Neverwinter, DDO, Dark Alliance… do the multiplayer D&D video games pass their performance checks?
Which is the best multiplayer D&D video game and MMO?
As any Dungeons and Dragons player with a decent dungeon master can attest to, ending a session can be a real downer. Father time is the nemesis of stiff-necked gamers - both on the tabletop and the PC screen.
Even for those of us lucky enough to have a group that can keep a regular weekly session schedule going, the itch to resume a campaign is a daily struggle. And that's not to mention the crushing feeling of having a session or two canceled because Tim decided to be inconsiderate and move house one week.
Luckily for MMO gamers, the wrapping up of a session doesn't have to spell the end. These days, feeding that crippling D&D addiction is as simple as firing up your PC or console. And we're here with a trench coat full of options for all you D&D junkies.
The D&D MMOs
The bad news is that available MMORPGs based almost exclusively around the Wizards of the Coast settings are scarce. In fact, there are only two. But both titles are free-to-play, meaning that there's nothing to lose except your time. That is, if you're not easily swayed by the allure of microtransactions.
Dungeons & Dragons Online
Which is the best D&D MMO? We'll settle the score right away: DDO is the best choice for Dungeons & Dragons purists. A fact that is evident from the first few moments, as players find themselves faced with one of the most in-depth character creation screens in any MMO.
Those that remember the daunting prospect of creating your first D&D character will find that DDO pulls no punches. Racial bonuses, subclasses and the ability to allocate ability points and abilities are all features in this D&D MMO that will make min-maxers weak at the knees.
Players will quickly find that character creation is just as intensive a task in DDO as it is for IRL D&D. Which really shouldn't be a problem for those already equipped with a repertoire of pre-made characters in the bank. That is, provided said character is one of the free races.
If not, then welcome to the cash shop. DDO has crunched the numbers and settled the score: Warforged, Aasimar, Tabaxi and Shifters are the most popular (read: 'valuable') races. Choosing one of these races upon firing up the game will set you back around $20 USD. Which is an unfortunate reality for anyone who wants to play as a robot paladin fighting for a love he can never know, but one we can excuse. Except we're just getting started.
The cash shop also features items that are so blatantly P2W that it would make Ivy League elites blush. Paying for a character with angelic features is one thing (it's a staple in Korean MMOs after all), but dropping an extra eight ability points on your character sheet for a cool $30 is downright shameless.
However, buying a VIP subscription is one way to maximize your access to premium perks. And earning in-game 'favor' by completing quests for the games' myriad factions will also steadily unlock things that can be bought in the cash shop depending on the faction whose favor you curry.
We'd recommend doing exactly that. After all, earning rewards through gameplay may be becoming an archaic notion, but DDO is an old game (16 years old, in fact) and thankfully still has ways, albeit grindy, to get the most out of it through simply playing.
Putting monetization aside, DDO is lauded for its efforts to emulate the tabletop original. A DM appears in the form of a fully voice-acted narrator who relays your every move to you. Whilst the progression system allows for exceedingly rewarding character-building that requires just as much time and knowledge of the lore as the tabletop game itself.
If you can look past dated graphics, and the call of the cash shop, then DDO is definitely worth a go.
Neverwinter, meanwhile, is a D&D MMO for those that don't mind dialing down the fanservice in place of classic MMORPG mechanics. Though there's still plenty of D&D meat for fans to sink their teeth into. Not to mention the sleeker graphics on this younger model for the superficial gamer (no judgment here).
Lore, locations, classes, races and much more are directly inspired by the source material. But Neverwinter currently boasts nearly triple the amount of daily players according to recent Steam charts. And that's probably because its more gamer-accessible mechanics - including a stellar combat system - are a draw for an even wider audience than just the tabletop dabblers.
Recent additions of the Bard class and a leveling system that is truer to the source material also go some way to appeasing fans that might have otherwise seen Neverwinter as a charlatan of a D&D MMO beforehand.
For instance, players are now capped at level 20, and can only reach that by completing the main quests. Which is reminiscent of more casual tables that refuse to endure the rigmarole of tallying up every experience point as they plow through their campaign. After all, why _wouldn't_your party just create a zombie farm to grind with if they had the opportunity?
But what Cryptic Studios giveth with one hand, they taketh with the other. The universally beloved Foundry, a system that saw creative DM types forging their own adventures for players to tackle in-game, is one thing they tooketh. Your money, of course, is another.
