Cryptic's D&D-based MMO officially launches today after months of beta. Ragar brings us his opinion on the state of the game.
It’s been over a month since Cryptic’s new free-to-play MMO, Neverwinter, went into open beta. Many players have taken the plunge into the world of Faerûn, leveling one of the five launch classes to 60 and partaking in the quest/PvE/PvP content available. Many of the writers here at ZAM have been playing through the game on our own characters, including me. I’ve made no effort to hide the fact that I’m a bit of a Dungeons & Dragons nerd. I’ve mentioned it in news posts, there was that long and rambling “what classes might we see next?” post during closed beta, and I even admitted to being a DM when I wrote that post. Considering that I had a fairly glowing preview of the game during the beta weekends, has the game managed to keep my attention these last few weeks as I progressed past what I saw in those first twenty levels?
Art, or “Why Does My Character Look The Same Now As He Did At Level 5?”
I touched upon the art style in my beta weekend preview, but I’ll mention it again here. Neverwinter’s art style places it somewhere in the middle between the realistic style of Rift and cartoonish style of World of Warcraft. I’m a fan of the art style personally, but it’s really a subjective thing whether someone cares for a game’s art direction.
One aspect of the art I will talk about more, however, is model variety. There’s a decent amount of variety in the monsters you’ll be fighting while leveling and running instances in Neverwinter; each pack in a given quest area usually has three or four different types of creatures in it, so that helps somewhat with the feeling that you’re not slaughtering your way through a field of clones (until you make the next pull). Where the game’s art variety does lack though is in equipment textures, at least so far as I’ve come across while leveling. While the current equipment system is modeled closer to the pen-and-paper game, treating chest and leggings as a set rather than pieces, that simplification makes the lack of armor models more evident. The sets of armor themselves look quite good, but part of the fun of leveling in an MMO is seeing new things and the equipment your character is wearing plays a big part in this. That’s why when, after 30 levels it looks like my character just bolted a single shoulder plate to his level 7 breastplate, I have to question things.
This problem isn’t unique to Neverwinter though, so don’t think I’m picking on it unfairly. Guild Wars 2 was particularly bad about it since there were pretty much three styles of mail armor to cover my Warrior and Guardian from 1 to 40 and even then those sets had a bad habit of rearing their ugly heads after I’d long since earned the right to better looking equipment. Sure both games offer the ability to apply models from other pieces to your current gear, but the feature feels wasted when I don’t start to see any real variance in appearance until much later in the game. Dyes help to some extent, but many people have specific colors they prefer and end up picking a favorite set early on; I know once I got a decent black dye for my Charr Warrior, I pretty much ignored most of the other dye drops I found.
Don’t Feel Like Questing This Level? Try One of the Other Thirty Things Available!
Most of the leveling I’ve done in Neverwinter has been through quests. I’ve found them to be well-made in general, with a good mix of open world quests to make me feel like I’m actually playing an MMO as well as instanced quests for those more story-critical parts of a quest chain. Admittedly I was mostly digging all of the 4th Edition Forgotten Realms lore and paying attention to what’s changed since I played there in 3.5E, but the writing was solid and I didn’t feel like I was being sent out on one long, continuous chain of “Kill 10 rats” and “Bring me 10 bear pelts”. That said, the questing can be a bit linear in the early stages of leveling. Until around level 35 or 40, you’re basically given a single new zone breadcrumb quest to last you the next five or six levels. If you’ve already finished the story on your main, you might not want to rush in and do the exact same thing on your alt kind of like I didn’t want to do with mine. Good thing there’re other options, right?
While I cannot speak of PvP leveling from firsthand experience (Seasons 1 through 3 of WoW’s Arenas killed any desire I had to PvP ever again), from the forums it sounds like the XP per match is roughly equivalent to questing, give or take a few percent. Since PvP’s not my thing, I decided to try Skirmishes and the Foundry. Skirmishes in Neverwinter are basically repeatable instanced 5-man quests: go in, fight waves of trash, kill mini-bosses, more waves of trash, fight final boss, collect loot. Barring things going horribly wrong, you’re in and out in around 15 minutes and they have the potential to drop blue pieces of gear that are similar to, if not outright the same as, drops from the same level full dungeons. I know that I got the same level 34 sword from Straight to Helm that I got from Lair of the Mad Dragon, but that may have been a coincidence. I’m doubtful that this is quite as much experience per hour as actual questing since you’re not getting all of the quest experience, but it’s still a good chunk and you’ll make quite a bit of money to help pay for your mounts/crafting materials/etc. You’ve also got full Dungeon runs if you’d like something a bit longer with more boss loot, but I’ll get to those later.
The other major way to get experience, if you’re tired of all of those other methods, is to see what your fellow players have made for you in the Foundry. If you’re unfamiliar with the Foundry, it’s an area of the game where players who have used the tools provided by Cryptic can post quests they’ve created for their fellow players to run through. Some can be fairly simple like the arena fights I’ve tried, while others can be fairly lengthy quest chains like the Dweomerkeepers or From The Shadows. It is player-developed content, so they can be lacking in some areas: voice acting, custom models/textures, proofreading, etc. These small details aside, I’ve played through some very well made Foundry quests and I look forward to seeing what players are capable of crafting given time to learn the system and an increased toolset from Cryptic. Between Foundry quests and Skirmishes, I was able to work on my fighter alt without feeling like I was doing the same quests I just finished on my main.