Updated Wed, Mar 13, 2013 by gunky
The Wizard has a long-standing tradition in Dungeons & Dragons games as the squishy specialist with his head full of strange, powerful magic. By carefully tailoring his spell list, he can serve as the party's buffer, nuker or primary crowd-controller, achieving things with words and gestures that the other core classes can only dream about. Of course, the Wizard has always had some built-in limitations - in early editions, the class was restricted to just a few races, but even when that restriction was lifted, they were still limited to simple weapons and clothing instead of armor. And even 4th Edition Wizards have the smallest pool of Hit Points of any class.
The Control Wizard unleashed in Neverwinter during this past beta weekend carries on the tradition of the specialist, but places the emphasis mostly on damage-dealing and crowd control. At the lower levels, the Control Wizard doesn't feel like a particularly strong soloing class - at least, not compared to the Guardian Fighter with his iron-wall defenses, or to the Devoted Cleric with his healing abilities. But in the right hands, the Control Wizard can dominate his enemies, dictate the pace and flow of battles and outmanouevre his foes with quick wits and even quicker feet.
As implied by the name, this is a class focused on enemy control. This is less evident in solo play, where the Control Wizard may want to focus more on damage-dealing, but it really factors in during group play. And really, since crowd-control and damage-dealing are not mutually exclusive things for the Control Wizard, the shift in focus is not really that severe.
Crowd control is one of the core elements of the Control Wizard, but it may not be the kind of CC you are used to from other games. There are no super-long mezzes that are easily broken by overzealous melee combatants spamming AOE attacks. Instead, the Control Wizard uses cold-based attacks to slow enemy movement, and to briefly root them in place while he opens up a bit more distance. This is, after all, an "action-MMO" with a particular focus on the "action" part, and making your enemy take a nap is not very "action-y."
At early levels, this kind of control doesn't feel very effective. Ray of Frost has significant ramp-up time before it roots the enemy in place, and the enemy has closed to melee range by the time it has ramped up enough to root him in place. Powers with pushback effects, like Repel or Ice Storm, do decent damage and hurl the enemy back a good distance, but they usually get right back on their feet and charge back into melee right away.
Essentially, the "control" part of the Control Wizard boils down to giving yourself enough time to channel powerful spells or ramp up weak ones. A strong mob tossed back by a Repel will take a bit of time to close back into melee range, and that's enough time to build 3 or so stacks of Chill from Ray of Frost, which should slow him down enough to give you time to bump back with a Teleport and build up another stack or two.
Of course, there's a right way and a wrong way to use CC skills. Repel is great for soloing because it rams the enemy away and prevents them from hitting you for a precious few seconds... but that's exactly what makes it a terrible skill for a group fight. It blasts enemies out of hot-spot area-effect attacks and moves them out of the range of the melee fighters, who then have to chase them down and corral them back up. Of course, Repel can be used to push enemy mobs into spike-filled pits as well, so it's not entirely useless in a group.
The Chill effect is a stacking debuff applied by most of the Control Wizard's cold-based magical attacks. As it builds up, the target develops a thick layer of ice on his legs, and moves progressively slower. Chill peaks at 6 stacks, and if the target is pushed beyond that cap, he is frozen in place. Not all Chill-stacking methods will end up freezing the target in place, however - Ray of Frost and Icy Terrain will do it, but Chilling Cloud will not. There are other reasons to stack Chill besides the slowing/freezing effect. Some Encounter and Daily spells, like Conduit of Ice, are more effective against targets affected by Chill, and do additional damage.
Arcane Mastery works in a similar manner, but this is a buff applied to the caster rather than a debuff to the target. Casting Magic Missile repeatedly stacks up the Arcane Mastery buff on the Control Wizard, which causes a number of Encounter and Daily spells to have additional, more powerful effects. This is especially true of Encounter spells placed in the Spell Mastery slot.
