had as much gaming time in a day as I wanted, what other MMOs would I play?”

As it stands now, I’m pretty contained into three games: Star Trek Online, World of Warcraft, and The Secret World. I feel like I have a great balance going and can dip lightly into each of these to pursue various goals. But if I was to add more to the pile without concern for time, here’s what I might tackle:

Elder Scrolls Online

This is probably just because ESO has had a good run of news lately, but I’ll admit to always being attracted to/impressed by MMOs that have fleshed out content offerings, have a thriving community, and are showing signs of future growth. ESO has all of these in spades, and perhaps if I had gobs of time, I could end up liking this game as much as any other MMO. My one and only foray into it was rough and unimpressive, but first impressions aren’t always spot-on.

Fallen Earth

Yeah, Fallen Earth probably doesn’t have many years ahead of it or great amounts of future content, but it’s pretty much the best post-apocalyptic MMO out there and one that I had a great time playing. It’s also a total time gobbler, so that’s kept me from heading back into it. I just miss riding my horse across the irradiated wild west and blasting mutated hermit crabs with my shotgun.

Dungeons and Dragons Online

It’s been a very long time since I played this regularly, but I still haven’t come across an MMO that’s quite like this one. The focus on dungeon runs, the dual campaigns, the free-form character creation, the dungeon master, the passionate community… these are all speak in favor of DDO’s worth. And Turbine keeps adding onto it, too. Probably more content in that game right now than I could get out of it in a couple of years of hardcore playing.

EverQuest 2

I and all of the fortune tellers and industry analysts in the world couldn’t tell you what Daybreak has in store for the EverQuest franchise at this point (if anything). The premature demise of EverQuest Next is still rippling out across the MMO community, sending the impression that the lineage of EverQuest has come to a sad end with Landmark.

Yet there’s still EverQuest 2 and it’s still getting expansions and some dev love. This has always been one of those MMOs that I feel that, in a parallel universe, I would be totally into. It certainly checks all of the boxes of my wish list, has a vibrant playerbase, and is so packed with content at this point that it’s almost intimidating to consider playing. Which is probably why I don’t.

RIFT

I’ve always seen RIFT as a “safety” MMO. If I’m disillusioned or burned out on whatever I’m playing, there’s always RIFT to go back to. Good comfort gaming: lots of features, regular updates, and that sweet, sweet soul system. I think back to the first year or two of playing this game and trigger all sorts of nostalgic love for the fun I had in the game. I never stick around long when I do go back, but I usually have a great time.

So what about you? If time wasn’t a restrictive factor, what additional games would you be playing (if anything)?

Guest post: DDO — Search and Rescue

Pic 0 Gnomework

Syp is AFK on vacation this week and put out a call for substitute writers! Today’s guest post is brought to you by DDOCentral. Check out his blog for more great word-stuff!

Dungeons and Dragons Online (DDO) recently celebrated its 10th anniversary in February 2016, which is a milestone within the MMORPG gaming community. Not only is DDO one of the few MMOs to have supported its fantasy world continuously for over ten years but was also the pioneer of the hybrid free to play business model now common with PC based MMOs.

There are currently 128 free to play quests in DDO, with the three most recent f2p quests released on May 10th, 2016 as an extension of the 10th anniversary celebration. The official 10th anniversary update earlier this year introduced the Gnome and the Iconic Deep Gnome player races to DDO and the subsequent Update 31 is appropriately entitled, Gnomework.

All three of the f2p quests feature a Gnome NPC quest giver and each of the quests somehow involve one or more of the gnomish qualities of exploration, illusion mastery, and invention. ‘Good Intentions’, ‘Memoirs of an Illusory Larcener’, and ‘Search and Rescue’ are offered at both the mid-level Heroic and upper level Legendary quest difficulties.

Search and Rescue

The third quest in Gnomework is the only one that takes place in The Forgotten Realms; the gnome NPC Popkin ‘The Shiv’ Shortshanks is found in front of The Lonesome Tankard inn near the village of Eveningstar’s periphery. Popkin explains that she and her comrades were exploring an ancient tomb in the Stonelands after hearing rumors of treasure buried there and then things went sour.

Reconnaissance had been going well until Popkin found a secret door at the back of the tomb leading to an underground cave complex. The party entered the passageway and were ambushed, with everyone splitting up during the fighting. Popkin escaped out a back entrance but is now afraid to re-enter the tomb by herself to find her lost friends.

