Neverwinter: Previewing an MMO I’d Actually Play

I stay away from MMORPGs because I get easily addicted with stupid marketing ploys, and often I find the ploys and the games that stoop to them simply frustrating. I have no desire to try to cut down the largest tree in the forest with a herring; it’d take forever with little to no payout. The MMOs I’d tried in the past often focus on this boring grinding, and it’s unpleasant.

However, there’s an MMO coming out that not only am I willing to give a try, but I’m actually really enjoying. Cryptic Studios’ upcoming game “Neverwinter” is a free-to-play MMORPG based on the 4th ed Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) rules set in a familiar D&D setting. Right now it’s in closed beta, but you can gain access by buying one of their Founder’s Packs. After having played it, we know that it’s fun and there’s a lot that makes it interesting, as well as a lot of potential to become more interesting. In the meantime, we can give you two things: what we know to be true (after playing, reading up on stuff, and talking to some Cryptic devs), and our impressions.

What We Know

Incorporated below is the information we have, with quotes from devs that we asked in-game during the press event – but note that I was taking notes quickly, so I wasn’t sure which typos were mine and which were theirs, so comments have been edited for basic typos.

All the quotes below are from the dev team that we asked questions during the press event.

Basics

  • Classes: Right now there are 4 available classes – Trickster Rogue, Devoted Cleric, Control Wizard, and Guardian Fighter,  covering the four standard roles from 4th Ed D&D – and they will release more after launch (but they couldn’t give us a time frame). Already there are items in-game for future classes, and a trailer for their Great Weapon Fighter. Once you’ve picked a class for your character, you cannot change classes or multiclass, but you can respec/retrain. Each class has some versatility in how it can be built. For example, the Devoted Cleric has a training tree for doing spell damage, for being a dedicated healer, and for placing
  • defensive wards on allies. The Rogue had varying ways to kill people with varying levels of sneakiness.
  • Races: Everyone has access to humans, elves, half-elves, half-orcs, dwarves, tieflings, and halflings, and those who buy the top tier Founders Pack get a “Menzoberranzan Renegade” (Drow).
  • Profession, Crafting: By the time they launch, they plan to have a Profession and Crafting system. As it stands, characters can find items in-game that are only used for crafting, but we don’t know anything else.
  • Customization: Right now you can customize your character by picking specific gear that’ll affect your look, and you can also find dyes that will change the colour of gear worn. Later they plan on implementing “several ways to change the look of your gear so you can look as awesome as you want.”
  • Character Creation: For a look at character creation (and the first hour of the press event, with intro from a dev), take a look at the video on our Twitch.TV channel. Otherwise, they have two dev blog posts up here and here. Basically, it’s extensive and entertaining, and exactly what you’d expect from a simplified 4th Ed D&D character creator. You can look at the character menu / equipped inventory for Caitlin’s rogue here.
  • Guilds: While they “hope to support guilds in several ways,” they can’t talk about it yet.
  • Cheevos: They are working on an achievement system, but they can’t talk about it yet.
  • Large party content: Right now they have relatively small party sizes – the first two dungeons required parties of 5 – but when asked about large scale PvP with multi party or large party content, they were unable to
    comment.
  • PvP: PvP is in the works, but was not available yet even in the beta.
  • Servers: When asked about how many servers there were and where they were located, they couldn’t give us details, but answered with this: “At first we will have as many servers as needed to support our players. After that we hope to combine all servers into one so no matter what you can play with your friends.”
  • Dungeon Delves: As it stands in the beta, dungeons are available at certain times throughout the day. When one is available, you sign up either with your own party or solo, and you get grouped together into a party of 5.

Pay-To-Win

I didn’t want to ask about Pay-To-Win, the classic free-to-play MMO trap – how could they really answer that? Damned if they don’t have a great answer.

“No. It’s pretty straightforward – make an awesome game, people will become fans, people will want to invest.”

When asked, dev ‘Zinc’ had this to say:

Ugh – Pay to Win – blah. Listen, here’s Cryptic’s and PWE’s philosophy: You make a great game, you make enthusiasts. Enthusiasts become your fans, love the game, play the game, and evangelize your game. They’re also the folks that PAY in your game. The type of people who buy a $150 Gears of War collectors edition. The type that buys the Skyrim dragon statue. We’re trying to make Neverwinter into a game that will have tons of people who become fans and enthusiasts. That’s who invests in F2P games. You think, in the western market, you’re going to make tons of enthusiasts by being “Pay to Win”?

