Now with seven years comes many things - a birthday celebration with the Crystal Cove event, a new update with a revamped item system, and the replacement of guild augments with universal augments. But this update was not without issues, so I am here to break down just what Update 17 has been like from my own perspective and give some highlights of things to come.
Let’s start with the good
So I, like many with level 20+ characters, went into Epic Gianthold. Needless to say I was impressed. The landscape redo of the quest area is fantastic, having random encounters with both Giants and Dragons is simply amazing, especially for those of us who were looking for a challenge. I was also impressed by The King’s Forest in the Forgotten Realms. I was definitely happy with the more vibrant feel of the new epic Gianthold. Even the rest area, which is now over crowded with big giant types (the friendly kind) was redone, and in my opinion it flows a lot better than the claustrophobic older version. The only gripe I do have is the fact that running in the open area should not affect the waypoints (which it currently does) How many times do I have to run the Prison of the Planes epic level before I am flagged to use the teleport option?
I definitely give this part an A+
New items with powerful augment slots
As someone who hoarded large guild augment slots like a squirrel with acorns, it has been a nice change to see the new augment systems. Players now have a chance to get random items, with augments ranging from colorless (which can go into any item slot and generally boost stats like intelligence, charisma, dexterity, strength and wisdom) to red, blue and yellow - each color gives an oomph to weapons and wearable items. As with the guild augment system, if you are a Cannith crafter you can use Dusts of Disjunction to strip the item and keep the augment slot, thus giving you the option to craft an even better, more powerful item. So, all in all, it's a fair addition to new players and those who are not in a guild, although many who had their hopes of getting a large guild augment slot were not happy with the change at first. They have quieted down now that they see how versatile the new augment system is.
I give the new augment items a definite A for their versatility and for recognizing that power should not be for guild players only.
The bad was very visible this update though
Unfortunately this update was not without issues, some of which have been resolved as I write this review. The known issues list was quite long this time around, and the forums were ablaze with passionate players. First off was the new billing and maintenance system that shut our game servers down for three days (a weekend hit like that can be bad for any game, popular or no). Some players lost outfits which are light armor items, but these have now been mailed back. Many players also had issues with the Crystal Cove event this time around, from the grind effect they put into it to the change of the items now being bound to character instead of account. I will go into detail on my take on the event in the next paragraph, but needless to say the main gripe of this update has been crippling lag which has stalled raids and wiped groups even on regular quests. I have witnessed this even soloing certain quests - the event has definitely placed a noticeable lag on the servers.
So about that Crystal Cove event
So I ventured in at first with Kalari, trying to get experience to help her with her 3rd life (reincarnation levels). The experience gained in the group barely made a dent in what I needed to get back to level 20+, so I decided (after a nudge from a guild mate) to work on the “Glass Cannon” rune arm for my artificer. Rune arms are special kind of offhand weapon that can boost spells and certain skills and fire off a powerful elemental-type damage spell. The glass cannon is fire based and boosts kinetic spells and potency, which for an artificer means powerful blade barriers, and having a nice fire blast doesn’t hurt.
So I journeyed into the Cove, and as my time was limited and I did not see a group that fit my needs I went in solo. It was't hard, I took my level 23 into a level 20 version of the zone, then eventually just the level 23. I had forgotten how annoying the kobolds were. Now along with diamonds and emeralds you get star rubies and sapphires, which you will need for the now item-intensive barter system. Even though I had leftovers from a few years of past Cove events I still needed a few more ingredients, and figured a few quick runs would do it. It seems to me there were far fewer decent maps this time around. I ran it eight times, many times I was lucky to hit quota, and even with healing hirelings (my dog companion and panther pet) it seemed that keeping the kobolds alive was the true challenge. Then the monotony of running them along the crystal paths making them get the right ones and get to the foreman was a drag. I eventually managed to get my rune arm, but I realize now that this event has nothing left for me. Even the beefed up challenge with new half-orc pirates was not enough to boost my enthusiasm. And I will be actively getting rid of any extra doubloons (ugh they take up so much space) and gems and parting ways with this area I believe for good.
Grade for this event is an F for 'I definitely want to forget about ever setting foot in there again'. I tend to love live events but this one has lost its appeal big time.
