Reaper Retardation

I hope you like the alliterative title.

So, I come back from a year-long break (or longer, I can’t keep track), after seeing that they had at some point made a Battle Engineer change. It looked nice so I decided to test it out, namely by True Reincarnating my character and starting over at level 1. At this point, I noticed that there was another new feature Turdbine added in since I had last played: Reaper difficulty.

It’s about as awful as you’d expect it to be.

Oh, I also discovered that apparently the company managing DDO is no longer named “Turbine;” it’s now “Stepping Stone Games” (SSG for short) but it’s essentially being managed by all the same people. It’s the same piece of shit, just with a different name, so don’t get your hopes up too much about any new managerial direction for DDO.

Anyway, Reaper difficulty. The gimmick in this difficulty is that it’s harder than elite. Why they added in this difficulty, I have no idea; elite was already challenging enough with the stupid, broken monster champions that they decided to add in awhile back. I suppose they decided that the game wasn’t broken enough, and wanted to fuck over players even more. I guess they did a good job at that, for what it’s worth. There are two main gripes I have with Reaper difficulty: its difficulty and its rewards.

Difficulty

Whereas the climb from normal to hard and hard to elite is mostly defined as a linear difficulty scaling which results in slightly more monsters per difficulty, slightly more powerful monsters per difficulty, or slightly more powerful traps in higher difficulties, the only noticeable difference between the jump from Elite to Reaper seems to be more monster champions. A lot more. And this is retarded game design. I’ll explain why. There are also new monsters called “Reapers,” who are incorporeal and deal massive amounts of damage–they’re basically monster champions without officially being recognized as such. They seem to spawn at random, and this is also retarded game design.

Consider a normal, well-designed game. Let’s talk about Megaman 2, for instance. In the western release of this game, it has two difficulty options: normal and difficult. Normal is what you’d expect, and in difficult, monsters deal twice as much damage and you (Megaman) deal half as much damage as you would otherwise. This is a blanket effect which affects every unit in the game equally: in other words, it’s consistent and it’s a universally applied standard. Even if the difficulty is not incremental and you have a binary choice between two difficulties, the fact remains that it’s a universalized, evenly applied standard to which the game holds itself impartially.

Contrast this with DDO. The problem with Reaper difficulty is that when there are no monster champions, the game is an absolute snoozefest, and that when there are any monster champions, the game has a dramatic, jarring difficulty spike which causes the dungeon to become several times harder than it is normally. This is idiotic.

As a concrete example, let’s take the quest Walk the Butcher’s Path, which my character ran at level 3. Everything in this quest was really easy, and I was able to slaughter dozens of kobolds without a hitch. And then I encounter my first reaper. I go up to it, try to attack it, and it deals 120 damage to me.

Yes, that’s right: 120 fucking damage in a level 4 quest. Bear in mind that most monsters even in Gianthold, which is a level 13-14 area, don’t deal this much damage in a single hit. So what the fuck, Turbine? This problem persists all throughout reaper difficulty, with reapers and monster champions at every level dealing ridiculous and unmanageable amounts of damage. I also ran Bloody Crypt (a level 6 quest) on Reaper, and one monster champion applied a Damage-Over-Time effect to me that dealt 45 damage every two seconds, and lasted for 15 seconds. Because that’s totally fair; most normal level 13 characters would be unable to handle all that damage, so why the hell would a level 6-8 character be able to survive this?

This is a problem because instead of simply being incrementally more difficult than lower difficulties, Reaper difficulty has these weird spikes of difficulty in what would otherwise be extremely easy quests. Imagine if, in Megaman 2, you’re going through Metal Man’s stage and every single monster dies in two hits, and the boss (Metal Man) falls in ten. But then, let’s use Turbine’s logic: let’s place in some “champion” monsters who appear at random all throughout the stage, and who take twenty hits to kill, and who can kill you in two hits. This is basically what monster champions are. For one thing, it makes no sense that monster champions are harder to take down and deal more damage than boss monsters within the same quest. That’s just idiotic. For another thing, this difficulty is at complete random and it completely breaks up any sense of consistency you would otherwise have.

What if, instead of random, sporadic, stupid spikes of difficulty, Turbine instead made it so that every monster in a given dungeon has is 10% stronger in a higher difficulty? No monster champions–instead, every monster is slightly stronger, so the overall experience of doing the dungeon is slightly more challenging. That, to me, makes a hell of a lot more sense. But no, they didn’t do that because that’d be common sense.

As I might’ve alluded to before in this blog, I hate monster champions. They’re one of the stupidest things Turbine has ever done (and that’s saying a LOT), and the net result is that they heavily encouraged ranged builds and casters. In reaper mode especially, because of the presence of “lost souls,” items which randomly spawn from enemies and can be picked up to restore your SP, Turbine seems to be heavily encouraging casters. All the while, melees have slowly been becoming less and less fashionable unless you’re a tank with 500 AC and 500 PRR or something absurd and unobtainable like that. This game is becoming borderline unplayable, even on elite–this is largely due to monster champions.

Rewards

Why would anyone even run reaper mode? Because of the rewards. And the rewards are, for the most part, ludicrously badly designed, as you’d probably expect from Turbine.

For one thing, you get slightly more experience if you run reaper, when compared to elite. Oh boy. As if it wasn’t already easy enough to get from level 1-30. (Hint: it wasn’t.) We don’t need this. The experience is not an incentive to run Reaper.

