Dungeons & Dragons Online are four words that go great together, and yet this recently released online role-playing game isn't necessarily the dream come true its name suggests. That's not because D&D Online doesn't do a generally good job in its specific areas of concentration; it does. However, the game's focus on group-based hack-and-slash dungeon crawls comes at the expense of a lot of other elements you might reasonably expect either from a Dungeons & Dragons game or from an online RPG.
Hobgoblins, bastard swords, and rust monsters are among some of the compelling reasons to play Dungeons & Dragons Online.
D&D Online isn't the sprawling, complicated game that you get in a lot of other online RPGs. It's set in and around the city of Stormreach, so rather than travel to the far corners of a fantasy world, you'll spend a lot of time in dungeons and sewers hidden beneath this seemingly civilized place. It's structured around combat-intensive quests, so rather than blindly exploring an expansive world or countryside, you'll be spending most of your time undertaking meaningful missions with specific objectives. There's no player-versus-player combat and all of the different character classes are combat oriented, as is the gameplay. The combat itself is fairly simple, fast paced, and action packed, occasionally but not usually tactical or strategic. You aren't constantly gaining new skills and abilities, especially since you gain experience points slowly. The point of the game is to play through and enjoy successive quests together with several other players like you. This isn't a game for those who prefer or expect the option to be able to play solo, though it makes quickly finding a player group quite easy.
This also isn't exactly the Dungeons & Dragons you may be used to from bygone days of sitting around a kitchen table with your friends, or even from playing D&D computer games like Baldur's Gate II or Icewind Dale. Turn-based, tactical combat from other D&D games is replaced by much more of a frenetic melee, requiring lots of right-clicking by weapon-wielding characters. Sometimes it's hard to tell what's going on until somebody, you or the enemy, drops dead. D&D conventions like saving throws and critical hits are at work behind the scenes, but it's hard to pay attention to the statistics during a fever-pitch battle. As for the setting of Stormreach, it combines the predictable swords and sorcery with inklings of industrial technology. Metal automatons and elaborate arrays of metal piping aren't what you'd typically expect from D&D, and yet this doesn't really succeed at making the game's setting any more inspired or imaginative, since it's been done so many times before. Nevertheless, the game's colorful, often attractive setting is pleasing to the senses and filled with some nice little details, though you'll need a fast system to get the game both looking good and running smoothly, and the character animations leave something to be desired. From an audio standpoint, the game fares similarly well, offering up some good atmospheric sounds, decent musical tracks, and the constant repetition of whooshing weapons.
In this dangerous world, you create a character by choosing from a decent selection of races and professions. The professions run the D&D gamut, from fighters and barbarians to wizards and clerics to rogues and bards. However, in the context of the game, it seems clear that standard character classes like fighters, rogues, and clerics widely outnumber other classes like bards and rangers. You might expect for hybrid classes like rangers to be relatively self-sufficient in exchange for not being as adept at one task or another compared with more-specialized classes, but you'd be wrong. D&D Online is strictly designed around players working together in small teams of six or so.
No use trying to lone-wolf it through the game's numerous danger-filled dungeons. Thankfully, it's easy to find a group.
Thankfully, the game's social interface makes it simple to get into an open player group, and most player groups seem ready and willing to take on new members, since everyone's motivated to go questing. You do have the option to attempt to take on a quest all by your lonesome, but you're liable to fail miserably if you try--something you might have to learn the hard way if you appreciate having the option to do some questing on your own. Go dungeon-crawling all by yourself, and your small number of hit points will quickly be reduced to nothing by various monsters from slimes to the living dead to bugbears, buying you a trip back out of the dungeon and some experience debt--punishment for your foolhardiness, but at least your character doesn't get permanently wiped out like in traditional D&D (though options for hardcore rules might have been nice). After all, you can't easily recover from wounds in the middle of a quest without a healer, and you're vulnerable to deadly traps without the keen senses of a rogue...but healers and rogues can't fight well on their own.