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Full Version: Beta Impressions: Neverwinter (Online) - Let's Cryptic Again
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By now, you know that Cryptic's next upcoming game is Neverwinter (Online). If you don't, pretend that you already knew. Currently they're marketing the game simply as 'Neverwinter', or 'Dungeons and Dragons: Neverwinter'. 

But a lot of folks still call it 'Neverwinter Online', because that's what it was called for the longest time. Neverwinter Online, from the makers of Champions Online and Star Trek Online, a company that's really really daring with their naming scheme.

So here's another 'Acyl talks about an upcoming MMO' thread. I'm going to largely concentrate on big picture issues here. With occasional smaller pictures. Think of it as an oil painting with portrait passport photos stapled on. Or something. Look, I'm bad at metaphors.

Weekend Me. Weekend Me So Hard.

Neverwinter's currently doing closed beta weekends. Or clopen beta weekends. Or some other horrible massacre of the English language. You pick. Either way, these are weekends you can sign up for. Or get keys from giveaways. Or buy a Founder's Pack. Or be a Champions or Star Trek lifetime subscriber.

That last one is how I got into beta, and why I'm talking about it now. There's no NDA for these things, they're using them as publicity vehicles. Somewhere, an elderly software engineer is crying about how beta tests aren't really testing anymore.

Neverwinterminator: Judgement Night

So what's the verdict? Well, I like it. Exceeded my expectations. Admittedly my expectations were zero, so they were easy to exceed. But bottom line: I plan to play this when the game launches.

It's a Free to Play game. Obviously there's monetised stuff, but it does look like you can get a full and decent experience without payment gating, so there's no particular barrier to checking it out when it goes live. They'll keep dangling bait in front of you in an effort to hook your wallet, but there's no barrier as such.

Aside from class options. More on this later, but basically the model seems that there's only a handful of free classes (and each class is a relatively narrow playstyle). If you want more variation, you pay for it.

He Cleans Up Pretty Well

Neverwinter is surprisingly polished. By which I mean, it's a slick-looking game. Not just the graphics, but also the user interface - look, sound and feel. Champions Online and Star Trek Online were made on tight budgets, and it shows. With Neverwinter, they've managed to make their game look and feel a lot more...well, expensive. It feels like a quality product. And for Cryptic, that's saying a bit.

This isn't unexpected - after all, they're trying to compete with the likes of Guild Wars 2 for the fantasy market. But this does a good swing of it, at least in terms of presentation.

While it has a D&D license, that's mostly just for setting, lore, flavour and terminology. Otherwise it doesn't actually use D&D rules. Which is for the best. Even if the D&D fanboys are all sadboys about it. And sadgirls.

I Stab Your Face

For me, the biggest attraction of the game is the combat. The combat is good. The combat is excellent. It's absolutely freaking amazing. It isn't going to appeal to everyone, that's a given. But if you enjoy hack and slash fantasy action titles on PC, the likes of Fable, Diablo III, then this is absolutely solid.

MMO-wise, the best comparisons would be to things like DC Universe Online and Tera. By default, mouse movements swing the character around. Left and right mouse clicks are 'At Will' attacks, meaning they have no cooldowns, can be used pretty much whenever, etc. Your basic stuff. You have multiple choices of At Will powers, but only two slots for them. Holding down a mouse button chains the attack. There is no 'hard' selectable targeting, instead you have a reticle at the centre of your screen, and you will attack what the camera is pointing at. 

Other slots are for cooldown powers. Notably, because you don't need as many keys for camera movement given the mouse-look, Q, E and R are all used for cooldown powers. 1 and 2 are for your big zomgwtf powers, 3, 4 and 5 are for item slots. It's all easy to access. Tab triggers your class special ability, shift is for blocking or evasion (depending on your class).

Let's be clear - these are slots. You can freely swap powers in and out of said slots, depending on your needs. It's like Diablo III, if you've played that.

Interacting with items is 'F'. You hit left 'alt' if you need to bring up a normal mouse cursor; when interacting with some things, like talking to NPCs, vendors, it goes into alt mode by default. But the important point is, all the keys you need are in easy reach of your hands under the default bindings, without needing weird contortions.

Most of what I just explained is the control scheme. If you want to see how the game looks like, Youtube trailers would have you covered. It's seriously fun, though. My favourite? Trickster Rogue. Playing a dagger-wielding slashity-stabbity melee whirlwind of destruction is awesome like this.

Stabslashstabslash DODGE! Throw-knife throw throw throw until enemy is back in range, then STUN! Stabstabstab while they're dizzy, they're recovering, not enough stamina for dodge - leave a shadow decoy! Stabstabstab while shadow is tanking! And all that with a seamless fluid control scheme I barely need to think about.