The other reward is reaper experience, which you get in minuscule amounts every time you finish a dungeon on reaper mode. This experience gradually earns you points in the reaper enhancements trees, but you shouldn’t get your hopes up because by the time you make any significant progress in them, you’ll probably be playing DDO in a retirement home. Here’s a poignant post on the official forums about the situation. Here’s one quote from one sane forum user:

The xp curve on reaper looks like a Fibonacci Sequence. The sun will explode before any casual player gets through it.

And, as you can expect, there are lots of people in this thread sucking Turbine’s dick and saying shit like “OH WELL IT’S A GOOD THING THAT THERE ARE UNATTAINABLE ACHIEVEMENTS IN THIS GAME” or other weird drivel like that. This is why we can’t have nice things.

It just takes way too long to make any significant progress in the reaper enhancements. My character is already level 9, has completed every quest so far on reaper, and only has around 20,000 reaper experience. This is only enough for 4 reaper points, and the numbers go up exponentially from there: if you want 10 points, it takes 100k experience; 20 points 400k experience; 30 points 900k experience; etc.

Additionally, 95% of the benefits from these reaper trees only take effect within reaper difficulty. So for the average person, such as myself, who sees reaper as a stupid chore and who intends to spend as little time in it as possible, what incentive do we even have for using these enhancements? Even for the people who are gluttons for punishment and have masochistic hard-ons for idiotically-designed difficulties and who therefore love reaper, are they really going to be serviced immensely by something as trivial as +3 melee power, or +3 to tactics DCs? …I don’t think so.

In regards to those enhancements which do take effect outside of reaper difficulty, they’re minor benefits like +20 hp/+1 saving throws, or +1 to hit/damage. But the most damning thing about these bonuses is that they only can be taken at certain levels. For instance, the +1 to hit/damage ability only can be taken at level 9, and +1 to intelligence can only be taken at level 15. And the +1 to intelligence one requires 121,000 reaper experience, which by my estimations would require running only Reaper for at least three heroic lives. Fuck that shit. 

I can’t even stomach one life of reaper difficulty. I got my character to level 9 running only reapers and I’m about ready to kill myself due to the frustration. Why on EARTH would Turbine think anyone could survive three fucking lives of this awful shit just for +1 to a stat or something idiotic like that?

I suppose there’s one more thing I should address in my tirade against reaper retardation: its effects on the metagame.

The Community

The game has steadily been dying for a long time now, and I’m fairly certain that 99% of the cool, old-school, intelligent players have left. By now, most of the people who remain are the idiots who thought MoTU was a good idea, or are still in denial that the game is dying (despite there being, on a good day, an average of less than 25% of the amount of LFMs up as what we had previously, lol). So this doesn’t help out the gaming experience much; it’s probably better to just find a different game to play altogether.

I’ll talk briefly about Reaper’s influence on the community and the way people play the game. You know how in previous posts, I’ve talked about how the way the epic game is set up now has cleft the community in two? Well, that’s effectively what Reaper has done now, except to the heroic game: now everything in the game is even more fragmented before. We now have people who just do endgame raiding, people who just work through epic lives, people who just do heroics on elite, people who just do heroics on reaper, and a few other groups of people.

Nowadays, it’s even more difficult to find parties for anything you want to run. In heroics, you can even put up a LFM for Reaper 1 difficulty, but some people won’t want to join because they want to do Reaper 2, or Reaper 3, or whatnot. And then there are those such as myself who just want nothing to do with reaper and instead want to run things on elite, since there are fewer monster champions there, even if the existing monster champions still give me cancer. Then you also have the casual crowd who wants to run things on normal (and in all frankness should be running things on normal) but can’t find a group for it so they just hop into someone’s Reaper LFM and promptly get destroyed.

The implementation of Reaper difficulty has just made it even harder to find groups due to further fragmenting the community. Add to this the dwindling population of DDO and you get a recipe for disaster. Absolutely nothing good has come from this steaming mess of shit that Turbine has created, and at this point, I’m on the verge of quitting DDO and never returning.

It seems that over the past several years, every time I go on a break and return, I stay for less and less time: a few months, then a break, then I stay for a few weeks, then a break, and now it seems I’m staying for less than a week. Every single change Turbine has made to this game recently has been utterly disastrous, and Reaper is one of the worst things they have done in a long time. It’s kind of impressive how monumentally this company has fucked up at every single opportunity it’s had, but it’s equally infuriating for someone like me who really used to love this game and has become saddened with what it’s become. Again, I’ll reiterate: Reaper difficulty is unnecessary, frustrating, poorly designed, and has had awful side effects, namely further dividing the community. DDO has reached a point now where even the heroic game has become borderline unplayable, and that’s really the last straw for me.

Posted in Miscellaneous | 4 Comments

Why I don’t enable voice chat

Something that crossed my mind recently, and feel like I should probably post about.

Occasionally, there will be some idiots in my party who expect everyone to have voice chat enabled, and don’t even check to see whether the rest of the party can actually hear them. Yes, there is a way to check this.

ScreenShot00001

See that nice, green, speaker-shaped icon that is either present or absent from your party icon? If you didn’t know what it does, then now you have no excuse for not knowing. That icon indicates whether the party member in question has voice chat enabled. If the green icon is absent, then there’s zero chance whatsoever that the person can hear what you are saying (unless, of course, you know that person in real life and are actually playing in the same room as one another). But even when that green icon is there, it may not be as indicative as you can think, and this brings me to the first couple, among many, reasons why I don’t use voice chat.


Speaker problems

Sometimes, people will leave their voice chat enabled by accident (because this is the default setting) but their speakers may not be working. As a result, they still will not hear what you are saying. On the other hand, everyone has access to the chatbox.

