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MMORPG | Setting:Fantasy | Status:Final  (rel 06/20/13)  | Pub:Perfect World Entertainment
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Neverwinter vs Two Other Modern MMORPG Products for Dungeons & Dragons Fans

This is a comparative review for Dungeons & Dragons fans. The review focuses on MMORPG experience provided by three products: (1) Neverwinter, (2) Dungeons & Dragons Online and (3) the most modern and popular project from the Neverwinter Nights series.
Disclaimer: The following article is the sole opinion of its author and does not represent MMORPG.com in its thoughts or opinions. This is not an official MMORPG.com editorial article.

INTRODUCTION

This review compares three MMORPG products based on Dungeons & Dragons: two mainstream commercial MMORPG games and one non-commercial project developed by D&D enthusiasts. These products are (1) Neverwinter, (2) Dungeons & Dragons Online, and (3) Baldur's Gate: The Sword Coast Chronicles based on Neverwinter Nights 2. The review discusses six elements of MMORPG gaming experience: exploration, quests, gameplay, character development, crafting and economy.

 

OVERVIEW

Neverwinter is the newest Dungeons & Dragons based MMORPG developed by Cryptic Studios and released by Perfect World in 2013.  The game is set in Forgotten Realms. In Neverwinter players complete quests in public zones, instanced dungeons, and user-created Foundry modules. The game also features seasonal events, PvP matches and a guild vs guild dungeon with a mixture of PvE and PvP. In Neverwinter players complete content either alone or in groups consisting of maximum five players. In public areas and the special guild vs guild dungeon the player limit is considerably higher than five players but the ultimate player limit per one instance is 150 players.  

Dungeons & Dragons Online was developed by Turbine Inc. and released in 2006. The game was originally set in Eberron but more recent add-ons have also included Forgotten Realms campaign setting. In DDO players enter instanced dungeons and complete adventures either alone or in groups of maximum six players. The game also offers PvP in special limited areas, seasonal events and boss raid dungeons for larger groups of twelve players.  

Baldur's Gate: The Sword Coast Chronicles is a non-commercial project developed and maintained by Dungeons & Dragons enthusiasts. It is based on Neverwinter Nights 2, which was developed by Obsidian Entertainment and released by Atari in 2006. In BGTSCC players roam an open-ended world slaying monsters, completing quests, searching for treasures and participating in activities organised by dungeon masters. Since player characters are created based on good, neutral and evil alignments and also based on Surface vs Underdark division, there is room for regulated PvP conflicts in the world. There is no limit to how many players can be in the same player group but the total maximum player limit on one game server is 75 players.  

BGTSCC is included in the scope of this review because it is the largest, most modern and most popular persistent world developed for Neverwinter Nights 2. Unlike similar other projects for Neverwinter Nights 1 and Neverwinter Nights 2, BGTSCC is alive and thriving with continuous, albeit small stream of new players every month. Core game features of Neverwinter Nights 2 and the implementation of BGTSCC and its mechanics as a type of MMORPG emulator make the project very much comparable to mainstream MMORPG giants such as Dungeons & Dragons Online and Neverwinter.

Since this review is for Dungeons & Dragons fans, no other products will be used for comparison or discussion.

 

EXPLORATION

With the basic introductions out of the way, let's move on to the comparison. The first game element to be inspected is exploration.

For gamers who explore game worlds for the sake of beautiful landscapes with grand map designs and amazing graphics, Neverwinter is definitely the best choice out of all Dungeons & Dragons based MMORPG products. Neverwinter offers large maps with dramatic changes in scenery and beautiful graphics. Map designers have put a lot of effort on creating the city of Neverwinter and the surrounding regions.   

DDO and Neverwinter rely heavily on instanced locations and all public areas in both DDO and Neverwinter are very quickly accessed from the main city, Stormreach and Neverwinter respectively. This game world design prevents long journeys through numerous maps to reach some destination far away from character's current location. Therefore, explorers who favor open world games with long expeditions would probably like BGTSCC more than Neverwinter or DDO. The world of BGTSCC offers more than 150 maps which are linked to each other, forming a large world which stretches from regions north of Baldur's Gate to the south of Amn, and a substantial world deep below in the Underdark.    

