Unfortunately, time was limited, so I didn't get a chance to actually see that for myself - instead, I hopped on a max-level Dwarf Monk to check out the new content aimed at DDO veterans. The high level NPCs I encountered in the starting area also serve as an introduction to the Hireling system, a new feature in Module 8 for more experienced, more powerful characters. Players will be able to purchase charters from a vendor in one of the communal areas, and can use these to summon NPCs to aid them in their adventures.
The Hirelings count towards the six-man limit in a party, and each player may only have one Hireling at any one time - a group of three players could each have their own NPC henchman, but a group of four could only have two out at any one time. Every Hireling has their own class, name, and personality (Kern Killer-of-All, the Barbarian, would tend to be more aggressive than Isadora the Cleric, for instance), and while players can exercise a decent amount of control over their own companion, the idea is that they can generally be left to their own devices. When killed, they drop Soul Stones just like any player (and will follow the player carrying their stone), and can even pick up the stone of their fallen master.
When Module 8 launches, players will be able to hire Barbarians, Clerics, Fighters, and Paladins as companions - the team intends to add arcane casters (Sorcerers and Wizards) and Rogues to the roster soon enough, but they aren't quite ready yet. In general, the AI for the Hirelings seems functional enough, though it could use some fine-tuning. Hirelings aren't meant to be complete replacements for player characters, but they should be "at least half a player," according to the team - that may be so, but they do have a frustrating tendency to die to Area of Effect damage. Even though the Hireling contract only lasts for an hour, if it expires while in a dungeon or questing zone, the NPC won't simply pack up and leave mid-battle. As soon as you return to a public area, they'll bid you farewell and take off, but they will remain by your side for the duration of your current adventure.
Jesse Smith, the game's Content Designer, took over to explain how they were advancing the story in Prisoners of Prophecy. The story continues from Gianthold in Module 4, where a giant named the Stormreaver was tricked by a Draco-Lich named the Truthful One into almost setting off a magical bomb to destroy all of Xen'drik. Upon player intervention, the Stormreaver realizes the error of his ways and goes on a sabbatical of sorts to mull on what role he is to properly play in the prophecy.
In Module 8, the Stormreaver has returned on the side of good now, contacting agents of Argonessen, an organization of dragons, to help him on the proper path. Unfortunately, another giant from past encounters has returned as well - Sor'Jek, whom players fought (and killed), has been resurrected as a giant Lich, and is attempting to raise an army of Draco-Liches to fight alongside the Truthful One. Which is where the players come in. The agents of Argonessen task players to track down the essences of these deceased dragons to try and find out where Sor'Jek is performing the ritual - and to stop him.
There are four new questing landscapes for players to scour in search of the dragon essences, and we went to check out the sort of swamp-esque garden surrounding the Scorpion Monastery, one of the new dungeons in Module 8. This ancient monastery has long since been taken over by Drow (the usual evil kind, not the chaotic good Drizzt kind), which means that players have plenty of enemies to kill. Since the puzzles are a good part of the DDO dungeon-running experience, dungeons like this one in Module 8 will be partially randomized to try and keep it fresh - or at least to keep players on their toes.
It certainly did keep me on my toes - botching one particular puzzle resulted in the floor crumbling out from under me, and the resulting plummet had me landing safely on the quintessentially absurd D&D monster, the Gelatinous Cube. I hate to admit it, but puzzles just aren't my thing. Thankfully, virtually every puzzle in these dungeons can be solved by just one member of the party, so the logically-impaired like myself aren't at too much of a disadvantage.
The element of randomness in the Module 8 dungeons is more important than it might have otherwise been, because the DDO team intends for players to come back multiple times. Completing dungeons will award characters with Runes that can be used via an Eldritch Device in Reaver's Reach to create player-customized equipment. This particular mechanic isn't new to Module 8, but it is the first time players will be able to create customized armor, not just weapons and other accessories.
One particularly fun stretch of the Scorpion Monastery was a section the team lovingly refers to as the "roller coaster," a hallway with a series of powerful jets of air that send characters flying. Players can turn different jets on and off in order to successfully navigate the area. It's a very fun mechanic (and can also be seen in one of the new public areas for players to mess around with and grow accustomed to how they work) that was inspired by the positive feedback the team heard from players about the fight against the Stormreaver, which featured the giant casting Fly on the entire raid.