Neverwinter Beta Impressions: A Strong Start

Full disclosure: I’m not especially fond of Cryptic’s previous games. Champions Online has promise, but it is weighed down by awkward combat and netcode. Star Trek Online is better, but it’s hard to pinpoint why, as the individual elements aren’t especially stunning on their own. It’s more a sum of its parts. With this in mind, I went into Neverwinter expecting a game that was playable, but not especially great.

I’ve never been so glad to be wrong. Neverwinter – at least the first 20 levels or so – is an absolute joy, and one of the best traditional MMOs in ages.

Neverwinter takes place in the Forgotten Realms, a widely popular Dungeons and Dragons setting popularized by RA Salvatore books and some of the most enduring western RPGs (Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, Neverwinter Nights). Much as you would expect from a pulp fantasy novel, the plot revolves around attempting to protect the city of Neverwinter from those that would destroy it. It’s standard fantasy fare; totally average in every way. It’s an excuse to kill lots of enemies, which you will be doing plenty of.

The visuals of Neverwinter are functional, but not especially notable. All of your favorite fantasy design tropes are here and played completely straight. Fantasy race stereotypes, medieval armor, and generic magic effects are all present and accounted for. Despite this, it’s still nice to look at, and some of the armor designs are quite interesting. Just don’t go looking for outstanding vistas or incredibly creative character designs; you won’t find them.

Quests also follow this standard of “competent, but uninteresting.” They are decently written, but given the proliferation of fantasy settings and jargon in gaming, it’s difficult to get into unless you’re a real fan of the setting. Likewise, most dungeons revolve around killing The Guy or retrieving The Item. There are bits to spruce it up, though. Traps are present in most dungeons, and many places also have hidden passages that lead to treasure or sub-areas. The dungeon design tries to strike a balance between traditional tabletop exploration and MMO linearity, and while the balance works, it feels as though it should lean more towards exploration. This is Dungeons and Dragons, after all.

With a bog standard story, standard quests, and average visuals, Neverwinter has to ace the combat mechanics to be fun. Thankfully, Cryptic finally struck gold. If you are familiar with action-based MMOs like Vindictus or TERA, the principles are the same: click to attack, chain abilities and items together to finish battles quickly and smoothly. The basic mechanics are simple, but when combined have a surprising amount of depth.

Where Neverwinter shines is in its implementation of the abilities. Each class has a number of powers separated into four categories: At-Will, Encounter, Daily, and Class. At-Will powers can be used at any time with minimal or no cooldown. These are your basic attacks and abilities, and are often plenty strong in their own right. For example, the Warrior’s default attack (Cleave) is a fantastic anti-group attack. Encounter powers are more traditional MMO abilities, and operate on a cooldown. They are often fight-altering abilities rather than straight damage, which makes them more situational than your standard MMO ability. Daily powers are your “ultimate,” and require that you build up a charge of Action Points to use. These abilities do lots of damage, often inflict status effects on players and enemies alike, and usually hit more than one enemy. Finally, Class powers are your class-related active (like Stealth for the Thief) and any passives that change how you play.

There are two reasons why the powers system works so well. The first is that every power has a purpose and use. Rather than overloading the player with tons of abilities that do very similar things – usually straight damage – almost every ability in Neverwinter has status effects or special conditions associated with it. For example, the Thief’s secondary At-Will throws knives at an enemy, and the longer she throws the knives, the higher damage each subsequent knife deals. Her initial Encounter power is a long stun that deals high amounts of damage. Her Daily leaps between a plenthora of targets, dealing small damage to each one. In short, abilities in Neverwinter matter. They aren’t just fodder to fill out your hotkey bar.

Not that you would be able to anyway. The second reason why powers work so well is that there isn’t a hotkey bar that allows you to use all of your abilities whenever you want. Instead, you have to choose a loadout of abilities to take with you into an adventure. You can change at a campfire, but that’s it. It’s a system I’m very fond of, and it creates a depth to character growth that you don’t see too often. You have to choose between making your current build stronger, or adding more flexibility to your build options. It also creates a risk not usually inherent in MMO progression. Do I take this build into battle, or this build? Which build fits me or the encounter the most? It has been a long time since I’ve asked questions like that about abilities rather than items, and it’s refreshing.

Join the Conversation   

* required field

By submitting a comment here you grant GameFront a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution. Inappropriate or irrelevant comments will be removed at an admin's discretion.

4 Comments on Neverwinter Beta Impressions: A Strong Start

Luther

On June 3, 2013 at 6:11 pm

You don’t need to be at a camp fire to change out ability’s, iv done it plenty of times in combat and in boss encounters, the kicker is when you are changing them out you are looking at a menu and not whats going on around you which could easily end up being your death in a really tough fight since this game requires you to do a lot of moving in the fights.

Anathemize

On June 3, 2013 at 8:01 pm

I wish you would of touched on the cash shop. Before i invest time into these games id like to know if it was p2win or p2p. Very important in a free to play game.

Derek

On June 3, 2013 at 8:19 pm

I played Neverwinter until level 59 and promptly quit. It is absolutely a pay2win title. For both PvP and PvE. It has perpetual real money sinks. Every single thing in the game is designed to make the experience painful unless you spend cash. About $150 cash minimum to obtain the most basic features available for free in other MMO games. There are deliberately excluded features (which were previously available in beta) to sucker players into spending more money. The game is riddled with exploits and hacks. It is so badly designed that one of the most core elements of the game (shield block, teleport, and roll), is rendered client side. This has resulted in while spread exploitation of infinite use of these abilities making players essentially invulnerable. It is accomplished using an easily obtained 50 line script The auction system was completely compromised, resulting in many players losing a lot of real money in virtual currency. Neverwinter’s customer service team closes support tickets for no reason, and in many cases has actually said their reason for closing a case is because they are to busy.

psycros

On June 3, 2013 at 8:57 pm

This article stinks of fanboyism or something worse. NWN is one of the most talked about MMOs right now, and *not* for good reasons. Its a poor MOBA thinly disguised as a lackluster action MMO. Oh, and I’d love to know what exactly is “awkward” about combat in Champions Online – its almost 100% based on the tried and true WoW paradigm. I’m just speechless that the author thinks having access to only a handful of your class abilities is a legitimate game mechanic, let alone a good one. In any case, NWN sucks right now – we all know it and no amount of wishing, self-delusion or lying will change that. Only Cryptic can fix their broken game but thus far they seem either totally overwhelmed or just uninterested. Their track record certainly doesn’t give much hope for positive change. Finally, its perhaps the worst cash store vehicle Cryptic or possibly anyone has foisted upon the gaming public thus far. Out of about ten people I know who tried it, all of them gave up in disgust and frustration..and most of them are far more forgiving towards games than I am.