Honey Badger Don't Give A Zen

Neverwinter is evolutionary for Cryptic, not revolutionary. By which I mean they've built on the back of their most successful things from previous games - modified to fit the fantasy setting, or given a higher sheen of polish. The fantasy feel is the overriding consideration, of course. That's why my Rogue is chugging potions often enough that I probably need to attend a Potionolics Anonymous meeting. Or not. Look, I don't have a problem, okay? I have it totally under control. 

The combat is like Champions, but it's better, way better. And more functional even if you're lagging like whoa. Due to beta server load, I was lagging, but even under lag conditions I was able to perform well in a party as my agile squishy melee DPS character.

Beyond combat, the evolutionary thing applies to other stuff. Skirmish and dungeon queues are clearly based on tech from Champions and STO. You can have permanent companion NPCs, that's STO tech. So on, so forth. 

And yes, you can have a Honey Badger BFF. This is clearly 200% more awesome than having a human fighter or cleric following you around. Honey Badger costs real money (Zen currency), unlike the other options. But I bet you people will buy it, because HONEY BADGER.

If you pray to the Gods religiously (ha-ha), which you can do every hour you're logged in, while located in a rest zone...eventually you can save enough RELIGION CURRENCY DOLLARS to redeem yourself an angel companion. And a unicorn mount. I am extremely disappointed there is no redeemable Pope hat cosmetic option.

National Neverwinter Writing MMO

A notable key feature from a previous Cryptic game is the Foundry. Star Trek Online already has a Foundry player-generated content system, and it's a very very powerful tool.The Neverwinter version is even better and more fleshed-out, because Neverwinter was designed with that in mind from the very beginning. 

I haven't seen the Foundry backend tools, because that's a separate tier of beta testers. But the output? That's fantastic. Oh yeah, of course a lot of it will be awful and terribly spelt, let alone written. But some of it will be awesome. The tools are there.

I genuinely believe that a robust player-generated content system goes a long way to mitigating lack of other MMO content. 

Needs Moar Content

Let's face it. No launch MMO has enough content. That's not going to change, and Neverwinter isn't going to fix that.

But there's quality. The dev-created content in terms of writing and presentation I've seen is solid. It's not the best. The Secret World, for example, has better regular dev-created story quest content. SWTOR would be better for story. Sure. But it's still above-average for MMOs, and worlds better than, say, Champions Online. 

How the content stream will be going forward - that's a question I can't answer. But at least there's the Foundry, and personally I would play this game just for the combat itself and the Foundry stuff made by other players.

What's The Catch? Where's The Other Shoe?

So what's the downside of all of this? What are the cons, in my book? One is character customisation. Another is class options.

I Feel So Pretty

Now, let's be clear. Character customisation isn't BAD. It's still light years ahead of most MMOs. But it's not great compared to other Cryptic games.

The interface itself is awesome, mind you. It's a great character creator. Especially nice is the fact it gives thumbnail previews of each visual option before you apply it, like how all the hairstyles WOULD look on your character. There's some loading time - changing hair colour or skin tone, for instance, then changes all the preview thumbnails. But hey, that's expected.

But there's limits to variation. Especially since the races are meant to look different, so you're locked in a fair bit for face and body morphing. And this is basically just your head and body proportions. There's supposed to be a system for reskinning armour and weapons, but I haven't seen it yet.

What is implemented is a visual slotting thing where you have a separate paperdoll of inventory slots to put pure 'fashion' items that override the armour items beneath - like what some other MMOs have done. So I can go round murderfacing in peasant rags if I want. You can also get colour dye and things like that. But this is very much the fantasy MMO gear model. Which is meh.

Will Fight For Food

The other downside is class limitations. Right now, beta has Trickster Rogue, Guardian Fighter, Devoted Cleric and Control Wizard.

Yes, those are classes. They're specific flavours of Fighter, Wizard, or Cleric. Great Weapon Fighter is confirmed as coming, items for it are already in the beta even if the class itself isn't selectable yet...but Great Weapon Fighter is a distinct and separate class from Guardian Fighter. 

And let's face it, you're only going to get four or maybe five class variants available at launch for free. The others are going to be cash purchase. That's not officially announced, but c'mon here. It's pretty obvious. You want your DPS mass-nuking AoE death murder weapon Wizard, and not the free crowd-control Wizard? You want a classic D&D cleric in armour with a mace, not some lady waving a holy symbol and posing dramatically like a pious Sailor Moon?

Well, Neverwinter accepts all major credit cards and local bank debit...

I'm fine with this. But a lot of people out there in the great wide Internets are raging so hard, you could probably power a geothermal plant with the rage.

