Let’s start this section with a disclaimer: I am comparing apples and oranges. Sure, Dungeons and Dragons Online and Neverwinter are both RPG MMOs that take place in Dungeons and Dragons campaign settings, but DDO is over seven years old. It’s had time to expand, revamp and flesh out its world, whereas I’m evaluating Neverwinter based off its beta content. It’s not a strictly fair comparison, but at the same time, it matters. What the beta and initial Neverwinter MMO offers in gameplay is going to shape whether it’s appealing to pick up now, or whether you might want to give it some time to stretch its wings before you give it a try.
If you’re a DDO player, you’ve probably quested in a buggy dungeon. You may have experienced wackiness introduced to the game where you scratched your head wondering how the glitch made it to the public. You may have been traumatized by a missing bank cache, past-life or your favorite outfit.
Beta Neverwinter had some of these things, but then, it was beta. This is to be expected. Most notable were Ye Olde Monster Stuck In Wall trick, and a line of sight bug, where if a monster or dungeon boss moved out of your line of site, they could disappear. At the least, this reduced loot drops, at the worst, it made the dungeon instance impossible to complete.
Now, in DDO, say you’re in A Cry For Help in Gianthold. Your expert party is diabolically efficient and pulls the two levers that drop the two drawbridges at the same time. Usually, this bugs out the dungeon instance so that neither drawbridge lowers, and your party is blocked from completing the dungeon. You have to restart. You also, however, have the option of saying ‘Screw you, Cry for Help!‘ and skip off to a dozen other dungeons at that level.
In Neverwinter, there seems to be a main quest line that has to get done to open other game areas on the map. You’ve got to do them. As the beta weekend progressed, I saw some optional quests become available that looked to be customized to my character’s race and class. Different walkthroughs of the game content seem to have some differences, but the trunk of quests was overall very linear. it’s hard to tell if this was a function of the newness of the Neverwinter game or a game design choice.
What the ‘F’? – In DDO, you click on things to interact with them – talk to people, move between areas, operate levers, do puzzles, open chests, disarm traps, etc. You can also hotkey some actions to your keyboard, like search.
In Neverwinter, just about every action is tied to the ‘F’ key on your keyboard. This leads to a lot of accidental interaction with other players in a busy shared instance when you meant to pick up loot or a quest item, or talk to an NPC, but it’s also pretty simple. You pretty much stand in front of things, and if a little banner appears prompting you to press ‘F’ to interact, you’re golden.
Again, I think the landscapes of Neverwinter are beautifully painted, and dungeons are no exception. There are definitely opportunities to flower-sniff and explore in dungeons, and since the content is new and shiny, that makes it a nice outlet to waste time in while you’re waiting for DDO’s new expansion to come out.
I partied with Mari some on my first character, but not really enough to determine if any dungeon scaling is in play. Most quests take no effort to solo, and usually you’d gain a level every time you did 2 or 3 quests, so the difficulty control is really doing less quests so you’re lower level so it’s a little more challenging. As I’ve mentioned in other sections of this NWO vs. DDO comparison, Neverwinter has gone the route of making the game very accessible. It’s easy for people to pick it up, know very little about the game mechanics, and still feel they are rocking through the world. I’ve read that content is more challenging levels 30-60, but since I only played the one weekend, I can’t confirm or deny this.
I had an awesome squee! moment when partying with Mari – we weren’t in the same zone when I tried to enter a dungeon, and I got the message, “You must gather your party before venturing forth.” Be still my Baldur’s Gate fangirl heart! *swoon*
It appears DDO has a more straightforward mechanic for PUGs and LFGs. It was easy to invite friends or guild mates into a party, but most of the time I just saw people looking for PUG party members in general chat. I didn’t identify any place in NWO where you could put up a party ad as you can in DDO, so that seemed like a gap, but then, I only spent a couple minutes looking for something obvious.
In addition to the general quests, there are events and more challenging combat zones called skirmishes where you can join a PUG queue. I tried multiple times to join one of these skirmishes through the queue system, but never got a full group. I don’t know if this was because it was a beta weekend, but these skirmishes can apparently only be done with a party, and they drop a nice chunk of game currency.
The standout feature of the Neverwinter questing system is the Foundry. The Foundry contains community designed quests, so it vastly expands the potential for Neverwinter to have fresh explorable content – you don’t have to wait for an update or expansion to find new things to do.
The Foundry quests I played had more story and entertainment value than the built-in game quests. They seem to offer XP and loot on par with a normal quests, but some seemed to take a little longer because there was more to the story. Most quests in Neverwinter (and remember, I only had time to really play up to levels 10-13 on each character, while I think up to level 40 was available) didn’t take more than 15 minutes to complete on first run through. DDO, in contrast, has quests you can complete in under a minute if you zerg, or that take hours given the party style and difficulty level. The only downside to the Foundry was there wasn’t a good way to search for content from a specific author, for a group versus solo, by level, etc.
Two more features I’ll discuss: I talked about the linearity of the main quests – not only is it hard to skip quests you don’t like, but I couldn’t find a mechanism to replay quests that you do like to make up for it. There’s no quest farming as we know it from DDO. There are usually open instance areas in each zone similar to a wilderness area where trash constantly respawns, where you can kill things to your heart’s desire.
Lastly, there’s an option you can toggle with ‘Z’ on your keyboard. Ever had a noob join the party, and they couldn’t find their way to the quest? Ever stumble around in a kobold sewer for a half hour because you overlooked that one damn key, and you refuse to stop and ask DDOwiki for directions? Neverwinter thought of that. The ‘Z’ key toggles a glittery pathway that outlines exactly where you should go next based on your current objective. (I think that ‘Z’ stands for ‘Zerg’!) Likewise, if this shortcut hurts your sensibilities, you can turn it off and explore in an organic way.
Bottom line on questing: DDO obviously has a more mature world, with lots to do, and many choices as to how you do it. Several difficulties are available. A minority of quests require prerequisites. There is a flexible LFG interface for forming quest parties. DDO can suffer over time in terms of replay, where players have to wait for updates and expansions to see new content.
Neverwinter appears to have a high percentage of quests that follow a linear story. Most content is of a casual to normal difficulty, and can be soloed easily. (But may be more difficult in higher levels.) The PUG grouping mechanic seems to need some work. Neverwinter also suffers over time with replay value, but The Foundry quests provide an ad hoc resource for new content instead of waiting for official updates.
Next up, I’ll talk more about Combat…