If you’ve never played Dungeons and Dragons before, you might not know that the Forgotten Realms Dungeons and Dragons setting is world in which the Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale games took place. It’s one of the more popular DnD settings, with an incredible amount of lore detailed over countless game books and novels. It’s been a while since any games were set there, but this week Gaming Trend got the chance to jump into the beta for Cryptic’s upcoming MMO Neverwinter. You know what that means: we’re heading back to Faerûn!
While character design was a solid hit, class options were a bit lacking as there were a paltry 3 classes to chose from. The Trickster Rogue is what DnD fans would call a “striker,” dealing large amounts of damage quickly to a single target. The Devoted Cleric is a “Leader,” playing a supporting role with buffs and healing abilities. The last choice is the Guardian Fighter, a DnD “Defender,” maintaining aggro on other monsters to keep the squishier support classes safe. While the names are different in Dungeons and Dragons, these classes fit quite nicely into the standard MMO “Holy Trinity” of DPS/Healer/Tank. There’s a fourth class that’s coming, a wizard with the crowd control abilities and the area of effect damage, but that class wasn’t available in this demo.
There are only four announced classes, but thankfully they’re fairly flexible. Players are given a wide selection of powers to chose from, borrowing a mechanics and terms from DnD. “At-will powers” are weak attacks that recharge quickly, and “Encounter powers” are more powerful attacks that usually have more specific uses—drawing aggro, healing allies, or adding status effects to attacks. “Daily powers” are powerful attacks that can only be used once in a while. Honestly, I never found myself relying on my daily powers, but fretting about which loadout of encounter powers to use. You’re given 6 or 7 encounter powers, but can only “equip” three of them at once.
Outside of character creation, there’s also a lot to like in Neverwinter’s combat. This game is a lot more action-packed than other MMOs–World of Warcraft this is not. Powers and abilities are mapped to the keys around WASD instead of the number row. The whole experience is a lot more like Forge than WoW. Character attacks are slick and stylish, with a lot of really great animations. Powers are bright and colorful, and are easy to recognize in battle. While it never approaches the depth of a dedicated action game like Bayonetta or God of War, combat was a lot of fun.
The rest of the game almost looks as good as the combat. Environments are enormous, and you can generally find a few good vistas that show the talent in Cryptic’s art team. The central hub town of Protector’s Enclave is positively gorgeous, but possibly a bit too large. I spent a lot of time wandering around the hub looking for the one vendor that had the item I wanted, or looking for the one person I needed to talk to finish a quest. The game gives you a shimmering path you can follow to the next step in a quest, but it’s really hard to see in brighter areas of the world.
With all the interesting ideas thrown about in Neverwinter, it was kind of fitting that the beta was fairly rough. I had a whole lot of crashes the first few times I tried playing the game. Crashes when I loaded the game, crashes when I changed locations, crashes when I jumped up on a rock. Crashes. Crashes everywhere. I can’t be so mad about it, though. Partly because many of the crashes were fixed in patches over the course of the weekend, and partly because it was nice to see a “beta” that’s actually a beta, not an unpolished release copy used to generate cash.
That really is the whole summary of the Neverwinter beta experience for me: it’s a solid, fun game that had a lot of rough edges. The developers should be able to polish it up a bit before release, and hopefully they’ll add a few more classes as they get closer to release. The free-to-play MMO environment is absolutely swamped, but I think Neverwinter’s few unique features and player generated content make it interesting enough to keep an eye on it as it progresses towards development. You know I’ll be keeping an eye on this one, so check back for more updates as the game approaches release.