I’ve also noticed that voice chat automatically enables itself again every time you True Reincarnate or Epic Reincarnate.


Microphone problems on your end

Conversely, it’s also possible that your microphone sucks or may not be working. It’s possible that even though you’re talking into your microphone, people may be unable to hear you. On the other hand, if you type, there’s zero chance of there being a misunderstanding because everyone has access to the chatbox.


DDO’s voice chat quality isn’t that great

Another problem arises when you consider that DDO’s voice chat system (whatever it is) isn’t very good. Sometimes when you have it enabled, your microphone will randomly go on without you having prompted it to. In this case, it would’ve save you some embarrassment or confusion by simply leaving your voice chat off.

Sometimes, what you say comes out as a garbled mess, and you’ll end up having to repeat what you said multiple times. In this case, it would’ve been faster and clearer to simply type.


There’s also no content in the game which necessitates voice chat

I used to be of the opinion that, okay, sure, maybe raids and some of the tougher content in the game may require more coordination, and so voice chat may be useful. But I’ve come to believe that this isn’t the soundest of reasoning.

For one thing, the toughest content in this game revolves around monster difficulty rather than coordination and teamwork. EE difficulty comes from having to stay alive and being able to do enough damage to complete the quest in a reasonable amount of time. Hence, you don’t need team coordination to overcome the toughest challenges in this game.

For another thing, every competent raid group designates party roles and lays out a game plan before a quest/raid starts. Before running Hound of Xoriat (which doesn’t happen anymore, but let’s just use this for the sake of example), someone will volunteer to be the tank, another will volunteer to be the charmer, and so on. Thus, the coordination is already taken care of before the raid even begins, and there’s no good reason to use voice chat.


And for another thing, typing is a superior form of communication in DDO

When you say something in voice chat, it may not even be heard due to dysfunctional speakers, dysfunctional microphones, or lag.

To further compound the problem, there are people who go AFK and will not hear what you said.

Assuming that it does get heard by everyone in the party, there’s ample room for misunderstanding. Unless you speak very clearly, someone could misinterpret what you say. This is a real problem because 1) almost nobody has perfect intonation and speaks perfectly clearly and 2) DDO’s voice chat muddles up a lot of words and can blur what you’re saying, even if you speak precisely and clearly.

There are simply too many things which can go wrong, and they almost inevitably do, forcing you to repeat what you have said. This makes it ultimately a less efficient mode of communication, which brings me to another point, which is that typing is simply faster.

How long does it take you to press “f” and say “there’s a trap ahead,” for instance? Probably 1-2 seconds. On the other hand, how long does it take to simply type, “trap?” My WPM is somewhere around the 100-120 range, so for me, it’s around half a second or less.

So not only does what you type linger in the chatbox for people to see, but at a most basic level, it’s faster at conveying important information. Furthermore, there’s zero room for misunderstanding, unlike with voice chat, which is plagued with a variety of problems. As the icing on the cake, everyone has access to the chatbox, while not everyone may hear what you are saying, due to hardware or software limitations. If this still isn’t enough for you, then I’ll put forth several more reasons.


People can accidentally interrupt one another

A more minor issue, but it’s always possible for people to talk over one another in voice chat. This isn’t the case with typing; if two people type at exactly the same time, everyone in the party will still be able to read what both people have typed. In contrast, if two people say something over voice chat at the exact same time, there’s no hope for anyone to understand what either is saying.


Some people are deaf

Yes, it’s a sad truth in life that some people are born with disabilities, but it’s a reality. We should try to have some sympathy to those who are born with these disabilities, and try to accommodate them whenever we can.

There are deaf people who play MMOs, and DDO does have its share. These deaf people may or may not be aware that voice chat even exists, and thus they may accidentally leave on voice chat in their options due to ignorance. Alternately, they might turn it off, and people may stupidly and presumptuously start talking into the microphone even though their party icon clearly shows that they don’t have voice chat enabled. (This is something that personally annoys me. Sometimes, people will come into my party, type nothing, and then a few minutes later type something like “can u hear me,” only for me to respond that, “No, and you should be able to see that my voice chat is off because there’s no green speaker icon near my party icon.”)


Some people don’t speak English as a first language

I know this may come as a shock to my fellow American players, but yes, there are people who play this game who aren’t as adept at English as we are. How astounding. Yes, DDO’s demographics primarily consist of people who speak English as their primary language, but this shouldn’t mean that everyone has to be adept at it.

Imagine for one minute that you find a Korean or a Japanese MMO which you really like. Let’s say that your Korean or Japanese isn’t the best, but you have a basic grasp on the language to be able to read what the NPCs are saying, and to know what your party members are saying. That’s great, and you will have no problem playing the game.

Unless, of course, that game has a built-in voice chat and most people playing the game insist that you use it.

Then, imagine how lost you’d be. I’m not fluent in Japanese nor Korean, but I’ve heard enough of either language to know that Japanese and Korean people speak pretty fucking fast. This is also the case with Spanish, but I digress. The point is that, even though you may have a basic grasp of the language and can make your way around this hypothetical Korean or Japanese MMO fine, this does not mean that you will be able to keep up with native speakers of the language.

