MatchUp: Dungeons & Dragons Online vs Neverwinter
For our latest matchup we head to the world of Dungeons & Dragons comparing two free to play MMORPGs; Dungeons & Dragons Online and Neverwinter. Whilst both games have many obvious similarities, namely the D&D franchise, they are in fact extremely different when it comes down to everything from lore, concept, combat style and monetization.
The primary difference between the two games is the general setting; Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO) first launched with the campaign setting of Eberron as its main world, an interesting choice as whilst it is known well enough, it deviates from the traditional high fantasy and incorporates a lot of technology and steampunk, which many D&D fans aren’t that big a fan of, still the game has been successful enough. With the introduction of The Underdark wilderness adventure DDO actually dipped into Forgotten Realms campaign lore (albeit from a lore standpoint all the multi-verses are linked in a fashion), the Forgotten Realms also being the main setting for Neverwinter and is undoubtedly the most popular campaign from the D&D franchise spawning popular games such as Baldur’s Gate 1 & 2, and the Neverwinter Nights series.
As well as settings the two games have also adopted different versions of the D&D ruleset, with DDO picking up the current D&D edition out at that time (2006) in 3.5 edition, with the introduction of 4e introduced a year later and was the foundations for Neverwinter. The two systems, for a table RPG, work very differently and 3.5 is always hailed as being far better for individual customization with abilities, feats and skills, all things that DDO has introduced into its game allowing players to really make quite unique characters that can be extremely good in very specialized roles. With the Feats players pick up new traits from a huge list every three levels, the same as if levelling up a tabletop RPG character in 3.5, and players can also increase their various skills from things such as Haggle where they can actually reduce costs when buying things from vendors, or the Listen skill to give them on screen alerts when enemies are approaching.
In comparison Neverwinter used the more up to date (albeit now no longer the newest edition) 4th edition, which by and large is a much more simple system in the RPG and doesn’t always offer the same level of customization, focusing considerably more on roles and class progression as most MMORPGs do. With the RPG spells/attacks are broken down into three categories; At-Will powers that can be used every turn, Encounter powers that can only be used once in a battle encounter, and Daily powers that can only be used once each day. Incorporating this system into the MMORPG worked well, with At-Wills being constant attacks/spells players can make, Encounter powers having longer cooldowns, and Dailies being charged through a battle by damaging enemies. Similar to 4e players do suffer a little when it comes to customization, whilst they will unlock new spells as they level up and even unlock the ability to have more spells that they can use in battle, the primary customization comes through talent points (not particularly D&D ruleset focused) and the specialization paths at level 30. In comparison to DDO though Neverwinter is still quite short on the number of available combinations players can make with their characters.
For the classes in general Dungeons & Dragons Online has 13 available classes and Neverwinter has 8, which initially looks like Neverwinter isn’t pulling its weight, but we must remember that there’s almost seven years between the release dates of these two games so DDO has had much longer to introduce extra classes. Whilst we could say that technically you could double the number of sub-classes for Neverwinter due to the two level 30 Paragon path options, you could equally say the same with DDO’s multiclassing option where players can dip into three different classes for a single character to give them diversity over focused ability; either way it’s pretty one sided in DDO’s favour when it comes to class and character options. That said, four of the available classes for DDO are in fact Premium classes which requires players to either spend Turbine Points (premium currency) or become a VIP subscribing member, whereas all of Neverwinter’s classes are free.
The same comparison can be made for the different races, something extremely important to D&D players and many MMORPG players in general. Both games stand at an impressive 12 available races, but their availability to the free-to-play model varies greatly. DDO has a pretty shoddy 4 free generic races available to players in comparison to the 8 races for Neverwinter players, with DDO offering the other 8 races as Premium similar to their races. Four of those races are “Iconic Characters” that are a race and class combination representing some… well… iconic characters from D&D for example a Shadar-kai Iconic Character is the Shadar-kai race and starts as a level 15 Rogue (players can still multiclass them though). In comparison the extra races from Neverwinter are more extra rewards to those players who purchase the Expansion Packs, each of the three expansions offering a new race to those that buy them. The exception is the Metallic Ancestry Dragon race, which can only be acquired as an item from an epic Dragonforged Lockbox, which requires “Enchanted Keys” to unlock that cost Zen (Neverwinter’s premium shop currency), and the lockboxes are randomly generated rewards so there is no guarantee that a player can pick it up.
Money wise players would seem to get more from their classes and races with Neverwinter as a free to play player and have considerably more free options if they’re happy not getting the extras from the expansions, albeit all the races and classes are available in DDO to VIP subscribers.
The greater divide is when it comes to actual content that can be accessed for free in comparison to that which you need to pay for. As Dungeons & Dragons was originally a subscription only game the majority of the content is still behind some kind of pay wall, including their “Adventure Packs”, essentially new areas and quest chains for players to complete that are released with new patches or as part of expansions. Players with a VIP sub can access these Adventure Packs, but anyone on a free to play account can choose to pay for the Packs individually (usually costing between $3 and upwards to $15 and more depending on how big the adventure), even players who have purchased the Expansion that gives availability to these Adventure Packs must still pay to unlock them if they are not VIPs. With Neverwinter there is no restriction to players on zones or quests, all the content is completely free with entire zones and huge campaigns released with new modules, and their Packs focus on giving access to the new class, new mounts and a variety of unique and powerful items (which is a little pay to win).
Furthermore Neverwinter has the Foundry where players can create their own instanced quests; constructing their own environments from thousands of objects, whether placing down entire buildings, trees, cobbled roads, fences, signposts and more or furnishing an indoor tavern or dungeon with tables, chairs, chandeliers and more. Once the world is built they can populate these areas with traps and monsters, even changing the look and the skills of these creatures, set them on a path that they will roam or set special triggers to make them appear when a player enters an area or interacts with an object. You can put in NPCs with their own dialogue, creating RPG style conversations with multiple options to add lore and depth into your quests, and then they can be shared with the community for groups of adventures to challenge (the monsters scale up in accordance to the party level so they are fun for everyone). It is the greatest system Neverwinter has to offer and one of the things that sets it apart from not just DDO but from most MMORPGs.
Both games have their pros and cons; DDO has high customization and tons of content, but really does quite heavily force players to become subscribers by locking up the majority of its content. In comparison Neverwinter makes 95% of its game free to access, but makes its money from allowing players to buy weapons and gear that can make it a little pay to win. The combat style are completely different with DDO offering a far greater challenge, dungeons that are extremely difficult for even high level players and traps that are actually deadly; meanwhile Neverwinter is considerably more casual, though the action combat is very engaging, but suffers from the content being far too easy to complete, even the end game content, and so players can level their characters quickly and with very little effort. Which game is best for you all depends on what you are after, but both are equally worth trying out, at least if you can stomach the considerably more dated graphics from DDO.