Editor’s note: This post is still a good overview and critique of Neverwinter’s features, but it’s a little outdated. My apologies. I can’t control where search engines send people. I have since played and commented a lot on the Neverwinter beta. Try the Neverwinter category in the column to the right under “MMOs We Follow”. Thanks for visiting.
When Cryptic’s Neverwinter was originally announced, I wasn’t interested. I assumed that it would be a crackerbox game that would insult a real robust D&D game system. In some ways that has proved true, as Cryptic has translated D&D into the action combat popular today, including a targeting reticule. The demo videos show a third person shooter flavor and a focus on rampaging through kills using a handful of repetitive skills.
Still, reports are praising Neverwinter left and right, and this crotchety old D&D player is at least willing to give it a chance. Maybe the demos are simply trying to avoid looking boring, and there is a D&D spirit in there somewhere. The Foundry dungeon creator is a big plus.
I built a NWN2 campaign at launch, but due to Obsidian’s game design, it never came to fruition. I wouldn’t mind making a similar project into a reality. A big, central question is what exactly can be created. Can I make an entire town? Can I make a campaign with adventures around the town?
I don’t know the beta disclosure rules at this point since I haven’t been invited, but I can legally say two things at the time of this writing. I’m a Champions lifetime account holder. Cryptic promised all Champions lifers will be offered a spot in the beta. They didn’t say when or what beta, though. That’s the trick.
Seems like there’s always a trick with a F2P game, and I’ll use that format in the following points, lumping pro and con together since nothing is perfect in this world. Haha. Ha. So this blog post is a condensed summary formed from some hours of reading and watching Neverwinter preview media, with my opinions. This is a game blog, after all!
Good because it’s supposed to be the great goddess of all UGC (user generated content) tools. It’s available at launch, ready to let all players easily make dungeons and even “full campaigns” (but how, exactly?) if they wish. Supposedly everything in the game is in the tool, and nothing will be left out or require unlocking like the tool in EQ2. You can also really design snap-together dungeons like in the original NWN tool instead of using preset templates. You can also custom shape body parts of monsters and NPCs, which is amazing (Shacknews article.)
Bad because it’s a given that Cryptic will release more content, and designers will likely have to buy it to use it. Cryptic will profit off of your creative work in exchange for this service, a lot more directly than NWN. Highly-rated designers may be compensated by perks or currency for their work. This feature is not currently clarified.
UGC is a really interesting concept, really, and I haven’t personally played an MMO that features it yet (i.e. City of Heroes) so I’m not prepared for a real debate or critique of its implementation.
An addition note: player-made dungeons will be highly integrated into the game world itself, which makes me wary in terms of immersion. When you start the game, you get a “landing page” on your screen, which is “meta”. You can find quests and missions on this landing page a lot more conveniently than talking to the traditional barmaid in the world. You’ll quest based on 4-star user ratings for the convenience. Not too immersive.
Free to Play:
Good because the game is free. 100% free OMG. Store items will only be cosmetic or convenience boosting. Per Craig Zinkievich, the goal is “want to buy, not need to buy.” (GC demo.)
Bad because yeah right. I’ve heard it all before, and I no longer believe anything that game devs or publishers say. If there is one sure thing about promises, it’s that they are broken. Still waiting for LotRO‘s store to be “convenience only”. Still waiting for the promised LGBT romance in SWTOR. Won’t be waiting long for Guild Wars 2 to widen their whale-catching nets. Craig Zinkievich says they aren’t supposed to talk about the “pet system” yet, but I would think it will play into the store.
Good because it’s super important for immersion. This is what Perfect World made Cryptic develop in order to make their game better, into a real MMO.
Bad because the world is still highly instanced a la Guild Wars and every area is fragmented into multiple layers like Cryptic’s previous MMOs. Neverwinter uses that same architecture but with the addition of the open world that was added.
Good that there are tons of dungeons, and each zone has its own end-story dungeon similar to Rift. You can queue for 5-person (come on MMORPG.com, get with the gender correct verbiage) dungeons from the UI. You also know player designers will create plenty of solo dungeons.
Bad is the glowing quest trails that will lead you through dungeons to the quest objective (GC demo.) This is another hand-holding console game feature, and like in Dungeon Siege 3, it can be turned on and off. Also, the game will auto-control loot in player-created dungeons when you use graded pre-set encounters that support loot. (i.e. preventing you from designing a dungeon that hands out powerful artifacts to level two characters.) So it appears that yes you will be able to solo dungeons, but you won’t get “parity” of gear that way.
Leveling and Endgame:
End game is dungeons with uber loot and PvP (GC demo.) Cryptic is underscoring that landscape content will be solo friendly, and you know players will create solo dungeons, so the game should support a variety of playstyles. There are supposedly no raids, unless that changes due to the launch date delay.
Bad because there is no tab targeting. They are using an aiming reticule. Get ready to aim that magic missile at the monster, only to have it move and you miss (Edit 3/12/13: in the beta, this wasn’t that bad. Healing spells are indeed difficult, but offensive spells are not too hard to target. Emotes are more of a pain. You have to face and target something to emote to it, at the time of this writing, instead of just clicking.)
4th ed. D&D rules are used, so your skills are now powers, including spells, and you can generally use them at will off cooldown instead of having to rest. Wizards of the Coast is responsible for changing the D&D rules to make them more officially friendly to modern video games, so don’t blame Cryptic.
