Turbine (now part of Warner Bros, so essentially run by Bugs Bunny) has just announced the long overdue first expansion to Dungeons & Dragons: Online, Menace of the Underdark, six years after the game was first released. We've got more details below, excerpted from the coming Sunday's MMOnitor, but here's the stuff really worth noting: they're introducing a new class, new epic classes and moving the setting to The Forgotten Realms – where nearly all of the D&D books have been set, and which is richer in fiction than Craig's lovelife. More details and an interview after the jump.
Specifically, the expansion will be set in Cormyr, which being the home of the Harpers will get lovers of the D&D books excited. Then there's the Drow (Dark Elf) empire, which lies beneath the world, known as The Underdark (as featured in the superb Neverwinter Nights expansion, Hordes of the Underdark). Players will travel across the planes, starting in the small village of Eveningstar, moving on into the King's Forest area, before facing the Drow and their spider-goddess/Queen/girl-with-identity-issues Lloth in their underground fiefdom. (No, I refuse to spell fief with a 4.)
The expansion will also complete the set of core D&D classes by introducing the Druid class, which can shapeshift and use pets, and introduce epic classes up to level 25, which will substantially change how players level after the current cap of 20.
For the dirt from the horse's mouth (what an appalling mixed metaphor), here's an excerpt from this Sunday's upcomin MMOnitor with Fernando Paiz, Executive Producer for DDO and Adam Mersky, Communications Director for Turbine.
RPS: I interrupted you before had a chance to talk about the expansion. Tell me what you're doing?
Paiz: Oh, yeah! We shouldn't have skipped that.
Mersky: Yeah, we're six years old and we're about to launch our first expansion. If I'd told you that four years ago, you would have been “I don't believe that.” It's all a result of the success that F2P unlocked.
Paiz: It's a testament to what Free2Play has done for us that, this far in, we've got approval from Wizards of the Coast to do this expansion and from Warner Brothers to grow the team significantly and, once again, reinvest millions of dollars in this franchise to do another big launch. So; the big news. I don't know how much of a D&D fan you are, how much you know of the ruleset and the lore of D&D?
RPS: I read my first D&D book when I was ten, Spellfire; played Baldur's Gate, Planescape, Neverwinter Nights...
Paiz: Oh, great! Well, the big news is that we're going to go to Forgotten Realms for the first time. You may recall we launched with Eberron just after Wizards of the Coast launched the ruleset for it; Eberron's been great, it's a world full of magic and technology, we've gotten to shape that world, it has its own flavour in the fantasy space. But since the day we launched DDO, we've had players saying “can't we got to Forgotten Realms, PLEASE?” It's the fan favourite, from the fiction and so many of the games, like Baldur's Gate, have taken place there, so many of the stories and locales, that players long for. The establishment of what a fantasy game or setting meant to them, for so many players, was Forgotten Realms. This is a really big exciting change. Our expansion is called Menace of the Underdark.
RPS: Oh, like Hordes of the Underdark (the best Neverwinter Nights)
Paiz: So our expansion deals with Lloth, the Drow being the main evil faction in the Forgotten Realms setting and their deity is Lloth, and they're up to a nefarious plot for world domination that's going to end up creating a link between the two universes. So that the heroes of Eberron will be able to get pulled into what's going on and ultimately help save the world.
RPS: Is the Underdark under the whole of the Forgotten Realms?
Paiz: The Underdark is a huge expanse, it's a whole realm in itself, an underworld beneath the overworld of Faerun, so we're not going to Neverwinter, as you may know there's another MMO in development. We're going to a few other locales in Forgotten Realms. We're going to land at a town called Eveningstar in Cormyr. Our players will be able to travel from our world, all the way to Eveningstar, venture into the Underdark and eventually see one of the Drow cities in there and face Lloth and her followers. It's a pretty epic story for us. It kicks off with Update 13, our next major update that comes before the expansion. It has a series of quests, a free adventure pack, that kicks off the storyline that sets up the expansion.
RPS: I think I'm going to have to find my log-in again.
Paiz: Menace of the Underdark comes this summer, so players won't wait long.
RPS: You're not updating the ruleset from D&D 3.5 are you?
Paiz: No, but we are introducing the most demanded class; the Druid class. It's the last core class that we haven't implemented in DDO and it'll be part of the release of Menace of the Underdark.
RPS: What era of the Forgotten Realms is this all set in? Is it current or is it more historical stuff?
Paiz: Well... I'd rather not touch too much on the details of that right now, we're still working out some of the details with Wizards of the Coast. Our forgotten realms storylines are going to be very resonant with the fiction and storylines that Wizards of the Coast will be releasing for Forgotten Realms next year. At least in terms of the stakes and the backdrop to our stories, they'll be very much current with the latest stuff that Wizards are doing.
RPS: And levels?
Paiz: The last major point of the expansion is that there's a level cap increase, we're extending the level cap to 25, into epic levels. Which, of course in DDO, is more than five levels worth of content, as we divide the levels up into five advancement moments and all that of the ranks. Quite a bit of character customisation, it's going to work a bit different past level 20, give players more cool ways to customise their characters.
RPS: You've not introduced any psionic classes yet have you?
Paiz: No, we never did do full psionics, it was something we came close to and flirted with, but never did. We did introduce the artificier class, they have a special offhand weapon, so they're a dual-wielding ranged class for DDO, and also our first pet class. You get to advance a pet companion, level them and customise them as your character grows. That was laying the groundwork for stuff that'll be in the druid as well. The druids main things are the animal companion and animal form.