Neverwinter Review

Neverwinter Review

Neverwinter
has been a long time coming. It has been through the development wringer,
surviving corporate trade-offs and long delays, and finally goes live
today, June 20. Despite originating with the same publisher and sharing
the same setting, it is not a direct successor to the Neverwinter Nights
series of games. Instead, Neverwinter draws more from the stories of R.A.
Salvatore and the other Forgotten Realms authors. The events of
Neverwinter Nights and its sequel are a matter of history; the world has
changed since then, both in-game and out of it. This is a different type
of game for a different type of gamer.

Cautions

With its high-fantasy setting, there's the usual blood and violence and
alcohol. Since there are no strictly-enforced quality or decency standards
for player-generated content, be wary when approaching Foundry adventures.

Gameplay - 90 / 100

Neverwinter Review - Boss Fight

PerfectWorld and Cryptic are marketing Neverwinter as an "Action MMORPG,"
with a focus on the action part. Combat is the clear focus of the game,
and the combat is dynamic, reactive and fast-paced.

Similar to Guild Wars 2, combat relies less on skill-spamming and more on
active participation. Enemy blows must be actively dodged, blocked or
evaded, and positioning is important. The character needs to be facing his
enemies to land most blows, and will need plenty of room to maneuver to
avoid taking damage.

The small-scale skill bar adds to this effect, as well. During the leveling
process, characters can develop dozens of combat skills, but they only have
immediate access to 7 at any given time - two At-Will skills (tied to the
mouse buttons, the "default" attacks), three Encounter skills (mapped to Q,
E and R - stronger attacks or specialty moves with a short timer) and two
Daily skills (mapped to 1 and 2 - big attacks that cost energy typically
built up by using Encounter and At-Will skills). These skills can be
switched around and swapped out for others of the same type, and the
character must spend skill points to improve the skills he intends to use.
This means any two characters of the same class might play completely
differently, with a different set of slotted skills achieving different
effects. In other words, players can play how they want.Neverwinter Review - Questing

src="http://www.tentonhammer.com/image/view/251183">

PvE questing is more traditional - players visit quest hubs, complete
objectives out in the wilderness, and return to the quest-givers to claim
rewards. The story is sort of typical Dungeons & Dragons stuff - a
necromancer named Valindra threatens to overrun the city of Neverwinter
with hordes of undead, yada yada yada. There are some neat cinematics at
the beginning, showing Valindra's transformation into a lich and her
initial assault on the city, but the actual questing and storytelling is
rather tepid. This is an action game, after all, and the focus is on the
fighting rather than on the talking.

This is kind of a shame, though, because all of the main quests are fully
voice-acted. The standard "wall of text" is paired with a NPC reading the
text to you, and the voice-over continues after you accept the quest and
start heading towards your goal. Fans of the R.A. Salvatore stories and
such may wish to pay more attention to the quest dialogue, but I found
myself just clicking through and mostly ignoring the story.

This is only for the main story, though - the stuff designed by the
developers. It's an entirely different matter when you start getting into
the user-generated content made in the Foundry. 

Neverwinter Review - Foundry missions

Foundry missions can be anything from hardcore roleplaying, dialogue-only
novellas to hack-n-slash dungeon crawls. They are as different from one
another as the players who make them, and if you want something more
story-heavy than what you're getting from the official progression, you
can find it by browsing through the Foundry missions. The Foundry comes
with its own drawbacks - there are no quality control standards or
spell-checkers, and the toolset is somewhat limited in its scope - but the
ability for players to create the kind of adventures they want to play far
outweighs these limitations.

Neverwinter Review - Neverwinter Gateway

Additionally, some aspects of the game can be accessed "offline" through
the Neverwinter Gateway, giving access to in-game mail, the auction house,
guild management and the Professions window. This website can be accessed
through any web browser, meaning you can manage your characters' finances
and such via your smartphone.

Graphics - 95 / 100

Neverwinter is a pretty city, and the designers at Cryptic have done much
to bring that beauty to life. The floating island housing the Moonstone
Mask, the bustling market area at Protector's Enclave, the battered,
sludge-filled remnants of the once-glorious Blacklake District, the
orc-besieged Tower District - these areas have never looked better.

