Neverwinter Beta Impressions

by Tyler Edwards, May 3, 2013

neverwinter blacklake

Neverwinter, the new Dungeons and Dragons action MMO from Cryptic Studios, has opened its doors to players with an open beta. I've spent the last few days spelunking through the sewers beneath Protector's Enclave, smacking kobolds around, and seeing all there is to see in Neverwinter, and now I'm ready to bring you my thoughts on the game. Is it worth your time? Read on to find out.

First, let's get the elephant in the room out of the way. This isn't really a beta. There aren't going to be any character wipes, Cryptic was offering pricey founder's packs with early access to this "beta," and the game's cash shop is already fully functional. Anyone who's paying attention knows this is a soft launch.

Whether this reinterpretation of the term "beta" is a good thing or a bad thing is a discussion for another time, but for what it's worth, Neverwinter is not the first game to call a launch a beta, and for the purposes of this article, I'm judging this as a fully launched game. I'm not making any special concessions based on the beta tag.

neverwinter boss fight

The basics:

On paper, Neverwinter is a fairly standard theme park MMO. Most of its content falls into the categories of dungeons or quests - the latter of which are standard kill and collect fare. It also has skirmishes, short PvE events similar to World of Warcraft's scenarios, and PvP battlegrounds, as well as crafting and the usual peripheral frills. It also has something different in the form of the Foundry, but more on that in a bit.

There are a few aspects of gameplay that set Neverwinter apart from the pack. One is its action combat system, which favors active dodging, aiming, and twitch reflexes much more so than the usual tab target system. Similar to other recent MMOs - such as Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World - you're limited to only a few active skills at any given time, forcing you to be strategic about which ones to equip.

In terms of how it feels to play, Neverwinter ends up more in the category of Diablo clone than Warcraft clone. It's a lot of click-click-click, kill-kill-kill, loot-loot-loot. You can even pick up gold just by running over it so you don't have to interrupt your Orc murdering too much.

Like a lot of things in Neverwinter, the combat treads a fine line between relaxing simplicity and complete mindlessness. It's not completely bereft of tactics or depth, but ultimately, it's mostly just about a lot of button mashing.

On the plus side, the combat is very visceral and satisfying. Even caster classes have a great physicality to them. I dare you not to smile every time you send an Orc hurtling across the room by smashing him in the face with a giant block of ice.

Speaking of classes, that is an area where Neverwinter falls short. There are currently only five classes available, and there isn't a lot of variety in how you can build them. This isn't the sort of the game where two characters of the same class can play very differently depending on their builds. More classes will supposedly be added on a regular basis, but for now, your choices are extremely limited.

On the plus side, what classes there are seem pretty fun. I'm partial to the control wizard, myself.

The world of Neverwinter itself is fairly unremarkable. The graphics have a nice style but look a few years out of date. The voice acting and music are pretty cheesy, though that might be at least partially intentional. The story is nothing to write home about.

Something I found irritating is how heavily instanced it is. I grant that a dungeon crawler like Neverwinter wouldn't really work with everyone in the same environment all the time, but I shouldn't have to wade through as many load screens as I do.

neverwinter city

Keep it (really) simple:

Neverwinter is a game that's probably going to cause a lot of controversy in the unending argument over whether MMOs are getting too dumbed down. Cryptic has gone out of their way to make this an easy game to jump into, but what some call accessibility, others might see as mindless pandering.

The best example of this is probably the quest path marker, a sparkling trail that leads players to their next quest or dungeon objective. For the record, it is optional and can be turned off.

Personally, I can see why people might view this as a step too far, but I found myself appreciating it. I've never found that getting lost adds to my sense of adventure. Also, there's still a surprising amount of potential for exploration. The dungeons feature lots of hidden goodies, extra rooms, and treasure chests for those who want to wander off the beaten - and sparkly - path.

While the sparkly path is an extreme example, every aspect of Neverwinter was clearly designed to be as accessible as possible. It has an easy to use queue system for dungeons, skirmishes, and PvP. Crafting mostly boils down to sending NPCs off to do all your work for you. Players can hire NPC companions to help them solo the world.

The obvious intention was to get players into the action as quickly as possible and keep them there. And while it can feel shallow at times, I mostly welcome an MMO that's happy to get out of its own way and just let people play and have fun.

neverwinter dungeon

The Foundry:

But perhaps the most significant feature of Neverwinter is the Foundry, a tool for creating and distributing player generated quests and dungeons. Most people seem to view the Foundry as the feature that will make or break Neverwinter, and after playing with it, I can see why.

Now, I haven't had the chance to try my hand at making my own content, but by all reports, it's fairly user friendly and incredibly powerful.

What I have done is play through some of the player created storylines, and I have to say, I am very impressed. I've no doubt that many Foundry quests are quite amateurish, but by focusing on highly rated quests, I haven't gotten a bad one yet.

All of the Foundry content I've done was excellent, featuring great storylines, well-paced action, challenging fights, and impressive environments. In fact, I've enjoyed the Foundry quests much more than the official content. They're that good.

It's hard not to get excited when you consider the potential the Foundry has. Obviously, it's a roleplayer's dream come true. You can easily create and play through entire storylines with your friends. Even for those who don't roleplay, it's hard to deny the appeal of an endless stream of new content.

The really cool thing about the Foundry is that its missions scale based on character level, so you can jump into its quests pretty much immediately after character creation, and they'll stay relevant even at endgame.

And it's bound to get better from here as Cryptic improves the Foundry's systems and players become more skilled with using its tools.

neverwinter wizard

Free to play… ish:

Neverwinter is free to play, but it's not the best example of that particular business model. You're not crippled if you don't pay, but there are definite advantages for those who spend money. The best health potions and companions, for instance, are bought for cash.

There is a rather arcane currency exchange system that theoretically allows all cash shop items to be bought for free, but the grind required to buy even the cheapest of items borders on the absurd.

Neverwinter also features the dreaded lockboxes, and they're seemingly designed to be as annoying as possible. You can't avoid picking them up, and you can't vendor or discard them. You're stuck with them until you pay the cash to open them.

Furthermore, the entire server is spammed with a notification every time a player receives a rare drop from a lockbox. You'll miss the messages if you blink, but even so, I'd like to smack whichever yahoo came up with them.

On the plus side, I am pleasantly surprised they didn't attempt to monetize the Foundry at all. You don't need to pay anything to access any part of the Foundry as a player or a creator, and the developers have been quite adamant it will stay this way.

neverwinter wizard combat

Is it worth it?

Whether Neverwinter is worth playing depends on what kind of player you are. If you're a roleplayer, a player generated content aficionado, or someone looking for a light game to blow off steam with, you'll probably enjoy it. If you're someone who prizes depth and challenge in your MMOs, a Dungeons and Dragons purist, or someone who despises greedy free to play models, keep looking.

For my part, I'm having fun for now, but I have my doubts about Neverwinter's ability to hold my interest long term. It will depend on whether I can keep finding good Foundry missions, and on how much time I want to spend on other games.