This is essentially the position in which many DDO players would find themselves. I’ve seen and met enough people in this game who are nice people, but who use somewhat irregular grammar patterns and otherwise type a little peculiarly. Almost always, this can be chalked up to them being from a different country and thus not speaking English as their first language. I’ve met Swedish, Finnish, Portuguese, Serbian, Russian, German, Japanese, and all sorts of other nationalities of players (in some cases, I learn their nationality through their bio, and others, I get into conversations with them and they tell me directly something like, “Oh, I am from Portugal.”). This is great, and I’m happy that the game has this sort of international appeal. But this is also why I’m sympathetic to them if they happen to join a group full of redneck drunkards from Texas who communicate only through voice chat.

(As a funny and somewhat weird side-note, one thing I noticed from the year or two that I had voice chat enabled was that there was an incredibly large amount of people from Texas, or otherwise had that distinct southern drawl. It was weird. I would think that in the Bible belt, given its history of biblical fundamentalism and… well, its warped views of games like Pokemon and D&D as being Satanic, that D&D and by extension, DDO, would be less popular than in other parts of the USA, but whatever.

Anyway, it got to the point where my DDO buddy with whom I ran quests decided to troll the next person to enter the group who was from Texas. We were running The Faithful Departed, and when the next person joined and introduced himself over voice chat with the inevitable, “Howdy,” my friend used his best faux-Texan accent and responded likewise.

My friend then said, “Hey, pardner, you from Texas?” Of course, the guy who had just joined confirmed that yes, he was from Texas.

Picking up on my friend’s [apparently passable] Texan accent, he then asked my friend, “You sound like yer also from Texas. Where you from?” It was at this point that my buddy was frantically doing a Google search on cities from Texas so that his cover would not be blown. The whole while I was rolling on the floor laughing. Anyway, back to the list…)


Speaking to random people on the internet is weird

Sorry, but if you join my party, all you are to me is a party member. I don’t know you or anything about you, and to me, all you are is a character who will help me run a quest. That’s it.

Yes, of course there are people in DDO whom I would consider friends, and in the hypothetical situation that they or one of my real life friends joined me on DDO, I would perhaps turn on voice chat to be able to talk to them, should they wish it. (Even then, however, I’d be much more inclined to go on a Skype, TeamSpeak, or what have you, than to use DDO’s voice chat system.) But the reason I’d be fine with talking with them is because I know them as people and because I’m comfortable interacting with them like that. This isn’t really the case with some random person named “Numnut” on the internet whom I will likely never see again. Additionally…


There are other things I’d rather listen to than some random person on the internet who happens to play the same game that I do

Ever heard of music? I’ve heard of it. Over my head, I hear music; music, music, I hear music, music over my head. There are so many great bands and composers I’d love to listen to, and relaxing and playing a game which features virtually no music affords me a great opportunity to listen to them. I guarantee you that I’m not the only person who listens to music while playing DDO. Music can be an important part of life, and some people are too busy otherwise to be able to really unwind and appreciate it. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would rather listen to a Paganini caprice, or a Thin Lizzy album, or even some nice chiptunes, instead of some asshole drunkard in my party who can’t shut the fuck up.

There are also a wide variety of podcasts, many of which can be informative on current events, philosophy, and other important issues. I’d rather listen to a well-done podcast than random people in DDO yammering on about whatever as well. Some YouTube channels such as MundaneMatt’s are similar in nature to podcasts, and provide some interesting, thought-provoking content which can help take one’s mind off of grinding a series of quests.

And let’s not forget about audiobooks. For someone who loves a good story and has already experienced all of what DDO has to offer in terms of story-arcs, listening to a good Stephen King, Tom Clancy, or even Dan Brown novel can be exciting and add some enjoyment to the monotonous grind that DDO can be.

I’m sure there are other things, though those three are the main ones which I personally find myself listening to. In every other MMO I’ve played, nobody has criticized me for listening to them and otherwise doing what I enjoy; DDO is the only MMO where I get any flak for this, and it’s only because DDO has its own voice chat system.  Music is something I personally love, and the DDO playerbase has been the only one which has ever tried to discourage me from enjoying it. I can play RuneScape, SWTOR, Runes of Magic, World of Warcraft, or any other MMO without a built-in voice chat and no other random strangers on the internet will criticize me for doing what I enjoy.


So all in all, there are too many reasons for me in favor of disabling voice chat. Voice chat provides no benefit, seeing as typing is a vastly more universal, accessible, and efficient mode of communication. It’s weird on a social level and makes more sense to interact with other random people on the internet through typing rather than voice chat, and I’d much rather listen to other things than random people in DDO using voice chat.

I’m fine with others chatting among themselves in voice chat; they can do what they want and I honestly don’t care. But when you see that my party icon clearly has voice chat turned off, don’t expect me to respond to anything you say in voice chat. Typing is the norm in every other MMO, and from a utilitarian standpoint, it’s simply easier and more effective in DDO as well.

Posted in Miscellaneous | 1 Comment

House Cannith Challenge Pack (Vault of the Artificers)

General Comments

House Cannith Challenge Pack is unique in that you can technically play it as a free player (you can get a free challenge token every day, which lets you run a challenge of your choice). This means that you’re afforded the luxury of being able to try out the challenges and see if they’re to your liking before purchasing the pack! Think of it as a free trial.

Experience: 3.5/5

Challenges adhere to a unique experience mechanic. They can be completed at any level in their given range–for instance, Behind the Door can be completed at any level between 4 and 15–but they can only award their maximum experience at the maximum level. Even so, you’re given a lot of flexibility in regards to when you can run these packs (you can run ’em at any level from 4-25), which allows for auxiliary options for those who are tired of traditional questing and want to do something different at any given time. But beware that it’s generally advisable to only complete each challenge once per life, since once you’ve gotten 6 stars on a quest, repeated completions don’t provide nearly as much experience. Still, there are a total of 21 quests here, so even if you only complete each once, that’s a lot of potential experience.

