D&D Online: Menace of the Underdark gets trailer, will include shapeshifting tree huggers

Tom Hatfield at

Dungeons and Dragons Online was one of the first wave of western MMOs to experiment with free to play (along with Lord of the Rings Online and Age of Conan) revitalising the game's playerbase. Nowadays of course everyone and his hat is going FTP, but back then Dungeons and Dragons was a trailblazer, so it's with a whiff of nostalgia that we hear news of the game's newest expansion, Menace of the Underdark.

Turbine have released a trailer taking a look behind the scenes on the new expansion, which they call their biggest update in six years. Menace of the Underdark will move away from Eberron, where Dungeons and Dragons Online has been set until now and into the popular Forgotten Realms setting, which gamers will remember from classic D&D based RPGs like Baldur's Gate.

Recently Turbine announced that Menace of the Underdark will give players the chance to play as Druids, one of D&D's most versatile classes. Druids are capable of casting spells like a Cleric, summoning an animal companion to send into battle or just turning into a wolf and pitching in themselves. From the information so far, it seems Turbine will be focusing on the shapeshifting aspect, promising players the ability to turn into a winter wolf, fire and water elementals, plus a dire bear ('dire' being D&D-speak for 'especially badass').

All of which sounds great fun to play, but not easy to balance. Back in the D&D 3.5 rules the game is based on, the tree huggers were one of the most notoriously overpowered classes in the game. Generally held to be better in combat than a fighter, while still able to sling spells with the best of wizards. This means the developers are in for a serious challenge in creating a class that stays true to its D&D origins while keeping the balance demanded of an MMO.

Will Menace of the Underdark let Dungeons and Dragons Online regain the spotlight in a more crowded FTP market? We'll find out on June 25th.