The Ranger We've Been Waiting For
The cat has been let out of the proverbial bag and many are already aware of Cryptic's announcement yesterday that the Ranger class is finally going to make its appearance in Neverwinter with the release of Chapter 2: Shadowmantle. Shadowmantle is likely to hit live service before the end of the year and it's almost a sure bet that the server will be packed to the rafters with Rangers.
We had the chance to check out the Ranger and the new Dread Ring zone on a special developer tour led by none other than Andy Velasquez himself. Rather than a scripted walk through the new content, we chatted and, admittedly, nerd-talked about our favorite Forgotten Realms stuff like this guy:
But all that silliness aside, the new content coming with Chapter 2 is looking really good and, most importantly, it's going to be 100% free to all players: New zone and the Ranger class. It's got the makings of an epic Neverwinter-style Christmas.
Ranged Combat and Up-Close Stabbity Stabbity
The Neverwinter team, according to Andy, has been working very closely with Wizards of the Coast to make sure that the new Ranger class fits with the existing lore and is a good fit with the other classes already in Neverwinter. What makes the class so fun, and largely why it was so missed by WotC and DnD fans, is that it is a class with much more attack flexibility than any of the others so far in the game.
From Forgotten Realms Wikia:
All rangers are proficient to some degree in lighter armors and most military-grade weapons and many, but not all, also have some skill in the use of shields. Generally, rangers prefer to be lightly protected, as it allows them more agility and use of their reflexes then heavier armor makes possible. All rangers are skilled in archery and dual weapon melee combat, most often choosing to emphasize one or the other. Rangers who emphasize either style often become members of traditions that further specialize them, such as the High Forest scout or the Impilturan Demonslayers. Rangers of either type are nonetheless skilled in the other style, even though it is to a lesser degree, and all rangers are excellent archers and ambushers.
It's important to note that there are a ton of variations on the Ranger class, including Drizzt-type Beastmaster Rangers. While Andy didn't rule Beastmasters out, they are not included in the first iteration in Neverwinter.
Rangers will have access to bows and the ability to dual-wield daggers, each type of weapon with its own set of skills. Switching between ranged and melee combat is as close as a Tab key away. Watching Andy take on the high level critters in the Dread Ring area was pure pleasure for someone who felt abandoned when Rangers didn't ship with the game.
Because of the ability to switch between distance and close combat, players will have a fine level of control. Andy, in fact, said that Rangers are an "expert level class" from the standpoint of the huge amount of finesse that can be accessed.
Probably the most amazing thing about the ability of Rangers to switch between ranged and melee is that skills do not share cool down. When Andy was playing, he would start combat with a ranged attack and, as monsters neared, he would switch to melee. All skills were active on the switch. Utilizing the Marauder's Escape skill would send him back a short distance but could be utilized again if needed to gain distance, switch skills back to ranged. As monsters closed the distance again, he switched back to melee and BOOM! No cool downs. It's like an endless chain of active skills without the nail-biting wait for skills to reactivate.
Interestingly, the Ranger is the first class that will experience a "more significant aesthetic armor progression". Cryptic is keenly aware of the fact that many fans have been disappointed in the armor models over the life of a character and is looking to make some big improvements in that, starting with the Ranger. At this point, it is Ranger only but Andy hinted that it's very possible this will be retroactively extended to already-released characters.
The Cryptic team is also looking for input from players once the class and the new content arrives on the test server. Andy mentioned a regular Monday morning meeting where the community team discusses player concerns and suggestions. He also indicated that, while not always posting, the team makes regular visits to the forums and other Neverwinter communities around the 'Net to look for what players are speaking about. To this end, he asked that players post about Rangers, about what they'd like or not like, and then, when the content hits the test server, to jump on and offer constructive criticism about how to make it much better. In a word, Andy said, "Participate!"
Andy, who said he was by no means a master of the Ranger, played the class skillfully but it's easy to see that the incredible fluidity between skill shifts will take time to master but will be well-worth the wait. I loved what I saw and am very much looking forward to taking the Ranger for a test drive soon.
Artifacts, The Dread Ring and Taking On Valindra Herself
The Dread Ring is really an amazing looking area that centers around the excavation of the skeleton of the dracolich Lorragauth. Valindra herself is in charge of the excavation and tasked with restoring the Dread Ring to bring him back. When Cryptic says "big dragon", they aren't mincing any words. The skeleton of Lorragauth is the zone and it is the task of heroes to stop Valindra from completing her task. According to Andy, it's the first time that players will have the opportunity to square off against her directly.
Old time DnD players will be familiar with the main foes of the region: The Red Wizards of Thay who specialize in Illusion, Conjuration and Evocation. Combating these formidable foes will take skill and patience.
As the Dread Ring is an excavation, players will find their first opportunities to collect artifacts. Artifacts are a new feature in Neverwinter, one that has the team excited. Each artifact has both primary and secondary bonuses that can be improved over time and can gain levels. Three artifacts can be slotted, though only one will give both primary and secondary buffs. The "inactive" artifacts, however, will still give the player the secondary enhancements.
Artifacts, then, are well worth collecting, another feature that will come with Chapter 2. Players will be able to select a new interface to see how their collections are going. From companions to epic equipment to artifacts, players will have the ability to see all that has been found so far. In addition, some really terrific filters can be applied to, for instance, see how many artifacts within a given zone have been found, etc. And that epic equipment set? Once all of the pieces are found, players can expect some nice buffs to go along with the achievement.
Lastly, all classes will have a new Paragon Path to delve into, made easy by a one-time respec token for all players and characters once Chapter 2 goes live. Andy and the team gave this example:
The Control Wizard has only one Paragon Path in the game right now, Spellstorm Mage. This path gives the Control Wizard lightning-based powers and feats, in addition to his existing cold and arcane powers.
The Control Wizard’s new Paragon Path will be the Master of Flame. This path will open up fire-based powers and feats, in addition to his existing cold and arcane powers.
All in all, the Ranger and the new features and systems that are being put into place make Chapter 2: Shadowmantle a beefy and interesting content expansion for Neverwinter. Will you be playing the Ranger? Collecting artifacts? Exploring new Paragon Paths for your existing characters? 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.