Developer: Cryptic Studios
Publisher: Perfect World
Release Date: June 20, 2013
Ah, the memories of growing up geeky. If you’ll pardon me while I lean back in my rocking chair and puff away at my pipe, those of us who have attained a certain age can remember many a caffeine laced evening spent in the basements of suburbia, gleefully throwing plastic polyhedral dice around.
Lacking the high powered computer games that you young whippersnappers have today, we fell back upon imagination. That, and the richly imagined worlds of the older professional geeks who made the rulesets and adventure modules. Possibly the most popular campaign setting of them all was Forgotten Realms, in which the majority of Dungeons and Dragons adventures were set. Don’t try pretending you’ve never played D&D. You’re reading this on a videogame review site, for goodness sake. The mark of the geek is upon you!
Thank you Peter Jackson for Lord of the Rings, and thank you Cryptic for Neverwinter.
While Bioware took a swing at Forgotten Realms with Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights, the property has lain fallow in recent years despite the success of both of those titles. It was ripe for exploitation, given that those young geeks are all grown up now, with credit cards in hand, ready to traipse on down to Zen Cash Shop. More on that in a bit, but I’m being snarky when I use the word exploit. It’s a beautiful thing to see favorite worlds reimagined in other mediums. Thank you Peter Jackson for Lord of the Rings, and thank you Cryptic for Neverwinter.
Cryptic isn’t a newcomer to this sort of thing, having previously brought Hero Games’ Champions to the computer monitor via Champions Online. Champions Online was a near spot on adaptation, and its action based combat system was fun and novel, for all that it it’s beginning to look a bit dated now. So was Cryptic able to pull the same trick off with Neverwinter?
Rolling a character
Pretty darned well, in fact. Right off the bat, you’re thrown into a character generation system that has somewhere around a kajillion (I lost count) different character backgrounds, regions and religions. That sort of detail is one that gets passed by in most MMOs, largely because it doesn’t have a huge impact on actual gameplay. But in the world of RPGs, players love nothing more than to come up with imaginative backgrounds and histories for their characters, bringing them to life in a way a more generic “elf thief” rarely is. So, major thumbs up right there for understanding the spirit of the franchise.
Character classes and races will look familiar, of course. Neverwinter is based on Dungeons and Dragons, after all, and online fantasy games have been modeling themselves on that ruleset since Avatar on the PLATO system (sorry, obscure old guy reference there. Now get off my lawn). That said, the powers that the character classes have are intriguing enough, although I admit my Trickster Rogue probably has a nerf gun in his future. Seriously, the ability to just teleport about, disabling and dispatching at will is just too much fun.
Faithful to the source material
I’ll admit to being overwhelmed a bit by all the different choices on the ability tree. No doubt, my little Trickster was far from optimally designed, as I tended to go with ye Olde “Hey, that looks cool” technique of picking upgrades. One cool concept that is still in the works is the “Paragon Paths”, which become available at level 30. Basically sub-specialties that open up new power trees, right now there’s only one per character class. Hopefully, when new ones open up, there will be the ability for players to retconn existing characters, rather than starting again from square one. And hopefully, they won’t get charged for the privilege. More on that in a bit.
there’s plenty of wandering and exploring to be done
Quite obviously, a game based on old style RPGs is going to live or die on character creation and combat. That and the spell listings took up about 80% of the old rulebooks, after all. But all that is nothing without a fun place to play in. Quite obviously, the world of Forgotten Realms is a shoo-in for fun, but what of the execution?
For the most part, Cryptic was faithful to the source material, and while it’s no Skyrim, the world is certainly pretty enough. Call the art style late nineties RPG handbook. Again, appropriate, but I have to admit I’m enough of a pixel junky that I found myself wishing that the environment designers had more polygons to play with. That said, there’s a huge amount of content here– there’s plenty of wandering and exploring to be done.
Excellent combat, glittering path to riches
combat in Neverwinter is a complete blast.
And combat in Neverwinter is a complete blast. Cryptic has taken the action based concepts we saw in Champions Online and run with them. There is no autotargeting, autoattack or really, auto anything. You aim, and you throw your power. It turns combat from a passive click-fest into a dynamic, well, game. Interactions between powers are also well thought out and nicely situational. There is none of that tedious turn-based “spam spam spam, cooldown and spam” nonsense here.
While the combat is new and exciting, for better or worse, basic gameplay is vanilla MMO. You land (well, get shipwrecked) and it’s off to meet people so they can give you quests so you can complete them and they can give you stuff so you can do more quests to get more stuff to get… You know the routine. Follow the glittering path to riches.
Perhaps it’s just me, but I found this aspect of the game not exactly bad, but very much done before. To a certain extent, I may be protesting too much. After all, the fetch/kill quest routine is as much a part of MMOs as leveling up is. That said, I really enjoyed what Guild Wars 2 did with its quests: rather than the traditional searching for a quest giver, quests and groupings pop up once the character arrives at the scene. Perhaps unrealistic, but it eliminated a fair amount of tedium as well as promoted player interaction. I’m not saying that Neverwinter should do its quests the same way as Guild Wars 2, but it did feel oddly dated in a game that is so willing to innovate elsewhere.
Did I say innovation? Neverwinter has this thing called the Foundry One of the most brilliant things about the old Bioware Neverwinter Nights game was that it allowed for user generated content that other players could access online. Well, helloooo 2013, Cryptic is doing the same. I mean, one of my old guy gripes about modern MMOs versus old pen and paper games is that back in the day, we created our own adventures. Playing an MMO is more like playing an RPG using only premade adventure packs. It misses a huge part of the whole experience. Single player games have been open to community content for some time now, and Cryptic deserves serious props for making it happen in a major MMO. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the fans of Neverwinter come up with. It’s that sort of thing that builds a strong community and keeps a game vibrant and alive.
Unfortunately, for all of that, said community is still very much in its infancy. Oh, people do blab about on chat, but for the most part, Neverwinter feels like a solo game, at least at the beginning. I might be missing something, but for all my wandering about, it was a rare thing to find someone real to chat with, much less go questing with. More social tools and possibly more encouragement for things like guilds would be a help. Or maybe I need to be more active in teaming up with people. Well, in the meantime, I guess I could buy some more companions. Call it the NPC version of a blow up doll.
And I mean literally buy. The Zen Market will sell you a cuddly honey badger (who presumably doesn’t give a f—) for a low low $35 US dollars. Or you could cheap out with a wolf for $15. That’s as low as it goes. Want to ride a horse? Pony up even more (sorry). Cryptic has gotten some flak for the prices on the market. And when it costs $6 to respec a character, one can see the critic’s point. But at the end of the day, it’s a free to play game. They’ve got to pay for the electricity at headquarters somehow.
Overall, Neverwinter is far more than just a simple nostalgia trip. While for the most part, it’s a fairly standard fantasy MMO, it’s one that uses those old tropes oh so well. If it seems a bit old school in tone, hey, it’s based on the game that started it all. Yes, you’ll spend a fair amount of time questing, hacking and slashing, but that’s what you came for, ain’t it?
Neverwinter Review Score
|8.5||Why so high?
Dynamic combat system, allows for user generated adventures, huge and intriguing world to explore, reviewer is a D&D nerd
|Why so low?
At times feels like a generic fantasy MMO. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.