Neverwinter Review - Dwarf character model

Character models are somewhat primitive. The hairstyles look like they
belong in a much older game. Faces don't really gain much definition from
the customizer, and the characters you end up with often look like
cartoons striving super-hard towards realism, with googly eyes and bizarre
body and face proportions, but wrapped in somewhat realistic skin.
Barrel-chested half-orcs and stumpy dwarves look okay, but elf, human and
halfling characters can look pretty silly when stripped down to their
gitch.

I rather like the aesthetic of the characters' armor, though. Even at low
levels, metal armor is ornate and gleaming, and fits the cartoonish
character models well enough. There are glitches with cloaks and long,
flowing parts of robes that get caught up on one another during character
movement, but overall the designs look pretty nice, and endgame gear looks
outstanding.

Neverwinter Review - Flashy combat

Character and monster animations and attack effects are quite flashy and
fun. One of my favorite little details in the game is the way the
Trickster Rogue gives his dagger a little spin around his fingers as he
brings it around his back. Some of the kung fu moves performed by the
characters seem over-the-top -  in particular, the Control Wizard
seems almost excessively acrobatic with his casting gestures, hurling
magic missiles like a ninja whipping a storm of shuriken. But it fits fine
with the over-the-top 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons ruleset.

Neverwinter doesn't do much to push the limits of gaming hardware, but it
does make good use of what it has. It can be run on older hardware just fine,
but newer hardware shows off more of the visual flair, as one might
suspect. I started out running it on a 5-year-old GeForce card during the
beta weekends, and that card handled it well enough. Not as good as the
new, faster card I'm running now, of course, but it was able to run at
middling settings with a decent frame rate. This is one of the things that
PerfectWorld seems to do really well - making stuff look good within a tight
resources budget.

Sound - 87 / 100

The musical score by Kevin Manthei is on par with other Cryptic titles.
Manthei is their go-to composer, and has previously scored Star Trek
Online and Champions Online. The soundtrack is low-key but evocative - it
doesn't distract from the action or dialogue by being too bombastic or
overpowering, but it definitely sets the mood for an area. The stabbing
strings and braying horns in the Tower District have an urgent, war-like
quality perfectly suited for a neighborhood besieged by bloodthirsty orcs.
The rolling, anthemic brass and lilting flutes heard in Protectors Enclave
reflect the nobility of its powerful rulers and the clay feet of the
adventurers who call the place home.

NPC questgivers in the main storyline are all fully voiced. Some of the
voice acting is pretty hammy - For instance, the narrator who voices the
gameplay tips during the introduction sounds like a member of the cast of
the first season of Spartacus - but in general it's not bad. It's nothing
like the cutscenes in Star Wars: The Old Republic, with actors emoting and
moving around and doing things - for the most part, the NPC will just
stand there with a more or less static emote, going "bah bah bah" with his
mouth while the voice actor reads his lines. But some of the voice actors
are at least entertaining.

Multiplayer - 90 / 100

Neverwinter stays with the tried-and-true strategy of solo-leveling
peppered with instanced group content. The chief difference here, though,
is a somewhat reduced reliance on the traditional MMO trinity of Tank -
Heals - DPS.

Neverwinter Review - Group play

That's not to say that the standard type of group balance has no place in
Neverwinter - far from it. There's no denying that the Guardian Fighter is
meant to be a tank, and the Devoted Cleric is meant to be a healer. But
the traditional play-styles associated with these roles doesn't really
work here. Tanks are meant to avoid damage rather than soak it, despite
the heavy armor and shields. Healers are not "heal-bots" who sit meekly at
the back of the group spamming the same 2 skills over and over to keep
everyone alive; they get out in the thick of the fight and dish out holy
righteousness, and their heals are more like supplements to potions and
maintenance for the incautious or slow.

Group dungeons and skirmishes work best with a balanced group, of course,
but at lower levels, players can expect to complete group content with
really bizarre, unbalanced groups. The Cloak Tower in the Tower District
is the first group dungeon the player will face, and it can be done with a
group composed entirely of any one class, if need be.  As long as
everybody knows when to duck and dodge, no problem - no tank needed, heal
by potions. Not all dungeons are this forgiving, but it does illustrate a
decreased reliance on an old concept.

Neverwinter Review - PvP Scoreboard

Neverwinter uses instanced PvP battle zones. As you can see from the
screenshot, I'm not a PvP guy, and haven't done it much. Currently, there
are only "Domination" maps, taking and holding control points. Gauntlgrym
brings new PvP maps available to level 60 characters. 

