Neverwinter has now been in open beta for about a week now with happy adventurers running around the city’s environs helping to rid the world of evil. Whether adventuring for gold or fame or that great mount only found in Nightmare Lockbox, the servers are packed with players in just about any location reached.
In this second installment of the Beta Diary, we’ll take a look at questing and combat and more esoteric subjective topics including aesthetics and the story.
There is no question that combat in Neverwinter is designed to feel powerful from the earliest steps in the game. My Guardian Fighter and my friend Shelassa’s Trickster Rogue were a powerful duo battling alongside one another. When I hit monsters with my shield, they knew they’d been hit. When Shelassa’s daggers came spinning out of her hand, bad guys were paralyzed until ultimately they died. Fighting our way to level 35 over the course of the weekend, we both found that combat was indeed one of the best aspects of Neverwinter.
I have to admit that it was refreshing to adventure through the game with a partner. My first beta diary article was completely based on my solo experience. Having now played the game in a party, I find that there’s no going back for me. Neverwinter can be soloed and many do. But the game shines at its best when fighting alongside others. As with most D&D games, whether computer or tabletop, Neverwinter character classes are meant to complement one another. When my Guardian was in front tanking, Shelassa’s Rogue stood back a bit, hurled daggers and then snuck up behind the enemy for a killing blow DPS-style. It is a combat mechanic that suited us very well.
Each class has a wide variety of skills to utilize that encompass area of effect skills, ranged skills and even small healing skills. It was lucky that my Guardian Fighter had shield blocking that allowed for small health gains. At level twelve, I was also relieved to get my cleric companion.
In some ways, Neverwinter characters seem, dare I say it, overpowered. Every single new zone we entered warned us that monsters were “significantly higher in level” and that we should beware. Yet even hearing that, we had no issues at all progressing through zones with monsters three to five levels higher than our characters. It’s not a bad thing, exactly, though all of the gear that drops is three to five levels higher and has to be carried around until it can be worn. Talk about bag overstuff.
Oh, and while I’m thinking about it: Raise your hand if those demons in Helm’s Hold outside the bar respawned waaaaay too fast! We’d be in the midst of a mob, finally finish them off and would be running around picking up the drops when BAM! The entire group respawned practically on our heads! After three or four times of that happening, we just ditched the stuff and moved on.
I have to be very candid here and say how disappointed I am by questing overall. Shelassa and I spent a long while talking about the subject and both of us agreed that we have little or no interest in giving the quests more than a cursory glance. The disinterest even extends, we felt, to exploring transmedia content including the three novels written to support the Neverwinter storyline. This is a fact that saddened both of us as ardent fans of WoW novels, for instance.
We even tended to ignore voiced quests as only so much background noise. Don’t get me wrong: The storyline is well-written from the pieces I’ve read of it here and there. But, for the most part, I found myself hitting the orange dialog option to just get a move on. If it wasn’t me talking, I’d say that I missed cinematic quests.
In fact, that’s largely what Neverwinter exemplifies: Moving on through the story. It can succinctly be described as “on rails”. Here’s the progression:
Before anyone starts screeching about the Foundry and how it breaks the typical MMO quest hub grind, I know. There are a ton of Foundry quests that can change the way Neverwinter is played. However, for the most part, Foundry quests are jarring departures from the main storyline. As time goes on, and as the building community perfects the routines of the toolset, the quality and cohesion of the Foundry quests is bound to improve. There’s no question that I will revisit that aspect of Neverwinter more in the future.
However, back to Cryptic's questing:
Questing in Neverwinter falls on the “kill 10 rats” / FedEx side of the MMO fence. There’s little reason to veer off the shining path except to find hidden caches of potions, enchantments, and money. I suppose that the game would feel much less linear if I turned off pathing but, then again maybe not. The quests and the lack of exploration will remain the same even if the sparkles are gone.
Oddly enough, quests in a party with like-leveled characters are not 'shareable' at times. For instance, Shelassa found a quest in a zone in which we were playing. She tried to share it and was unable to do so. This happened several times. I realize that there are quests that are class-specific but partied players should at least be able to obtain the quest, or simply see it, in order to tag along, if not to benefit.
One common bug that we ran into as well, was the necessity to break up the party in order to complete a quest. Obviously being open beta, bugs are to be expected. Still, this happened more than once on main story quest lines and is something Cryptic needs to address ASAP.
But it’s not all gloom and doom in questing: Shelassa rightly pointed out to me that it’s nice to actually play an MMO where the vast majority of experience is gained via questing rather than grinding out monster kills. Experience gains are big and it’s worth taking every given quest that is offered. The rewards aren’t bad either.
The bottom line is that Neverwinter is a “pick-up MMO” as I saw Bill post on a social networking site. It’s a lot of fun to play in short bursts when you have time. Longer adventures aren’t bad either, though the repetitive nature of the overall quest archetype can get tiresome after a couple hours. If anything, Neverwinter's quest system feels much more akin to an action-RPG than to an MMO. This isn't a bad thing, for the most part, and Cryptic never said that Neverwinter was a true MMO. Still, the expectation is there. But I’ll have more to say on this particular topic in my final review in the coming of weeks.
Questing does have one enormous benefit in that it allows players to drink in the beautiful environments of the game. Cryptic has created a lush, vibrant, spectacular world for players to move through. The overall picture is gorgeous but where Neverwinter really goes head and shoulders above the rest is in the small details. Take a few minutes the next time you’re in a burning house and look at the level of intricate detail that the developers used when creating that one small space. Multiply that across the entire game world and you’ve got a good idea of just how aesthetically pleasing Neverwinter is for players.
If you haven't taken the time to look up at the sky, do. It's worth it. Spend time enjoying the beauty of the game world and find some of the breathtaking spots that we did and post a screen in the comments.
I could go on and on but need to save something for next week’s third beta diary. We’ll be taking a look at the item shops, crafting, and more. Be sure to keep an eye on the site for that. What about you? What do you think of questing and combat? Do you find the world to be a beautifully rendered game space? Let us know what you think in the comments.
Suzie Ford is the Associate Editor and News Manager at MMORPG.com. You can follow her on Twitter @MMORPGMom.