During PAX East this year, we found ourselves completely blown away by Cryptic’s Neverwinter. I don’t think I’m being a jerk when I say no one really expected the game to be something that had us all here at the site salivating for more. But it did. During the course of our interview at Boston’s game convention, we all turned to each other at one point and pretty much decided then and there that we would make it our Game of Show. Now E3 comes along and the well-kept secret that Cryptic’s next MMO is actually one of the best looking titles on the horizon is starting to be unleashed. Garrett, a few others, and myself sat down to play through a portion of one of the game’s many dungeon-delves. I personally picked up the Trickster Rogue, and enjoyed every stabbity-stabbing minute of the experience.
We were set into a dungeon experience (one of many that are instanced from the game’s larger open-world zones) that was intended for 5 people but tweaked for three especially for E3. One of us was a Guardian Fighter, another a Control Wizard, and me? I was a sexy dual-knife wielding badass who could blink in and out of existence and appear behind her foes so fast that they’d never see the serrated edge of my blade before it opened their throat and let their life leak out. For our demo, the focus wasn’t so much on the story, the community, or any of the other aspects that will be present in Neverwinter come launch. Much rather, as Andy Velasquez told us, the demo was about showing us game enthusiast types how fun and varied combat becomes in a group setting.
I watched as our Guardian actively used his shield, and tried valiantly to keep the attention on him, and I laughed out loud as our Wizard discovered with glee he was aiming every spell like he would in a shooter (I laughed even more when he realized how quickly Control Wizards can die in D&D without using their control spells). I was just as fragile though in a dungeon where the mobs are much tougher than in the over-world. And I swiftly learned that I needed make good use of my ability to teleport behind enemies to make use of the positional advantages that are denoted by little UI flashes on the circle surrounding the feet of your target. It’s a nice way to let a Rogue like me know that I can do far more damage from behind.
I was also pleased to discover that you can roll out of the way of incoming attacks (similar to how it works in Guild Wars 2) and this is pretty much a necessary part of combat when you’re a melee character because there will be tells from mobs when they’re about to unleash a devastating attack. If you don’t roll out of the way, chances are you’ll be kicked back, knocked down, or just plain destroyed. In one room, early on in our adventure, we tried to open a chest only to find out it was a trap that made saw blades come out of the ground and slice up our heroes. Then, almost immediately, a massive troll crashed through the wall behind the chest. Like any good PUG, my fellow adventurers left me to battle the massive guy by myself when they got scared and ran.
Believe it or not, using the Trickster Rogue’s speed and dexterity I was able to keep my distance from the troll and hurl ethereal daggers at him from afar, dodge his massive two-handed mace swings, and teleport behind him to stab him again and again. Over time, I wore him down and conquered my foe. It’s here that Andy reminded me that while Neverwinter does use a target system, the inherent action-orientation of the combat means that players who can play smartly and dodge their opponents’ attacks can often defeat foes intended for groups on their own. It’ll just take longer and suitably a lot more patience.
The last boss we faced, the werewolf head of this coven we’d been sent to track down, had more tricks up her sleeve than we could have anticipated. She called forth spectral packs of wolves, feared us, snared us, knocked us twenty feet through the air, and more. And it was all apparently a very early part of the game’s PVE content. Still, through whether sheer will, luck, or developer hand-holding we managed to wheedle her down to zero HP and defeat her. Here’s where we learned something cool about Neverwinter’s loot system when partied. She dropped something for everyone, stuff that no one but you can loot, and she also spawned a chest that we all had to roll on. Andy told us that the idea is for everyone to get something from their hard work in a dungeon, but they also want that traditional sense of “Oh, what’s in the chest?!” that has long been a hallmark of both D&D and MMORPGs.
Overall, this being the first time we really got some solid hands-on with Neverwinter, we came away more impressed than we were at PAX. There’s a lot left to learn about Cryptic’s next title, from the community aspects, to the Foundry content creation, character creation, crafting and so much more. But one can easily see that they’re onto something very special here. A long while back when Cryptic announced that it was working on Neverwinter, I remember strong debates as to why a studio whose previous two MMOs had been so underwhelming shouldn’t get this license. I remember thinking to myself however that if any IP fit Cryptic’s engine and tools perfectly it’s D&D. And that’s still the stance I’m taking. Neverwinter’s beta and late 2012 launch can’t come quickly enough. It’s now very high on Chris Walken’s list of “Do Wants” as well as my own.