A Weekend In Neverwinter – An MMORPG With True Potential
The MMORPG market has never been so stacked. There’s pretty much something for everyone these days, and the genre is still expanding. One of the latest games trying to makes its mark in the MMO space is Neverwinter, by MMO veterans Cryptic Studios. Set in the Dungeons & Dragons universe, and the 4th edition rule set, Neverwinter has been causing quite a buzz in the MMO circles. I recently jumped into the press beta to see what all the fuss was about.
Much like most MMOs, Neverwinter starts off with the character creation process. It’s not a simple case of choosing a race and a hair style, far from it. Neverwinter uses it’s the rich D & D lore to its fullest by allowing players to choose their origins and religious beliefs. It’s a role players dream and everyone else will find it a neat little extra, giving their character some depth. Unfortunately the origin and religion choices don’t impact the gameplay, this does feel like a missed opportunity.
The beta had 8 playable races with an additional race labelled as coming soon. Each race comes with their racial bonuses as they would in the table top counter part. For the duration of the beta I took up the role of a Halfling. With bonuses of increased dexterity, and a choice of constitution or charisma, I decided to make the most of the bonuses by playing a Trickster Rogue. Each race can play any of the classes, the only stumbling block is some racials don’t match some the classes.
There is a commendable attempt at bringing the pen and paper character creation process to the game with players rolling their stats. There is the choice to re-roll the stats if the player isn’t totally happy with the numbers displayed, but this isn’t as effective as you’d hope. The re-roll only slightly changes the stats by 2 points maximum, this could possibly be to stop players creating lop sided characters.
As the player enters the world the tone and general atmosphere is instantly set. Neverwinter isn’t trying to be gritty, nor is it trying to be overly mature. The game has an almost humble atmosphere to it. There’s a strange feeling that Neverwinter is well aware of it’s origins and is more than happy to bring the tone of pen and paper game to the video game world. To its credit the tone is done well and gives Neverwinter an almost welcoming feeling. The art style is reminiscent of that found in the old monster manuals and dungeon master books. It’s a brilliant choice of direction that further adds to the distinct D & D feeling. The lighting is a surprising area in which the game excels. The cities within Neverwinter are breathtaking and remain impressive upon repeated visits. The audio design is another strong point, the music is has a classic fantasy sound to it with a modern touch. The sound effects give an extra layer of life to the world.
The world itself has a rich abundance of quests to complete. There’s of course a primary storyline that allows players to learn the game and the lore of the world. Side quests are pretty much everywhere you look, each with their own story attached to them. The early quests are mostly kill and fetch quests that serve to ease the player smoothly into the game. The storyline based quests feel more fleshed out than the side quests (as you’d expect), but there some cases of quests feeling a little flat. Fighting the same enemies in rather confined areas results in the story quests feeling a little linear and clunky.
The quests being rather hit or miss isn’t as much of an issue as you’d think however. Neverwinter is home to a truly dazzling feature known as ‘The Foundry’. This feature allows players to create their own quests. The feature isn’t unlocked till level 17 (unfortunately I only made it to level 13) but there was still a large amount of quests already on offer. At the end of each user created quest players can leave a review of what they have just played. This feedback system allows players to actively improve the quality of the game just by playing the content on offer by its players. The system also allows players to subscribe to players who created enjoyable content.
It’s a neat feature that has massive potential to create both quality and a strong sense of community. The ease in which players can jump into user generated content and review said content will allow the game to grow.
Neverwinter’s combat is a little more faster and more action packed than the traditional MMORPG. Simply standing still and hitting some keys is not how Neverwinter does things, it’s a little more proactive. Positioning and movement (at least for my Trickster Rogue) played a large part in being able to optimize the skills at my disposal. The speed and flow of the combat allows things to feel rather satisfying, even more so when combing skills effectively. There is a doge mechanic which keeps players on their toes, but to be totally honest it feels slightly rigid. Players have access to a number of skills but can only have a limited number of them on their hot bars. This results in players having to experiment to find effective combinations as well as selection skills on a situational basis.
PvP was one of the big additions to the latest beta, simply put it’s a lot of fun. The arena on offer was small in size and hosted a domination rule set. Two teams of players battle to control three points within the area with most of the action taking place in the centre of the map. The combat works well in a PvP situation. Each class feels like they have a legitimate role to play in each encounter. Playing as the Trickster Rogue allowed me to pick off enemy support classes and those on low health. There’s a certain sense of achievement when a team of players come together to pull of an effective attack/defence on a point in the map. Group mechanics and team work work well within Neverwinter’s PvP, and also make the experience hugely more enjoyable.
Neverwinter as whole becomes hugely more enjoyable when played in a group. Each class fits nicely into a group situation, no one feels inadequate. Group play can mostly be found (in terms of PvE anyway) in the vast numbers of dungeons and events at the players finger tips. Scheduled dungeon events, bounties, and relic hunts all offer players the chance to team up and head out into the world.
While the market may be packed, Neverwinter shows plenty of potential to become a major title in the MMORPG space. The beta offered so much to do in such a short time it became a welcomed problem of choosing what to do next. The art style is wonderful and the combat is both enjoyable and well crafted. The quests may follow a rather standard MMORPG formula but they are enjoyable for the most part. The quality of life features (damage meters, progression trackers etc) allow the game to feel rounded, even in the beta stage. The Foundry is what stands out the most. It’s a feature that has the potential to create a fantastic community around it, this will improve the quality of the game and its content. If the community proves to be as strong as the Foundry allows then Neverwinter is well on its way to being a success.