|Dev: Cryptic Studios|
|Pub: Perfect World Entertainment|
|Release: April 30, 2013 (Open Beta)|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Sean Engemann
Cryptic Studios has opened its doors to the public with its newest MMO, Neverwinter. While not an official launch, the beta essentially has all the features that will be found in the final version, and Neverwinter will likely transition from open beta to full release directly and without further closed periods. The technical crew has been doing a fantastic job with patching up the bugs daily, doing so with little downtime. As a long time D&D geek, I immediately jumped into the Forgotten Realms the day the servers opened, and despite some overused gameplay mechanics, I've found many reasons to enter the world of Toril for at least a few minutes every day.
The game opens to one of the most exciting cinematic cutscenes I have ever seen, and those playing 4th Edition pen-and-paper adventures will easily pluck out many familiar elements such as tieflings, dracoliches, turning undead, and Fey Stepping. The characters presented are all given unique personalities, however, those personas don't transition well into the game itself.
This brings me to one of the most notable flaws I've found thus far: the writing. When you've poured through as many R.A. Salvatore novels as I have, the amateur scriptwork in Neverwinter sticks out like a sore thumb. Granted, quest givers accurately deliver the objectives, but conversations lack emotional flavor and clichés are grossly overused. This is accentuated by poor voice acting that is either overtly melodramatic or unconvincing with regards to accents.
But if you're one of the many MMOers who simply gloss over the story and skip through conversations, you'll find the pacing of Neverwinter moves along briskly. As you quickly progress through levels, you'll unlock more content with plenty of rewards. Quests are your typical fare – find this many objects, kill this many enemies, clear out this dungeon, etc. Side quests pop up all over the place; PvP matches are easy to join, and co-op skirmishes and dungeons can be queued at any time with a couple clicks of the mouse. You'll earn different currencies from different events, used to purchase exclusive items. Neverwinter entices you to return daily and perform a simple invocation ritual to obtain Celestial Coins, a fleeting currency that vanishes should you skip a day of playing.
This daily lure continues when professions become available. Like most other MMORPGs, you are not confined to choosing a couple of vocations; though your class is what dictates how you collect resources. Dungeoneering, Arcana, Thieving, Nature, and Religion collection points are scattered throughout hostile areas. It makes no sense that investigating religious tomes yields iron ore; nevertheless, that is how you amass material components in Neverwinter. However, obtaining resources is only the first step in the crafting process; time is the other element. Obviously inspired by nearly every Facebook game out there, crafting requires you to wait for the fruits of your labor, with rare items requiring many hours or even days to complete.
Level 15 is when Neverwinter's most enticing feature becomes available, especially for devout Dungeon Masters. It is called The Foundry, and allows players to create their own quests and campaigns using a robust yet user-friendly editing program. You can piece together maps; add monsters and traps to your heart's content; create your own story using NPCs and objective markers, and then fully test the quest in game. Once completed, you can upload your creation for everyone to play. They can then rate and review your submission, with highly praised entries earning a featured spot on the job post board. Neverwinter even promotes playing these original campaigns by offering extra experience points when played at specific event times. The Foundry ultimately adds an infinite amount of fresh content, without us hounding developers for expansions and DLC.
Like the table game, Neverwinter is best played in a group. Classes are designed to supplement each other, thus tanks and healers are often sought after and require a firm dedication to their duty. Players are aware of the value of this coalition, and I have yet to be rejected from an impromptu invite when out in the field. Battles become easier; treasure is more bountiful, and experience is gained much quicker, making party forming a no brainer for fast levelers. This is a drawback for old-school D&D fans like myself though, who are still looking for an MMO that breaks away from the standard conventions of the genre.
Neverwinter includes many of the elements found in the Core Rulebooks of the pen-and-paper game such as ability scores and feats, but it uses them more as a reference than a strict adherence to the rules. Encounter and Daily powers, for example, require a cooldown and an action point buildup rather than a short and extended rest respectively. Combat is all in real-time, so there is no initiative, and no constraints to actions per turn. Every element of the gameplay is an attempt to blend the 4th Edition strictures with MMO standards, though the game leans more towards appealing to the latter. At first this was off-putting, yet as I continued to level up and peel back more layers of my character customization, I suddenly found myself with a vested interest in keeping my Cleric moving forward. I still long for a mirrored translation of the table game into the digital world, but I find myself unable to hate Neverwinter for not granting that wish.
Neverwinter is more than just another MMO with a venerable brand name to lure the D&D faithful; it is solid and engaging experience in a genre beyond saturation. Everything familiar and trite about MMOs is refined here, and the sheer size and quality of the content offers continuous incentives to keep coming back. I'd love to lend my voice and writing skills to improving those technical aspects of the game, but for the moment I will keep lending my free time to enter the Forgotten Realms, and hope for a prosperous official launch of Neverwinter.
Date: May 14, 2013