Neverwinter Beta Impressions: A Strong Start
Of course, this wouldn’t work if Neverwinter didn’t have weight to the combat. Thankfully, it does. Characters are frozen in place while attacking – unless their attack is intended to move them around – and animations have the necessary snap to make them feel heavy and weighty. When you attack an enemy in Neverwinter, you feel the strength of your blows rather than only seeing numbers pop above the enemy’s head. It can’t be understated: combat weight is a good thing. MMOs could benefit from greater strength of animation in fighting.
While the combat is thoroughly entertaining, character progression isn’t especially interesting. You receive a number of power (ability) and feat (talent) points per level, and you can allocate them how you please. Once you reach a certain level (which I haven’t yet; more on it in a future impressions piece), you can enter into a prestige class. It would be nice if placing power points into abilities changed their behavior as well as giving them buffs to strength, but that’s not the case. The earlier feats also don’t seem especially strong or game-changing, although they can be a nice addition to your kit. It’s the same complaint I had in the Defiance review, essentially. Passives don’t feel like they alter your playstyle or strength much, and they should. This may be something that changes with paragon trees, though.
While performing the dungeon exploration necessary for gaining levels and reaching paragon status, you will no doubt find scattered gathering nodes. These are the primary way that you gather crafting resources, and correspond to one of five lore skills: Thievery, Arcana, Religion, Nature, and Dungeoneering. Each skill has specific bonuses: Thievery gets more resources overall, Arcana gets more arcane resources, Nature gets more natural resources (plants and such), Religion offers buffs when praying at certain shrines, and Dungeoneering opens hidden passages. Each of these skills are class-specific, so you can’t be a Thief with Arcana. However, you can purchase consumable kits (usually a few copper) to gather outside of your class skill. The materials you gather, naturally, are used for professions.
The professions system functions much like the duty officers system for Star Trek Online. You must recruit a staff of characters to perform jobs, and each staff member has specific bonuses. The first few members you get take no time at all, but the more you acquire, the larger the time investment. Besides that, crafting is almost exactly like other MMOs. You have recipes and use them to create gear. Besides the principle of doing it through proxies, there are no changes to the tried-and-true formula. It’s a bit disappointing to see that Neverwinter takes no risks with crafting, instead opting to use the professions staff is a way to add time compression. It’s not terrible, but it’s not especially engaging either. Thankfully, you are not restricted to a single profession, so you can craft as much as you like. Each profession corresponds to an armor type, with the exception of Leadership, which gives miscellaneous items instead
Besides your professions staff, you can also hire a companion to assist you. These companions are very similar to those seen in older RPGs, or – more recently – The Old Republic. Instead of cajoling them with your wiles, however, they are usually purchased using either in-game or microtransaction currency. They can be leveled and trained into particular skills, much like players, but are obviously no substitute for a real player by your side. If you find yourself soloing a lot, they are a great way to shore up your class’ weaknesses.
For those wanting to build customized adventures, the Foundry from Star Trek Online makes a return in Neverwinter. It’s a solid system in both games, and gives players itching for new content the ability to delve through dungeons without waiting for a new patch. The featured and most played missions on the front page of the Foundry tend to be very high quality, which means you’ll have a regular stream of good content from other players to you. If you want to tell your own story, the Foundry is relatively easy to use and is worth learning. It’s not the most user-friendly interface around – there’s a bit of a learning curve if you intend to do anything special with it – but it’s worth sticking to.
In what I’ve currently played, the biggest mechanical issue with Neverwinter seems to be the PvP. While the solidity of combat and specialization of builds makes it more rewarding to play than your average MMO PvP, there are issues with matchmaking and balance still present. Specifically, there are idlers often present in a match, and sometimes the game fails to bring in a new player after another leaves. This can leave you with a severe disadvantage, and is very frustrating for the average player.
Neverwinter also has technical issues, most notably with file corruption. I eventually had to turn off dynamic patching (thus downloading an extra 2 gigs of content) because several files became corrupted during the patching process. This is a longstanding issue with Cryptic games, and it’s disappointing to see it here. Hopefully the technical issues are worked through before the game launches fully, although the beta designation at this point is less of a hard rule and more of a soft launch.
Neverwinter is, so far, a very strong MMO. It’s probably the strongest Cryptic has ever made, and – thanks to engaging combat and player-made content – looks to have a bright future. If the bugs are ironed out, PvP is improved, and more features are added, it will no doubt be one of the best free-to-play games on the market.