With the release of Update 24 Heart of Madness last week, a new version of some of our favorite enemies were released called monster champions. The intent of monster champions is to make running quests on hard and elite difficulties, both hard and elite, more of a challenge. The DDO developers are using monster champions in an effort to acknowledge comments that with recent game changes, and prior to changes, that DDO has become to easy. By putting in this new system into the game, the DDO developers were hoping to give the player base more of a challenge when they run quests on hard or elite difficulties. I was quite interested in seeing how this would pan out myself and I thought it might be a nice wrinkle into the game. I typically do run the majority of quests on heroic settings on elite with my characters (besides on my Premium account because none of those characters have unlocked the ability to open quests on higher difficulties on initial play through). However, as for epic quests, I typically do those on normal or hard, as I know my limitations with my characters :).
Well, one thing I have to say, I don’t think I have seen nearly as many concerns and comments on the forums about a single mechanical change in game since the change to the armor class system. The DDO General Forums have exploded and a new thread was developed in the Official Discussion Threads to help steer all of the comments. The comments spread throughout that focused thread and throughout the rest of the General Discussion Forums have been quite wide and varied. Many people enjoy the new difficulty while a lot of others have had some serious concerns. There have been reports on the forums where monster champions have been killing characters in “one shot” and that they seem to be spawning more than they should. The different views expressed on the forums have been quite polarizing with those in favor of the addition to monster champions basically commenting that those who don’t like the change shouldn’t be running quests on hard or elite. This of course has created some heated discussions on who should be able to run quests on what difficulty.
Before I started to read any of these threads, I decided to see how these monster champions would work. From what I can tell from the release notes and discussions on the forums the total number of monster champions you face off against in a quest should be about 10% of the total number of enemies. A regular monster or mini-boss (orange named enemies in general) has a chance to be spawned as a monster champion. Mini-bosses have a higher chance of becoming a monster champion. Monster champions will receive a few buffs to make them more challenging and these buffs can differ over time. Monster champions will also see an increase in the damage output as well as a heavy increase in their hit points. Some of the buffs I have seen so far included blur, true sight, extra elemental damage, and attacks to make you vulnerable to different effects.
So what are my thoughts? Please keep in mind that my perspective is from somebody who plays more on the heroic side of things than on epic and that my heroic characters are not fully geared or maxed out builds. The first character I used to take a look at these enemies was Hamllin (Level 13 Fighter). Hamllin has one heroic past life. I took him and a hire into the quest, The Spawn of Whisperdoom. The Spawn of Whisperdoom is a level 11 quest on normal making it 13 on elite. I figured this would be a good quest to test the monster champions because it has a large number of enemies, the enemies you face are varied from melee, to ranged, to caster types, and the quest is quite lengthy and spaced out with various densities of mobs. I was kind of worried when the first enemy I encountered was actually a monster champion darkfang spider (monster champions can be identified because of the crowns floating above them). In my initial attacks on it though I was surprised by a few things. First off I was able to land Shattering Strike on it without a problem. I was concerned that with the monster champions that our tactical feats and enhancements would become limited, if not useless, against them. However, I didn’t find this to be the case at all. After I landed the Shattering Strike, I then landed a Stunning Blow and although it had over 1,500 hit points it still didn’t last to long. Further on into the quest, I came across a number of other monster champions. Running through ogre village I came across a few monster champion mystics, impalers, and melee ogres. They did indeed have more hit points and blur but overall they didn’t really impact my game style. I was able to hit the monster champion ogres with Stunning Blow, Trip, Sunder, and Shattering Strike the vast majority of the time. I was more worried about the Whisperdoom Daughters (orange named black widows) and the orge magi. The majority of the daughters were crowned making them monster champions. Although I was worried about them, they didn’t really cause me many problems, especially with Stunning Blow. That, and for some reason, a large portion of these enemies were actually spawned with reduced hit points. It looked they had already been beat up on before I got there, I’m sure that is a bug and I noticed a few others reported the same thing. It was like their hit point were expanded but they weren’t filled to max health for whatever reason. The ogre mages were also not bad. I was expecting on getting hit with some other more dangerous spells but they seem to use the same abilities that the regular ones did. I also noticed that I received a few more random chests from the Whisperdoom Daughters champions.
After that run, I logged in Kanndar (Level 11 Paladin) and took him and a hire out into Storm the Beaches on elite. Kanndar is a first lifer with so-so gear. Now Storm the Beaches is a level 7 quest on normal making it a level 9 on elite. So in this instance, Kanndar was slightly higher than the level of the quest but not so much so to get an experience penalty. While running through Storm the Beaches, I encountered a variety of monster champions: wildmen, wolves, Blood Tide archers, three orange named mini-bosses (First Mate, Lieutenant Kapsht, Boatswain Jared), and a few others. As with Hamllin, Kanndar was able to land Stunning Blows, trips, and sunders. He didn’t experience any issues here.
Upon that completion, I logged on with Charlock (Level 13 Fighter, first life) and took him into Stormcleave Outpost on elite. Stormcleave is a level 8 quest on normal making it a level 10 quest on elite. Charlock’s level was on the high end of the level range for this quest. However, I was curious to see how his paralyzing bastard sword would work on these monster champions. I faced off against a number of different champion types (not surprising because of the large variety of monsters in Stormcleave). I was surprised to see that a monster champion scorpion had a much higher number of hit points than a monster champion minotaur. I was also surprised to see that my paralyzing bastard sword was surprising efficient at holding and stopping the monster champions dead in their tracks. Also, the majority of the orange named enemies turned out to be “championed” as well, including the minotaur lord Helos. Even with this, I had no problems.
My last run was with Erdrique (Level 10 Monk, 36 point build, multiple past lives) who took on the quest Free Delera. That quest is level 9 on elite. I encountered a number of the monster champions in here as well. I believe two of the soul lock guardians were “championed” and one of the dropped a quest. But like in the other quests, these champions didn’t really hinder me that much. I was able to trip skeleton champions and still hit them with my special attacks.
Overall, I haven’t found the monster champions to be that much of a detriment so far to my questing. After the initial runs I described above, I ran a few other quests and didn’t encounter many issues. I did suffer a humiliating defeat in The Last Stand in the Red Fens with Erdrique but this was more because I prepared rather poorly and not because of the monster champions. As long as we are able to still land our special attacks to nullify these powerful enemies then I think questing will be normal for me on the heroic side of things. Another thing that I noticed, is that those enemies that are being stealthy that happen to be championed are visible to the players because of the crown icon indicating them as a champion. I have read some reports that some of the monster champions in the VON flagging quests have been quite devastating on heroic hard and elite. I also don’t know if scaling has any effect on the monster champions as I hit these quests up with my character and a hireling, making me wonder if these champions were naturally scaled to be weaker than in a regular party.
In any case, I have to admit that the change hasn’t effected me that much. I do like the chance to get extra loot and extra guild renown but I’m curious to see how things will be changed in the coming weeks, as I’m sure some tweaks will be made. Thanks for reading this long and drawn out article everybody and I hope everybody has some fun times hunting down these champions!!