It’s the right answer; let’s just see how well this belief holds up once the game launches and the devs need their paychecks. Other information on their monetization plan is covered lightly in a recent interview; otherwise, the devs in-game were unable to comment.

Relation to Previous Games

Neverwinter is set in the Forgotten Realms, because they’re “a very popular setting. We felt it was just the right setting to go with for the fans.” While previous games did affect Neverwinter’s design, it couldn’t be an MMO without tossing and modifying many features: “We’ve changed quite a bit. The nature of the previous Neverwinter Nights games was a more turn based combat system. As in you queued powers more than an action game. We wanted to keep the User Generated parts of the most recent Neverwinter games but make an action MMo which required so much change that we could not use many of the old games systems.”

However, all the previous lore is being acknowledged and sometimes incorporated: “We hope to use memorable and identifiable characters from the books. But if we choose too many they will only be touched on. So we only have a few at the moment but plan on more content.” In general, staying true to their Neverwinter roots seems important: “We really love this setting and want fans to appreciate every reference we make.”

User Generated Content: The Foundry

This is why they put a fair amount of effort into the user generated content (UGC) system – The Foundry. “We wanted to hit all the right points. Players liked previous Neverwinter games for their UGC and we want to do that and make it more accessible.”

“The Foundry Lets Players Create quests, Modify Maps, Use maps we don’t use in game. If you have the imagination, you can do a lot in the foundry.” The extensive character creation system can be applied to NPCs in The Foundry, so you can “make them look and do nearly everything.” During the press event, there were Foundry quests available, but the Foundry Creator won’t be released until later (“in an upcoming Beta”).

With near-infinite content being created by users, one of the viewers on our stream wondered if Cryptic would ever stop supporting the game and let the players take over:

We plan on supporting this game heavily with new content constantly throughout the coming years… for every new model, creature, or power we put in that’s more tools for our players to use to make even more content. We will not stop supporting Neverwinter.

Open-world D&D vs Closed-world Neverwinter Games

One of the core appeals of D&D is being able to ignore the main quest and ditz around the world, doing whatever you want. Achieving the level of freedom granted by a playful DM is near impossible in a video game, so we asked how they were going to try to simulate the open-world exploration and adventure that you could get from D&D.

“We are still adding content to zones constantly… if a player wants to run off the beaten path, there’s no telling what they may find… Also, with the foundry, there is infinite beaten paths to wander from.”

D&D Ruleset

The core ruleset is 4th edition D&D, which won’t really be affected by D&D Next (the new ruleset for D&D to be released soon): “We are using Fourth Editions setting and several of its names but the mechanics are more geared towards an action game so new editions should not affect us much at all.” This means that you have the three types of attack – at-will, encounter, and daily, like in 4th Ed – but unlike 4th Ed, encounter and daily powers aren’t recharged by rest. Encounter powers recharge based on time, and daily powers recharge based on a point system where each class gains these ‘action points’ differently (as a thief, my action points were accumulated by dealing damage, and as a Cleric, Stephen’s AP were accumulated whenever he cast a spell or used his left-click attack).

The way they’ve adapted ‘skills’ to an MMO setting is that there are a handful of skills that a character can have; we’ve seen Arcana, Dungeoneering, Nature, Thievery, and Religion. Throughout your adventures, you’ll find items that are effectively treasure chests that can only be opened if you have that skill, but there are items that will temporarily make you proficient in that skill.

Our Impressions

Stephen

I played a Devoted Cleric during the first Neverwinter beta. In my experience with Dungeons & Dragons editions 2, 3.0 and 3.5, I’ve found the class to be extremely capable and deep. With a cleric’s ability to wear heavy armor and use basic weapons, he is a capable fighter, and his spellcasting ability is matched only by the party’s wizard. Neverwinter’s Devoted Cleric did not disappoint.