Loot: 4/5

There’s a lot of loot here which is still good today. Though unfortunately, a lot of the level 20 stuff is arguably unnecessary due to the presence of Thunderforged weapons at level 22. Still, you get a wide assortment of items which range from being spectacular niche items to overall powerhouses in multiple areas.

At level 20, Mournlode weapons are almost as good as Greater Disruption Green Steel items. Being much easier to obtain, they’re thus a great substitute as undead beaters.

With Corrosive Salt and Crushing Wave, Calomel Weapons at level 20 even surpass Green Steel, though don’t quite eclipse Alchemical Weapons. Still, being much easier to get, they’re a good substitute until you can get Alchemical Weapons.

Though limited in itemization options, the Cannith Elemental Weapons are all powerful across the board. They’re worth obtaining as early as level 12 (if you don’t have Green Steel, that is), and, like Calomel Weapons, are a great substitute for Alchemical weapons at level 20.

Frozen Tunic is the best level 4 outfit in the game. I don’t think anyone would dispute that. Its Freezing Ice effect is simply too good to pass up, and retains its usefulness all the way to level 20 on some builds. I’d say it’s not really even worth upgrading for a lot of builds, since higher tiers of the item only grant it caster effects like Ice Lore 5 and Glaciation 78. Fire Shield Guard is somewhat nice, though.

Bracers of Wind are similarly an amazing choice for level 3. Permanent blur as low as level 3 is a great effect for pretty much any build out there. Higher tiers of this item upgrade its lightning lore and magnetism effects, making it more suited for Sorcerers and Druids. Higher tiers of this item also grant it Dodge bonuses and the Air Guard enhancement, making it a good item in general.

Blasting Chime has its uses with Bard builds, though it’s one of the more niche items here. While its Weaken Construct effect can be useful for melee builds in general, the rest of its effects seem more tailored to Bards.

Ring of the Master Artifice is probably one of the best items here due to its usefulness at every level. As low as level 3, it has a repair light damage clicky and has the unique “Auto Repair” enhancement, which has a chance of casting repair moderate wounds on the user when hit. As you upgrade it, this effect turns into repair serious at level 11 and reconstruct at level 20. In addition, the item’s clicky is also upgraded to reconstruct at level 15, and its final upgraded form boasts the Repair Systems enhancement as well, making this item one of the best self-sustaining items for warforged/bladeforged players or Artificers with construct essence. Its Archmagi, Reconstruction +90, and Repair Lore 6 also make it well-suited for any warforged players with repair spells.

My personal favorite item here is the Ring of the Stalker. At level 11, it gains the Manslayer effect, and at various levels, it boasts Insightful Sneak Attack Bonus and Seeker effects, allowing for a good deal of supplementary damage which a lot of items don’t grant. At level 15, it gains Ethereal, allowing you to hit incorporeal monsters, and this effect is upgraded to Ghostly when fully upgraded, granting +10% incorporeality.

The Stone Prison and Earthgrab Guards on the Rock Boots make for a really fun item to use as well. I’d love to see someone pair this item with the Earthshatter Warhammer.

I should also note that one of these challenges, Epic Time is Money, is the fastest way to farm for Epic Tokens of the Twelve. EN Devil Assault comes close and has the potential of surpassing it if in a group, however, so bear that in mind.

Fun Factor: 3/5

I love some of the challenges of here, while I feel indifferently on others. A lot Most of the challenges in the Extraplanar Palace and Lava Caves are rehashings of Crystal Cove. I like Crystal Cove, but it starts to feel like Turbine was getting kind of lazy when designing these. A lot of these challenges can also be really frustrating when trying to solo, which presents its own problem because of how unpopular this pack is. Challenges were inherently designed to be run in a group, and this is a huge problem now that DDO’s population is dying.

The Kobold Island and Lava Caves challenges in particular are impossible to milk for their full potential unless you’re in a six-man group. To a lesser extent, this can be a problem with Extraplanar Mines as well. So good luck with them. I do really like the challenge design of the Kobold Island challenges and think that the idea behind them is fairly unique. The only flaw is, again, that DDO just doesn’t have the requisite population these days. Thankfully, it is possible to solo all of these challenges; it’s just that a lot of them are not as rewarding when soloing.

That is, except for the Dr. Rushmore’s Mansion challenges. These ones are my favorite challenges in the game because of the concept behind them, the fact that they can be soloed, and for their experience rewards. True to the dungeon’s name, the challenges involve lots of rushing and racing against time. It keeps you alert and on your toes in a way unlike any other quest in the game.

Popularity: 1/5

I rarely see LFMs for these challenges pop up, and whenever I want to get a group together to run these, it’s a lost cause. This is a true shame, because these challenges need to be run in order to experience their full potential. I only have Turbine to blame, because if they hadn’t ruined the game by splitting it into two, there’d doubtless be a lot more people playing heroic content.

Pricing: 2/5

1,295 TP makes this the most expensive pack in the game that isn’t an expansion pack. I do think the pricing is somewhat justified, though, given the diverse level range, the amount of content you’re getting, and the quality of the loot.

Overall: Upper C-Tier. 

While I really want to put this pack in the B or even A-Tier, it’s too hindered by its lack of popularity. Aside from this, however, it has a lot going for it: great loot, great experience, and mostly fun challenges which are a refreshing break from most of the game’s other content. It’s possibly the only pack below B-Tier which has all the ingredients necessary for a great pack and is held back solely by its lack of popularity. All of the other packs below B-Tier are brought down more by intrinsic properties like lack of experience, poor loot, or boring quests, so in this respect, the House Cannith Challenge Pack is an anomaly.