The Spell Mastery slot is the left-most skill slot, mapped to the Tab key by default. Normal Encounter skills in the three standard slots (mapped to Q, E and R) will have normal effects on their targets, modified by stacks of Chill or Arcane Mastery as indicated in the skills' descriptions. Skills placed in the Spell Mastery slot (which unlocks in the late-teen levels) have additional effects.
For example, in a regular Encounter skill slot, Chill Strike unleashes a powerful blast of cold against a single target, adding a stack of Chill and rooting the target in place momentarily. When moved to the Spell Mastery slot, however, it does a burst of area damage centered around the target, striking adjacent enemies. Another example: Icy Terrain is centered on the caster when placed in a regular slot, but when moved to the Spell Mastery slot, it turns into a ranged ability centered on the target.
I spent most of my game with Steal Time in the Spell Mastery slot, partly for the run speed boost, but also because I wasn't aware that this was the Spell Mastery slot until very late in the game. Had I clued in earlier, I would probably have put something else there instead. But I got used to that burst of speed after slowing everyone down, so I kept Steal Time there until the server went down.
The clever Control Wizard realizes that he is not meant to take a heavy sustained beating. Let the big, muscle-bound fighters with their heavy shields and massive Hit Point pools take care of that. The goal of the Control Wizard is to strike remotely, and to keep his distance from the bloodthirsty sword-slinging foe. And what better way to accomplish this than by using magic?
Teleporting is the key to the Control Wizard's survival. This is the class's Shift-key power - holding Shift and pressing one of the direction buttons, or double-tapping a direction key, causes the Control Wizard to wink out of existence in a puff of purple smoke and reappear a short distance away in a puff of green smoke. While the less-clever classes may roll around in the dirt or physically exert themselves to the point of exhaustion to avoid taking damage, the wily Control Wizard just beams himself to a safe distance.
This skill functions almost identically to the Trickster Rogue's dodge ability. It doesn't beam the Control Wizard across the room, but bumps him just a short distance - often just far enough to bump him out of the range of a big area attack. It may take a lot of practice to master this technique, and it makes the Control Wizard a very active-feeling class, but since the class has very limited defenses, it's a matter of do-or-die.
Teleporting requires Stamina, and the Control Wizard has about 4 quick-succession teleports before he runs out. The Stamina meter is the not-so-obvious chevron at the top of the glowing amber icosahedron in the top center of the toolbar. Stamina builds back up fairly quickly, and it doesn't need to refill all the way to 100% after being drained like the Guardian Fighter's Stamina bar does. Still, you will want to space your teleports out fairly carefully - if you can side-step safely out of an attack, do that instead, and save the teleports for the larger, faster attacks.
Just remember, though - you can't possibly avoid every attack, and the Control Wizard is not built to withstand a lot of physical punishment. Stock way up on healing potions, because you're probably going to need them.
Control Wizards are the "glass cannon" of Neverwinter, complete with the cannonball-like orb that serves as their weapon. The orb floats just above the Control Wizard's right shoulder, seemingly held in place by the owner's telepathic command. That seems to be the only explanation for the character's monk-like stance - he is constantly focused on keeping his orb afloat. The offhand implement is a talisman, which is essentially just a stat-booster with no combat stats or visual effects.
Gear-wise, I went primarily with Power for this beta build. DPS felt a bit low - particularly at lower levels - and the Power attribute on gear helps with that a bit, as it increases all outgoing damage. I probably should have also stacked Critical Strike, but the gear that I found with Critical Strike buffs had lousy everything else.
Instead, I went with Life Steal, which turned out to be not as useful as I had hoped it would be. I did see healing happen, particularly with channeled skills like Ray of Frost or long barrages of Magic Missile, but it never amounted to more than maybe 5 points per hit, at most. These little pips add up over time, but when boss monsters are hitting for over 1000 points with their special attacks, even a steady stream of 1's and 2's takes a very long time to be worth anything.
I did not notice a lot of enemies resisting the effects of my Control Wizard's spells - likely because I rolled high Intelligence (INT) and Charisma (CHA) scores. Be aware, however, that bosses often have inherent immunities to certain crowd-control effects, and the combos that worked well elsewhere may fail if they rely heavily on that.