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I recently had the chance for an in-game tour of Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited, Turbine’s redesigned free-to-play game. My tour guides were Director of Communications Adam Mersky, as well as Executive Producers Kate and Fernando Paiz. This was their chance to show off DDO and to highlight some of the newest features being tested out during the beta test. They did it in grand style, handing me a level 20 “tricked out” spell caster. Admittedly, I am more of a warrior type but I expanded my horizons in the interest of professionalism. *g*

Our tour basically covered two themes: The new content areas for low level players and for players looking to move their characters to the natural D&D level cap of 20; and I got a great chance to try out the new in-game store.

The Premium Store

NOTE: In fairness to my hosts, they did not call the DDOU store a “premium store”. That is simply my terminology for ease of understanding.

The DDOU premium store is set up to be instantly familiar to anyone who uses the internet and has visited sites like Amazon or any other shopping site. The design is intentional, adding a ‘comfort zone’ for users. There are featured items, popular items, recent buys, a shopping cart, etc. In short, everything that players are used to seeing, are part of the DDOU store interface.

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Several other small but amazingly cool things have been added to the store. For instance, if players think they may need a certain potion or that they may not have enough of it to last through an entire dungeon, extras can be placed in the shopping cart without actually purchasing them. If the need arises, players simply hit control + s, click shopping cart, then purchase, and, VOILA, potions in inventory! There is no need to navigate the entire store. The cart ‘remembers’ the items placed within and they will stay there until either purchased or removed. This can be particularly handy in a tight spot.

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Another terrific feature is the intuitive nature of the store. If players are purchasing normal in-game healing draughts, for instance, but they want that REALLY huge one from the premium store, there is a button on the merchant’s interface that can be clicked to take them straight to the matching item(s). Again, it’s a small thing but one that makes the claim that the store is a convenience all the more true.

Those despairing that they will never be able to buy things from the DDOU store have nothing to worry about. Turbine points can be earned, that’s right, EARNED, by playing. The tutorial area will immediately yield a significant number of Turbine points to a player’s first character. Awards are also made as players progress through the game. Turbine points are also awarded for every hundred faction earned in game.

The store is definitely everything it’s been built up to be. It is straightforward, intuitive and packed with the sort of things that enhance the game but that do not give a huge advantage to those who choose to purchase items. Are the things inside required to have a great time playing DDOU? Absolutely not but some of the stuff is just wicked fun:

LOOK FOR THE BELL OF OPENING! That’s all I’m going to say about that. *g*

Click page 2 to find out about new areas and party dynamics.

New Areas & Party Dynamics

There are several new areas for players to try out. Some of them will be accessible to all players, some only to those opting to purchase them. Upon reaching a ‘premium content’ area, a screen will pop up telling a player that this area is available for purchase. Players can then choose to purchase or not. If so, the store automatically opens with the content to buy already on the screen. Two clicks later, it’s a done deal and that content belongs to a player’s account. It is accessible to all characters as well. Additionally, players who ‘own’ content can also buy guest passes for their companions who do not. The guest passes are good for 90 minutes. This is a terrific way to “try before you buy” and doesn’t separate parties solely based on access.

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One awesome feature for all players, whether party players or soloists, is the scaling of all areas of the game. The scripting allows the game to ‘know’ a party’s composition and adjusts the area accordingly. If a player is dropped or leaves the party for some reason, the scripting adjusts again to compliment the composition. The difficulty scales higher if more players enter, lower of players leave.

When I asked the team about solo players, they told me that they didn’t want the game to be impossible for solo players. With the ability to purchase hirelings and scaling, soloists are good to go.

Speaking of hirelings, there are two different types: Those that can be purchased with in-game currency from the vendors in the marketplace; and those that can be purchased through the premium store. The latter are called ‘gold seal’ hirelings and will stay with a player until an area/dungeon is exited. If a hireling dies, it can be resurrected in the same way any other character. There is the possibility of 24 hour hirelings at some point down the road but there is nothing concrete yet.

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For low level players, there are several new level 4 dungeons and areas for purchase as ‘adventure packs’. Current and former players may remember that the marketplace was utterly destroyed not long ago. In DDOU, all has been rebuilt and six adventures take off from the marketplace dealing with organized crime in the city. Two additional adventure packs start in the harbor area.

Low level free to play folks will also be treated to two or three free outdoor areas. The team emphasized that DDOU isn’t just going to be about the store and so-called premium content. They will continue to build with ALL players in mind.

For those players ready to cruise to the new level cap of 20, there is the new adventure pack, Shavarrath. This is a dangerous, war torn area packed with broken weapons, corpses, demons, Trogs, Trolls, Tieflings, Pitheans, and Succubae. In short, every D&D bad ass resides in Shavarrath. It is a bleak wasteland. Shavarrath sports a multi-person raid as well as the Demon Fortress. The graphics here are stunning, frightening even, and the play is frenetic and fast paced. Shavarrath is not for the faint hearted. Luckily for non-caster type me, my hosts were kind as I repeatedly died. I’ll just say it was due to ogling the horrible beauty of Shavarrath.

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Final Thoughts

By all reports, beta testing is going well. Developers have been regularly assessing testers using online questionnaires covering a wide variety of topics. They have been keeping a keen eye on the store and what seems to be working as well as what does not. According to Mersky, most fears have been allayed and players are looking forward to the official launch in early August.

Dungeons & Dragons Online is gorgeous. The store is fantastic. The game play is engaging and fun. For D&D fans, for RPG fans, for MMO fans, for someone looking to launch into online gaming, DDOU is a must play. Following the 3.5 rule set, tabletop players will feel right at home. Single player RPG players will find the MMO learning curve very easy. Folks who have played other MMOs will find a lot to like about DDOU. Without a monthly commitment, there is no reason NOT to give it a try.

(For those who missed it, WarCry also had a great interview with Adam, Kate and Fernando that can be read here.)

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