Proper MMORPG reviews are difficult to do. Except for power levelers, the whole idea of playing a game in that genre is that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. That doesn’t mesh well with the concept of deadlines, which is what editors usually insist upon.
So for the recent release of Neverwinter, we’re doing something a little different. I’ll be spending my (mostly fictional) free time over the next five weeks exploring as much of Perfect World’s free-to-play spin on the beloved D&D setting as possible, doing a sort of diary of what I find every week. Then I’ll wrap it up with a more formal review, hopefully giving you a more complete picture of what to expect.
Let’s get started, shall we?
Week 1: Rolling a character and rolling over some undead
The opening cinematic of Neverwinter is pretty impressive. It depicts a large-scale battle that seems to have the entire titular city in peril from a horde of bad guys, and while the choice of the undead is pretty uninspired as the primary threat, the cool skeletal dragon partially makes up for that. It turns out the lich Valindra is too much to handle, which is presumably where we players come in.
You really do roll your characters in this game, which makes sense since it is based on a modified version of the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons rules. Before that, though, you’ve got some choices: race, gender and class. I’m going with a half-elf male, and because I’ve already experimented with a fighter during the beta, he ends up as a Devoted Cleric. Those cleric powers might come in handy against the undead, right?
After rolling for stats and deciding on my racial bonuses, it’s time to figure out what Aeris Brightleaf looks like. Blond dreads pulled back? Sure. The final touches add some role-playing flavor, namely his hometown and deity affiliation. Keeping with the undead-fighting theme, Aeris worships Kelemvor, he god who handles the natural transition from life to death.
The tutorial missions feature heavy doses of hand-holding, almost feeling like an interactive movie more than an RPG. I meet Private Wilfred, who gets me acclimated to the status quo of Neverwinter. Apparently the city hasn’t fully recovered from the last time it was assaulted, and now Neverwinter’s own dead are being turned against it by Valindra.
That’s not going to stand, so Wilfred sends me on some easy missions to get combat and other actions down. I was concerned about the active combat since I’m not a twitch gamer at all, but the system works well. The mouse is used to look and target while the W-A-S-D keys move you around. Your first two attacks or powers are mapped to the mouse buttons, with later ones added to other keys. Mobs come at you fast, like in an action game, and you need to keep your head about you on defense too. We’re talking more than “don’t stand in the fire” here, as you need to dodge out of AoE zones and firing arcs for monsters with ranged attacks.
You don’t automatically heal out of combat, so my cleric’s abilities to heal from certain attacks were much appreciated. The Devoted Cleric is all ranged when it comes to dealing damage (his base attack is a thrown spear of light), which didn’t fit my preconceived notion of the class, but I actually found it more fun than I expected.
After healing wounded soldiers, scavenging arrows from the battlefield and clearing a way through skeletons and zombies to a defensive position, I meet my first real challenge in the form of the Harbinger. He goes down, but Private Wilfred falls in battle too. A shame, since he seemed like a nice kid.
The game starts in earnest at this point, with missions taking you around your home district and into the more dangerous Blacklake District. Without giving away too much of the story, there is considerable intrigue surrounding the Crown of Neverwinter, which supposedly kills anyone who wears it and isn’t the rightful ruler. Both living and dead forces want to find it, and the story pulls you in more than low level zones usually do in these types of games.
It also feels more like a single player RPG at this point, and I’m not sure whether it’s because the NPCs are voice acted and your character is not, or because the continuing cutscenes make some of the battles feel like planned set pieces. This is something that will delight some players and frustrate others. I’m sure of it.
For now, I’m content to continue leveling up, slowly increasing my gear score and staying on the trail of the Crown. Until next week…