There is also apparently in-combat fellow revival given to all classes (E3 Dungeon Delve Demo), like GW2. I’m not a fan of this mechanic, trivializing death. It isn’t in the spirit of D&D any more than the focus on console action that involves jumping around while attacking to avoid damage. In fact, each class has an active dodge/block type ability to mitigate damage (see E3 Dungeon Delve Demo).
I’m sure Neverwinter is a much richer game than just this, but this is not how I want to play an MMO. In my opinion, as a roleplayer who played 100+ hours in the 2nd edition days, it’s not really how D&D should be played. My finger tendons also cannot handle much more than LotRO, making me often prefer a PS3 controller. Maybe these new console action MMOs will be a boon for using a console controller, actually, but in Neverwinter I’m more interested in calmly designing dungeons and writing stories.
I loved the original Neverwinter Nights by Bioware. In the NWN “persistent world” UGC that I played, a level one or two character against a single skeleton with 8 HP could be a hard fight. Pulling two skeletons at once could be death and a trip from the graveyard. That was real danger and adventure in a dark crypt! I don’t know what Neverwinter is, except catering to a new generation of gamer.
Lastly, the simplified hotbar is fine for console games, but will it hold long-term interest for MMO players? How interesting will group mechanics be? Part of the fun of leveling a wizard is a big bank of spells that slowly grows as a measure of your arcane power. In Neverwinter, that is squelched. A wizard will have to pick and choose, filling the small number of available slots that he or she shares in size with a fighter. With the spammable “powers” on your bar, what will the differences now be between a wizard and a sorcerer, if Cryptic adds a sorcerer class at some point?
Good because there are supposedly a bunch of races at launch, including Human, Elf, Half-elf, Dwarf, Tiefling, Drow, and more to come. Per Gillrmn in the Neverwinter forums, post 4e (as in after Gauntylgyr novel by RA Salvatore), “Tieflings are not half-devil child but humans who went into now-defunct devil pact. Drow have come out and Drizzt is in the region. So they are quite common than before especially in Neverwinter as it is being reconstructed and has always been multi-racial city.”
Bad because there are only four classes. Fighter. Cleric. Wizard. Rogue. No druid, sorcerer, bard, paladin, etc. although there are class branch specialties. Also, Cryptic decided that 20 levels wasn’t enough levels for today’s players who need lots of levels as a reward system. Neverwinter will feature 60 levels at launch (MMORPG.com). Don’t reach for that handful of nacho chips–you might miss hitting a level.
Good because Faerûn, the land of the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, is of course the greatest and most storied setting in D&D, home of the legendary Drow Ranger, Drizzt, Bruenor the dwarf, Cattie Brie, and others. Andy Velasquez says Neverwinter will be canon alongside the stories of R.A. Salvatore. The pen and paper 4e campaign book “Neverwinter” was supposed to release with the game, but due to the delays, the PnP version was released earlier.
In fact, according to Jack Emmert the game setting is influenced by Salvatore’s FR novel, Gauntlgrym, as well as its sequels, Neverwinter and Charon’s Claw. So the land is in the aftermath of the Spellplague, offering a lot of convenient opportunities for adventure.
The more immediate story is that Neverwinter is in local upheaval due to the volcano erupting (Mount Hotenow gives the northern city its warm climate.) The volcano eruption caused devastation and unleashed baddies. Good swords and magicians are needed to help restore order from the chaos. (Massively article.)
The visuals are supposedly spectacular, and look good in preview videos. I’m not so impressed yet with the overall artistic presentation as I was with Kingdoms of Amalur recently, for example. The special effects look fine. You get the feeling that your skills are making things happen in a way that’s exciting. You’re still spamming a few non-CD skills while waiting for your few more powerful ones, then triggering those, repeat, like in GW2 and the Elder Scrolls MMO next year.
Crafting is in the game.
That’s all for now. At the time of this writing, after reviewing a bunch of available videos and articles that have come out in recent months, I agree with a reader comment on Massively that recognized how little we really know about this game besides the Foundry, which Cryptic continues to show off as Neverwinter’s crown jewel. I have to think that when Neverwinter is held up against other contemporary games that call themselves MMOs, there are going to be a few deficiencies.
The best scenario is that Neverwinter is the next great D&D game. It’s something to hope for, but based on everything I’ve seen, Turbine’s DDO looks like it will retain its position as the more serious D&D game for real fans. Eberron suddenly seems fitting as a setting for stodgy old DDO when held up against the light of the much-marketed and much-used Forgotten Realms, which seems more fitting for Neverwinter’s casual, commercial, loose-with-the-rules style.
I’ll be adding more to this post as I have time. This is just my own personal game research, shared in blog form. For more reading, see below.
Jan. 5, 2012: I’ve posted a newer post with updated information here.
Official Neverwinter Forum
Neverwinter Forum What-We-Know Thread
Neverwinter Previews: Cryptic’s Dark Horse Rising (MMORPG.COM)
Neverwinter Wikipedia Entry
PAX 2012 – Neverwinter Foundry demonstration and Q&A with Andy Velasquez
Helm’s Hold preview video
PAX East Developer Preview
Neverwinter Gameplay Demo Gamescom 2012 with Craig Zinkievich (30 minutes)
E3 Dungeon Delve Demo with Andy Velasquez
Official Foundry Blog Post
Lore Trailer article on Massively.
Shacknews Foundry article 9/11/12.