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Eveningstar Challenge Pack

General Comments

Eveningstar; I can see the lights! Eveningstar, guiding me so bright!

If only the Eveningstar challenge pack could compare to Judas Priest’s “Evening Star,” we might have something here. But really, there’s barely anything keeping this pack above F-Tier. It’s rather pricey, it’s unpopular, and its loot is essentially worthless. In fact, I’d say it’s worst than worthless, since its abundance of ingredients only serves to clog up your inventory.

Experience: 2.5/5

The only half-decent thing about this pack. Any of these challenges can be done in either the heroic or epic levels once per life for a respectable chunk of experience. However, there are only six challenges here, and they’re very unpopular, meaning you’d have to solo them, which can be rather challenging.

Loot: 0/5

I’m hard-pressed to find a single piece of loot here which is worth itemizing on any build. The level 16 weapons are outdone by Reign of Madness items, Attack on Stormreach items, and Green Steel (obviously), while the cloaks are outdone by lootgen items. Yes, really. Any of the epic items are weaker than items from House Cannith challenges, epic items, Alchemical Crafted weapons, Green Steel, loot gen, commendation items, and pretty much everything else out there. If you can find a piece of loot here which I might be overlooking then I’ll give you a cookie.

Fun Factor: ?/5

In all honesty, I haven’t done these in so long that I’ve completely forgotten these challenges. I seem to recall that one of them involves a dragon, while another one involves trees that you have to protect. I think I had some fun with them, but then again, my memory is so hazy on this subject, which might suggest that they’re forgettable and vanilla quests.

Popularity: 0/5

I haven’t seen a LFM up for this in at least a year.

Pricing: 1/5

695 TP for only 6 challenges with no good loot. I think it’s safe to say why these quests are so unpopular.

Overall: Lower D-Tier. 

If not for the experience, these challenges would fail on every level.

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The Demonweb

General Comments

Okay, I’ll admit that I enjoyed Beyond the Rift. It was interesting to run through Demonweb/Underdark scenery for about 15-20 minutes. But that’s just it. It was fun for about 15-20 minutes. I ran through the quest and though, “hmm, that was kind of neat,” but I never once thought that it’d be enjoyable to run through an entire fucking wilderness zone full of more of the same. And that’s exactly what The Demonweb is, only worse.

Experience: 2/5

The experience here isn’t the worst in the game, but it’s not great either. While the three quests themselves give slightly above-average experience, it’s counterbalanced by having to walk out to them. Also, obligatory big three comment: no reason to run these when the big three exist.

Demonweb is its own wilderness area, though I’ll be damned if anyone actually does Slayer runs for experience.

Oh yeah, and the three quests here are part of some sagas. Um… yay?

Loot: 1/5

As with the Underdark/Drow City, anything found here can be found on the auction house, so you don’t even need the pack to get the loot here.

Fun Factor: 0.5/5

It’s at least slightly better than the Underdark, though not by much. This pack still has severe problems.

Like I said in regards to Beyond the Rift, the scenery is a nice change, but it’s not something you want to wander around in for extended periods of time. I’m fine with just playing through Beyond the Rift and then being done with the setting, because there’s only so much you can milk something like this. For another thing, this wilderness is unique in that the paths to the quest change every time you run a new instance of the wilderness. This makes it a chore to find any of the explorers (if you’re actually doing that) or more importantly, finding any of the quests. And what’s the most important part of a quest? Being able to run it, maybe?

Another problem comes in regards to simply being able to access the Demonweb. In order to be able to explore this place, you need to have completed all of the Underdark quests. And I don’t plan on doing that shit again. So even if I wanted to run the Demonweb (which I don’t), I’d never be able to anyway because I can’t be fucked to run the Underdark ever again.

Finally, the quests themselves are flawed. The theme here seems to be “long periods of doing nothing, punctuated by bubbles of action.” This is the case with Trial by Fury and The Deal and the Demon, although Reclaiming the Rift is slightly better in this regard. Still, it’s undeniable that even the wilderness itself consists of long periods of walking over the same scenery, and ever so occasionally finding a group of monsters to fight. It’s boring. Never once when doing any of these quests did I think to myself “oh, yeah, this is fun, and I want to run these again.” Come next year, I’ll probably have forgotten all about these quests because of how unmemorable they are. And it’s already December.

I’ve never run the raid, nor do I have a desire to. All of the loot here is outmoded by Thunderforged anyway.

Popularity: 4/5

Possibly the only somewhat redeeming factor of this pack. People seem to love to do these quests, even if they’re far from optimal as far as experience goes. Maybe they’re operating under the misguided notion that the saga experience will make up for it? In reality, however, it’s a better expenditure of time to simply do the big three quests every day if you really want epic experience.

Pricing: 1/5

Thoroughly unlikable pack which is far from worth 2495 TP, even if it comes with the King’s Forest.

Overall: F-Tier. 

Although it’s a slight improvement from the Underdark, it’s not a pronounced difference. It’s not as hair-pullingly frustrating as the Underdark is, but it has a plethora of its own flaws, featuring loot which you don’t even need to run these quests to get, mediocre to below average experience, and boring and uncreative quests which seem like simple rehashings of Beyond the Rift.

