First Impressions Of The Neverwinter Beta
Neverwinter was the one game that eluded me at PAX Prime, so it wasn’t until this Wednesday that I got my grubby little gauntlets on the game for the first time. The tl;dr of my first impressions? It’s solid and does most things well, with most other issues being the usual quirks that can be chalked up to beta.
Cloak and daggers
I was summoned to a level 16 dungeon, the Cloak Tower, to accompany three other press-types and Neverwinter Lead Systems Designer Chris Metz. I was playing a guardian fighter, one of the three classes available for the event. There were three of us in the party, along with a trickster rogue and a devoted cleric. As a dwarf, I was, of course, the handsomest of the bunch.
In about the three minutes that Chris briefed us on how to equip things, choose our powers, and so on, I was able to become completely familiar with my character’s skill set. I had two basic melee attacks, one each on the left and mouse buttons, and four “button” moves, tied to the Tab, Q, R, and T keys. There was also an “ultimate” ability that I built up the power for over time, and when I unleashed it, it knocked back all the mobs around me. (I choose to believe it was a “sweat meter,” and when I got worked up enough, everyone wanted to get away from the stinky dwarf.)
Neverwinter uses a non-targeted, action-combat system, not unlike TERA, and it takes a little getting used to for someone who’s accustomed to tabbing to targets. You do have a reticle, and when it lights up over an enemy – or an ally for heals – you can activate the power.
This can be a little tricky at range, such as when I was using my charge attack (which I often accompanied with a call of “LEEROY!”) and thought I had the shot lined up only to press my key and have nothing happen. The group’s healer also commented that it was often difficult to single out friendly targets, and I imagine the same would apply to long-range bow- or spell-using characters.
What makes the combat unlike TERA, or even Guild Wars 2, is that you can’t activate such powers – or at least the ones on my guardian fighter – without a suitable target. So I would never go charging off into oblivion, missing my target by three feet and slamming into a wall. The “pure” action-combat fans might be put off by this, but I think it’s a good compromise between action combat and a targeting system.
In melee, where I spent most of my time, it was pretty much button-mashing my two attacks – one of which provided me with a small heal – and my three non-charge powers: two tank-like taunting powers and a stun. Several of the tougher enemies telegraphed their attacks by lighting up the floors with their areas of effect (a la WildStar), but I was usually tough enough to take it – or, if I wasn’t, I had a healer and lots of potions.
Our trickster rogue, on the other hand, was often losing health at an alarming rate, which I’d attribute to his not paying as much attention to the enemies’ attacks and positioning himself appropriately. For us burly, heavily armored fighters, it wasn’t too much challenge to suck up what the bosses did to us, but I can see how squishier classes would need to pay better attention.
The challenge level ramped up significantly, though, when we faced the final boss, a beastly she-orc named Vansi Bloodscar. We were doing our usual rofl-stomp on her king-sized health bar when she summoned adds. Lots of adds. Oh, and then she did a move where she knocked us all back, right into the waiting arms of said adds.
Did I mention you can revive other party members in combat with the F key? If we didn’t learn that before, we did during the Vansi fight. While I did a spectacular job of tanking Vansi and her minions – which included plenty of running for my little dwarf life with about 10 orcs hot on my heels – the other party members pitched in to get us all up in fighting shape. Eventually, we wore the mean old lady down and then there was loot to be had. Ah, loot. You’re why we do this in the first place.
My overall take on combat? It merges elements of the games I’ve already mentioned above, and I see nothing wrong with copying parts of what works in other games and finding the proper way to implement it in your own. With all the obvious “tells” for enemy attacks, I was rather lamenting the absence of any sort of “dodge” mechanic, but maybe that’s just reserved for rogues and other mobile classes – or at least classes more mobile than my stumpy little dwarf fighter.
[Edit: I later learned that my guardian fighter couldn't dodge, as some other classes can, but I can hold down the Shift key to raise my shield in advance of those particularly nasty attacks.]
I tend to think that the boss fights – Vansi Bloodscar excepted – were made fairly easy by the presence of a dev and possibly overpowered armor. Though we were all noobs, the fact that you only have a limited number of powers to choose from makes it quick to pick up on, which may have helped us to look like old pros. Difficulty level is something that can be easily tweaked as beta progresses, and if I have to earn that gear instead of just having it handed to me, it’ll probably make the fights more challenging.
A ‘shroom with a view
Graphically, the game looks great. I was honestly impressed with the character models, textures, and environments, which are on par with the best the MMORPG genre has to offer. The Cloak Tower environs flowed seamlessly from wizards’ keep to subterranean, crystal-lined lair to cave structure with giant mushrooms, because you can’t make an RPG these days without including a cave with giant mushrooms. It’s the law.
Sound is one area that still needs improvement. While there was plenty of hacking and slashing, it just seemed a little empty, audio-wise, and there was as yet, no voice acting. I’m sure that’s just something that will be remedied as the beta process continues; it’s typically one of the last things that gets finalized.
As we cleared the dungeon, there were various objects we could interact with, such as books and orbs, if we had the proper non-combat skills. Having blitzed through character creation, I couldn’t tell you at what point those skills are chosen, but there were quite a few options in the process, such as background and choice of god, so even with a fairly limited set of classes, you’ll have ways to stand out and customize your character to be useful to a party, even if there is some class overlap.
Speaking of class customization, I only had the briefest of moments to look at all the talent trees and other build options – which were probably abbreviated for the beta anyway – but there seem to be plenty of ways to spec out your character, as one would expect.
First impressions of an MMO are often where people form their everlasting judgments, for good or for bad. My first thoughts on Neverwinter is that it’s a worthy addition to the Dungeons & Dragons legacy. It’s difficult to explain, but it just feels like D&D, at least the dungeon-crawl aspect of it that I experienced. And there’s still a lot more to be added to the game.
There are obviously some kinks yet be worked out in beta, polish to be applied, and bugs to be squashed, but the content I experienced seemed well-designed and just about ready for prime time. I, for one, can’t wait to see the finished product.
For Troy Blackburn’s impressions of the recent Neverwinter beta, click here.