Menace of the Underdark takes Dungeons & Dragons Online players--literally--to a new world.
The Demon Web. It's the abyss between worlds, the binding point of multiple planes of the universe. It's also the home domain of Lolth, the demon queen of spiders, who manifested herself in Eberron as the Spinner of Shadows. In our look at Update 13, we came face-to-face with this hideous manifestation. But Lolth is not yet defeated--and thus begins Dungeons & Dragons Online: Menace of the Underdark, the first full expansion for this evergreen massively multiplayer online role-playing game.
The Demon Web is also the first new environment you explore in Menace of the Underdark. It exudes a sinister beauty, purple light shining down onto the threads that crisscross under your feet, acting as bridges between floating monoliths. This won't be the first time you traverse the web--it's also a high-level wilderness area you ultimately return to. Here, you encounter a number of different enemies, including driders (that is, former drows who have offended Lolth in some manner) and the drow themselves, who come in a number of different forms: priestesses, soldiers, enchanters, and even archers wielding their well-known hand crossbows. In the Demon Web, as in other places in Menace of the Underdark, you need to stay alert: a new spawn mechanic gives rise to random encounters, much as a dungeon master might create such an encounter in pen-and-paper D&D.
The ugly, monstrous hags can read dreams and are in alliance with the drow.
Once you make it through the Demon Web, you finally arrive in the nation of Cormyr, near the village of Eveningstar. The town was once quiet, but of late, drow raiding parties have taken to attacking residents and burning their buildings. Here, you begin to see what Lolth's plans might be, and eventually, your adventure takes you into the caverns beneath the village. As it turns out, this cave belongs to a group of forest hags led by a powerful nighthag. The ugly, monstrous hags can read dreams and are in alliance with the drow.
From them, you discover that the drow are attacking Eveningstar because they seek the Thread of the Weave, a fearsome vessel that contains the power of Mystra, the Forgotten Realms' previous queen of magic. With this vessel, Lolth can become the new queen. These hags speak in riddles, much like the witches in MacBeth, and according to a wizard you encounter during your quest, they are harvesting dreams from the good folks in Eveningstar. And intriguingly, those same citizens are experiencing the same dream.
Later, you traverse the King's Forest, where you might encounter a number of new enemies, one of which is the mimic. Mimics masquerade as treasure chests, but the only secret they harbor is their own animosity. Other foes are more nature-oriented: dryads, vine thrashers, and the like. Thankfully, you can also draw upon nature's power yourself as Menace of the Underdark's new class, the druid. And as you'd expect as a druid, you can morph into a number of different forms, including a wolf. In this sneaky form, you get some cool knockdown attacks, backflip kicks, thunderous attacks, and more. In the more advanced winter wolf form, you can hit enemies with ice spells as you sprint through a crowd. You can transform into a dire bear as well, though you aren't limited to animal forms: you can also become an elemental, a form in which you can still see your avatar's physicality underneath the elemental effects on top of it.
Poison and poison resistance are more important in the expansion than they have been in the past.
On a walk through the forest, you might draw a drow party's attention, in which case, you might come under the effect of The Darkening, which brings about a magical eclipse that engulfs the area. You also take on mini objectives that make wandering the forest fun and replayable, since the enemies and objectives might differ from one visit to the next. For instance, you might come across a lost villager out in the wild who must be escorted to safety. She might appear in different places, and there might be different villagers at different depths of the forest. Or you might encounter a group of hunters during the day who invite you to join them that evening for a feast. When you return, they might offer you some meat, which grants you a buff. Or they might turn into werewolves and try to eat you.
You might also stumble upon a dragon in your adventure, like the green dragon we encountered during our guided tour. He hits you with poison spray (if he were a black dragon, it would be acid spray instead). In fact, poison and poison resistance are more important in the expansion than they have been in the past. Just how important isn't yet clear, but you won't need to wait long to find out: Dungeons & Dragons Online: Menace of the Underdark arrives on June 25.