The last time we wrote a Neverwinter preview the build we saw wasn’t really in any shape to be played. Cryptic was demonstrating the “Foundry,” a dungeon creator which, while awesome for Dungeons & Dragons nerds like us, wasn’t really all that visually enticing. Now, nearly a year later, we’ve finally gotten a chance to get some hands-on with the game portion of Neverwinter, which is actually shaping up to be quite the MMO.
Cryptic is doing what a lot of MMORPG developers are doing nowadays: eschewing traditional MMO combat in favor of something more action-oriented. Neverwinter is, first and foremost, an action game, where players have to physically connect with their attacks to deal damage. It still piles on loads of traditional MMO and RPG elements, but it’s all done with a sense of movement that old-school MMOs didn’t have.
Above: Quick! Find its elemental weakness and choose your Pokemon
We were told that the game isn’t based on any specific Dungeons & Dragons rule set, though it bears a striking resemblance to 4th Edition. The races, the art, the style – it all looks like the newest version of Dungeons & Dragons. Even the wording sounds like it was torn straight from the most recent Player's Handbook: abilities are broken into “At-will,” “Encounter,” and “Daily,” just as they are in 4E, but the distinctions aren’t quite that literal. At-will abilities are your regular attacks – the ones activated with left and right clicks – giving Wizards a spammable Magic Missile and Rogues the ability to teleport behind enemies, which helps them land critical strikes and sneak attacks.
Encounter abilities are on typical MMO cooldowns, popping up every few seconds, and Daily abilities are tied to a 20-sided die sitting atop the middle of the skill bar. As your class preforms its primary duties this D20 fills up, and once it’s completely lit you’re able to unleash a powerful ability. The dailies are appropriately epic and awesome, with mage-classes gaining powerful spells and rogues being able to teleport around the battlefield, slashing down groups of foes in a matter of seconds.
The fact that the D20 is tied to your class’s role and not damage means the game has built-in mechanics that reward players for working together in a group. Healers will see their D20 growing fuller as they heal, damage-dealing classes will fill theirs by dealing damage, and tanks will unlock their Daily power as they take damage. It fills up fast, too, so it’s not like you need to hold onto it for the perfect situation. You will want to use it when it's up, too - it's one of only a few abilities you'll have access to at any given time. Cryptic said that it wanted to keep the overall number of spells and abilities high, but limit how many players could bring into a battle to make things more strategic and less complicated. This should lower the barrier of entry for newcomers to the genre, while still allowing for in-depth customization.
Above: Loot will, obviously, still be an important part of D&D
And the Foundry we mentioned earlier? That’s still going to be in the game. When we visited the city of Neverwinter we saw a job board, and were told that we would be able to access player-created content by clicking on it. There, we’d find the newest, best, and most popular levels, ready to be jumped into with groups or solo. It’s almost like Little Big Planet… except for Dungeons & Dragons, and that’s something we can totally get behind.
After seeing Neverwinter in action we're excited to see what Cryptic has in store for the final game. In many ways it reminds us of a Dungeons & Dragons version of DC Universe Online; the focus on physical combat, the importance of movement, and the brand loyalty all work together to create something that looks like a fun, cohesive product. We just hope it all holds together when the free-to-pay formula is folded in, since that could either serve as its second wind or prove to be a critical miss.