The Neverwinter cash shop is no better than its elder's, if not worse. The ability to buy your way to success is not surprising for yet another F2P title. Yet Neverwinter is also quite fond of tempting you there - the most egregious example being treasure-packed lockboxes that are only unlocked with Enchanted Keys. Which, you guessed it, can only be bought with real money.
But provided players can keep their blinkers up and their wallet out of arm's reach, there is still hundreds of hours worth of free content to indulge in, with instanced adventures, high-octane combat and plenty of hilarious voice-acted interactions to be had with NPCs.
And with Cryptic continuing to roll out updates on the regular for a loyal and populous fanbase, there's no reason we can't let Neverwinter hold us through those cold and lonely D&D-less nights.
Bonus D&D MMO Entry: Wagadu Chronicles
So with only two D&D MMO offerings - and both being P2W - things aren't looking great for MMORPG D&D fans. However, there may well be a light at the end of the tunnel in the form of indie MMORPG, Wagadu Chronicles.
Wagadu Chronicles is a crowdfunded MMO with a heavy focus on roleplaying in a D&D-inspired setting. But say farewell to Faerûn, because Wagadu is marching down a path less trodden by plumbing the realms of afro-fantasy.
When it comes to D&D, there are often two camps: battle-hungry murderhobos who seek to maximize the tactical turn-based combat, or would-be thespians (often Bards) who relish the roleplay elements of their DM's realm. Wagadu Chronicles is a new home for the latter.
We're still a ways out from release, but developer Twin Drums is still promisingly active. As with many Kickstarted projects, we should never get our hopes up too high. But with its own 5e rulebook, a brand new vision for MMORPGs, and an extraordinary world for us to explore, we're keeping a close and hopeful eye on this one, as should any seeker of a decent D&D MMO.
The Multiplayer D&D Games
So two P2W old coots and one MMO that hasn't been released yet are admittedly not the best selection for D&D video game seekers.
But it does beg the question: are MMORPGs really fertile ground for D&D video games? After all, the tabletop setting could never host hundreds of players at once. The combat alone would take so long that the next edition would be out by the time we came back to the top of the round. And I still wouldn't have my plan of attack prepared on my turn.
So perhaps the answer to our woes are good old-fashioned multiplayer D&D games. And lo and behold, this is where we find the good stuff.
Baldur's Gate 3
Of all the titles here, Baldur's Gate 3 is the most promising. A D&D setting, turn-based combat based on 5e rules, and co-op multiplayer functionality that will cater for up to four players.
It has been playable in early access since 2020, and has steadily been honed into a title that fans can't wait to play in full. Developers Larian Studios have been taking their time, rolling out update after update as feedback from early access pours in. And to say we're excited for its release is an understatement.
As a sub-mention, if you're chomping at the bit to jump into Larian's latest D&D foray, then we'd recommend satiating that hunger with a journey into Divinity: Original Sin 2 , which has been lauded for it's D&D-style mechanics and multiplayer features.
Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance
Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is the spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance I and II. But has nothing to do with Baldur's Gate III (aside from the D&D setting). Confused yet? Just wait till you see the reviews.
Dark Alliance was made for D&D super-nerds who have indulged in the series of D&D novels written by R. A. Salvatore. And if that's you: have at it. But your rose-tinted specs had better be particularly strong.
Whilst the perfect game for anyone looking to indulge in D&D lore in an admittedly stunning setting, Dark Alliance has drawn a lot of ire for its repetitive gameplay, myriad bugs and lackluster content. But if you can get your hands on it with a hefty discount, it's worth a little of any D&D video game fanatic's time. All you need is a weekend.
Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition
BioWare's Neverwinter Nights is old, but a legend among multiplayer D&D video games - providing one of the purest D&D experiences that a video game can offer.
Praised for its early adoption of a system where choices truly carry weight, it had fans so enamored that Beamdog decided to 'beam' it to modern platforms. That allowed gamers to play online in small co-op campaigns, or even in persistent worlds led by industrious DMs.
If you don't mind even older graphics than DDO, then Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition is a must-play for D&D fans. If you are a stickler for modern systems, however, then BioWare's seminal Dragon Age: Inquisition is a more modern title that, whilst not set in the Forgotten Realms, will still scratch that D&D itch.
In fact, it's fair to say that gamers can find semblances of D&D in just about every fantasy game on the market. So ubiquitous was Gary Gygax's gift to the world in the 70s that nearly all RPGs use some form of D&D mechanics as a framework for their own gameplay.
But for Forgotten Realm fanatics, these multiplayer D&D video games should tide you over til your tabletop campaign resumes.