This past weekend marked a significant step by Cryptic Studios and Perfect World Entertainment in the march towards the final retail release of Neverwinter. With the first beta weekend kicking off for thousands of new players and without the pesky embargo that many events of this nature utilize, the veil is finally being lifted on one of the industry’s most closely guarded games.
As with any game that has hit the stage after so many months and, indeed, years of waiting, many questions in the minds of players were answered and many more were raised. Today we’ll take a look at some of the pros and cons that came out of the beta weekend as well as some of the questions that were raised at the same time.
Five Classes: That’s It?
For good or ill, many of the Neverwinter community’s biggest pre-beta questions were answered. We know, for instance, that the game will ‘ship’ with only five classes: The Greatsword Fighter, the Guardian Fighter, the Dedicated Cleric, the Trickster Rogue and the Control Wizard. Of course, each class will feature both male and female versions so, at least on one level, this seems to be a decent number of classes...that is, until you get a look at the Forgotten Realms Wiki and you see how many more classes there are and how widely varied they can be. What about the Avenger, Barbarian, Bard, Druid, Invoker, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Shaman, Sorcerer, Swordmage, Warden, Warlock and Warlord. Each of those would also potentially have specialized subclasses as well.
Cryptic has taken what is offered and made it something wildly fun. Combat is engaging and strategic. The animations and effects look terrific as well. It’s certainly a high point of the weekend. But even so saying, without some of the most beloved character classes missing, it rang a bit hollow.
As I wandered the streets of Neverwinter, I keenly felt the absence of the Ranger, generally my go-to class in all things D&D. Others taking part in the weekend also probably felt the absence of their favorite class as well. With three of the five being in the game, it felt very much ‘the same’ and only two more classes coming on release won’t make it feel much different. Because of this, new questions were raised including:
- What other classes will be forthcoming?
- How long will we have to wait to see new classes in the game?
With D&D’s long history with fans and players, Cryptic Studios is going to have to stay on the ball with regard to the questions above. There will be little tolerance for such limited classes with such rich and detailed lore behind the setting. The longer the delay before seeing new classes enter the game, the more likely players will be to leave.
Instanced But Not Confining...Much
Another question answered came in the form of how Neverwinter would feel. Both Bill and I mentioned in our articles last week that the city of Neverwinter felt quite small due in large part to the heavy use of instancing for gameplay. A few days and a lot of game hours later, both of us have revised our opinion somewhat. Neverwinter, while utilizing instancing for many quests, is not as small as Protector’s Enclave initially feels after only a few hours of game time. The city unfolds into other areas/zones/quest hubs with both open space quests and, as expected, interior/instanced quests. There are large group activities including things like pushing orcs away from the front lines and contests for as many players in an area who choose to take part (such as seeking relics during a timed event taking place during the live overland game).
Still, Neverwinter is only one city and that pie can only be cut into so many pieces before the whole thing collapses into a gooey mess. On the one hand, the question of the sheer size and mass of Neverwinter has been answered but new questions arise:
- How often will Cryptic add new zones and places throughout the Forgotten Realms environs that surround the city of Neverwinter?
- How much will builders be able to expand Neverwinter outside the gates of the city?
The hope is, of course, that both developers and builders will be able to have relatively free reign within the confines of the map of the Forgotten Realms itself. Just looking at the world map on character creation while choosing a character’s background shows a large, rich variety of locations that are begging to be added. Only time will tell.
The companion classes are a lot of fun in Neverwinter and collecting them and customizing them to be useful will be something that keeps micromanaging types happily occupied for a long while. For my Guardian Fighter, the Cleric companion was a must while I was traveling the city on my own. She saved me many times though the AI was baffling at others. We’d be standing right beside one another in the thick of battle and....nothing. My poor fighter was squeaking for help and none was forthcoming. My character's other pet, a wolf, was always and literally underfoot. It was a bit disconcerting to be wandering around looking like my fighter was wearing wolf shaped pants and boots. A few steps back or to the side would be welcome. Cryptic clearly needs to polish companion AI a lot. I hope they will.
Still, companions are nice to have around with the caveat “while I’m on my own”. I was much less enamored of the companions in group battle as it made the scene crowded and sometimes difficult to get one’s enemies targeted. Granted, companions can be dismissed but many people won’t bother, making grouping, particularly in underground and much narrower confines, feel claustrophobic.
One way to address this would be for Cryptic to answer the following:
- Are there plans to make companions automatically be dismissed on grouping with another player?
- Will improvements to companion AI to make them more useful and less obtrusive? Cryptic could take a page out of Bioware’s playbook with its excellent companion AI in Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Last, But Not Least: Stability
One of the nagging issues that this weekend’s beta revealed was a fairly large and important one: Stability. Without a stable game, Cryptic will not be able to retain its players who will not put up with a game that constantly crashes, and rightly so. While many of the things mentioned above are important, none is more so than the game’s ability to keep its players online and in game. If they are constantly being thrown out, or if the voice chat feature is not working as it should, it will cost them in the long run. To my way of thinking, this is Priority One. The dev team could make a lot of Brownie points by talking about questions like:
- What were the major causes of player disconnects and lack of stability?
- How do you plan to address those?
- What about voice chat?
Off to a Good Start
There is no question that Cryptic Studios has something fun and engaging for players to take part in with Neverwinter but it’s only a start. How they handle the addition of new content, the ever-important endgame, the release of new character classes and the stability of the game will make or break Neverwinter in the end.
What about you? What questions were answered in your time in Neverwinter? What questions were raised? Let us know in the comments.
Read more of our Neverwinter beta coverage: