I’ve been excited to get my hands on Neverwinter as far back as last year’s PAX East, where Bill and I had the chance to check out the game for the first time. Our demo was only eyes-on at the time and as it would turn out, I didn’t end up getting my first hands-on time with the game until this past weekend’s beta event. Did the game live up to my excitement? Well, yes and no. We’re going to break down a couple of the highs and lows in this week’s The List.
If there’s one thing that Cryptic Studios has always done well, it’s combat. Go as far back as City of Heroes or even as recently as Star Trek Online. Cryptic Studios knows how to do active combat with fun, flashy visual effects and Neverwinter is no different in this regard. Neverwinter’s combat takes things a step further for Cryptic with free form targeting similar to TERA; though not everything is perfect (we’ll get into that a bit later). Still, the visceral feeling of smashing your shield into an enemy’s face or lunging across the room, striking and knocking them away, is incredibly satisfying.
This is what really set Neverwinter apart from its peers when I first saw the game last year. While I didn’t get to play with Cryptic’s latest MMO user content creation suite, I did get to experience some of the creations other players in the beta have put together and I came away impressed. Sure, not everything was top notch, but the ability for players to put together incredibly elaborate story arcs with interesting mission design was certainly there. If anything gives Neverwinter legs, it’s most definitely going to be the Foundry.
Interactivity and Exploration
Much like the other D&D MMO on the market, DDO, Neverwinter features tons of exploration, traps, and other interactivity within its missions. I ran into everything from spiked floor traps to treasure chests guarded by poisonous gas, to secret treasures hidden behind innocuous looking bookshelves in my adventures so far and I’m excited to see what else there is to discover.
Yep! Neverwinter’s combat falls into both the best and worst of my experiences this past weekend. Like TERA, most of your combat animations in Neverwinter will root you in place and this can be frustrating when you’ve taunted a group of enemies and a boss starts winding up for a big attack during the animation. Needless to say, I’ve taken quite a few hits I probably would have been able to block if I weren’t otherwise stuck in an animation lock.
Combat, at least early on, also felt undertuned. I played a Guardian Fighter alongside a Trickster Rogue friend for the entirety of my adventures this past weekend and I honestly felt pretty useless. My hardiness and ability to control aggro never felt necessary. My friend could just destroy everything in sight, making the added utility of my skillset mostly superfluous.
Haven’t I Seen This Before?
One thing I’ve noticed with Cryptic Studios’ games since the launch of Champions Online is that they all feel a bit, well, similar. Neverwinter unfortunately doesn’t escape this feeling, either. I just couldn’t help but feel like the pieces of armor on my character looked more like fantastical costume pieces I’ve seen in Champions Online than actual pieces of armor. It was often hard to get sucked into the game because I felt I was basically playing a fantasy version of Champions Online in some ways.
The combat is different, but similar, the environments are the same way, and even many of the UI elements and design are shared. For those of you with little or no experience with Cryptic’s past games, you probably won’t notice, but for me, I felt a real sense of déjà vu while playing Neverwinter.
Neverwinter will launch with five classes, three of which were available during the beta event. I don’t feel this is enough and my experience playing the game reinforced this. At best, Cryptic hopes to hit the core RPG archetypes needed for a trinity type of game to function on a basic level at launch. You have your tank, melee fighter, mage, rogue, and healer, but not much diversity beyond that right now. The game is even missing one of D&D’s most iconic classes, the Ranger!
Looking through the available progression trees and abilities – I can’t say I was impressed with the options to customize your character, either. Sure, you can dump points into a number of talents and statistics, but you’ve only got a couple of abilities to work with at any given moment and many of the abilities you acquire throughout your progression are simply rank-ups of existing abilities. Who knows? Maybe these are placeholders.
It’s true that many MMORPGs work this way, but most of them don’t come from developers who are primarily known for their freedom of customization and expression in their games. Neverwinter just feels incredibly constricted by comparison. I almost feel like I have a better chance of creating my ideal D&D character by jumping into Champions Online than I would in Neverwinter as it stands right now.
What were the best and worst aspects of your experience with the first Neverwinter beta event?