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.
Control Wizard Class Overview
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.
Chill, Arcane Mastery and Spell Mastery
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.
Tips & Tricks
Some spell and skill combinations have good synergy, and it may take a lot of practice and tweaking to find the right sets and combos that best suit your playstyle. It kind of depends on whether you favor the "control" aspect of the class, or the damage-dealing parts.
Solo play relies very heavily on keeping some distance between you and your targets. The chief issue with this is, the Control Wizard can't attack while on the move. If he's attacking, he is rooted in place. And because so many of the tougher enemies have knockback and stun attacks which interrupt long casting inductions, this can be problematic. For the sake of survival, it is best policy to employ cheap hit-and-run tactics: start from max distance, pop an Encounter spell, follow up with Magic Missile or Ray of Frost until the enemy gets close, teleport away, pop another Encounter skill, teleport again, MM/RoF, rinse, repeat. This style of play significantly decreases the class's DPS and may not appeal to every player, but it does make the class more challenging than something like the Guardian Fighter, who can often just stand there with his shield raised and soak up the enemy's assaults.
This gets much easier in the mid-teens, when the player gets his first companion. I went with a Man-at-Arms, who was a reasonably effective melee tank and was able to hold enemy aggro while I stood way back and rained icy death on the enemy. This allowed me a lot more freedom to experiment with interesting spell synergies, and was much closer to the group-combat experience.
When running without a pet, I would start multi-target fights by singling out a weak mob with Chill Strike, which is often enough to kill standard-strength mobs outright, but if they still had a sliver of Hit Points left, I could finish them off quickly with Magic Missile or Ray of Frost. After the opening assault, I would drop an Icy Terrain at my feet, followed by a Conduit of Ice on the strongest attacker. This is sort of a "set it and forget it" combo. The Icy Terrain creates an area-damage hotspot that also stacks the Chill debuff on any enemy within it, and the Conduit of Ice deals area damage over time which scales up with each stack of Chill. It's often enough to take out two or three standard mobs clustered around a central point (my pet, say).
For single-target fights, you will want to alternate between stacking Chill and Arcane Mastery while staying on the move. Start at max range, open with Ray of Frost for one stack of Chill, then a 3-round burst of Magic Missile for a stack of Arcane Mastery. Teleport away, blast with another Ray of Frost (or a strong Encounter attack like Chill Strike), move again, another salvo of Magic Missile, move again.
For group content, a different skill set might work better. Theoretically, the Control Wizard shouldn't need to worry so much about teleporting around the room to stay alive, so he can place more focus on less-lethal debuffs and long-channel skills.
I didn't find Entangling Force to be particularly effective for solo play, but it would be great in a dungeon - use it against an enemy caster as an interrupt. Ray of Enfeeblement is also better for group content where debuffs are handy for the rest of the group, than for solo play where your limited selection of Encounter spells is best filled with high-damage attacks.
One thing I saw a lot during my group runs was Control Wizards using their huge knockback attacks at inappropriate times. Situational awareness is beneficial for every class type, but when you have skills that can create problems for the entire rest of the group, it's even more important to know when to use them and when to hold them back. Some examples:
- The group's melee tank tends to want to wrangle and corral groups of mobs so that they are all in front of and facing him. When he manages to accomplish this, it is not a good idea for the Control Wizard to blast them all away with Repel, because the tank will just have to do all that work again.
- When another Control Wizard in the group throws down his Icy Terrain and Conduit of Ice to take out a big group of weak mobs, it is unwise to knock all the enemies out of the damage zone. A non-knockback stun like Oppressive Force, or an AOE slow like Steal Time, is the better choice here.
- If the Control Wizard is slightly above level for an instance and his Ice Storm is powerful enough to kill standard-strength enemies outright, it is probably acceptable to use it against waves of weak adds during a boss fight. It is not a good idea to use it as an opener against a group of strong or elite mobs.
When it came time to choose my first companion/pet, I saw no reason to go with anything other than the Man-at-Arms. The healer companion is not an effective choice because the Control Wizard is not built to withstand a long, sustained beating anyway. The wizard companion would be redundant and not likely terribly helpful for boss fights and such. I considered the dog for a moment, but it's a single-target "striker" and not an aggro-magnet. The melee tank pet was an easy choice to make.
I found that he would typically survive to about halfway through a dungeon-boss fight, and from there I would be on my own. With the handy teleport ability (and depending on the boss in question), I would be able to revive him a few times during boss fights. If I timed it right, I could wait for the boss to start a long attack induction, teleport over to my fallen soldier and get him back on his feet before the boss closed in, which would allow me to open up some distance between me and the boss and quaff a few potions to top up my health. Then the soldier would die again, and I would go back to my shoot-jump-shoot-jump tactic.
Picking a paragon path at level 30 will depend on the player's preferred play style. The Oppressor path enhances control abilities, extending the durations of stuns and roots and dazes. This is most ideal for group play, where debuffs and CC have the most benefit. The Thaumaturge path boosts raw damage output, allowing the Control Wizard to hit bigger DPS numbers and making solo play more engaging. The Renegade path affects spell synergies, increasing the effectiveness of Arcane Mastery and Chill benefits. This is for the people who employ the good old "Grease + Burning Hands" tactic in tabletop games, making good use of spell combos for extra effect.
How was your experience with the Control Wizard during the beta weekend? Share your tips, tricks and other insights in our comments!