Neverwinter Beta Impressions: The Cloak Tower
On Wednesday, the beta for Perfect World’s upcoming free-to-play action MMORPG, Neverwinter, kicked off with a tour of one of their dungeons for the press. For those unfamiliar with the title, it’s set in the Dungeons & Dragons world of the Forgotten Realms campaign. Originally developed as a single player game with co-op mode, the developer Cryptic was bought by Perfect World and the game has since been retooled as an MMO.
I went along on the developer led tour of the the Cloak Tower and instead of a blow-by-blow of the instance’s encounters, I think you’ll be better served with my impressions of the game based on the dungeon run.
As reported before, the gameplay is based on using your mouse as a reticle-based targeting device and then right-clicking as well as left-clicking to attack, giving this an almost FPS feel. Extra abilities are keyed to the buttons surrounding the WASD movement keys. While your mouse click abilities can be used to your heart’s content, the other ones are more restricted. Three of the abilities are on cooldowns, but reset for every encounter. And then there’s feats.
Through combat you fill up your action bar and when it is full you can pull off a class-defining feat. In the case of the cleric I was playing, I could call down a spiritual being that laid the smackdown on the mob I had targeted and then healed the group as it left. I was able to use this ability every few minutes. Other than keeping an eye on my action bar to pull off my next feat, I was able to keep my eyes on the fight and not my hotkey bar, something I can’t say for most MMORPGs.
There was something about this system that bothered me greatly and that was, as a healer I had to target my teammates with my mouse reticle to fire off a heal and given the amount of movement in the game, it sometimes took me 5-6 seconds to pull that off. And anyone who has played these kinds of games can tell you that your teammate will often be long dead by then. Admittedly, I hadn’t played the game much before this when I was handed a level 16 cleric and was expected to master it immediately when thrown into this dungeon, but there has to be a better way to target fellow players in the chaos of battle.
To give you an idea of how hectic combat can be, picture this. Five players, all with companions, so 10 good guys. We attack five bad guys (most of the bad guys are in groups) and usually aggro five more. So now there’s 20 bodies in the mix, plus columns, book cases, corners, and stairs. On top of that, many mobs have area of effect attacks designed to keep players dodging to the side. Oh yeah, make sure no one dies! There’s probably is an easier way to target for healing than trying to line up your mouse reticle on a constantly moving, partially-obscured target, but I didn’t have time to discover it. I also couldn’t figure out how to target myself for heals.
The game’s dungeons are designed with the latest innovations you’ve come to enjoy in other popular MMOs, but with a few other features I appreciated. For example, the Cloak Tower path was fairly linear from start to final boss mob. But if you occasionally veered off the main path into a side room, you will be rewarded with extra treasure and encounters. Nothing critical, but enough to make it worth your time not to speed run the instance.
Another feature to encourage exploration is items spread around the side rooms of the dungeon. If you find them all, there is a special reward waiting for you at the end of the instance. As an avid explorer and compulsive collector, I approve.
The look and feel of the dungeon changed enough to keep it interesting. Yes, the mobs are the typical trash clearing to mini-boss, rinse and repeat to final boss layout, but at least the environment kept evolving in way that made sense and kept it fresh. In the example of the Cloak Tower, you start off in an abandoned mage tower, surrounded by stone walls and circular rooms. Then you descend into a library area, a crystal cave area, and finally a hidden underground part of the tower for the final encounter. It made sense with the story of the tower (orcs have taken over and killed the mages) and allowed the art team alot of flexibility in creating visually interesting set pieces.
Two mechanics I especially enjoyed came at the end. Ever been waiting for a lagging party member to catch up only to have the tank rush the final boss before everyone was ready? In this game, when you are ready to take on the boss, you have to activate an item in front of the boss’s room that creates a circle around you. All of your team members must get inside the circle before the door opens to give you access to the loot piñata, uh, final boss.
The other mechanic I thought was handy had to do with the loot on the final boss. It only drops an item or two so what do you do if you don’t win the random roll for it? You get a coin instead. When you get three of these special coins you can turn them in for an equivalent piece of loot in a special room at the end of the dungeon. I’ve seen this kind of mechanic in large raids in other MMOs and glad to see it being applied to single group instances as well.
All in all I found the game to be smooth, well-polished and well thought out. This comes from an hour of game play time, admittedly, but that was enough to see that there were no major bugs, the class play was interesting and compelling and the dungeon runs were smartly designed.
This first beta week continues through Sunday. I’ll be playing a character or two from level one and will report back with more impressions as I explore other aspects of the game. But so far, I like what I see and am looking forward to more.