Combat in Neverwinter is fast-paced. Skills are set up in a way that allows the player to flow from one group of enemies to the next easily, similar to Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance and other D&D-based dungeon crawlers. If health items are properly utilized, breaks are only required between zones and when a quest is completed. That’s not to say the game is easy. Powerful bosses, clever traps and enemies with special abilities will all challenge your ability to stay alive.

Neverwinter itself is a beautiful place. The city is large and vibrant, with villagers chattering away and vendors advertising their wares. Quest NPCs are fully voiced and animated. All of this lends itself to an experience in which the player feels like a part of the living world around them.

There are a couple minor problems with the game in its current form. Neverwinter Hold is big and exciting, but getting around is a pain. Players can purchase a mount at level 20 to improve move speed. That leaves levels 1-19 during which characters move at their base speed. Getting around can feel like a chore, especially when running around the city to talk to different quest NPCs.

The Foundry – the place for user-generated dungeons – was a wonderful idea. Taking from games like the Elder Scrolls series, it allows for almost infinite content, which gives players a huge pool of content to run. However, the rating system on Foundry content could use some work. Some dungeons that were rated to take 45 minutes, for example, took as little as five.

Playing the Control Wizard during the second beta weekend was an awkward experience. In D&D, wizards are treated as support casters. They don’t have a strong enough defense to stand on their own and typically need to be protected by a melee fighting class to get the most out of their spells. My wizard in Neverwinter felt the same way. He did enough damage to kill most smaller enemies in one rotation of my abilities, but as soon as a larger enemy got close, I was taking some very heavy damage. While this experience is true to the source material, I’m not sure it’s a good feeling to have in a video game.

What few problems I had with Neverwinter were minor. It’s important to remember that it is in beta right now, meaning that many things will change. Neverwinter is still a fantastic, fun game, and I’m thankful that Cryptic gave me a chance to play!

Caitlin

As I said above, I don’t generally give MMOs a second chance. I try, I get bored (or I see how much of an impulse control problem I’d have), and I leave. Neverwinter taps into the ‘addictive’ aspect, but it seems more reasonable (and  fun enough for me to risk it). I have a handful of inconsequential responses to various things (like unnecessary boob physics), but overall, I think this is a good game.

During the first weekend, I actually did get to do a dungeon with other players. It was fun enough, but I feel like they didn’t quite have the difficulty balance yet – but that’s likely incoming. Otherwise, the dungeon was fine. There are random events that occur, as well – the Easter Egg hunt event that happens every 5 or so hours, where you run around one area and try to find the Relics. The top players get the in-game real-money equivalent (not the standard currency, but the one you can pay for) and some XP.

For the first while, the game seemed slow, but tutorial sections often are; once I got my mount I was rocking. I would love more quick travel options, but I’m pretty sure that’s an earmark of the genre. I’m not terribly familiar with MMOs, so I’ll refer you to Stephen for those comparisons and analyses.

For the D&D aspect, I play 4th ed D&D every Thursday, and I spent a solid year DM-ing my own game (until the party self-destructed magnificently). I can totally see the 4th ed roots in the game system, but enough has changed to make it a little unintuitive. As I mentioned above, ‘encounter’ powers recharge differently, which is awkward. There are only a handful of skills, and those are pretty much only used for opening boxes that contain crafting materials (and they can be simulated by having the right item). Even small things, like calling certain types of monsters “minons” caused some confusion; in 4th ed, a “minion” is a monster that is a one-hit kill, where in-game they’re just low level. These discrepancies don’t really matter or affect gameplay, it just means that even knowing 4th ed doesn’t explain the whole game to you.

In particular, the Foundry fascinates me. The internet can be a super creative place (for good or ill), and I love seeing what people come up with when given free rein. That being said, I’d be intrigued to see what happens to it when monetization comes up. There are people who practically put themselves through university by modeling weapons for TF2; how cool would it be if you could make beer money by being a cunning storyteller/DM? That would require paying for Foundry content, though, and even as microtransactions I’d be wary. It’s an interesting thought, though.

Right now, Neverwinter is rough around the edges, and there are aspects that are mediocre at best (not really breaking any new territory for MMOs, with pretty railroaded quests and the frequent “go fetch a rock” sidequests). Even so, I look forward to the next open weekend and the eventual release, because this game is fun and I think it can only get better from here.