Developer: Cryptic Studios / Publisher: Perfect World Entertainment / Release Date: Early 2013
My time in Neverwinter was restricted to a single weekend, which I’m oddly grateful for. The whole time playing, I could feel my brain quietly dispose of every nonessential activity. Bathing, eating, cleaning – these are all trivial when a well-crafted MMO gets its hooks in you.
What is it about Neverwinter that has me ready to trade away any vestige of civilization? Sure, there’s the simple hook that it will be free, but there’s more to it. The basics don’t sound all that special either. Medieval fantasy action set in the Forgotten Realms shard of Dungeons & Dragons lore. However, Neverwinter’s combat and content are both re-thinking MMO norms and the combination already sounds incredible.
In terms of combat, Neverwinter is actually very similar to Tera, though it exchanges fewer active skills for a bit more clothing. Rather than operate on the World of Warcraft template of using a mouse-based UI with tons of skills, mouselook is always on by default. You target enemies by simply aiming at them and activating your skills.
As you might guess, this can make specific targeting difficult, especially in crowded melees. To compensate, most skills are area-of-effect based — even support skills like healing and buffs. For example, the healer class has a healing laser that you can direct at a single player, a radius heal similar to WoW’s Holy Nova, and an energy javelin you can throw to heal players in a line.
This creates combat that’s fundamentally different from the WoW template of “hammer out your rotation” and “don’t stand in fire.” It’s more about the relative positioning of you, your party, and the enemies. I’m hoping that the game will have content difficult enough to force parties to have marching band precision, moving in and out of AoEs, and lining up at the precise time when skills pop.
Speaking of skills, Neverwinter’s stat and skill system is loosely based on Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, though it bends the rules a little where a strict interpretation wouldn’t be very much fun. For instance, you get two daily skills, but they’re not really daily. As you fight, a giant D20 fills in the middle of the screen, allowing you to trigger a powerful skill once the die tops off. It’s a fun, action-oriented take on D&D that should bring a smile to anyone that’s spent an evening with a group of friends and a bag of dice.
Of course, fancy skills don’t amount to much if you don’t have monsters to kill and glittering treasure to loot. Neverwinter will have a fascinating approach to in-game content, which in keeping with its namesake, includes user-generated content.
But first, I have to say I’m incredibly impressed with what I’ve seen of Cryptic’s pre-made content. Though I only played a handful of dungeons, each was retail-quality MMO content. More than that, it was really good retail quality. While some of the early dungeons are merely decent, my run through the Cloak Tower was incredible. Nearly every room looked different — from towering stone hallways to glistening underground caverns. This is a far cry from the cookie-cutter MMO content we used to see.
But this game is called Neverwinter, and if you played BioWare’s Neverwinter Nights, you know that user-generated content can extend a game’s life for years. Cryptic will bring the Foundry, introduced in Star Trek Online, into Neverwinter allowing players to create quests, dungeons, outdoor areas, dialogue trees… just about anything you can imagine.
The process is smart. Any player can download the free tools, create, and submit game content. That content is then reviewed by other players that elect to be in a reviewing group, which will vet out the best content to make available for the community. You can even send tips of in-game currency to content creators if you really enjoy it, meaning you can get digitally rich off your creations.
The potential here is huge — not only to have an MMO with fresh content every week but to create a new and exciting digital ecosystem. There’s even an in-game currency exchange where you can trade the different types of the game’s currency. That should be exciting for all the World of Warcraft day traders out there. I’m already looking forward to Eve Online-style stories of players that amass ridiculous digital riches.
Speaking of ecosystems, Neverwinter will be completely free to play, though Cryptic isn’t detailing exactly what real-money hooks will actually pay them for their efforts. They have, at least, ruled out a few fears: there will be no level cap or classes locked out for free players, and the content creation tools will be completely free for everyone. That’s a great start, and personally I’m hoping it’ll just be limited to visual doodads that I’ll probably end up buying anyway.
This is why I’m terrified for my personal hygiene. Not only is the action-based combat really fun, but fresh content from Cryptic and the community means that there will always be something new to explore. That’s the recipe that keeps me out of the shower and on my computer, so we’ll just have to see how ripe I get as the game nears release in early 2013.