It's been a long and winding road for Neverwinter. Since its announcement back in 2010, Neverwinter has survived the sale of its developer, Cryptic Studios, legal battles between Atari and Wizards of the Coast, and a bunch of delays. But it has persevered against these long odds, and goes into open beta at the end of the month.
And from what we've seen in the closed beta weekends over the past couple of months, Neverwinter has come out stronger for all the adversity. There are a lot of reasons why this is a game worth playing, but we'll save you some hassle and give you our top five.
1. D&D Action
Like Neverwinter, Dungeons & Dragons itself has changed a lot over the years. The game system that started out as a fantasy subset add-on for a miniature wargame has become the industry standard that has defined an entire genre of entertainment, and has blossomed into a billion-dollar intellectual property.
The artists, writers and content designers who built Neverwinter are fans of D&D, and the game they built uses that license well. It is perhaps a bit more liberal with its translation of the current rules than some other D&D games, but it manages to impart a feeling of high-adrenaline adventure, right from the moment your character washes up on shore after an unfortunate sea storm. The story carries on the lore set forth by Salvatore, Greenwood and the other writers who built the Forgotten Realms, leading the player through well-known city settings and outlying regions, and sending the player into battles against iconic monsters.
2. Dynamic Gameplay
The gameplay in Neverwinter has a strong focus on action. Combat is dynamic and reactive, and requires active participation rather than just standing still and clicking number keys. Players are not swamped with a bewildering array of situationally-useful skills - your toolbar at the bottom gives you access to no more than 8 at once, and swapping these skills for different ones can dramatically change how the character plays.
Even the classes themselves have been sharpened-up for a more action-y feel. The Devoted Cleric, for example, is the primary "healer" class in the game, but it is not a heal-bot that just stands at the back and spams one or two heal skills. The cleric has to be as good at kicking asses as he is at fixing them, or it just doesn't feel like a dynamic, engaging class compared to the others.
The questing system may feel a bit old-fashioned, but even that lends to the D&D flavor. Tabletop D&D is where that system comes from, after all - NPC townies request help, itinerant heroes perform the task and return when finished for their reward. Quite frankly, any other system would feel wrong in a D&D game.
3. The Characters
Personally, I'm a fan of the aesthetics of the player characters. Dwarves are nearly as wide as they are tall, with beady little angry eyes and beak-like noses. Half-orcs are bulky brutes with death-metal scowls and massive under-bites. Elves look haughty and arrogant, halflings are wee and wily. And tieflings are probably one of the more interesting races available in any game - the bastard offspring of demons and mortals, with crazy goat-horns and spear-tipped tails.
Character models have a cool blend of cartoony stylization and gritty warts-and-all realism, and some of the armor looks fantastic. Even at low levels, the armor looks elaborate and cool - none of that dull, color-mismatched bargain-bin lowbie armor like you find in other games.
And it's not just the player characters that look awesome. Even the early-game mobs like orcs and wererats have a cool look to them. Sharp eyes will be able to pick out visual details from their favorite book illustrations. The monsters are just as detailed and visually interesting as the player characters.
That's not to say that Neverwinter uses bleeding-edge graphics tech that will burn your GPU out. That's not what MMOs do. But it does manage to look good without chewing up huge amounts of system resources.
4. The Price
Yeah, the game is free. Big deal, so is everything else these days, right? Well, that's only part of it. According to Perfect World Entertainment's infographic, playing Neverwinter could potentially save you millions of dollars. Provided you play the game instead of driving, use only your computer to heat your house, don't drink or smoke at your game desk and ordinarily throw lavish parties in Dubai.
5. The Foundry
One of the most exciting features of Neverwinter is the ability for players to create their own adventures, using a content-creation tool called the Foundry. This has proven to be an awesome tool in Star Trek Online, with some users creating new adventure modules as good as or better than the stuff created by the studio. Dungeons & Dragons has a long history of published adventure packs, starting all the way back in the 1970s and continuing on today, and many of these will surely be recreated by enterprising players.
Obviously it won't all be masterpieces and conversions of the Tomb of Horrors. There is also certain to be a flood of unplayable crap as well, from the buggy, unfinished experiments of enthusiastic but unskilled neophytes to the pointless, punishing pranks of seasoned trolls. That's the nature of the beast, though, and one of the things that makes it so awesome. Giving a powerful tool with no quality control to a large group of interested amateurs can produce some unpredictable results. Finding those few diamonds in the piles of slag and offal makes it all worthwhile.
Neverwinter starts open beta on April 30, with pre-order customers getting up to a 5-day head start. Check it out then, and add your own reasons to this list.
Got another reason why players should check out Neverwinter? Let us know in our comments!