By Meredith Watson, OnRPG Journalist
Neverwinter is quite possibly the best free to play MMO released in a long time.
That is a very bold statement and you may be wondering how I can claim such a thing. Well, by playing the game of course. I don’t mean I’ve played it to level ten and then declared this game full of awesomeness. No, I’ve been doing tier 2 dungeons. I have a level 60 control wizard, level 44 devoted cleric and level 35 trickster rogue. I am more than qualified to make this claim. And this game is full of awesomeness.
Neverwinter is a free to play MMO developed by Cryptic Studios (City of Heroes, Star Trek Online, and Champions Online) and is published by Perfect World Entertainment. Neverwinter is set in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons. Open beta started on April 30th and it has been recently announced the game will go live on June 20th after a week-long in game event (which starts June 14th).
Let’s start with character creation. Because this is free to play you only have two slots available unless you purchase additional character slots through the zen store. Character creation doesn’t disappoint if you are like me and spend far too much time making perfect looking toons. There are plenty of sliders (yes, yes there is a boob slider but there isn’t a huge difference between degrees of ….boobiness). That may not be a real word but you get the idea. To start with you need to pick your race and there are quite a few to choose from: half-orc, dwarf, human, elf, half-elf, tiefling, and halfing with another race “coming soon”. The character models are good looking but can easily be scuffed up with scars and tattoos. Anytime I have makeup AND fingernail length in a game I am happy. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten to choose fingernail length before in any game. I am quite picky about orcs and I think they’ve done a great job with the half-orcs. No corrupted orcs here. Definitely more EQ2 than WoW or Warhammer orcs.
Once you’ve decided on your race you can pick from one of five classes: Guardian Fighter, Devoted Cleric, Trickster Rogue, Control Wizard and Great Weapons Fighter. There is also a class that has yet to be announced and rumour has it that it is a ranger or druid. Please, please let it be a ranger Cryptic! There is and there isn’t the holy trinity. I have done a tier 1 dungeon with two clerics, two wizards and a rogue with the rogue “tanking” the final boss. Cryptic takes what you know of MMO class mechanics and kind of turns it on its side. That being said, there was most recently a game update and balance patch and since then I’ve not been in a tier 2 dungeon that didn’t have a guardian fighter.
Next you get to roll some virtual dice. I started playing D&D in 1982 and to this day I belong to a local gaming group where we get together once a month to really roll some dice. Needless to say, I was filled with happiness when I saw I could roll for stats. I doubt this will mean much to those who aren’t fans of tabletop gaming or those too young to know what D&D is but including the dice and rolling is a nice touch.
The biggest part of any game, for me at least, is combat. Combat in Neverwinter is reticule based and twitch-esque. If you are used to the standard spamming of 1,2 and 3 then you may need a little time getting used to the controls but once you do combat is excellent and most enjoyable. There is a very good tutorial when you start playing to help you along. Combat is fast paced and requires quite a bit of situational awareness as the mobs will display red circles or cones on the ground. You will want to avoid those and the best way to do that is by using your special dodge move which is by default bound to your shift key. Top Tip: rebind your dodge ability to one of your side mouse buttons if you have a gaming mouse (and if you don’t-why not?). I love combat where the player actively has to dodge and Cryptic has made it especially nifty by making dodge different for each class. My rogue tumbles, my wizard teleports and my cleric slides.
I am not going to go on and on about how pretty the world is as I normally would. I will however point out Neverwinter includes physics and ragdoll effects. One of my favourite things to do when waiting in the queue for a dungeon is to kick barrels around Protector’s Enclave. From what I understand, Cryptic has used a modified game engine used for Champions Online and Star Trek Online. The game world both indoors and outdoors is varied and most importantly feels like D&D. Character animations are smooth and natural looking. Well, as natural looking as a high fantasy video game can look.
The meat of any game is obviously gameplay which entails questing, dungeons, raiding, PvP, crafting and for Neverwinter – the foundry. The foundry is player created content and quite often is as immersive in the storytelling as the Cryptic created content. The foundry adds another dimension to gameplay that other fantasy MMOs don’t have. Questing in Neverwinter, though you still at times have to kill x amount of a certain type of creature, has a purpose. There is story behind it all. This is D&D after all. What I find interesting is that even though you may do the same quests on alts, it won’t feel the same due to the varied class mechanics. For example, taking my rogue through Helms Hold felt much different than when I went through on my cleric or wizard. Some games give each class essentially the same spells but just slightly different nuances and names. Not so in Neverwinter. It is a wonderful thing to see such difference between classes. I really hope Cryptic doesn’t try to please everyone and maintains the individuality of the classes.
Neverwinter is full of solo instanced content which will really appeal to the anti-social or those that just prefer solo content. Questing in Neverwinter is meant to be solo with a companion and by companion I mean an NPC combatant. These companions can be acquired through a short quest after getting to level 16. Companions can also be bought with gold, zen, bars or astral diamonds (the different currencies in game). With the most recent patch companions were made to be more effective though to be fair I haven’t noticed a huge difference.
The dungeons in Neverwinter can be tough especially without having guild members to rely on but can be incredibly fun even with a PUG. How can you not love a game where a valid tactic is punting mobs off bridges?
The other day I was talking to a player who was complaining that Neverwinter was just a cash cow for Cryptic. I didn’t really understand the complaint. Yes, Neverwinter has a store and yes I’ve spent far too much money there but it certainly doesn’t seem to be the focus of the game. When first logging in, the thing that is shoved in your face is the dungeon, foundry and quest info, not the store. You actually have to go looking for the zen market. The game can be played entirely for free. Any complaints about Neverwinter just being out for your money aren’t valid.
As with all new games, there will be issues, bugs and exploits. Neverwinter is no exception. There have been exploits which were promptly dealt with and as we can see from the last patch they have been working on any other issues.
Overall, this is a great game in the making. I stand by my earlier assertion that it is the best free to play MMO in a while. But don’t take my word for it. Go play it for yourself. I dare you to prove me wrong.