(Editor’s Note: this is a contributing post from Wumpus, a long-time Kitty commenter. Wumpus has emerged from the dark labyrinths of Neverwinter to give us his veteran gamer impressions.)
WARNING: The following review was made while the game was still in open beta. This is not Jackie. This is wumpus, a guy crazy enough to like DDO and LOTRO. Reviewer may have strong opinions on D&D that haven’t been current since 1984. Objects in the Mirror Of Opposition may be closer than they appear.
Creating your character:
Once you’ve created your account, downloaded and patched you need to create a character. This is where you first run into 4e (Fourth Edition D&D). You have a choice of 5 “classes” (technically 4 classes and 5 builds, “builds” are a name of official sub-classes in 4e). Classes/Builds (at time I tested them):
Greatsword Fighter: Name says it all. Oddly enough, he does less damage than a dagger wielding rogue (early in the game, at the time of this writing). Supposedly strong in attacking multiple foes, I got bored quickly.
Cleric: Has offensive spells (and presumably some buffs later) and alleged healing spells. Bring plenty of healing potions, because you can’t heal thyself (I’ve heard you can heal others if you have the video game skills to target them in time. I failed at this in DDO until I learned about the F2-F6 keys, so I didn’t try here). Forum chatter implies they still are aggroing everything in sight. Limited to about 5 spells available at any one time. Dumped and made a rogue.
Trickster Rogue: One hobbity ball of fury. Recommended if you want a more powerful character. Centers on single-target, although an important encounter (stunning) attack can hit more than one attacker if they are close together. Trapping abilities appear to be an afterthought. My hobbity ball of fury no longer feels overpowered at level 33.
Control Wizard: designed for crowd control (in solo cases can control at best one mob while you whittle down his hit points). Some attacking spells that almost all appear to target single mobs (regardless of what the text boxes say). Limited to about 5 spells available at any one time.
Guardian Fighter: Didn’t try. My thoughts on tanks are that they belong in groups only and forum chatter isn’t kind. If they can pry aggro from clerics, they can’t pry aggro from tank companions.
Eventually (level 30) you will also choose a paragon path. You have a bunch of “feats” that mildly alter certain minor abilities as well. I held off these completely for a long time (I figured why spend $10 if I was already overpowered), but eventually chose a few things.
Right here DDO and Neverwinter diverge. DDO follows the D&D 3.5 ruleset and allows more freeform classes (and if you don’t closely copy a known good build on your first few characters you will be doomed to playing a gimp).
Neverwinter plays a basic class clone that you really can’t screw up (although they will happily charge $6-10 to change things around). Neverwinter excels in other places like absolute gobs of content made professionally and by users (even if it all seems a bit repetitive).
Looks like plenty of races (no gnomes, but does have tielings. Drow may or may not cost $200). Races don’t appear to change your stats much but do wonders for your appearance. Some quests appear to be tied to races: my halfling was looking for hobbit holes for my fellow halflings. Tielings in the same area got different quests.
I’m probably not the one to review the story. I’ve caught myself clicking through the story line with no way to go back. As Jackie mentioned, there is no “Smiling Jack” or anybody else to show you around Neverwinter. Storytelling within quest chains is fairly helpful. It starts with the given quest and is told further in scrolls you pick up and enter text in your journal. This lets you dig as deep or as shallow as you please.
Looks like you will only have one bar, ever (maybe if you pay to win enough). D&D 4e strictly limits which powers you can use, and power slots slowly become unlocked by level. I wouldn’t hold my breath on another bar. Color me underwhelmed. Combat consists of a few things:
- Spam your “at wills” (the “I swing my sword power” in pen & paper).
- Use shift or double tap a direction key to dodge outside of an incoming attack (helpfully colored red in the HUD). This will likely hold most of you attention. You are rooted until your attack finishes, so don’t always count on being able to dodge. Dodging may well be your most important survival skill in Neverwinter.
- Your “encounters” cooldowns to babysit.
- Your health unless you add a healing companion (level 16). After that, you will only need to watch it during boss fights. If you need them, start spamming healing potions (don’t bother watching your health, just spam them as the cooldown ends (maybe regeneration would make more sense, but I doubt I’m sticking around long enough to find out).