Click to read my review of King’s Forest

Click to read my review of The Underdark

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The Underdark/Sschindylryn

General Comments

Okay, I’ll admit that I enjoyed Beyond the Rift. It was interesting to run through Demonweb/Underdark scenery for about 15-20 minutes. But that’s just it. It was fun for about 15-20 minutes. I ran through the quest and though, “hmm, that was kind of neat,” but I never once thought that it’d be enjoyable to run through an entire fucking wilderness zone full of more of the same. And that’s exactly what The Underdark/Sschindylryn are, only worse.

Experience: 1/5

Five quests here, only two of which is passable experience/minute, but even then, it’s counterbalanced by the long walk out to the quest. Yes, there are wilderness zones in this pack, but why on earth would anyone want to explore and slay here? My mentality is that I want to get out of there as soon as possible because they’re fucking dreadful and I want to avoid them like the plague.

Even if overall, there are two quests which provide alright experience, and even if all of these quests are part of multiple sagas, I’m still not going to run these because they’re some of the most boring and monotonous to run, and some of the most frustrating to even find. People give Restless Isles lots of shit, but compared to the Underdark, that place is heaven.

So for me, this pack gets a firm 0/5 in the experience department (I’m sure as hell never going to run these quests again), and the only reason I’m raising it to 1/5 is because other people seem to run it.

Loot: 1/5

There are some rings here which are decent, although they’re not tremendous upgrades from heroic items. Seal of House Avithoul is a slightly better Ring of Lies, for instance. Even so, I’m not rating the loot here that high because it’s easy enough to just buy any of it on the auction house. These quests have been out for 3 years, and people seem to have run them plenty of times, so there’s naturally a lot more loot in circulation than what people know what to do with. So really, even if any of the loot here is semi-decent, you can easily get any of it without setting foot in the Underdark. And that’s a path I’d much rather take.

Fun Factor: 0/5

Without a doubt the worst wilderness areas in the game. There’s absolutely nothing likable about the Underdark or the Drow City which I can’t type out because it’s spelled so damn weird. I hate all of the quests here and the repetitive, overtly-dark, labyrinthine setting of the wilderness here absolutely kills any potential enjoyment I would’ve had.

If you read my Sands review, you’d know that I have a tendency to get lost in the Sands of Menechtarun. I don’t know why, but I can’t seem to help it. But at least the Sands have the courtesy of being brightly lit up. At least the Sands aren’t half the size of the Underdark. The Underdark took everything I hated about Sands and amplified it times ten. And yeah, I get that this is supposed to be “oh cool, a new setting,” and that it was supposed to be inventive and different from the rest of the game. But for one thing, just because an idea is unique does not mean that it was a good idea to begin with (this is what I call Necro 3 syndrome), and for another thing, we already have Beyond the Rift, which takes the strength of a new, different setting and combines it with a compact and enjoyable quest design.

Instead of feeling the compulsive need to design the Underdark and the Demonweb, why couldn’t Turbine instead focus on Cormyrean geography instead? There’s no shortage of potential ideas for content that they could use, and if they had spent half of the effort that they spent on the Underdark and the Demonweb on expanding Cormyr, we’d have a great adventure pack. You have settings with huge amounts of potential, like swamps, rivers, lakes, strongholds, and all sorts of other things. Maybe Turbine could even focus on expanding the High Road, since the High Road according to Forgotten Realms lore is dozens of degrees larger than the pitiful little incarnation that Turbine brought us. There are just so many ideas which just ooze potential, and what does Turbine do instead…

The Underdark is the most labyrinthine, annoying-to-navigate wilderness area in the game. It’s huge, it’s dark (even when you put on the goggles intended to make it bright, it’s still pretty dark), all of it looks the same, and it’s multi-leveled like Shan-to-Kor is. All of these factors make it incredibly easy to get lost. The Drow City is somewhat easier to navigate, but it’s still unnecessarily large and it feels like Turbine could’ve easily combined the two wilderness areas into one. After all, it’s the exact same scenery with the exact same textures, and lore-wise, it goes together as well. I don’t see the point in separating the two. Or better yet, why couldn’t Turbine simply never done these wilderness areas in the first place, instead opting to focus on better-conceived potential ideas?

I’m of the opinion that the quests themselves aren’t markedly better than the wildernesses, either. There’s one standalone quest, In the Belly of the Beast, which is incidentally the only quest in the Underdark. (Of course, it’s a nightmare to find, as you might expect.) The central gimmick is, as the title suggests, that you’re eaten by a giant purple worm named Sineater, and you have to fight your way back out.

Wait a second, where have I seen this before? A giant purple worm with the suffix -eater attached to it, whose belly you must explore? Oh yeah, that’s right.

The Zone Eater from Final Fantasy 6. It even looks exactly the same and shares a similar name as DDO’s inferior rip off (Zone Eater… Sin Eater…?). You know, I was surprised that when going through Sin Eater’s belly, I didn’t find a mime who would join my party. Seems like Turbine ripping off everything else about the Zone Eater, so why wouldn’t there be?

And yeah, I know that simply being a ripoff of another game’s mechanic doesn’t automatically make the quest a bad one, but here’s the rub: DDO already did a “belly of the beast” mechanic in the way of Acute Delirium, and you’re not hearing about me criticizing that one because it was comparatively original, and the beast itself wasn’t a blatant ripoff of the Zone Eater. There is a way to take inspiration from another franchise without being completely derivative. All in all, this quest is unoriginal on every level, and you could tell that Turbine was running out of ideas, being that they recycled a mechanic from an earlier quest and slapped in a monster ripped straight from FF6.