Pic 15 Meet The Shiv

The young female gnome implores the adventurers to recover her five disappeared compatriots: Tristran, Lianter, Kirina, Helayna, and Jarus. An old man in a “funny hat” (probably Elminster) gave Popkin five Word of Recall trinkets that will transport the party members back to Eveningstar when used from the Stonelands. The adventurers take a wagon to the Stonelands Crevasse and are greeted by a cacophony of harpies after sliding down a rope into the rocky chasm.

Pic 16 The harpies are alright

Once the party has dispatched the harpies and some Stoneland scorpions, the players enter the tomb of which the walls are lined with glowing Netherese orbs. The orbs can be smashed which will dim what little light exists in the tomb’s chambers.

Pic 17 Hallway to the unknown

Waves of undead come at the party and chamber’s secret door can be opened by locating two control orbs among the breakable orbs. Further fighting brings the party to the Master of the Tomb, a mummy named Laeron and his Helmed Horror honor legion. Destroying the mummy allows the party to find a lever behind the throne.

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The lever is pulled back to reveal a delved cave entrance. The players are set upon almost immediately by subterranean monsters, including Umber Hulks.

Pic 19 Umber Hulks are here too

The five lost adventurers are all over the map, but the first one found is most likely to be Jarus the Purple Dragon Knight. Some dialogue will explain what the preceding party had encountered in the underground tunnels and then the players can send Jarus and the others back to Eveningstar.

Pic 20 Nothing a little aspirin can’t fix

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As the party explores the cave network, there are more mobs and finally a band of powerful kobolds blocking the path to a lava filled hemispherical cyst in the crust of the layers of stone beneath the Netherese tomb. If the kobolds are beaten, the wall of fire preventing entrance to the lair of Daeronnax the red dragon will drop.

Pic 22 Ready for a fight

Slaying Daeronnax and his kobold entourage will set free the fourth lost party member. The fifth party member (or what remains of him) needs to be found behind a sealed door
elsewhere among the passages to complete the main quest.

As enjoyable as the primary section of Search and Rescue is, the quest’s optional is that much better. The optional for this dungeon is the most extensive in DDO and is effectively another quest by itself.

If the players thoroughly probe all of the dead ends in the cave network, they will find an entrance to the upper fringes of The Underdark. Beyond some burrowing Umber Hulks, the opening to more caves can be found in a partially collapsed tunnel.

Once inside, the party finds the area is a drow elf outpost and must battle drow archers, drow casters, and driders to move deeper into the maze of caves and underground
lakes.

Pic 23 No one expected this

Obtaining a silver key is necessary to open the drow vault’s door where more of the dark elves are guarding the drow command’s living quarters as well as the entrance to a lower level summoning chamber used by drow arcanists.

Pic 24 The bedroom where the drow high command commit their unspeakable depravities…and also get a good night’s sleep

The end fight takes place in the summoning chamber where the party must subdue summoned slaadi (of the red, green, and blue varieties), more driders and drow elves, and finally Il’tharis the Terrible. Il’tharis is a grey slaad, from the executioner sub-species in slaadi society, and is the first appearance of a grey slaad in DDO.

Pic 25 Drow summoning chamber

Executing the high priestess of Lolth, Mistress Laerion’vyr, in her chambers ends the optional after the summoning chamber altercation.

The drow outpost optional in Search and Rescue is nearly pure Menace of the Underdark, the largest and most popular of DDO’s two paid expansions over the game’s history. Players have been clamoring for more drow elves and more Forgotten Realms and they receive those things in spades with this update.

There is even an easter egg for the observant behind some rocks near the opening to the Underdark optional. The avalanche caused by umber hulk activity has crushed what
appears to be a dead Phaerimm, a malicious creature found in The Great Sand Sea of Anauroch  in the Forgotten Realms.

Pic 26 Watch for falling rocks

The Stonelands are on the way north to Anauroch, so this squashed Phaerimm may portend a future update featuring a showdown with the shadow mages of Netheril.

Gnomework is free to all and the quests begin in the mid-level Heroic range, with one quest (Memoirs of an Illusory Larcener) set at Level 13 on Heroic Normal. Even if you have never played DDO before, you can jump into the action and try out these quests by purchasing the Iconic Deep Gnome player race from the DDO Store. All Iconic classes start at Level 15 and are fully geared. See you in game!