Naughty dog is turning thirty this year. Very impressive considering their humble beginnings.
Neverwinter Beta Impressions: Once Again Into The Forgotten Realms
If there’s one thing I could say I got out of my time with Neverwinter so far, it has to be taking in the familiar sights, sounds, and lore that accompany every Dungeons & Dragons game. If I could, let me begin this with a quick story:
D&D And My Paladin’s Cursed Campaign:
(Skip this section if you just want to read the Neverwinter Beta Impressions)
I’m a novice D&D player, to be honest. I’ve played a low level Paladin and Cleric with my group of friends but unfortunately was never able to experience a full adventure. Still, what I did grasp from my time with the legendary tabletop game was that it made my imagination go wild and I loved every minute of it.
My Paladin was in a bad way. The initial story for him was that he was a young yet gifted warrior of faith that was given his own command perhaps too quickly. He spearheaded a demon hunting group and after countless months of breadcrumbs and false leads, my character finally came head to head with a champion of an unknown and powerful demon lord. My character took his Paladins in and they were defeated. My character fought to his last breath and before his strength gave out, he fell the champion. The demon lord came out and recognized the will and power of my character. He then decided to inhabit my Paladin as his host.
What happened after that was my self-imposed exile of the Paladin order as I searched for a way to cleanse my soul and renew my faith. Since in D&D a slighted Paladin does not have access to his full powerset and abilities, this was a risky origin for my character to take. This made me somewhat crippled but my plans for this character were just too great to let go.
To keep this short, basically the demon lord was too strong for my Paladin to hold back and with every passing section of our adventure, my character would get harder to work with and make rash decisions that unlike of a Paladin or man of faith. We eventually came across a quest that had us chasing a phasing castle controlled by a rookie wizard who came into possession of an extremely powerful artifact. Needless to say, the demon lord recognized the artifact and wanted it. I did everything I could, including putting my party at risk, to gain possession of the artifact. When my character grasped the artifact, all hell broke loose and we were transported into another dimension.
The results of our journey saw my Paladin rise to become a Death Knight and actually left the party to become one of the main villains of our campaign. Before the party could face the demon lord and end its corruption, they had to face me. My character met a gruesome death but not before I took out my rival party member who was played by a good friend of mine. At the end of the campaign, my friends victorious, I just sat there so pleased with how everything went.
My DM told me that the story I chose and the things he was able to do with it made for some of the most exciting moments he ever had in his 20+ years of playing D&D.
This was went I realized that D&D licensed entertainment materials aren’t just books, games, movies, or comics. They are gateways to our imagination and nothing has ever brought that out of me quite like Dungeons & Dragons.
That being said, I still enjoy World of Darkness more but that’s another story for another day! On with the Neverwinter Beta Impressions!
Neverwinter Beta Impressions
Thankfully these beta weekends are not under the NDA so I am able to fully disclose my adventures with you.
To put it really short for those of you who want an elevator pitch for Neverwinter: this is Dragon Age Online in a D&D setting.
What is Neverwinter exactly?
The game plays extremely similar to Dragon Age 2 in terms of combat but also incorporates aspects of TERA Online and many other various MMOs. There’s nothing in this game you haven’t seen in any other MMO but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Neverwinter, for a free-to-play (f2p) MMO, is a very polished game that knows what it is trying to accomplish. This game isn’t setting out to be an open world epic much like World of Warcraft, Star Wars The Old Republic, or most of the other games out there in this genre. Instead, Neverwinter is applying the classic and legendary Dungeons & Dragons experience to an online and persistent world.
The way this game flows and plays into the experiences you’d expect from a digitized D&D campaign really show the care and respect that Cryptic have put into Neverwinter. If you have previously played Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO) then you can pretty much expect a much more action packed and content rich version of that game.
Basically you’re given task and adventures to carry out in the Neverwinter region of the Forgotten Realms and you do so by entering solo, group, and open area instances while using city hubs to conduct your out-of-combat chores. There is a faux sense of open worldness that comes from Neverwinter and it helps add to the online immersion but this is not an open world game. To be quite honest though, it doesn’t need to be. If you try to view Neverwinter and play it like a World of Warcraft or a TERA Online then you may not understand that Cryptic is aiming for a pure D&D experience out of this online game.
D&D doesn’t work as an open world experience. The game (acting as a sort of DM) is tasked with stringing you along to adventures, risks, decisions, rewards, and other such nightmarish tribulations.
