Introducing Challenge Tiers With Dungeon Side Quests


In today’s article I’d like to pick something up from our latest podcast. During the hour-long conversation we briefly touched on how dungeon side quests could introduce different challenge tiers in dungeons. To illustrate what I mean I’d like to take you back to Module 1 and the original Malabog’s Castle. It’s probably still a little known fast that the dungeon features an optional boss. I couldn’t find a good description or video, but entering the long corridor on your way to Malabog you can choose to encounter the same group of adventurers that you also find within the “Cragmire Crypts”. To get an idea just look at this footage. The group, as usual, turns right after the stairs, but you can also go left, open a door and fight the optional boss.

Now the interesting part of all this is the rumors surrounding the competing adventure party. Back in Module 1, the bosses in MC used to drop important resources to craft best-in-slot weapons. And legend had it that killing the optional boss would enhance the drop rates of these resources. In the end it turned out to be a myth, but I actually like the idea. How about some dungeon side quests that tweak the difficulty of a dungeon, or, more precisely, takes a bit away?

Dungeons and Resources

Before I get deeper into the concept of side quests let’s talk about a major issue of dungeons and resources in Neverwinter. The devs pretty much can only design one piece of group content per module, if at all. They have tried to counter that by giving Underdark content or Illusionist’s Gambit different variants and reward tiers, but that hasn’t really helped to make the dungeons appealing to different kinds of players. Generally it’s really hard to find a challenge level that both pleases the endgame crowd while not excluding too much of your casual players. I’d say it’s even impossible. In the past we’ve talked about systems that could help with that issue, like adopting Mythic+ from WoW or some other type of tiered challenge.

I still like that approach. Giving players options to artificially increase the difficulty for more loot is great, and I’d very much like to see that. Side quests could kinda do the same, but subtract from the the challenge instead of adding to it.

Dungeon Side Quests

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Within such a system, a dungeon would start at insane difficulty. The baseline would really be high, maybe even too much for “bis” teams. But then the dungeon would offer additional quests that “nerf” mobs, or bosses. Let’s say you run with a group that can’t possibly beat the first boss. How about an optional wing of the dungeon that you can clear and make the first boss substantially easier? Maybe at the end of the side quest there’s an item to loot that you can activate and that takes away half of the bosses HP, or whatever. What if there are five of those side quests, that take a couple minutes extra?

Options are plenty. You could make most mobs in a dungeon optional, but base boss strength on the percentage of them killed. Or let the groups clear repeatable mini-instanced quests for certain buffs. Suddenly teams could decide, based on their strength, to invest more time and make the dungeon beatable for them. You don’t even need to offer all side quests within a dungeon by the way. Players could also run additional dailies or weeklies that grant one-run buffs to them or the party.

Different Approach

That’s certainly a different approach, but could add more variety and tiered challenge to dungeons than what the devs have tried so far. Just to give you a more concrete example, let’s say you could choose to extend the elevator phases of Cradle. It would work like the vote in IG. After each phase, the team (or its queue leader) could choose to go through it again or move on. For each additional run, the Atropal’s HP would get increased slightly, but damage and the pull/push phase nerfed. Of course there’s diminishing returns involved so the more repetitions you do, the less effect they have.

That way, the fight would take much longer (additional elevator runs + more Atropal HP), but would become much more manageable (less lethal attacks + easy pull/push). It would obviously make dungeons much less of a make or break, but more a matter of how much time you’re willing to invest to beat the content. It could actually be an interesting way to introduce challenge tiers without having to design multiple dungeons. The best teams could just run Cradle like they’ve always done, but for less powerful teams suddenly a new avenue opens up. Combine that with a baseline difficulty that is a little bit higher than current Cradle and you even create a PVE race to the perfect completion (aka no side quests used). So what’s not to like?

More Content Without More Content

The one catch I see is that the devs repeatedly stated that they intentionally got away from these super hard, super long content. Apparently this game is mostly played by folks that log in at the evening, run a dungeon or two within an hour and log off. Side quests do not really fit that as they could extend dungeons significantly. Other than that though, I can’t really see any downside.

I think we can agree that Neverwinter needs more endgame PVE content. Since the Cryptic is unlikely to just double their dev team and suddenly be able to put out multiple dungeons per mod, they have to get a little creative. The side quests are an interesting concept that could both add to the longevity of content while at the same time make the hardest dungeons available to casuals that are willing to invest more time.

What do you think about the concept of side questing in dungeons or for dungeons? Do you like it or would you rather see something else in terms of dungeons and challenge? Share your thoughts on our social channels, in the comments below, or the corresponding thread on our message board!

