Neverwinter Doing Dungeons and Dragons Right
Before you start reaching for pitchforks, torches, and other assorted implements of destruction, take a deep breath and hear me out. Is Neverwinter the end all, be all of Dungeons & Dragons goodness? Does it uphold the sanctity of THAC0 (you know you all loved it)? Can you pick any class ever created? Can you be any race you wish? Does it finally fulfill the ultimate dream of being able to play D&D with all your friends around the world in spectacular fashion? The simple answer is no, but if you let that stop you, youre going to miss out on something special.
Pen and paper Dungeons & Dragons has been beloved by droves of fans since the 70s. Ive been playing D&D regularly since 1984, and Im a tough critic when it comes to my favorite franchise of all time. Cryptic took on a juggernaut franchise license, which is the ultimate show of bravery, stupidity, or just pure audacity. But, after having spent a significant amount of time with the game, I think its safe to say Neverwinters developers were fanatical D&D fans themselves and have done the legacy justice.
Turbines Dungeons & Dragons Online suffered from a number of issues, but its biggest drawback was probably its setting. Of all the D&D settings they could have chosen, the Ebberon campaign setting may have been the least-known and least-favored by D&D players. Rather than tread down the same path as Turbine, the folks at Cryptic brought us a game nestled within the most popular and well known campaign setting of them all, the Forgotten Realms. Not only did they pick the Forgotten Realms, they did so at a point in its history where the world is still trying to recover from a cataclysmic event, The Spellplague, caused by the murder of Mystra, the goddess of magic. Magic ceased to exist for nearly a decade, but now its back. Chaos reigns supreme and its high time for some heroes to venture forth and battle for honor and glory!
Im not a huge fan of the 4th edition Dungeon and Dragons rules when it comes to a live roleplaying pen-and-paper game but, with some tweaks, they translated impressively to a video game. Rather than leave all the combat up to the decision of virtual dice, Neverwinters combat is much more action-oriented. I know we hear those buzzwords--action combat--with every new game that comes out. They annoy the hell out of me. Fortunately for all of us, Cryptic has used just the right amount of twitch-play in their system. Its enough to keep an old goat like me constantly engaged when fighting monsters, but is not so difficult as to become frustrating.
When you need to dive out of the way, there are very clear indicators. This keeps combat from feeling the like the game is trying to cheat or just ganking you, as in other games where you need to pay attention to every subtle change in monster positioning to be ready when a huge attack is incoming. Giving a player a clear indication that they need to move, then giving them enough time to do so, followed by punishing them harshly if they dont, combines to make for the perfect level of combat interactivity. Ive been having so much fun with the combat system, in fact, that Ive started calling myself Dr. Death simply because I stop and kill everything in my path. Always. Its awesome.
A game needs to be about far more than combat, especially one sporting Dungeons and Dragons in the title. Some of the most important staples of D&D are cool environments, extraordinary monsters, and epic quests. Neverwinter has all of these in spades. As you gain power, youre given more important quests and missions to investigate. As you progress through the game, you begin to realize that the last dungeon you claimed was the coolest dungeon youve ever seen soloing (Im looking at you Clocktower) is no longer the coolest...because the dungeon youre in at that moment is now the coolest.
The further you go, the more monsters you encounter, each with their own special ways of dealing as much damage to your poor character as they can. I find myself regularly trying out different power combinations and methods of dispatching just as much pain and agony back at them. As you delve into Neverwinter dungeons, not only will you discover more methods of death, destruction, and dismemberment, youll be greeted by some old D&D classics. The Mimic and the enormous Gelatinous Cube that tried to eat me the other day were both brutal and welcome sights. Theyre not overused and provide just enough flair and distraction to be a joy rather than an annoyance.
The team at Cryptic has done their homework. If I had to guess, Id say some of them may have been playing Dungeons and Dragons even longer than I have. Thats a good thing (and no small feat), because the love they have of the license comes through loud and clear. Neverwinter is as close to the epitome of a Dungeons & Dragons game that were likely to see now, or any time soon. It has the familiar feel that D&D players expect combined with a kickass combat system.
Rather than taking my word for it, why dont you give it a try yourself? Its free to play and free to download. Youve got nothing but time to lose. And after youve played it for a while, be sure to come back here and let me know what you think. Am I the antichrist come to this world in the flesh for the sole purpose of getting you to waste your time, or the savior who restored your faith in the gaming world? Feel free to call me either.