 

QUESTS

Perhaps the greatest evolution in Neverwinter and DDO compared with old school MMORPG games involves quests and how they have been integrated into instanced dungeons and adventure modules. From the viewpoint of scripted quest adventuring, DDO takes the crown by offering adventures which are filled both with monsters and boss monsters to kill and with different puzzles and deadly traps to tackle. DDO also makes scripted quests more immersive with the use of recorded dungeon master narrations in certain places in quest dungeons. 

Unfortunately, quests in Neverwinter rely too much on the principle of sending players to fetch an object or kill monsters without such diversity of middle-way objectives, mainly traps and puzzles or features introduced in seasonal event quests (such as Crystal Cove), that DDO has to offer. Certain daily quests added to Neverwinter in Module 1 and Module 2 public zones have brought more variety to quest objectives but quest gameplay is still somewhat lacking compared with DDO in versatility or complexity. On the other hand, Neverwinter features Foundry toolset which allows players to create their own quests and adventures. Many of these user-created adventures are quite unique and original, so that in some cases originality compensates for the lack of diversity in gameplay features.  

In regard to scripted quests, BGTSCC cannot compete with Neverwinter and DDO. While character progression is based mainly on quests in Neverwinter and DDO, BGTSCC relies to a great degree on the old pattern of monster killing to get your character's experience points. In BGTSCC many of the quests are basically the same kill or fetch quests as in Neverwinter or DDO. The main problem is that without instanced dungeons focused on completing quests alone or as teamwork, there is no sufficient presence or significance of scripted quests in the actual gameplay. However, quests created and organised by dungeon masters are a completely different matter in BGTSCC, granted that a player is lucky enough to be able to participate in one of such quests sometimes. In this respect dungeon master quests are the strongest feature of the Neverwinter Nights game series because no mainstream MMORPG has ever been able to replicate anything remotely similar. The advantage of these quests is that they are highly unpredictable and involve a great degree of role-playing with possible consequences on the game world or the characters involved, which significantly adds to the atmosphere and immersion. As a drawback, these quests are often held randomly and they are usually conducted subjectively according to a dungeon master's skills and preferences. These types of quests often have mysterious objectives which become known to players as the quest advances, but in some cases a dungeon master's quest can end abruptly without satisfying resolution for players.       

 

GAMEPLAY

From the viewpoint of gameplay, Neverwinter and DDO represent action-oriented gaming experience. Gameplay is based on moving around, jumping, dodging or blocking and using one's special abilities to attack monsters or heal/buff yourself or your group members. The main challenge is to learn how to execute all these movements and combinations with correct timing and precision in different situations. In DDO gameplay is much more complicated than in Neverwinter because in addition to these routines veteran players also need to create and use many different hotbars filled with item abilities. In Neverwinter there is only one bar filled with maximum eight different class abilities and a smaller hotbar for the use of artifact power and potions.

In BGTSCC gameplay is more oriented towards strategical decisions rather than twitch skills. Gameplay is based more on pointing and clicking with the mouse, calculating and evaluating your character's and your opponents' abilities, buff durations and overall situation, deciding when to attack aggressively or when to flee, and learning good strategies for your character build.

As a curious sidenote, the same classes, namely, rogue, fighter, cleric, ranger and wizard, have in some cases very different and in some cases very similar gameplay strategies in Neverwinter, DDO and NWN 2: BGTSCC. For example, in Neverwinter and BGTSCC many rogues rely on hide-and-hit strategy, whereas in DDO rogues are mostly important for disarming deadly traps. In Neverwinter and DDO clerics are utilized primarily as healers, whereas in BGTSCC many cleric character builds can also be very powerful warriors. Wizards, fighters and rangers on the other hand, use similar strategies with no substantial differences in all of these games.   

 

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

Neverwinter, DDO and BGTSCC focus on character progression through experience points and levels. In Neverwinter and DDO characters gain experience points from completing quests and killing monsters. In BGTSCC characters gain experience points mainly from killing monsters, but a considerable portion of experience points can also be gained by completing quests, unlocking chests, role-playing, and participating in dungeon master activities.

