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Neverwinter open beta – first impressions

 
Neverwinter logo
Neverwinter logo
Neverwinter logo

 
At a Glance...
 

Formats: PC
 
Genre:
 
Year:
 
Publisher:
 
Developer:
 

We liked?


  • The Foundry tool means that players will always have new content to explore, and are encouraged to create some themselves
  • Ability to check on crafting progress and issue new instructions even outside of the game via browser or phone
  • Surprising level of detail allowed in character creating to really personalise your character...

Not so much?


  • ... unfortunately not matched by personalisation options thereafter, resulting in stock builds with generic gear
  • A sense of imbalanced classes, and lack of some roles to choose from
  • Still in beta - some features are missing, some faults are present, and must be expected while playing at this stage


Final Fiendish Findings?

The fact that Neverwinter is still in beta is not in question – the game is definitely playable and surprisingly good fun despite the current sense of being incomplete, but it cannot escape that feeling of incompleteness. Some aspects of the game encourage players to invest more personally into the title – the very detailed appearance editor, and the Forge content creator as two examples – but the inability to customise your character beyond the stat changes of equipment or selection from a small pool of skills feels at odds with that. There is a great deal of promise for the game that may result from the beta though, and knowing there will always be new content should help the game retain the interest of players for longer.

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Posted May 4, 2013 by

 
Full Fiendish Findings...
 
 

Dungeons & Dragons: Neverwinter has had what can be considered a troubled development process. Changing both publisher (from Atari to Perfect World Entertainment) and approach (originally planned as co-operative multiplayer title and becoming a full MMO), development persisted resulting in the release of the open beta last week. And the results are… mixed.

Becoming who you were meant to be…

Let’s start with the basics – the game is an MMORPG, based on the 4th Edition rules of Dungeons & Dragons. If D&D + MMO makes you think of Turbine’s Dungeons & Dragons Online, think again – between the change in rulesets and general differences in approach, the games are as different as chalk and cheese.

Character creation gives you the choice of eight races – with an unselectable box promising another “coming soon” – and five classes – similarly with a sixth unselectable one. These all come with a variety of fixed skills, and set the path you’ll follow through the game. You then get to customise the character’s appearance to a surprising level of depth – not just the generic “select hairstyle and colour”, but even able to set how high a character’s eyes are, or the size of their nostrils, or the length of their hands…

Neverwinter character creation

Character customisation – how thick do you want your hands to be?

Which is perhaps an ironic degree of personalisation when the character progression is quite fixed. Equipment is fixed per class, so Great Weapon Fighters will always use great swords, while the Guardian Fighter will always use a long sword and shield; and while both being fighters, armour is not interchangeable either – a majority of equipment in the game is either for your class, or not. As if this wasn’t enough, the cosmetic difference between different armour sets for any class is minimal – a level 1 character in beginner’s gear looks very much like the same character in a decent set several levels later. There is a basic cosmetic system, although currently only allowing pre-set cosmetic outfits. Hopefully these are things that will change during/after the beta stage.

Similarly, skills are set to a small pool – each class having a few from the categories of “at will” (usually general attacks), “encounter” (special skills working on cool downs) and “daily” (slightly misleading due to using the pen-and-paper term – in-game these are more like charged special skills, causing large effects but needing a central meter to fill up first).

Not all classes are built equally – having tried three of the five classes, the glass-cannon of a Control Mage tended to destroy teams that the Great Weapon Fighter would need time to hack away at while being damaged in the process; and the Devoted Cleric has several tricks that cause healing while fighting for greater longevity. Indeed, the fighter seemed to have a harder time generally; being strictly melee based, combat is always putting them in harm’s way. And perhaps surprisingly, there are no ranged combat classes – although as both the Mage and Cleric fired spells as basic attacks, perhaps they fill the role of rangers?

Into the World

The story has the player in the ruins of post-Spellplague Neverwinter, defending the rebuilt areas from an advancing army of undead – yes, it’s the zombie apocalypse again – as well as fighting rebels, orcs and other creatures in the ruins and further into the wilderness.

The game mixes open-world PvE with instanced areas, leaving you seeing other players on a regular basis unless it is key to the story. The general storyline is promised to be soloable with an NPC companion, while additional dungeons and skirmishes are intended for groups of five players. The interface tries to simplify finding groups by allowing you to simply join a queue for content – although this can leave you waiting for several minutes (but it doesn’t stop you from continuing to grind out quests in the meantime).
Neverwinter in-game screenshot
The environments are on the whole quite attractive if straightforward to navigate – although exploration is encouraged with resource nodes, occasional chests and an in-game achievement for finding scrying stones in explorable areas. And while we’re mentioning appearances, combat looks good with all the flashes of spells and basic ragdolls of falling enemies; it does seems to emphasise the strange lack of animation enemies sometimes have the rest of the time though. Zombies shuffling is one thing; humans doing so as they approach is another. Even with the specs set for a high-end PC, enemies sometimes look as though they are roller-skating towards you.