Final Fantasy (Conclusion)

On balance, I think those are relatively limited downsides. Like all Cryptic games, strictly speaking all cash store items can be earned through pure in-game play, by converting currency at player-determined market rates. In Champions, with a smaller playerbase, conversion favours the cash spenders, not in-game grinders.

In STO, it's the other way around. A small amount of in-game currency will get you a fair bit of cash-store currency, at current exchange rates. And that's a good thing. It means the pay players are happy. And the free players are happy too. The cash store stuff is...not absolutely essential. They're all nice things to have, but there's always comparable 'generic' free versions to be had. 

Like many new online F2P games, PW/Cryptic is selling Founder's Packs. So if you have a burning need to be a black elf from da hood dual-wielding blades and hanging with your panther homie, cruising the underground with your pimp spider mount...er, I mean, if you have a burning need to be like Drizzt from the novels, certainly you can. I don't think it's worth it, though I did buy the mid-tier pack for myself. But I only made that decision after playing the beta and seeing it for myself, so caveat, yeah?

But as I said earlier: I will play this game when it goes live. I absolutely freaking love the combat. I think the Foundry player-created missions have huge potential. That's good enough for me. 
-- Acyl
I've played a little bit of this now since I managed to snag a key. 
Sadly I'm unimpressed so far. 

Unlike you, I don't like the combat system. I prefer having a hard target lock. Or SOME kind of target lock. DCUO has a good compromise I thought. It's not a lock like in COH or Champions or Star Trek. But you did tend to target something specific if you were pointed at it. And you can tab to KEEP a lock on something even if it's out of your field of view. Here - I never get the sense that I'm locked on anything at all. Also - you can waste an encounter power (meaning you can't use it AT ALL until you're out of combat and then go back in) on an enemy that's out of range of your attack. DO NOT LIKE. After a while I gave up on using encounter powers or anything at all other than what was on my left click of the mouse. Because it was the only really reliable way I had to damage anything. That got boring VERY fast. 

It is a polished world and environment. I'll give it that. The interface looks pretty. But again - there's deal-breaking elements in it. There's no ability to change the camera distance at all. You can't look at something closely unless you go to a specific mode called "inspect" and you lose the HUD and UI interface completely. You can move around and do basic attacks in "inspect mode". But I don't know if you can use any other powers. And you certainly wouldn't have access to the map or be able to see your health in that mode. Or chat. *sigh*

As for the characters. The character customization is fine for what it is. But I have to say - I don't care for the artstyle. That's just a personal thing. I didn't like the default Champions character style as much as I did COH - but the sliders are so varied that it wasn't a deal breaker for me. I could eventually learn to work with the sliders and get something I liked. Star Trek's artstyle I REALLY like. They have the perfect blend of slight "animation" style mixed with realistic. Neverwinter? Meh. It just looks... bland. The characters are stiff. There's no variation in the poses. I got into town and immediately I'm struck with the thought - "Call in the clones!" Because everything looks the same. And that bit with the camera distance being locked doesn't help matters. You can't look at anybody close to see any variations. It's all a blur at the default camera distance. And did they have to make ALL the hairstyles look like no one has ever bathed? Really? I know this is "medieval fantasy" but come on? 

Honestly - they could have imported the character artstyle over from STO and tweaked it for fantasy and they would've had a win. 

Oh - no way to walk either. Everyone has the same jogging speed. That's something that's started to really annoy me about Fantasy games in general. It's not specific to Neverwinter. But at least in other games, they've maintained the QOL ability to just walk casually if you wanted to - for RP in a bar, say. I can't believe that with "Walk" already an option in CO and STO that they would leave that out of NW.

This overall feels like a step backwards in so many small ways. Their are too many "quality of life" elements that they seem to have deliberately left out of the game. It's like they said - "let's make the MMO equivalent of Diablo forget all that silly stuff that makes RPers happy, no one plays games to RP after all, right?" 

Some of my problems with the combat may be the character class I went with first. Great Weapon fighter. I'm making a trickster Rogue now. I'm trying REALLY HARD to give NWO a chance to impress me. So far it hasn't. Maybe trickster rogue will convince me the combat doesn't suck, at least. 
I'm wondering if the "in thing" now for new MMO's is to deliver the basic game, and then tweak it depending on fan reactions. If the larger percentage wants more camera control, or more varied movement and display animations, they develop that. I remember hearing a lot of similar complaints when ST:TOR first released, and then they started coming up with patches which dealt with the most common complaints. If they are indeed doing it that way, it might represent the only way you can maximize your developer hours to deliver what the greatest majority want.
I'm not sure if I agree with it, mind you. But I could certainly see them doing it.
Those who fear the darkness have never seen what the light can do.