Neverwinter: Undead, Rats, Orcs…
In my mad “Free MMO” spree this time I would like to talk about Neverwinter. The name Neverwinter is that of a city in the world of Faerun, in the Forgotten Realms setting. The Pen and Paper game, Dungeons and Dragons, is what people typically see when playing any game set in this universe (Dungeons and Dragons Online was set in a different setting). I am the “old-fashioned” fan of the 3rd and 3.5 Edition of Dungeons and Dragons, while Neverwinter is set in the 4th Edition. My first reaction when playing a mage in Neverwinter was that they deliberately made the Wizard more action oriented. Turns out, at least so my friends told me, this is what a 4th Edition Mage is meant to be… But before I spill the beans, let’s talk a bit about Neverwinter first.
Neverwinter: What Is It About?
In Nevewinter you are just another hero. The thing with MMOs is that no matter how much whipped cream and cherries they put on your character being called a “Great Hero”, while standing next to a Knight in heavy armor riding the spider the size of two horses, does not exactly make me feel “Great”. You crash land on a beach and have to help the city recover from a siege. The Intro/Tutorial is mildly useful, I cannot complain about that aspect of the game. Let’s jump ahead though, what’s the feel of the game? The good news for myself is that the game feels a bit less like an MMO and a bit more like an RPG, at least during quests. That’s me pulling on logic very heavily but the game has some very interesting plots as you play along.
I did not get too far in the game (currently level 24 out of possible 60) but one of my favorite plots involves a wizard desiring to become a god, in a demonic sort of way. The events in this smaller plot unfold in a very “Story Worthy” manner. There are also some other very intriguing additions to the game. For example, each character has a different “Skill”. Arcane, Dungeoneering, Theft, Religion and Nature. In each dungeon/area there might be items that can be harvested using these skills to obtain useful loot (for Professions or enchantment). Sometimes this goes further and a skill may be used to reach an inaccessible chest or area! If you lack a Skill you can use a “Kit” that may be bought at a Vendor or found randomly.
So far I was met with only one puzzle that kept on being repeated three times in the same area. There are traps, and you may be able to “spot them” (if you are a rogue the traps might be highlighted). There is a variety of tasks, but they tend to boil down to a few cores. Escort, Kill a certain number of creature X, or collect a certain amount of item Y. It’s really hard to make a quest with any other type of objectives in an MMO but the game becomes predictable and you tend to get similar quests. For example, when fighting Orcs, first I had to kill a certain number of Overseers, later on a certain number of Shamans (before that I had to kill “Just Orcs” to collect tokens). At least the quests come from different NPCs, even if they were located in the same area. Thankfully most of the quests from a single NPC can be completed in the same general area, so I ended up multi-tasking a lot of the time.
The core of this game is the combat, and since I played a Wizard I found it surprisingly fun. Unlike in Dungeons and Dragons Online, your Wizard is not limited to a handful of spells per day, depending on your level and Intelligence. In Neverwinter your mage can cast spells like a machine gun. However, the game only reaches a suitable level of “fun” once you unlock more abilities, and for me that meant reaching a level somewhere between 15 and 20. That is when I started to have a broader selection of “spells”, and I could adjust my choices depending on the task ahead. To tell the truth though, I ended up using the same spell choices over and over. Most enemies, irregardless of size, could be manipulated with ease, and as such when fighting a giant Ogre I could freeze him in place, just like a much smaller goblin. This only does not work for certain Boss Battles, and some enemies might have resistance to specific spell effects. In other words, you cannot always Solo (technically). What I found as a bit annoying is that it is not until later in the game that you get items with regeneration properties. They are all sorts of “game breaking”, because now you can go Solo.
To illustrate the above, in a specific dungeon I had to constantly use potions or altars to heal myself as I progressed from fight to fight. If I had a regeneration item I could stand in place (after a battle), go make myself some tea and then return to a perfectly healed character. Your characters do not regenerate health by default, only mana (but if you are a cleric, or have a cleric companion, you can self-heal anyway).
The Gist of Neverwinter
Let’s put it straight, is Neverwinter worth your time? It is not a bad MMO, that’s for certain, but how does it differ? I would say that the combat is its strongest element. You can dodge away from enemy attacks, work together with team mates to defeats enemies and form parties to complete certain challenges. What I was relieved to see is that team mates who engage a creature you are attacking, or vice versa, will also seem to be rewarded. In other words, when in the “wilds” and fighting random spawns you will get joint credit for kills, without a formal party being setup. There is a queue system but not a perfect one. At first I was not sure whether it worked at all. It was not until much later into the game that I realised that all I needed is patience… and lots of it. The Skirmishes were not as much fun as the dungeons. Skirmishes are just “kill waves of enemies”. Dungeons offers more cooperation. What of the PvP? I found it to be nothing exceptional. You just fight other people with a limited set of abilities. You can almost predict what will each foe have to offer. So, the PvP is “So-So”.
Now comes the big unseen cherry, at least for myself. Player Generated Quests. Eventually I got bored of playing the main quests so I checked out what the player base had to offer, and I was absolutely shocked. Some of the quests were so incredibly designed I was wondering whether these quests could become “Canon” within the game’s world. Granted, there is a mix of good and bad quests but if you crawl around the game list a bit you will surely find something for yourself.
What of the Quest Design software, ie. Foundry? I gave it a crack and I found a designer had a lot of freedom with what he could do. On the other hand, there are also a lot of limitations, mainly with the Foundry itself. For simpler quests it’s good, but some of the quests I have played would had benefited from more complex options. Let me straighten out my ambiguous statements. You have set limits of how many rooms, creatures, props, etc. you can have. When you place a room you can attach another room to it thus creating a “door” between the two rooms. A single corridor could have numerous doors. You can set dialogue options, or mechanisms to close or open specific doors. I found that most of the things you have seen in the main quests can be copied in your own quests… not everything however. There are not that many props or room types available by style. For example, I did not see any “dank” Crypt Setup, only a big “well lit” one. You also cannot set loot drops or numerous rewards. There will be only one chest at the end of the quest and even then the loot is randomly selected for you (depending on your level).
If you played such games like Neverwinter Nights 1 or 2 the amount of customization and level/quest/campaign design you can have there is much greater. That is not to say the Foundry is bad, but you have to tone down your expectations on creating vast, complicated and intrigue filled campaigns.
“So, is it worth my time?”
The short answer is, “Depends what you like in your MMO.”. While the combat element feels fresh, and players can create their own Quests and Campaigns, is this enough for you? The graphics are nice, yes. There are a number of different races and classes to choose from. There are not that many classes, as such. My major “flaw” with Neverwinter is the seeming linearity in your class progression. I might be wrong but from what I have been having so far, sooner or later you will have all the abilities unlocked eventually. Initially it might be important which of the abilities you unlock and which you improve but by level 60 none of that might matter anymore. Later on you choose a specialization but that still feels somewhat insufficient.
Since this is a Free to Play title perhaps it is best if you tried it yourself. Here I should underline that at the time of writing this (May 2013) the game was still in Open Beta, so there are bugs and more stuff will be added. I did not meet that many Bugs, although a number of times quests would complete themselves without my help, or the quest tracker would get confused if I logged out mid-quest. It’s not a bad Open Beta, all in all, though I will keep my hand off my wallet until we get to see the full release.
Alex “WriterX” Bielski