Ragar gives his thoughts on two weekends with Cryptic's new D&D MMO
I'm a bit of a D&D nerd. I may not have quite as many years of experience with the game as some other folks reading this site (my first pen-and-paper game was a 3rd Edition campaign in college), but I love the game all the same. When Dungeons and Dragons Online came out, I thought it would be a perfect match for me, since it was an MMO set in Eberron and I'm a sucker for Warforged. Unfortunately, the game failed to grab me - the mechanics didn't click with me enough to switch from World of Warcraft and I didn't care for the art style. Fast-forward seven years and we have another D&D-based MMO in front of us, this one set in Neverwinter and the Forgotten Realms. Will this game fix the issues I had with DDO? Will it do justice to the setting and provide some of that world-building aspect that people love from the pen-and-paper game? Will it be filled with four million Drow named XxDrizztxX or some variant of that? After two beta weekends, I'll say yes, yes, and yes unless they (hopefully) ban those upfront.
D&D Minus the Character Sheet and Dice
Let's start with the obvious bits: art style and gameplay. Art's a subjective thing, but I will say Neverwinter looks like a modern RPG. On the scale between hyper-realistic and World of Warcraft, this lies closer to a Rift than a WoW; just realistic enough that there’re no gigantic shoulder pads or 2-handed weapons masquerading as daggers, but stylized enough to avoid any uncanny valley issues. In general, I'm a fan of the art, though it's not perfect (I'm sure the Glow and Blind eye options are supposed to look cool, but to me they just look like my eye textures didn't load properly). Also, when talking to NPCs, there's lip syncing but no real emotion in the character's face. This doesn't impact gameplay at all, but it does impact the art's ability to pull me into the world when the guy giving me a quest has the same expression whether he's angry, happy or sad.
Gameplay-wise, the closest comparison I can think of at the moment would be Tera. Your attacks boil down into three categories: At-Will, Encounter and Daily. Ignore those names though since they're just carried over from 4th Edition D&D. At-Will powers are your primary attacks, so they're bound to left- and right-mouse buttons. These attacks generally have no cooldown (though I think the Trickster Rogue's knife throw had a counter to limit how many you could throw in a row). Encounter powers are your short-term (10-30 seconds) cooldowns that are bound to Q, E and R. Finally there's your Daily power and this one's a little different. In the middle of your bar is a d20-shaped gauge that fills up as you attack or use your class-specific abilities (e.g. blocking attacks as a Guardian Fighter). Once the d20 is full, you can hit 1 or 2 to use one of your more powerful Daily attacks.
I'll use my Guardian Fighter to give some examples for these. My At-Will powers were a Cleave for AoE damage in front of me and Tide of Iron for a single-target hit that also made the target take more damage as well as replenished 10% of my guard meter. For my Encounter powers, I had a charge, an AoE shout that taunts as well as does damage and a stunning attack. Finally I had the one Daily slot unlocked and I chose to use an ability that let me restore health based on damage dealt during the next few seconds. Combat in general would be me charging in to a group of mobs, popping my Daily followed by the AoE shout and my Stun attack to refill my health, then alternating between my regular At-Will powers and the ones I could use while blocking until my Encounter powers came back up. Combat felt very smooth and I felt that I had to pay attention for the most part. Some mobs like the Orc packs in the Tower District or a few of the Nashers would try to flank me and avoid my block, so I would need to reposition based on these movements as well as the glowing red "don't stand here, stupid" spots on the ground.
The interaction between blocking and my At-Will powers was interesting. When your shield is up, your At-Will powers change to a single-target thrust that taunts and a shield slam that also regenerates 5% of your guard meter. Based on my experience, I could not keep my shield up 100% of the time. For trash mobs I needed some AoE damage and my Encounter powers didn't seem to work with the shield up, so that meant dropping the shield to use Cleave. For bigger fights the guard meter throughput from my shield slam couldn't keep up with the hits I was taking, so I needed to switch to Tide of Iron and run around the slower attacks. It does leave me wondering what governs how much I can block for. Is it just level-based or is there a stat-component as well? If it's the latter, then there's the potential for overgearing the need to drop your shield: stack enough Constitution or whatever the guard meter stat is and just spam your 5% shield slam the entire boss fight.
Of course that whole "outgearing the need to drop your shield" idea is dependent on the idea of a traditional tank-and-spank, one boss fight. So far I've yet to see anything like that, but the only instances I've been in other than story-mode content have been the first two Skirmishes. Both of those instances had boss fights at the end, but between the adds that came with the boss and how hard he was hitting, I only spent about half of the fight with my shield block up. These Skirmishes seem to be the LFR of 5-man design though, so I'm reluctant to use them as proof that there are no single-mob bosses.