- Your action points/dailies: I’m not sure they are safe to use outside of boss fights (if you need them, that’s when you will need them). This fills up an icon with orange until you can pull off one of your biggest powers. Then wait a long time to fill it up again.
Overall, combat feels more like a traditional MMO than some people claim. Movement is effectively one dimensional (dodge away). It appears two dimensional, and some quests can force it (at least one foundry quest loves cliff-side battles), but in general you just move back and forth while babysitting your cooldowns.
Claiming this MMO has anything to do with Dungeons and Dragons is quite a stretch. Jackie already had an entire post about how different 4e was, and this game appears to take plenty of liberties with that. After about a half an hour my wizard was tenth level with 700+ hit points. Somehow that shouldn’t be in any edition of D&D.
It doesn’t get much better when they stick to the rules. Get some levels on your wizard or cleric and expect to have a whole slew of spells to pick from. Try 2 “at wills” and 3 “encounters”. You might also get a couple of “dailies” but as the name implies you can only use one of them without doing a great deal of other stuff before you can choose between the two of them again.
I don’t think I’m blowing my NDA (Hasbro has stated as much) by saying that D&D Next (aka 5th edition) looks like D&D in a way that this simply doesn’t. I have a load of magic items that I can’t begin to figure out (all other editions have items with pluses and specific effects: apparently that unbalanced D&D and now every character has to be exactly the same).
Between the set “encounter 4 orcs” and the one buttonbar, there really isn’t much choice but to simply run through your sequence of encounter powers while spamming your at wills. This can make for a game that gets boring fast. Animation is limited. I find the overenthusiastic HUD destroying the “realism” and making the whole thing look like an arcade/console fighting game.
Quests And The Foundry:
Quests often have a public zone (with mobs and quest objectives) and private instances inside dungeons. Dungeons consist of long indoor ribbons of a rail fencer/caster (but side rooms often can have goodies and nifty sights) with encounter after encounter of fixed enemy groups.
A word about 4e “encounters”. Encounter is a 4e keyword that describes a set battle between player[s] and a group of mobs (you can aggro more than one group if you are sufficiently foolish). This appears baked into 4e and exposed in the foundry: plunk down “gnoll group 4″ to include a specific array of mobs. You can expect to see the same encounter groups over and over, in basic sewer tunnel sequence (or crypt sequence, dungeon sequence, or sometimes large house sequence).
A basic idea of what the maps and encounters will be like can be had by examining the foundry. Players seem to be finding ways to make fancier maps, but so far you just get “encounter set #n” in “basic dungeon #m” over and over. I suspect that endgame may include a random dungeon generator. It should be pretty easy to add, and you’ll see why if you open up the foundry.
One thing that shouldn’t be forgotten with “yet another dungeon #23″ is that since they are easy enough for a player to lay down, there are a lot of them and you won’t be (supposedly you can, but I didn’t bother to find out how) repeating quests (certain ones are: you can kill #x of bandits for example, but not most of the other kill #x).
Some of the Foundry quests are at least as impressive as any recent DDO quest (although I wasn’t able to tell if they were using generic dungeon bases or not. Custom dungeon maps consist of placing prefabbed rooms one after another.
Presumably you could even construct a labyrinth, although that may get you banned since it sounds similar to already banned dungeon practices (missing encounters in missed parts of the labyrinth is cheating).
The setting is supposed to be Dungeons and Dragons, Neverwinter (a major city in the north of Faerun, the main continent in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting). The city is represented with fairly detailed static areas, and in a realistic style.
The first thing that happens is you wash ashore on a beach. It’s a cliché start for a cliché MMO, but DDO players will wonder if they found themselves in Korthos. After playing more I concluded that it must be a homage as there are no other hints of DDO influence.
Neverwinter might be correct for 4e. Hasbro purposely rocked the whole place with a cataclysm to get players to buy all new books. Some of those effects play out in quest chains (the spellplague one is obvious). As a sometime Baldur’s Gate player (I played AD&D before the Forgotten Realms ever started), I got a kick out of meeting a flaming fist mercenary and was trying to place Helm’s Hold when I got there.
It’s likely the most popular setting for D&D, and trying to build a MMO in Sigil (Planescape setting) would be non-trivial. I won’t question the accuracy of Neverwinter, but those who aren’t tied to 4e might question some of the changes.