As such, you’ll be given tasks by NPCs and enter areas in which you’ll gather, kill, do some recon, and perform various tasks and find or be rewarded with gear, trinkets, lore bits, and other goodies. Once you have completed these tasks, the NPC will then tell you who you need to talk to next or where you need to go. The game will continuously keep you going from place to place, hub to hub, and adventure to adventure. You’ll level up along the way and find your character becoming more powerful and able which is good because there are plenty of dangers along the way that will test your skills in battle. Notice I said skills and not “gear checks”.
Character Creation, Classes, And Customization
As of right now with Weekend Beta event number 2 ongoing, we have access to 4 of the 5 classes and 7 of the 8 races. For my time with Weekend Beta #1 I played a Trickster Rouge and for this weekend I’ve been enjoying the Devoted Cleric. The other classes are Guardian Fighter, Control Wizard, and the still unplayable Great Weapon Fighter.
What I really enjoyed here was how close you actually get to fully creating a real D&D character during creation. You pick your race, sex, and then class. The classes are laid out for you with descriptions, example abilities, and a preview of some later game gear. After this you get your attribute roll which is automatically done for you but are allowed to reroll. The game will tell you what your primary attribute is due to your chosen class and then also tell you two other attributes which can be vital to your class.
You are then given a special modifier for these attributes followed by a great role-playing tool with two more decisions: character concept and an idol of faith you follow. Finally you choose your name and the adventure begins.
This all adds up to your initial condition when you enter Neverwinter. How high will your HP be? Will you be strong or agile? Is your mind capable or are you focusing on your cunning ability to talk your way to fame? All of these translate into attributes with Stregnth, Dexterity, Constitution, Wisdom, Intelligence, and Charisma. The game is very helpful in your character creation which can be a godsend if a player has zero experience with D&D.
You are given the choice of picking a stock body and face configuration but you also have the ability to really get in depth with how you’ll look with advanced options.
All-in-all, the character creation process really translates well to the actual D&D game which is great to see.
Story and Questing
While it would be impossible to give every character their own complete story and campaign, Crytpic gives you the tools to still attempt to do this and we’ll go over that in a later section. Neverwinter does have a campaign for itself and it begins with you shipwrecked on a shore after being attacked by a Dracolich on the sea (non-D&D players read: extremely dangerous and powerful undead dragon that can use dark magics). From here you find yourself defending a city that is under siege on a few different fronts.
This story continues with your character getting more and more fame around the city due to your ongoing efforts to help the crown and civilians. It’s not exactly riveting but it does its job in keeping you playing. You’ll either find yourself reading everything and getting into the campaign or skipping the dialog to rush headlong into combat. Either way, the constant flow of quests will keep you engaged in the game which is very helpful. There is little to no downtime at all in Neverwinter which is something that I am grateful for.
Questing takes you into open areas where other players can seen questing alongside you or in an instance where you can play by yourself or with a group.
You’ll find yourself exploring a city completely as you go from entering the gates to having an audience with some of the most influential people within the borders. The game does a great job at making you feel like your questing matters in terms of getting higher and higher in the importance factor. You’ll get the feeling that you and your fellow adventurers become a commodity to the region based off your questing, which is nice.
The thing is, though, it is easy to miss that feeling. Since the game throws you from quest to quest quickly, you’ll need to read the quest dialogue to really grasp the game’s main campaign story and what exactly you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and who sent you here. If you do that, you’ll see that your actions are really getting you somewhere with the people as you go from beggers and street rats to nobles and royalty.
This is the meat and potatoes, wouldn’t you say? Combat in an MMO means so much and when you look at the most common implemented styles like Tab Targeting and what games like DC Universe Online, TERA, and RaiderZ have been trying to do you get a sense that the genre is kind of shifting at the moment. There seems to be a focus on new combat styles to sort of bring their game to a forefront in conversations asking for fresh MMO experiences.
It is true that the genre is a bit stale and over saturated. MMO veterans can find it easy to get that “been there, done that” feeling and while it’s true that Neverwinter doesn’t exactly do much different from other games, it still manages to feel fun.
The whole premise here is what you feel like you’re in control of your character and that there is a sense that your skill as a player is very important. You can think of Neverwinter’s combat as a mix between TERA and DC Universe Online. I find that DCUO’s combat focused more on you being into the battles instead of TERA’s combo infused and fast paced impact. Neverwinter’s combat feels faster than DCUO but you are more immersed in combat than TERA.
The skills and abilities you’ll unlock as you level up help the combat out a lot, as well. Most of us know that D&D has a wealth of melee, ranged, and magical abilities that characters can use in and out of battle and you’ll find most of them here in Neverwinter. Playing as the Devoted Cleric and using spells such as Lance of Faith and Searing Light feel awesome and there is a sense of impact as you use more powerful spells on enemies.
