A Weekend in Neverwinter

This week, Cryptic’s Neverwinter entered a state of open beta, and as a result a state of immediate chaos. This is of course both a testament to the interest in the game, and an indictment of Cryptic’s preparedness for that interest, and as a whole is exactly what any experienced MMO player should have expected. There are long queues, newly revealed bugs, a shift in the tone of the community — largely not for the better — and features that worked just fine a couple of days ago, now inconsistent at best.

In truth, I’m inclined to be a little more forgiving because, in the first, this is clearly positioned as a game still in beta and, in the second, giving Cryptic money to play their game is entirely voluntary. Free-to-play can mean a lot of different things in the genre, and often the result is a factual statement that hides behind the reality of providing a subpar experience that goads and annoys you into spending something at every possible turn. Want to be able to sprint like the cool kids, have more character slots like a real human being, receive mail like you exist or are important to anyone? Well, pony up.

Neverwinter is almost remarkable in the amount of access and availability a player gets without shelling out a single dollar. That’s not to say Cryptic doesn’t nudge you toward the idea of paying money, but the model seems built more around rewarding the decision to pay rather than crippling those who make the decision not to. No question: Spending money gets you benefits. But they are more convenience benefits than simply buying in-game success, and Cryptic claims that anything available through their Zen currency is also available within the game.

But is the game itself actually worth paying any attention to? I spent a substantial chunk of last weekend, after having just paid for the convenience of early access, trying to find out.

The short answer is yes, it is. Cryptic has a substantial (if not always sparkling) record of creating MMO games, with probably their most notable success being City of Heroes. Some of their more recent games like Champions Online and Star Trek Online have not been quite as successful at building an audience, though STO still maintains a highly engaged community. This also isn’t Cryptic’s first time around the free-to-play model, and both their genre and business model experience show.

Neverwinter enters its open beta feeling like a very fully realized game, and employs some of Cryptic’s best ideas to date. It’s the sort of game that you’re almost surprised to not pay $60 for, much less a monthly subscription. It has lots of voice acting. It has PvP and matchmaking systems right at launch. It has a level of polish and detail to its world that feels like any other AAA title. The combat mechanics feel confident and tight. It doesn’t suffer from any big, obvious shortcomings to denote either its beta state or its free-to-play nature.

Even the Foundry, which allows players (yes, even those playing for free) to create and play user-made quests. With an interface not unlike Steam’s Workshop, it is easy to pull up a list of user quests rated by the community and dive in quickly and easily. Better still, the game encourages and rewards you for playing these user-built quests, many of which have a much more D&D kind of feel than even the base game, due to the way community members build stories. There is something very satisfying about playing a particularly well written and well built Foundry quest — something that feels like having a DM.

And yet, I’m still coming to terms with the fact that playing the game itself doesn’t feel like what I think of when I think Dungeons and Dragons. There is no illusion of dice being rolled, no real sense of strategic encounters, a very limited subset of actions that can be taken. In eschewing the MMO trappings of pushing numbers at monsters until loot pops out of them, there’s also a very palpable shift in the feel of what you almost expect on first glance to be a traditional D&D game.

Thing is, I like it.

Action centers around fast-paced aiming and clicking at monsters (or teammates if you are in a support role) to trigger your attacks, while popping off a few spells in between. From a pure fun angle, it just kind of works. Along with a dodge mechanic to elude enemy special attacks or gain an advantage on your enemy, fighting in Neverwinter can be described a lot of ways, but probably not as boring. Fights move around and feel both chaotic and usually manageable. Even healing has a dynamism to it, and you’ll spend a lot of your time healing your team by damaging enemies as opposed to staring at bars on the side of the screen.

It’s not that the quests or the progression of the game are particularly different from other MMOs, but it’s hard not to feel like the experience of Neverwinter is somehow just that much more tactile.

I’ve only been playing a few days now, so it’s very hard to say whether this has long-term durability. I’ve had plenty of these kinds of experiences that feel vibrant and alive at first, but ultimately prove to just be a brief tryst with no lasting value. I remember being no less equally impressed with Guild Wars 2 and for some of the same reasons, but after a month I just kind of drifted away.

How Neverwinter will translate a lot of early attention into a durable community remains to be seen. Heck, how the game eventually launches out of beta is itself an uncertainty. But the nice thing about Neverwinter is that there’s no downside to trying it. You really do get a full experience without spending a dime, and if you make the decision later on to start throwing money at it, Cryptic seems to be willing to attach some real benefit to that investment. I suppose, for an open beta, that’s the best any reasonable person could ask for.

Comments

One of the things that I love about Free to Play games is that in order to keep their lights on, the developers have to work hard to keep the community engaged. Within the first few days of the early access, there was a patch every day to get people back in the game. For an open beta, that's incredible.