Resource nodes are found in many of the dungeons, usually needing one of four gathering skills (defined according to your class) – for example a Mage has arcana, which allows things to be gathered from nodes of magical goods, while Clerics have religion which allows the same from shrines. However, the items come from a common pool – the selection received by using dungeoneering on a lantern is the same as the selection from the shrine.

Crafting uses five separate skills – four relating to different types of armour, and the fifth for leadership. The lack of crafting for weapons, potions or other consumables is surprising but – to repeat – this is still in beta, and so there is still uncertainty where this may lead later. The actual crafting process is handled in a similar manner to games like SWTOR – a separate team of weavers, miners et al are told to go on crafting missions, gathering materials or producing items, gathering XP in the process.

The biggest investment in crafting in ultimately time – some actions need a few minutes, others need several hours. However, this does not mean you need to relog the game every few hours thanks to the Neverwinter Gateway. From here, you can log in to check on crafting progress (or running auctions), collecting the results via your browser or phone and starting the next job. And as someone who looks at the crafting systems in games often before the settings or combat, the idea of keeping “playing” even when away from the game appeals to a great degree personally…

What about the money?

There are three forms of cash in Neverwinter: general coins (copper, silver and gold) are used to trade with NPCs – selling loot, buying items for crafting and the like; Astral Diamonds can be traded for some items directly, but are also used as the currency between players; and Zen is the real-cash currency, allowing players to buy premium pieces from the item shop.

As a free-to-play game, the presence of a real-cash shop isn’t surprising – although certainly with the first 15 levels there has been no feeling that anything there is more than a luxury (although reading conversations between longer-time players suggests there may be elements nearer the end game that feel more important). However, the game also allows players to buy and sell Zen among each other in exchange for Astral Diamonds – conversion rates are set by players, allowing people to turn real-cash into in-game spending power, and free players to access the store.

(And Astral Diamonds – received for finishing some daily-diary type quests as well as occasional random rewards – are indeed useful to have. As well as buying items, they are also used to finish crafting jobs quickly, to speed-train or rename companions, and so on.

As you might expect though, the amount of Diamonds gatherable in-game per day does not match the spending power of Zen.)
Neverwinter in-game screenshot

Saving the best for last

So far, the game has been described in terms of a promising-if-predicatable MMORPG, offering some fun and a few frustrations. However, it does have one extra trick which may well be thing that puts it on the map – The Foundry.

Upon reaching level 15, players have access to this part of the game unlocked. The Foundry is a module creation system, allowing everything from one-map arenas to multi-area questlines to be added to the game. These are then made available for other people to access, play, and review.

There is no denying that they can show the worst as well as the best of what designers want – numerous modules have been filled with scantily-clad women, while others are so focused on small areas grinding monsters that it raises the question of why play them instead of the main game. However, some also show degrees of imagination and design that could potentially match the game’s actual design team.

As means of presumably avoiding exploitation, rewards on completion are always randomised from standard loot; and monsters scale to the level of the character. However, this also means that Neverwinter has solved one the biggest problems suffered by MMOs – what do you do to keep players interested in the end-game? For as long as players are using the Foundry, the game will always have new content to explore, and even when reaching the lofty heights of level 60 there will be challenges ahead.

It may not be the first MMO to allow user-generated content – Ryzom has allowed player mods for several years now, for example – it will hopefully show what can be done when the community is not only able to add content, but is positively encouraged to.

In conclusion

The fact that Neverwinter is still in beta is not in question – while the game is definitely playable and surprisingly good fun despite the current sense of being incomplete, it cannot escape that feeling of incompleteness. Some aspects of the game encourage players to invest more personally into the title – the very detailed appearance editor, and the Foundry content creator as two examples – but the inability to customise your character beyond the stat changes of equipment or selection from a small pool of skills feels at odds with that.

There is a great deal of promise for the game that may result from the beta though, and knowing there will always be new content should help the game retain the interest of players for longer. And as a free-to-play title, there isn’t much to stop you giving it a try for yourself, right? The client is downloadable from the game’s website; the download is currently 3.7gb approximately.


Peter

 
Peter can be described as an old, hairy gamer, a survivor of the console wars of the 1990s, and a part-time MMO addict. He has an especial fondness for retro gaming and observing the progressions in long running gaming series. When scandalously not caught gaming, he can also be found reading comics and fantasy fiction, or practising terrible photography.