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.
Week 5: Playing nice with others
Since this is a review diary, it’s the proper place for a confession. So here’s mine: I love MMOs, but I spend most of my time playing solo. On top of that, I much prefer PvE to PvP content, and if that makes me a care bear, then so be it (but not Funshine Bear, because I have to draw the line somewhere).
Nevertheless, in the interest of giving everyone as much insight into Neverwinter as possible, I took Aeris into battle against other players several times to test things out. The PvP mode is called Domination, and it unlocks with a very brief quest once you hit level 10. You can queue for a match at any time, and once there are two full teams of five players, you are magically whooshed away to have at it.
I’ve already explained why I’m not the best person to evaluate Domination as it relates to other MMOs, but I’ll say I didn’t hate it. The objective is to gain control of three points on the map (one near each side’s starting point and a third that is more centrally located), and hold them for as long as possible. The first team to 1000 points wins, so it’s pretty simple to understand. As a Devoted Cleric, my role was to keep the other players holding the points alive, and I did… okay, I guess. The active combat system feels less fresh in PvP than in PvE, though maybe I was just missing the totally insane number of red circles and firing arcs to avoid.
Rewards in Domination pay out in Glory, yet another of the game’s umpteen forms of currency. Glory vendors sell things that are useful in PvP matches, like health potions and gear that can only be used there. It’s kind of a self-perpetuating cycle. My guess is that dedicated PvP fans will find that Neverwinter needs more variety to keep them coming back, and the developers have hinted that this will probably happen down the road.
I had more fun with Skirmishes, which are short (generally 15 to 45 minutes) co-op PvE instances for parties of five players and their companions. The game doesn’t do the group finder thing yet, so right now the general chat is full of calls to group up for particular Skirmishes. You can also queue as an individual or a partial party and take your chances, and I was usually able to get into an instance without too much time spent waiting.
My first Skirmish wasn’t until Aeris was around level 35 or so, which was likely a tactical error in the sense that other players tended to know what they were doing and I did not. I’ve played the healer role in enough MMOs to know to tend to the tanks first and other classes only when you have a chance, and I did a passable job more often than not. Skirmishes either throw waves of enemies at you or have specific targets that your party needs to hunt down, so there’s not much subtlety involved.
Loot acquired along the way is rolled upon using the Need/Greed system most players will find familiar. A final chest can be looted by everyone individually, which is nice. Even nicer are the events that run on regular intervals which offer an extra reward for playing all of the group content (Domination, Skirmishes, and Dungeon Delves), the better for getting anti-social players like me to make some new friends. It helps when people say things like “good cleric work,” as long as they’re not saying it sarcastically.
Two other random notes: it helps to make sure you leave your temporary group when you finish a Skirmish, lest you end up in a different zone from the one you left. As you’ll see, the city of Neverwinter is in such rotten shape that you don’t want to wind up in the wrong part of town. Also, your hardware limitations may start to show in a Skirmish when five characters, five companions, and hordes of enemies are all on screen at once. My four-year-old gaming laptop didn’t always like it.
So what’s left for Aeris Brightleaf? I’m going to take him to level 60, as I figure I owe him at least that much. Summarizing my impressions in one review of 850 words or less is going to be a challenge, but these diary entries have given me plenty to work with – and that was the point of the exercise after all.
Until next week…