First impressions of Neverwinter
Neverwinter is all the rage these days among MMO fans as the promise of a Fourth Edition D&D MMO in the Forgotten Realms setting has many old-school tabletop gamers jumping at the opportunity to get into the early testing stages. Thanks to last week’s short press beta and this weekend’s first early head-start glimpse, I was able to play through the game for a few days to get a feel for what to expect when the game launches later this year.
We first heard rumblings of a Neverwinter MMO in 2010 and got to see a live demo of it at E3 2011, just before Perfect World Entertainment took over Cryptic Studios. It was a very early build, but I was so excited to see a comprehensive drag-and-drop dungeon builder that seemed to work beautifully. Even during the demo, I was daydreaming about what I could do with this thing and the adventures I could have with my friends.
Of course, that all changed when Cryptic announced a complete overhaul to the original incarnation of the game. Luckily for us, this meant that the dungeon-creating RPG was turning into a full-fledged MMO.
So far, most of our articles regarding Neverwinter’s beta this week have been informative, but I wanted to give my opinion of what I saw without a whole lot of technical talk. I’ve been playing tabletop D&D since the ’80s and ’90s (when it was AD&D) and jumped into this game as a skeptical fan of the IP but also one who respects the work that Cryptic has done with both Champions Online and Star Trek Online.
That said, my first reaction when I set foot into the land of Faerûn was that this game looks like a Turbine creation. That’s certainly not an insult, but I could honestly just stop this article right now by describing Neverwinter as the lovechild of Dungeons and Dragons Online, Lord of the Rings Online, and a bit of Champions Online.
At first, I was completely turned off by the character models, but character creation itself is fun enough to keep me going. I’m not a fan of flat hair textures and dated faces, but I soldiered on because I sometimes like to pretend I’m not a total graphics snob.
The character creator grabbed me when it asked me to pick my origins, right down to my citizen type within my chosen city. Choosing a deity was equally as interesting, although the creator admits right at the top that the origins and deity choices are there only for flavor with no effect on gameplay. Bummer.
Rolling for my abilities was another let-down as it seems that the term “reroll” means something different to the developers than it does to me. It may be a safeguard put in place to prevent players from completely hobbling their characters, but the stats seem to only vary one or two points when you reroll.
When I said earlier that this game is part LotRO, I’m mainly talking about the atmosphere and feel to the game. Heck, even the type font looks like it was taken directly out of LotRO. But again, this isn’t an insult to Neverwinter as LotRO provides one of the best atmospheres in any current MMO.
In addition to that, I enjoyed the art style overall, despite not being fond of the character models. It’s a bit on the stylized side, but I’m always a fan of the timelessness of that choice in art direction. Lighting and effects are wonderful, and the sound direction is probably my favorite part of the game’s feel. The music seems very Champions-esque, and sound effects are top-quality.
Unfortunately, the Foundry is not available yet in this stage of beta, but you can bet that we’ll be covering that extensively when it is available. Aside from that, Neverwinter has plenty to keep you busy. Not only is there an overarching storyline to follow, but there are side quests from NPCs, scheduled dungeon events, bounties, arena events, relic hunts, and Foundry quests from other players in which you can participate at any time. You can set up to queue any of these events from one single page and add them to your calendar of events from within the game. This really gives me the impression that Cryptic wants to focus on large-scale player-driven content and community interaction, which are really among the biggest features missing in so many modern MMOs.
I was able to play through a few of these Foundry quests (presumably set up by Cryptic devs and alpha testers at this point?) and really enjoyed the process. It’s very easy to jump into these player-created quests and campaigns at any time, and you can rate them at the end. You can even subscribe to certain authors to receive updates when they release new content, and you can donate if you’re feeling particularly moved by their creations.
I reached only level 17 on one Trickster Rogue character (and got all other classes to 7-8), but I was able to obtain my first companion and play with that a bit. I chose the Wayward Wizard companion for his damage and had fun outfitting him with runestones and training him up. During the beta, there were three companion slots available with two other unlockable slots for a total of five.
Currency is interesting and reminds me a bit of Guild Wars 2. You can buy ZEN from the Neverwinter site and use it to buy items in the ZEN store or trade for Astral Diamonds, which can be used in the auction house. You can also refine Rough Astral Diamonds found in the game into regular spendable Astral Diamonds. There’s also normal gold-based in-game currency for purchasing items from NPCs, and then there’s Glory, which is earned in PvP and spent on special gear. There are also Ardent and Celestial tokens that are earned as you gain the favor of the gods by praying at altars. These tokens can be used to purchase consumables and collectibles that can be traded for high-end gear.
OK, at this point you may realize that I’m enjoying Neverwinter overall, but that perception’s about to change when I describe combat.
First of all, I understand and respect the fact that the combat was created to be action-based with a reticle and aim-to-hit primary attacks. But you can’t have this type of set-up if the reaction time of your skills is clunky and delayed. Double-tapping to dodge away from attacks works wonderfully in games like Guild Wars 2, but not in Neverwinter. Even that split second delay in your character’s reaction due to a drawn-out dodge animation can cause some serious grief.
On top of that, you can just go ahead and say goodbye to your hotbar friends 1,2,3,4,5, and 6; your new friends Q, E, R, Tab, left mouse button, and right mouse button are setting up shop. I’m not as bothered by these nontraditional keys because you can easily rebind them in the options, but I thought I’d warn you.
Strafing is also noticeably absent, which takes quite a bit away from the dynamic of combat, especially in ranged classes. I want to fire off daggers at that orc while running for cover behind that crate over there, not be frozen to the ground with a big target painted on my forehead.
That brings me to my final gripe about combat: auto targeting. It took me a few battles to realize that I was being assisted by the gods (i.e., a magnetic force that brought my reticle right over the baddies every time), but I felt that it was a bit too much in the hand-holding department. I will admit, I did enjoy the fact that I was automatically spun around to face the target each time, avoiding those annoying warnings you see in other games when you’re not at the exact correct angle to your enemy. I guess it’s give-and-take.
Overall, I really enjoyed Neverwinter, but I see it as a tool at this point. It’s a fantasy MMO multi-wrench with all of the right elements in place to be helpful with your own D&D campaign, and the real test will be when players get in there and start recreating the battle of Helm’s Deep or the entirety of Icewind Dale with the Foundry. I can see a strong community building around this game in much the same way that Neverwinter Nights pretty much made modding a household word. There’s vast potential for podcast discussions, fansites rating the top Foundry campaigns, and much more.
I would say that if you like DDO, you’re going to love Neverwinter because it seems as if it could just be called DDO 2 at this point. And that’s a good thing.
Strong focus on player-driven content
Gorgeous art style
Events are well-organized and easy to join
Extensive currency system
Exploring is rewarded
Puzzles and hidden rooms!
Dated character models
Linear default storyline