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j0Shi plays the Neverwinter MMORPG since the open BETA in 2013 and is a regular contributor to the blog and the whole UN:Project. Originally a Guardian Fighter, he has built up ALTs of all classes and plays on BIS/near-BIS level.

6 thoughts on “Introducing Challenge Tiers With Dungeon Side Quests

  • May 2, 2018 at 7:29 am

    Hmm.. Sounds interesting. Every challenge and good mechanics are welcome.

  • May 2, 2018 at 8:53 am

    I really don’t think the devs have a clue what players do or want in this game. It can all be summed up with 2 word Randumb Queue.

  • May 2, 2018 at 8:55 am

    I love this idea! I’ve been hoping for something like this for a long time. Adding a difficulty tier system with matching rewards would actually allow the devs to recycle some old content that’s sitting collecting dust (RIP, Lostmauth, Grey Wolf etc), which is one of their officially stated goals.

    If this system included some option to balance the power level of the players in the party, that would be even better. Maybe the most powerful player or 2 could choose to enter a timed solo challenge (like the rifts in CN for example), while the rest of the party clears optional mobs. Depending on the speed the solo challenges gets cleared, the weakest players of the party get a temporary stat boost (the temporary stat boost/nerf mechanic actually already exists in TONG). This would give guilds the option of running content with a mix of newer and veteran players, bringing both a bit closer together. It’s a little heartbreaking to see some new, wide-eyed, excited players sitting on the sidelines because they can’t get into the dungeons that everyone is currently playing.

  • May 2, 2018 at 10:37 am

    I like the idea because it also gives players a chance to ramp up or learn a particular fight mechanic. The pull/push in CoDG is particularly brutal for new players, and even some veteran players who catch a lag spike, and not explained by really anything other than, “hey, what is the big head in the middle doing now?”. If you haven’t watched a video or had someone explain it to you (or even if you had and never had a chance to implement), then your first run isn’t likely to go well (and your 2nd and 3rd attempts may not be that much different). Many current groups will exclude new people because of the learning curve (and the extended time it takes to get back to that point following a wipe). If the developers want to broaden the player base, giving an option to walk then run is better than throwing people into the pool and hoping they can swim.

    Cryptic has monetized some options like this in the past, such as the rods for the elemental weapon sets. They offered a temporary boost to the drop rate of the resources you needed, which was a trade off of money for time. However, I like the idea of using time as the currency for a challenge system. Speed runs are a thing because that is how players introduce their own self-challenges with the available content (along with scaling down group sizes). This likely won’t change that, but it at least offers a pace that most players can aim for given their current skill/IL level rather than simply denying them access to content. It would also open up the formation of true training runs, which currently are more just over-powered players carrying others through content and hoping they pick up some of the strategy by seeing it done by veterans.

    I’d also like them to just bring back some of the older content, specifically the dungeons they pulled in Mod 6. I’d be happy with them even if they weren’t scaled to level 70. However, reintroducing them might be one way to roll out a challenge tier system using existing dungeon models.

    Another way the tier system could work would be to reduce the number of add spawns a particular boss may generate (e.g., 1 or 2 Souls on Ras Nsi instead of 3, less zombies at Orcus) or trade boss health for spawns. It could even introduce NPC helpers using some of the current Neverwinter Heroes (e.g., Sgt Knox joins the fight, Celeste heals the party, Makos plays dead to distract the opponent, the random adventuring party decides to join forces with the players).

  • May 2, 2018 at 11:19 am

    If they reinstated diminishing returns and eliminated buff stacking, there wouldn’t be such a great need to make tiers of content. As it is, cheeseball mechanics like the pull-push are the only chance the devs have to even slow down the top tier groups. But of course, this game is just in maintenance mode now.

  • May 5, 2018 at 8:51 am

    I do like the idea of making dungeons non-linear, or at least optionally non-linear. One problem with current implementations is, conventional wisdom quickly zeroes in on “always do the side boss” or “never do the side boss” (these days, it’s “never”). If you have a look at Saga of Lucimia, one of their objectives is to change the game world around periodically specifically to break up the highly repetitive nature of MMO grinding. What if the side bosses had a variable impact, depending on the week? Players could share experiences to discover what’s going on with bosses this week, or perhaps speaking with a Harper Bard might drop a clue. Let’s say, for example, the devs decide that the UES drop rate is, indeed, a little low. Instead of just upping it a bit where it usually drops, allow it as a rare drop for a week at a side boss of their choosing and let the players figure it out. The same mechanic of varying rewards for specific quests could give new life to some of those BHE’s that people never run anymore (when’s the last time Camp Vengence was defended?) and break up the grind.

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