I have always been a huge fan of single player RPGs, and in particular, invested many, many hours into Neverwinter Nights and its sequel. I have dabbled in MMOs, some for a great deal of hours (World of Warcraft and Guild Wars), others for brief forays (D&D Online, Age of Conan, The Old Republic) but I have to admit I was cautiously curious about the Neverwinter MMO. Created from the ground up as a premium free-to-play title and supposedly channeling the Neverwinter experience utilizing fourth edition rules as the basis, it seemed too good to be true. Having played in a beta weekend I can say it has serious potential if it can sidestep some of the standard MMO tropes it hasn’t quite avoided yet.
The game begins as many other MMOs do, with the ability to create your character. You are able to choose a variety of races (elf, human, half-elf, halfling, dwarf, etc), your gender, and a class. The classes are variants of fighters, clerics, wizards, rogues, and rangers. In my case I chose a half-elf female trickster rogue as I am a sucker for dual wielding in my games. As in many MMOs, you can customize your characters look, height, and style, but unlike most MMOs, here you can roll your stats and keep trying until you hit a range of numbers you like. This is very old school D&D character creation and I really appreciated seeing this in the character creation system.
Once my character was created (Aryalle Treeleaf), I was able to choose a starting zone. I went with the Moonshae Islands and the game started with me shipwrecked and seeking to recover my gear and find a safe haven. At this point, I started to worry as the game presented the standard MMO seek a person, get a quest, complete quest and get reward sequence we all know and tolerate. While the starting quests were very generic and familiar, the combat and navigation was anything but typical. One of my biggest complaints in these types of games is trying to find what you need to do, in the case of Neverwinter there was a terrific light trail guiding you that was very effective in leading you to your goals.
The combat though was what really impressed me, it was very dynamic and centered around a core group of skills and abilities tied not to a hot bar, but the keys around the WASD movement keys and the mouse. Whatever my mouse reticle was pointed to, the character would attack and the left and right mouse buttons had my at will attacks and other keys like ‘q’, ‘e’ and ‘r’ had encounter and daily skills. In D&D, those type of skills are only available once per day or encounter, but in Neverwinter they have long cooldowns or need to be refreshed by performing certain actions. By tying attacks not to a selected creature but instead to whatever I was aiming at, I could quickly chain attacks between enemies and switch which attacks to use quickly and effectively. There was also a dodge mechanic (hit a direction twice quickly) that added some nice strategy to the mix.
The story, as far as it went in the beta, seemed quite interesting and was fleshed out with books, notes, and dialogue trees with NPCs. In a nice touch, a summary of a tale or story was shown on screen when you discovered it, and you could dig deeper with more detail in your journal. The gist so far was that Neverwinter was destroyed and then taken over by various factions, how your character will impact that story is something I have not discovered as of yet.
The very interesting thing about Neverwinter thus far was that despite the overlay of some standard MMO affectations there was a deeper veneer that definitely bears examining. It showed a nice balance so far of World of Warcraft approachability and The Old Republic’s deep storytelling that could make this one of the better MMOs in recent memory.
Missions so far as seen in the Beta were either quick jaunts to find someone, kill someone, get an item or deeper exploration/discovery missions that are usually multi part and have some depth. It was actually quite fun in one of the missions to look for and read clues that tie a criminal to a hideout location and then raid the site to find out what was actually happening. There were also a few factions vying for the control of Neverwinter that you will run into, and with that the introduction of recurring villains that always make D&D adventures interesting.
As the game was (and is) still in Beta there were a few growing pains, rare server issues, some graphical bugs and the overall graphics fidelity was not at the level of a game like Guild Wars 2, but was serviceable and ought to run well across many types of PCs. This will be a free-to-play MMO so there is a number of micro-transactions that will be embedded into the game, these will be cosmetic enhancements, extra character and bag slots, character packs, and adventures more than likely. Also in keeping with the history of the Neverwinter games, there will be a Foundry system in the game that allows players to create their own modules and share them with other players. These can be rated and feedback given so they can be improved or edited afterwards. I tried a couple during my beta and was pleased with what I saw, this adds a great deal of potential to the title and a hook that no other premium MMO has to offer.
While Neverwinter is not the most unique and groundbreaking title in the MMO sphere it does have some very interesting features, particularly the combat and customization options that make this one to watch and well worth trying once it is released. At the attractive price of free, there is no reason not to try this fun Action-RPG MMO later this spring once it is launched to the public.