Neverwinter: The Jewel of PAX East

Posted Tue, Apr 17, 2012 by Sardu

Neverwinter PAX East Preview

A lot has changed in the world of Neverwinter since we last had the opportunity to check out Cryptic Studios’ upcoming journey into the Forgotten Realms last summer at E3. I recall being intrigued at the time by what we were shown of The Foundry toolset, and how it will help facilitate a very user-friendly player-created content pipeline. Even at that earlier stage in development, Neverwinter was already looking slick and distinctive in the graphics department as well.

Much like the city of Neverwinter itself, the game has undergone some interesting changes over the past year, each of them improving upon that solid foundation we had been shown at E3. First, Neverwinter is now slated to be a full MMO rather than a multiplayer co-op title. And, just as importantly, the game is now being published by free-to-play leaders Perfect World Entertainment.

Did I mention that Neverwinter will also be taking a crack at utilizing an active combat system reminiscent of the God of War series or Bayonetta? Yep, it has that going on too.

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Beyond the City Gates

Now slated to be a full MMO release, Neverwinter has grown in both size and scope. Throughout my appointment with Cryptic’s Andy Velasquez and Craig Zinkievich this point was driven home as we were shown large swaths of the Tower District. This particular area has been overrun by orcs, and serves as one of the many open-world areas in the game.

As Zinkievich explained, areas such as the Tower District represent some of the massive devastation seen beyond the city proper, but also help expand the game in some important ways. Not only does it allow Cryptic to dream up plenty of interesting new dungeon locations for players to explore, but the Tower District will also be one of Neverwinter’s many solo-friendly gameplay areas.

While there will be a sizable amount of solo friendly content, players seeking a true dungeon crawling experience will have plenty of interesting content to chew on. Via a slick in-game UI panel, players will be able to track any active missions they may have picked up from NPCs, and also browse through some of the top rated player-created dungeons. The latter will be selected by the team at Cryptic, and will represent a cross section of the best content players have managed to create via The Foundry toolset.

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Even More Active Combat

Many of us here at Ten Ton Hammer have been paying a lot of attention to one of the rising trends in the MMO industry: the rise of the MMOFPS as a viable sub-genre. The writing is clearly on the wall in that department thanks to upcoming titles such as Firefall, Planetside 2, and Defiance. However, an even bigger – and for my gaming dollar, more intriguing – trend in MMOs of late is the adoption of active combat systems.

What started with a few pioneering titles such as DDO, Age of Conan, and the ill-fated Chronicles of Spellborn, has become a vital part of where MMO combat is heading over the next few years. The MMOFPS trending is ultimately just one piece of that larger puzzle, especially once you consider that more and more fantasy titles are beginning to adopt a very distinctly FPS flow to combat.

Neverwinter is one of the better examples of this that I’ve seen so far. Much like TERA and Guild Wars 2, Neverwinter uses a more streamlined hotbar so that players spend less time staring at the cooldown timers for 100 skills on their screen at once, and can remain sharply focused on what’s actually happening in combat. It also uses a distinctly FPS style targeting system that also includes having commonly used at-will abilities mapped to the right and left mouse buttons. These will be based on your chosen class, and neatly sidestep the more traditional “white damage” auto-attacks found in less active combat systems.

The combined effect allows the game to play a lot more like an action game than what you’d come to expect from the fantasy MMO genre. To achieve this, Craig Zinkievich explained that Cryptic has done two things. First, by basing Neverwinter on the 4th edition D&D rules, it allows the developer to make combat fit the fast pace of online gaming much better. However, Cryptic has also spent a lot of time playing games like God of War and Bayonetta both for inspiration and to study what it is about those combat systems that resonates so well with gamers who crave action.

It remains to be seen if you’ll be able to dress your tiefling in a +10 Skintight Hair Suit of Doom, but from what we’ve seen and played of Neverwinter so far, you can certainly see the influence of those games, albeit in a slightly less exaggerated translation. But you can expect combat in Neverwinter to be very fast paced and fluid, with some stunning visual effects associated with even some of the more commonplace melee and magical attacks.

Neverwinter Logo

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