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.
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.
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.
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.)