The new raid is challenging, but at epic elite level…
With the new update to Gianthold, the Reaver’s Fate raid also received a facelift for levels 20+, now named “The Fall of Truth.” Level 20+ adventurers get to the heart of the Storm Reaver Sojek’s woeful tale. This Giant was once revered as a hero, but was turned into a lich by the Truthful One, an ancient Dracolich. It's a bit of lore that many of us fans of the story have been following since the early raid of Tempest Spine.
The new raid IS very challenging, as you face the Dracolich and his minions, both undead and controlled giants, and eventually you face Sorjek himself once again - very heart pounding. My guild and I have done both the hard and normal setting, while others pugged (pick-up grouped) for elite. Elite for now will not be a setting I go into with any resource-using character. My idea of fun is not chugging 40+ mana pots to try to keep people alive as waves of mobs pick them clean. Although the items you can receive from the raid and flagging quests itself are very nice, it is just not worth the resource drain.
Another thing that bothered me and many other people was the change to the voice over work in Gianthold, from the Giants in the quest The Madstone Crater, who sound like they smoke ten packs a day, to The Truthful One's nasal voice, which made me cringe. It was an over-the-top fest of unnecessary voice changes. Also, having twenty four alts, I got tired quickly of the booming voices telling me to join in the Crystal Cove and hearing about the Gianthold challenges every time I logged in.
Another new feature that may get a giggle the first time but then wears thin is the female silver dragon, who decides to fly into you (doing light damage) to talk to the agents of Argonessen about the troubles in Gianthold. As I said before it made me giggle at first, now after a few times its like 'okay at least let us talk to the chick and tell her how rude she is'. Dragon or no, its just bad manners to do such things. However it does seem they are listening to the players who cried that Ebberon seemed plastic and unmoving with these additions of random encounters that actually affect your character. Compared to the Forgotten realms though, they still have a long way to go in making the area feel more alive.
My grade for these issues Is definitely a D - not a complete fail but definitely missed the mark in some areas.
I close this review out with something that worries me because of the next update and the upcoming expansion, which was announced recently. Yes, that's right, Dungeons and Dragons Online will be releasing another expansion to follow Menace of the Underdark, which was released June of last year.
This new expansion will give players the chance to start up in the Forgotten Realm, jumping automatically to level 15 using their heroic path feature. Many are not too happy with this - for me, anything that has people skipping levels is not always a good thing, too many rush through content as it is and then whine that there is not enough, jumping levels only adds to that. Another addition that may or may not excite some are the promise of Cleric domains (something that has been asked for almost as often as druids). I was excited to see some of the domains that may make it to the game, but it is really too early to make a true judgement on this. Another thing, from what people have witnessed of the attempts on the preview server, it still needs a lot of work.
There has also been buzz about the enhancement revamp, but as with the domains it's far too soon to do more than speculate. But the addition that truly makes this writer go bleh is the revamp to the collectible turn-in system. In DDO you can gather collectibles from various nodes and loot drops from mobs you slay. It used to be that many of us collected these items in the hopes they would one day become useful, and to some extent they have done for crafters in several rituals and Cannith crafting. Unfortunately, someone decided they weren’t useful enough, and revamped the system. The first roll out seemed promising, as it now has items that can help heal your ailments or boost your stats, you can receive a random augment or use astral shards (a newer game currency) and get a guaranteed augment of your choice. Sadly they have made the cost for turn-ins so aggressively high it will lead to this system largely ignored. New players will not have it in them to gather so many items just for a small benefit, and us veteran players will not give up crafting items for such a small benefit. I cannot see how this system will do well, and I only hope that the player feedback draws the developer's attention to this. Unfortunately, with the new focus on astral shards, including a new auction house to sell items using astral shards (at ridiculously high posting fees) I fear that this will be the way the game is going for a while.
So my overall score for update 17 is a C-. It definitely had some enjoyable moments, but really missed the mark with certain things.
So that is my take on DDO’s new update and some of the features that will be coming soon. I wanted to extensively play before writing out my thoughts on this update, and I hope I conveyed both the good and bad and the bleh well enough to those of you reading. I look forward to seven more years of DDO however, since if these are the only bad bits (and trust me, I’ve played worse games) it still has more than enough to hold my attention. And although it may take seven years to get certain things put in, they do eventually give the playerbase things we clamour for (here’s to Keeps and new bard tunes in 2020!)