Value - 77 / 100

Since Neverwinter is free-to-play with no subscription option, its value
must be determined a different way.

Neverwinter Review - Astral Diamond Exchange

PerfectWorld offers up a theoretically ideal system of F2P, where players
can earn cash shop currency through gameplay. Neverwinter currently uses a
huge and confusing array of currencies, but the two that are most
important for determining value are Astral Diamonds and Zen. Astral
Diamonds can be earned through regular gameplay - you get them from
praying at altars, selling loot on the auction house, completing daily
Foundry missions and other ways. These can then be used to buy Zen being
sold by other players - there's a special panel for Zen/AD trading, and
players can set their own prices.

In theory, this means you can get the full Neverwinter experience without
ever paying a dime. In practice, however, you're still going to want to
spend a bit of cash if you want a big-ticket item from the Zen Market. The
exchange rate of AD:Zen is currently around 325:1, so the expensive Zen
Market items cost millions of Astral Diamonds. If you want to get
everything for free, you have to play two player-driven markets and be
patient enough for a good payout.

As I have expressed
before
, I have a problem with the Nightmare Lockbox mechanic. I feel
that this adds no value to a game, and in fact detracts from it. It is
loot that we have to buy in order to use, which is a cheap move. I imagine
it makes the Enchanted Keys a hot-selling item in the Zen Market, but the
cash shop is already quite aggressively promoted in all other aspects of
the game.

Cryptic/PWE earned a bit of flack for selling "Founders Packs" during the
closed beta stage of the game, with the $199 "Hero of the North" pack
guaranteeing access to all stages of beta, and a slew of in-game items.
But really, these packs are no different than the original marketing for
SWTOR, which had three similarly-priced packages. The difference here is,
the Hero of the North customer gets a special Andorian starship for Star
Trek Online, and other mounts and such for seven other games. 200 bucks
seems like a lot, but since there is no monthly subscription and since you
get all that stuff for a whole pile of games, the value is there.

Neverwinter Review - Foundry

Again, the real redeeming quality here is the Foundry. Giving players the
ability to create their own content is a wonderful thing. I've seen a lot
of different kinds of player-created stuff come out of the Foundry, from
thoughtful and provocative multi-part campaigns to blatant XP grinders to
personal role-playing environments. These players are getting exactly the
kind of content they want. Adding an Astral Diamond "tip jar" so that
content authors can be paid for their work is a stroke of genius.

Lasting Appeal - 95 / 100

It's pretty easy to envision Neverwinter sticking around for a while. It
has a fairly solid endgame at launch, with an established gear grind
progression. The classes all play very differently, so players who hit
level cap and don't feel like grinding high-level dungeons can start over
and get a totally new-feeling game with a new character. 

Neverwinter Review - A Foundry mission

There are clear plans in place to continue developing Neverwinter.
Caverns of Gauntlgrym is the first step, adding new level 60 content on
launch day. And this summer will see the first content expansion, Fury of
the Feywild. Cryptic says that future content expansions will come in the
form of adventure modules, which is true to D&D form, but this
expansion is also likely to introduce a new class or two as well. Rangers
and Druids are suspiciously absent from the current game, and the Feywilds
is a very likely place to encounter them.

Once again, the Foundry contributes a lot to this category. Bored with
current endgame content? Make your own! Sick of the gear grind? Try a
roleplaying adventure! The Foundry gives us a constant stream of fresh,
new content, or the ability to create our own. It's a full set of
D&D-themed LEGO.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • The Foundry is awesome.
  • D&D action in the Forgotten Realms.
  • The Foundry gives players the ability to create the kind of content
    they want to play.
  • Dynamic combat system makes for engaging gameplay..
  • Did I mention the Foundry?

Cons

  • F2P marketing in-game is aggressive and off-putting
  • Players expecting a continuation of Atari's Neverwinter Nights series
    (and its powerful Aurora toolset) will be disappointed
  • Players accustomed to traditional "Trinity"-style group play will need
    some adjustment time

Conclusion

I was happy to spend the 60 bucks on the Guardian of the North Founder's
Pack many months ago. Even though the game is totally free to play, and I
could have gotten almost all the same stuff (or equivalent to it) through
the Zen Market for the cost of a few hours of gameplay, it still feels
worth it. Neverwinter is fun and engaging, and well worth the time
investment even if you don't want to spend the money.

Overall 89/100 - Great

Metacritic

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