To someone who’s never read Salvatore or Greenwood (I got all my angsty fantasy hero from Moorcock’s Elric series) this all looks like generic fantasy #2584, but it is important to remember that Gygax nearly shaped what “generic fantasy” looks like almost as much as J.R.R.Tolkien.
Beyond that, Greenwood and Salvatore have filled out the details of that generic world so much it leaks back to places like LOTRO (current D&D halflings live in wagons. Hobbits live in houses and holes. Greyhawk halflings live in houses and holes.
Somehow LOTRO has a whole bunch of wagons for hobbits to live in who never leave the shire and rarely go beyond the next pub (all main characters save Bilbo were weirdos even before going on adventures).
One thing that isn’t wildly overinflated is the in-game coinage. They’ve changed it (part of 4e?) so that 1 gold = 100 silver, 1 silver = 100 copper, and that 20th level character might wonder where they are going to scrape together 5 gold for a horse. It looks even less rich in gold than LOTRO. Note that Gary Gygax himself strongly recommended the “wildly inflated” gold system.
D&D (and more so in an MMO) may have loads of adventurers descending on dungeons and pulling out untold riches. This tends to wash out the economy with gold and bring about an inflation similar to a gold rush (an analogy pointed out in great detail by Mr. Gygax). Note, once I have bought both the horse (5 gp) and a spare companion or two(2 gp a pop), I have no idea what I will do with the gold anyway (healing potions aren’t that bad, class kits don’t seem to scale).
Real things need to be bought with zen (i.e. real money), astral diamonds, which are dribbled out as shinies for hitting your skinner bar, (see below), but I think you can’t have many without buying them with zen, and Lion Seals (earned unbelievably slowly and I suspect simply bought with cash if you ever plan on turning in enough green stamps).
I’m not kidding about the Lion Seals. You need a ton of them, and I have to make an effort to keep killing the local baddies just to get one seal per area. You need about three times the number of areas to get any one thing through Lion Seals, meaning either an horrendous grind or pay2win.
Lets put it this way: if you had a problem (like Jackie) with the pre-hobbit lottery box LOTRO, you don’t want to download this MMO. Pay2win is plastered all over this game and seeps into the core.
Fee Based Economy and KoboldKlicker:
So this MMO is Free-to-Play with a Fee-Based Economy. Of course it’s free–just ignore that fee, and that one, and of course that one, and this other fee of course, and that one over there… The worst part of this fee based game (beyond mere aggravation) is to completely obscure the cost of this game.
All I can say is that if money is an object to you and you haven’t coughed up for the $160 sword of pwnage yet, you probably want a game you can figure out the cost. This one you can’t. If you don’t know, you will find yourself spending money. You could have bought much better games than this generic fantasy # 2584 MMO, and not spend nearly so much hitting the bar for your shiny (see below).
Fee based payment is more of an impression than a rigidly proveable assertion. It’s that just about any option seems to have a Zen cost to it (the store currency), and I’m not certain I will ever find out what services I will need, what I won’t, and what the total cost will be. It’s a slimy tactic in all the other industries in which I’ve seen it, and it’s a slimy tactic here.
I also have stayed away from the skinner box/Koboldklicker hijinks (except for the hourly prayers–they just seem too easy). I had thought that there were more a beta/new player training thing, but apparently that is how you rake in the astral diamonds (the more important non-cash currency in this game). Another slimy tactic, this one is borrowed from Zynga.
At the levels I have reached so far (30s, and getting bored with), I have no idea which fees are “tickets to play the game” and needed, which are pay2win (obviously the $160 items are), and which are sucker bets (I’m guessing the revival potions are at low levels, but might just be needed with tougher bosses). I think they know that they will lose players with clerics who can’t raise dead and expect to get paid beyond what those players would spend.
If a fee based economy was tolerable, the other great innovation they bring are Zynga-style skinner boxes: hourly prayer, daily skirmish, daily pvp, daily foundry, all to get your shinies. Note that my rogue has run out of the overpoweredness he started with.
If I were to get serious, I should fix the gear, possibly pay for a respec, and likely find myself stuck in a skinner box pecking the bar for my shinies. This has been steadily infiltrating Turbine games (see Jackie’s rant on LOTRO and DDO seems to be going full steam). No thank you.