Aside from that quest, there are three quests which take place in the Drow City, all of them being boring and derivative. You must complete them in any order to flag for the final quest, which by comparison, seems underwhelming and short, despite it being the final quest to end the chain. I don’t like any of the quests except for maybe House of Rusted Blades, and that’s only because the experience is good. House of Broken Chains recycles the slave collar mechanic from The Lost Thread and aside from that, is nothing noteworthy.

The House of Death Undone is easily the most detestable of the bunch, since it takes place in a large drow mansion where everything looks the same. The goal is to find a laboratory, pick up explosives, and then find the head drow’s chamber and blow up cauldrons there. Even if it sounds easy enough, it isn’t. There are several doors in the central chamber, some of them being locked and others being unlocked, and you are given absolutely no indication whatsoever on where to go. It can take a good ten minutes of wandering around to figure out where the hell the explosives are, and another ten minutes to end the quest. Most of the quest is spent wandering about aimlessly than actually doing anything.

Popularity: 4/5

Possibly the only somewhat redeeming factor of this pack. People seem to love to do these quests, even if they’re far from optimal as far as experience goes. Maybe they’re operating under the misguided notion that the saga experience will make up for it? In reality, however, it’s a better expenditure of time to simply do the big three quests every day if you really want epic experience.

Pricing: 1/5

Thoroughly unlikable pack which is far from worth 2495 TP, even if it comes with the King’s Forest.

Overall: F-Tier. 

The setting kills everything about this pack. With subpar experience (what with all the running around), thoroughly mediocre loot which you can simply buy off the auction house, the worst wilderness in the entire game, and boring, uninspired quests, the Underdark is a place you will want to avoid like the plague.

Click to read my review of King’s Forest

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The King’s Forest

General Comments

King’s Forest and its associated quests are the most appealing thing about the Menace of the Underdark expansion pack. Epic Destinies and the epic split are a major part of what’s been ruining this game since 2012; the Druid class has always been middle-of-the-road; the Eveningstar Challenge Pack has almost nothing going for it; and the rest of the wilderness areas in the expansion pack are horrible and drawn out. The King’s Forest stands out for being the anomaly, being a large, varied wilderness area which, although rather streamlined in that it’s very similar to other areas from lots of other fantasy-inspired MMOs, is quite rewarding and is decent fun to explore.

Even despite its good points, though, it doesn’t offer any good loot, its experience isn’t anything above average, and most importantly, it’s weighed down by the rest of the MOTU expansion pack.

Experience: 3/5

First, there’s the wilderness area itself. Counting all explorers, rares, and slayers (all 7,500 of them), you can squeeze a total of 936,871 experience from the zone. Although since slaying in this area isn’t exactly popular these days, I wouldn’t advise going all the way up to 7,500, since it’d take way too long. However, because it’s so large and fun to explore (IMO), I don’t think it’d be a chore to get maybe a few thousand slayers here before growing tired of it.

There are only three quests in this zone, and they must be completed in any order to flag for the chain’s end quest. Two of these quests are some of the only ones in the game which have experience comparable to that of the big three epic quests. Impossible Demands can be done in under two minutes, while Unquiet Graves can be done in under four minutes. The experience/minute is fantastic here, but it can be somewhat hindered by the long walk out to these quests. The Lost Thread, which is the third quest here, doesn’t offer experience on the same level as the other two, but it can be completed reasonably quickly (~10 minutes) if you know what you’re doing. The final quest, which takes place in the village of Eveningstar, is the Battle for Eveningstar. It’s similar to the Lost Thread in experience and in the time it takes to complete it.

I’m not sure if I should count the other three Eveningstar quests which require the MOTU expansion pack, because 1) they’re not really part of the King’s Forest and 2) they’re not great experience anyway, so they’re not worth going over in depth.

Loot: 1/5

I don’t consider any of the loot here to be great. Any of the commendation items you can get are more easily obtained by buying The Druid’s Deep or High Road of Shadows packs, and these are the only items in this pack worth mentioning.

Fun Factor: 4/5

I really like The King’s Forest wilderness. It’s big and has a lot of hidden goodies, making it fun to explore. Like I said earlier, it’s streamlined as hell, but it feels like a setting which DDO kind of needed. There are countless MMOs with forests and villages set in a fantasy-setting, and DDO conspicuously lacked this, despite belonging to the franchise which started it all. So I think it’s a good thing that Turbine gave us this setting, and it was a good start on fleshing out this game’s Forgotten Realms content. It’s too bad that Turbine hasn’t really done anything else in the way of adding any more meaningful Forgotten Realms content, because right now, it’s a lot of wasted potential.

Popularity: 4/5

People seem to love to do all of the MOTU quests, probably for the sagas (kind of silly if you ask me, since in terms of exp/minute, nothing beats the big 3 quests), so you’ll have no difficulty finding groups for any of these quests.

Pricing: 1/5

Its biggest flaw. You have to pay 2495 TP or somewhere around $20 for this expansion pack, and even though King’s Forest is overall an above-average pack, its pricing absolutely kills it and brings it to being merely average. Being that it’s the only likable thing about the expansion pack, it’s far from worth the purchase.

Overall: C-Tier. 

I regret buying this pack, even though I enjoy it. If we’re talking about buying the expansion pack with real money, I can say that although the expansion pack does come with the Druid Class and Epic Destinies, these are better purchased individually. If we’re talking about TP pricing, you can buy the adventure packs associated with the expansion pack for 2,495, but this doesn’t include Druid of Epic Destinies. As a result, it’s not worth buying with TP either, since again, Druid and Epic Destinies are better purchased individually.

Click to read my review of The Underdark

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