Sounded much fun, but I tried to sign up and their servers seem to be down or having trouble...

Mex wrote:

Sounded much fun, but I tried to sign up and their servers seem to be down or having trouble...

Last night all Cryptic games had issues and people couldn't login. Everything is fixed now so you should be able to give the game a shot.

I played the beta during the last pax east. Although I played only a total of 20 mins, it wasn't enough to get a good feel for the game. But then again I am not much of a critic when it comes to games, as I am easily impressed. The controls seem to be very basic and I did like the ranged effects. I am just curious on how it will relate to the DnD structure of leveling and what are the similarities and differences between this and DDO.

Nice write up Elysium! I'm really enjoying the game. I'm not sure about the other classes, but as a Trickster Rogue the game started out really easy (too easy, in fact), but as I level up the challenge certainly ramps up nicely.

For anyone who wants to join some other Goodjers, we're on the Dragon shard. There's also a thread in the MMORPG forum:

http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/1...

Propagandalf wrote:

For anyone who wants to join some other Goodjers, we're on the Dragon shard. There's also a thread in the MMORPG forum:

http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/1...

Thanks for that. I've been trying to download this since the open beta went live but have been running into problems until this morning. I want to give it a shot but I think that I should hit the hay when the download completes. Maybe I'll see you guys online tomorrow.

I heard that Neverwinter should play great with a controller, to the point that it was even natively supported earlier in Beta. I'd love to give this a try on my TV 360 controller in hand but it seems Cryptic has pulled that support out. Shame

Get sucked into an MMO again? Great write up, but the idea of an MMO experience makes me feel nauseous. Then again, I really like the GWJ community. hmmmmmmmmm

So for a complete and utter MMORPG noob, what is the difference between this and Dungeons and Dragons Online?

edosan wrote:

So for a complete and utter MMORPG noob, what is the difference between this and Dungeons and Dragons Online?

The following bit from the article sums it up rather nicely.

Elysium wrote:

And yet, I’m still coming to terms with the fact that playing the game itself doesn’t feel like what I think of when I think Dungeons and Dragons. There is no illusion of dice being rolled, no real sense of strategic encounters, a very limited subset of actions that can be taken. In eschewing the MMO trappings of pushing numbers at monsters until loot pops out of them, there’s also a very palpable shift in the feel of what you almost expect on first glance to be a traditional D&D game.

Despite being far more familiar with the Forgotten Realms setting of Neverwinter than the Eberron setting of DDO, DDO just feels a lot more like traditional Dungeons & Dragons game than Neverwinter does. Mechanically, DDO is based on 3.5 edition D&D rules, Neverwinter on 4th edition, but I'm not particularly familiar with 4th edition rules, so I can't say how faithful Neverwinter is to them.

From what I can tell, Neverwinter is pretty faithful to 4e rules. I haven't played, so I can't say for sure. Power types are all represented, even though some of them work differently than you'd expect them to with pen and paper. Daily and encounter powers are the biggest change; they're definitely not limited in the same manner they are in P&P.

Beyond that, if you want a more traditional, old school D&D type game, play DDO. It really is D&D packaged up in a video game, albeit heavy on combat type gameplay. Some of the modules in the game are really outstanding, and if you're a fan of Gary Gygax, there's even a module with some DM narration by him. Otherwise, if you like 4e, Neverwinter is good. It's F2P, and somewhat grindy, but it looks quite good, plays quite well, and overall is a very solid game, and as true to the source as you can get without really breaking the videogame aspect of things.

edosan wrote:

So for a complete and utter MMORPG noob, what is the difference between this and Dungeons and Dragons Online?

Here is my quick run down of major differences.

Theme and setting

Neverwinter takes place in Forgotten Realms, D&Ds most iconic high fantasy setting. This is a more traditional fantasy setting which most people should be familiar with.

DDO takes place in Ebberon for about 90% of the game. Ebberon is more of a Magitek style of setting when magic is used in place of technology in most of the world. It feels kind of steam punk mixed with high fantasy.

A lot of people where turned off of DDO because of the choice of setting. DDO just started adding in Forgotten Realms content last year.

Content

DDO has 7 years worth of content to play though in the game. Though they are not fast at releasing new content. Neverwinter as a new game cannot compete directly with amount of content as DDO right at launch, but with what I have seen from the foundry, the player created content could really give DDO a run for its money.

In DDO there are two "end games" there is the standard MMO style hit max level and run raids with groups. DDO also allows for character reincarnation when you take your max level character and start over at level 1 keeping some benefits from the class your character was before. This adds a lot of complexity and replay value.

I cannot speak to what Neverwinters end game will be, but again the player created content is a huge plus and will probably give the game a high replay value.

