Open Beta Diary #1
Cryptic Studios and Perfect World Entertainment have officially initiated the “soft launch” of the free-to-play Neverwinter. Founders began flocking into the game on April 25th with more joining on April 27th and the doors will swing all the way open on April 30th. While technically the game is not in full retail release, there will be no more character wipes and few major changes will occur between now and the technicality of reaching final phase. Because of this, we are beginning our series of Review in Progress articles that will ultimately culminate in the final review in about a month and will be updated as needed after the game has reached its complete retail stage of development
In today’s article, we’ll talk a bit about the earliest stages of the game and the things that are great, things that are ‘meh’, and things that we will wait and see about.
There are many things that could be listed in this category when one initially enters Neverwinter. Most notably, character creation is really spectacular. Not only are there plenty of races from which to choose, but there are tons of ways to customize characters to give them the exact look, feel and background.
Players begin character customization by choosing a race. Available options include Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, Half-Orcs, Half-Elves, Wood Elf and Tiefling. Interestingly there is still a spot open for a “coming soon” race with no indication what it will be.
From there, players choose their class from among Guardian Fighter, Trickster Rogue, Great Weapon Fighter, Control Wizard or Devoted Cleric. Of course, each class comes in male and female versions.
All of the above is pretty standard stuff for MMOs these days but where Neverwinter really shines is in the vast number of options for customizing a character’s look. While the faces and hairstyles initially sort of fall into the “meh” category, simply clicking customize opens up such wide ranging choices as finger length, body size, whether or not boots have heels and much, much more. Finding just the right look can take players a good long while, something that D&D players are well familiar with and will appreciate.
But character customization doesn’t simply end with the look. It continues with players giving their characters a basic background that allows them to choose a city or zone of origin, a god to follow and a basic archetype for who they are. For instance, my Menzoberranzan Drow Great Weapon Fighter is a follower of Tempus and comes from the Northdark. Those are her basic facts but Cryptic has given players the ability to customize their character’s story by writing background information that can be accessed by other players examining the character sheet. I have yet to write Kalia Silvermane’s story but she will undoubtedly be an incurably curious individual with too heroic a heart to remain in Drow society.
Once all this has been done, players get to enter the game where some of the other ‘great’ features can be found.
More casual players will really appreciate the sparkly quest guidance system. Players not caring to use it don’t have to as it’s a toggle-able UI feature. It does come in handy, however, when lost running around a city the size of Neverwinter. It saves repeated opening of the world map to find out where to go.
Speaking of the UI, Cryptic has made it so that players can completely rearrange the HUD to feature the windows they truly want to see and to give the flexibility to move those windows anywhere on the screen that is comfortable. It reminded me in very favorable ways of the Star Wars: The Old Republic HUD customization system. It’s well worth the time to customize things to fit your play style and to make the game utilitarian for individual players.
The sounds of Neverwinter are simply terrific. Whether it’s the music for the Jewel of the North herself or the ambient sounds of thousands of the city’s inhabitants going about their daily business, the sound palette in Neverwinter hits just the right spot. Granted, spending a lot of time in the city can make you a bit sick of the music as it repeats its loop but, again, that can be toggled in the options menu.
Additionally, the sounds and the look of battle skills are top notch. When my Great Weapon Fighter pounds the ground with her greatsword, it truly pounds the ground, with earth flying, cracks appearing, a huge accompanying BOOM and enemies falling back from the impact. Spell skills look great too.
So if all of this is so right, what could possibly be ‘meh’ about Neverwinter?
After going on and on about character customization, you would think that there was nothing bad that could be said about it. On one level, that’s true. On another, not so much.
Neverwinter’s customization is great but the way that character models turn out is still pretty generic even with all that work and effort into making them just so. Walking around the city of Neverwinter, however, players will run into more characters than they care to who look pretty much exactly like theirs. Part of the reason for this is due to the fact that the base models for each race are all virtually the same. There’s little real difference between a dark-skinned Drow and a pale-skinned Human, at least on the initial phase of creation. Even customizing down to the “nth” degree doesn’t yield a huge difference once in the game world. Given how much choice we have, it’s rather depressing once in the game world.
Character models are also a bit cartoonish. “Realism” in terms of what characters appear like is lacking. It’s not bad per se, just not “HOLY COW” if you know what I mean. Sadly, there is probably little that can ever be done about this particular feature given that it’s the overall look of the game itself. It’s not a game-ender, just kind of a wistful thought that passes through your mind as you wander Faerun.
Some of the character animations are kind of strange as well. Jumping, for instance, looks very odd but, hey. At least we can jump so I guess I'm grateful for small favors.
Voice acting and cutscenes are also places that, at least at this early stage, fall into the “meh” category. Some of the voice overs are just plain bad and some are way over the top. Again, this can be turned off via options and subtitles turned on but I wouldn’t recommend it. Not all is bad, just some here and there.
As far as cutscenes go, why is it that sometimes character mouths move with their dialog and sometimes they don’t? It’s my hope that this is something that Cryptic will address down the road to make it consistent one way or the other.
Wait and See
There are two things that immediately spring to mind in the wait and see category: The Foundry and additions to the game.
The Foundry quests that I tried out in the first ten levels of my character’s life were not bad. The only jarring thing is that they do not have to fit the overall lore of the game or of the city itself. Granted, most do, but not all. Some were also not done terribly well and were pathetically short. But that’s forgiveable and something that is really worth ‘waiting to see’. As builders become more familiar with the tools and begin to understand what the tools are capable of providing, the quality of Foundry quests will improve vastly. Adding a few tens of thousands of other players and potential builders won’t hurt either.
Most of us will also be watching Cryptic very closely to see how soon and how often the game is updated with new content. I want my damned Ranger. GRR! But that aside, Neverwinter is a game that locusts will burn through in no time and it will be incumbent on Cryptic to push out new content and add new races/classes/features to keep players interested.
So far Neverwinter has not disappointed me at all. While there are little things that niggle at the back of my mind, nothing is game-ending or earth-shatteringly horrid as to spoil an otherwise terrific time in the game. From the crowds inhabiting the common areas of the game, I’m not alone in that assessment. Be sure to tune in next week for the second installment of our Neverwinter Review in Progress.
What about you? Have you been playing Neverwinter? Let us know in the comments!
Suzie Ford is the Associate Editor and News Manager at MMORPG.com. You can follow her on Twitter @MMORPGMom.