In DDO and BGTSCC character progression has common roots in Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 edition, whereas Neverwinter utilizes the newest 4th edition. To mention just a few of the main differences, Neverwinter uses pure main classes, does not have any alignment system, and has no distinction between different damage types. By contrast, DDO and BGTSCC have both pure classes and multiclasses, have alignment systems (good/neutral in DDO and good/neutral/evil in BGTSCC), and distinguish between different damage types (divine, cold, adamantium, silver etc).

In Neverwinter the main challenge of character development is in choosing paragon feat paths and abilities which suit your playing style or which are most effective for your class, and then learning how to use these powers in most effective ways in different situations. In DDO and BGTSCC character development is many times more complicated because players can create multiclass characters with combinations of up to three main classes and sub-classes in DDO and up to four different main or prestige classes in BGTSCC. 

 

CRAFTING

For players seeking a Dungeons & Dragons MMORPG product with the most diverse crafting systems the most suitable choice is DDO. Out of the three products compared in this review DDO has by far the most complicated and diverse crafting systems. In fact, there are so many different crafting systems in DDO that a new player will most likely need to spend a considerable amount of time reading DDO wiki or some other game resource to learn all the details of each system. Some of the crafting systems may add some extra flavour to the characters, while others are essential in order to increase a character's power.

Neverwinter features a much more simple crafting system based on the use of professional tools and workers who do the crafting work on the character's behalf. However, besides the Leadership skill which provides important astral diamonds, all other permanent crafting skills in Neverwinter produce only two really important items. These items are pants and shirts. Crafting is the only way in the game to acquire items for the pants and shirt item slots, whereas during "end game" other item slots are filled with items obtained by completing epic dungeons because items from dungeons are much better than crafted items.

In BGTSCC it is not possible to craft any gear and all crafting is limited to creating magic scrolls, potions and wands using crafting skills from the core features of Neverwinter Nights 2.

 

ECONOMY

Neverwinter and DDO have many different types of in-game currencies and one type of currency acquired with real money. Neverwinter uses astral diamonds, gold and zen as the main currencies, while DDO uses platinum and turbine points. Both games also use different types of shards, tokens and other similar collectable items, which in some cases can also serve as a type of currency for trading with other players. Both Neverwinter and DDO apply Bind-to-Account, Bind-on-Equip and/or Bind-on-Pickup restrictions to items, which prevent trading items with such restrictions between player characters. BGTSCC features gold coins as the only in-game currency. There are no other currencies in the game and no bind-to-character restrictions on any items.

In addition to the use of trade windows for direct trades between players, all three products have auction houses where players can put their items for sale to other players for 1-5 real life days with either minimum bid or buyout prices.

 

FINAL VERDICT

Neverwinter is the best choice for an action-oriented D&D fan who wants the best possible graphics with simple but elegant and fun character progression and gameplay. From the three products discussed here Neverwinter is the most suitable game for a casual player or a D&D fan interested in creating his or her own adventures.

Dungeons & Dragons Online is the best choice for an action-oriented D&D fan who likes dungeon crawling, versatile scripted adventures and boss raids with a mixture of puzzle-solving and complex character development and crafting systems. From the three products discussed in this review DDO is the most suitable choice for a hardcore powergamer who wants to focus on building and reincarnating only one single player character through many years of gameplay. 

Neverwinter Nights 2 - BGTSCC is the best choice for a role-playing oriented D&D fan who values immersion and prefers open-world environment over instanced dungeons and killing monsters over completing quests. From the three products discussed in this review NWN 2: BGTSCC is the most suitable game for a lone wolf casual powergamer or a hardcore role-player who welcomes occasional mysterious or unpredictable dungeon master quests or random encounters in between traditional routine MMORPG powergaming or role-playing.

 


 

 

Final Score

7.8

Pros
 
 Beautiful Outdoor Maps
 Ideal for Casual Gameplay
 Toolset for User-Generated Content, Mini-Game for Pet Companions
 Global Storyline Present Throughout the Game
 Free-to-Play
Cons
 
 No Open-World Exploration
 Limits of Toolset for User-Generated Content
 Spamming Bot Farmers, Lack of Customer Support
 No Features to Promote Role-Playing and Deeper Immersion into the Setting
 Use of 4th Edition Rules Can Be Disappointing for Older Dungeons & Dragons Fans
 
 
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7.8
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