Character depth

This is where the differences really show between the two. In Neverwinter you choose class archetype and stick with that class and play style throughout the life of that character. This follows the more traditional MMO style of character progression. Decisions come down to what you choose to have quick access to on your hotbar, and what powers and feat you choose to level up out of the ones available to your class. There is a small amount of classes to choose from currently but more a promised in the near future and they have a large pool of possible classes to come in the long term.

DDO is a bit more "crunchy" when it comes to character customization. There are classes but you are able to progress in more then one class on a character. A common example would be having a wizard who takes a couple levels of rogue to have access to disable traps and some extra defense.

DDO gives a lot of freedom as most skills and feats are accessible to any character. This can be overwhelming to new players because making decisions without research before hand can really hurt your character. This is a very easy game to make a character that has no useful abilities and is not fun to play. On the flip side it allows for some amazing and creative builds that are fun to play.

Gameplay

Both games are more action based then your average MMO. Both focus greatly on positioning and movement in combat. The big difference comes from resource management.

Neverwinter combat is based around cool downs and having a limited number of abilities you can access at any given time.

DDO is more focused on limiting your resources. Spell casters have spell points and if you run out they are not going to regen on thier own. You have to make it to rest points in a quest to be able to refuel. DDO has no qualms about you not being able to complete a quest and can be very challenging. DDO also has quests that focus around puzzles and traps. Traps can be impassable and deadly without someone in your party to disable them.

I must check out DDO some time, I love the Eberron setting, it's so refreshing compared to Forgotten Realms.

Stengah wrote:
edosan wrote:

So for a complete and utter MMORPG noob, what is the difference between this and Dungeons and Dragons Online?

The following bit from the article sums it up rather nicely.

Elysium wrote:

And yet, I’m still coming to terms with the fact that playing the game itself doesn’t feel like what I think of when I think Dungeons and Dragons. There is no illusion of dice being rolled, no real sense of strategic encounters, a very limited subset of actions that can be taken. In eschewing the MMO trappings of pushing numbers at monsters until loot pops out of them, there’s also a very palpable shift in the feel of what you almost expect on first glance to be a traditional D&D game.

Despite being far more familiar with the Forgotten Realms setting of Neverwinter than the Eberron setting of DDO, DDO just feels a lot more like traditional Dungeons & Dragons game than Neverwinter does. Mechanically, DDO is based on 3.5 edition D&D rules, Neverwinter on 4th edition, but I'm not particularly familiar with 4th edition rules, so I can't say how faithful Neverwinter is to them.

The bit you quoted also sounds like the difference between 3.5e and 4e.

MrDeVil909 wrote:

I must check out DDO some time, I love the Eberron setting, it's so refreshing compared to Forgotten Realms.

Feel free to join us, we have a small weekly group:

http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/1...

I'm betting this comes out on one or both of the new consoles. I'll probably play it there since it seems perfectly suited to a controller. It seems like a lean back kind of game as opposed to a lean in PC experience I have come to expect on PC RPGs.

Well being only level four-almost-five, all I can say is that so far I like this game better than Rift, which I shelled out fifty bucks for. And, I have yet to experience any bugs or technical glitches. The aesthetics of the game world are fairly generic, but for something that has yet to cost me a penny, I can't really complain.

I've been playing the game and really enjoying it. Had my first chance this weekend to group up and do a skirmish. It was fun but unfortuantely, like most pugs, it was a free for all. Not bad but I did notice that with spells and effects going off it was extremly difficult to really tell what was going on or even to focus properly on any one enemy char when everyone was surrounding it as you can move through chars instead of having to go around them - very confusing. I'm sure dumbing down my graphics or even turning off some effects (not sure if this is possible yet - haven't checked) will improve this. Lag was also an issue (may have been on my side). All this I assume will improve as the beta progresses.

I have also played some player content from the Foundry and some of it has been excellent. Looking forward to seeing what more people can come up with as the game matures.

Overall really enjoying the game.

My impressions:

I loved the character generation. But once outside of that part of the game, I was quickly annoyed by the UI. Always-on mouselook was just something I couldn't work around. I think I finished the first few quests. My wrist and shoulder hurt after 20 minutes, and I spent an extraordinary amount of time staring at sky or ground as I tried to wander around. Having the escape-key overlay to get to everything was another aspect that just made me crazy.

It's my understanding, after asking around in game chat, that this interface is common to first person shooter games. I've never played FPS, so I can't speak to the truth of that statement, but I do know after about 20 minutes, I was done. I just couldn't work with the UI.

This article made me try Neverwinter and it has stuck so far. Currently i´m closing in on level 30. I hope that the user generated Foundry questchains is what makes this game roll on for in the long haul.