You’ll be employing a number of different abilities such as Encounter, At-Will, and Dailies. Each ability type varies in strength and effect. Daily abilities are some of the coolest things about Neverwinter. Each class obtains different Daily abilities and you can only use them once you fill up your D20 gauge. For a Devoted Cleric you fill that gauge up by healing and dealing damage. One of my Daily abilities called on a Guardian of Faith to smash enemies to the ground dealing large amounts of damage and applying a stun. The Trickster Rogue is able to use Bloodbath which has the character fade in and out of the shadows to attack every enemy in the area or a singular enemy multiple times. It looks awesome and deals amazing damage.
You’ll quickly realize that your abilities work best in a chain reaction. If you have a party member debuff an enemy’s defense and then perform Bloodbath on them, you’re going to obliterate them. Even the Cleric’s healing abilities work best in a group, especially with Astral Seal. That ability puts seal on an enemy and any ally that attacks that foe will be healed. The stronger the attack, the more Astral Seal will heal you for. It’s group mechanics like this that really bring out that tabletop comradery players enjoy about D&D and similar games.
Just to strike more upon the skill vs. gear aspect of Neverwinter: you’ll need to be get good with your dodging quickly. Each class has a way of resisting attacks or getting out of the way and if you don’t employ this you’ll find yourself in a tight situation quickly. Many enemies will warn you of an incoming power attack thanks to red circular wells on the ground. If you’re out of the area, you’re good. If not, brace yourself or dodge the attack. This is where skill is a big focus.
Other than that, however, the game remains largely a level-based game. As you’re strung from quest to quest you’ll find the enemies and yourself raise in level, gear quality, and power. No time during my adventures did I feel like I had a grind ahead of me. I felt on par with most content and if not, it didn’t take me long to get there.
Neverwinter, out of all MMOs, has the best chance at staying relevant and having a long lifetime. This is mainly because of the Foundry. Based off of the old campaign system used in past D&D games, players are able to create their own custom storylines and adventures and then share them out. You’ll find bulletin boards, harper NPCs, and even be reminded upon log in of popular or nearby Foundry campaigns that you can depart on.
Cryptic does a good job at notifying you that if you play any Foundry campaigns that you are doing so of your own free will and that none of the content is regulated by the dev team until a complaint comes through about a player submission.
I played a couple Foundry submissions and found most of the content to be sub par while going through some exceptional adventures. This is largely due to how good players are at crafting an adventure, leading the characters in a fun and exciting trip, and shoving some events in there that capitalize on moments and leave the party remembering the time they had in your campaign as memorable and enjoyable. This isn’t going to happen with every Foundry submission but I’d be damned if you don’t find a few gems. Neverwinter Nights and the player-made campaigns back in the day were a huge reason why I played those games for so long.
This is an amazing feature to see implemented in an MMO. The fact that a ton of the game’s content can be player generate means a lot for the future of this genre. This is a revolutionary feature that was started by City of Heroes/Villains and is now championed by Neverwinter. This has the potential to give players some of the most memorable moments in an MMO due in part to the kind of imagination D&D brings out in players. I’m hoping some veteran DMs adopt this game if only to grace the Foundry with their creations.
After spending this time in Neverwinter, I feel that the game is going to be a great addition to the f2p lineup this genre has accumulated. This time in MMOs makes it very easy for new players to jump in and play some high-quality games without risk.
Neverwinter does a lot right for the D&D crowd but isn’t exclusive to them. This is a game easy to get into even if you’ve never looked at the tabletop game or ever wanted to play it. The game features the kind of high fantasy, lore infused world and features that many MMO players seek. It also has the kind of free-form and semi skill-based combat to keep players into the experience and feeling confident and powerful.
I had a lot of fun playing through these beta weekends and I actually feel strong about buying one of the Founder packs. I could see myself spending a good amount of time in Neverwinter and while half of that comes from my D&D experiences, the other half is purely because I found myself having fun and never once feeling bored or bothered by content.
This isn’t your typical fantasy MMO. Neverwinter blends a lot of experiences together and melds together almost perfectly with the rich environments, characterization, and experiences you’d expect from a Dungeons & Dragons title.
I highly recommend trying your hand at getting a beta key (Alienware seems to be the best bet as of this writing). I know that I’ll be playing at launch and if my experiences continue with this same positive feeling, I may be playing it for quite a long time.
I hope you enjoyed our Neverwinter Beta Impressions and hopefully you’ll be able to jump in yourself and see if my experiences translate into your own. Enjoy your future travels in the Forgotten Realms.