Neverwinter Beta: Taking Another Shot at the D&D License

Dungeons and Dragons has a long history with video games. The first couple of games developed for the Intellivision barely had anything to do with the license and was pretty much just using it for brand awareness. A few years after that is when D&D first hit the home computer with the Gold Box series of games. The Pool of Radiance and its 3 sequels as well as the Krynn series were extremely popular and did a good job reproducing the pen and paper RPG. Between 1988 and 1998 over 41 D&D licensed games were developed. Everything changed with Baulder’s Gate though. Bioware’s breakout title brough a near perfect rendition of Advanced D&D to video gaming. Bioware then made a perfect recreating of the pen and paper game with Neverwinter Nights. Not only were 99% of the D&D3.0 rules used, but even something as small as time was made to fit. For the pen and paper, each attack takes 6 seconds. Neverwinter Nights used exactly 6 seconds between attacks for a level 1 character. They even designed the game to be played online and allowed for custom campaigns that could be created with the built in toolkit and the ability for one player to be a dungeon master for the server. This was a perfect, digital game of D&D. Its been pretty downhill from there. Since then the licensed games have focused on more of the lore then the actual systems of D&D. The latest title, Daggerdale, was a pretty lackluster game that used very little of the license at all. So what about a new MMO using the title of one of the most prestigious D&D games? Pretty slick.

As with most games licensed from D&D the lore is pretty well done. When creating a character you can select a home area, even allowing some of the more popular areas such as Baulder’s Gate, Neverwinter, or the Northdark; and you can select a deity to worship which all fit into the lore. I did find it a bit odd that deities are not locked out to races, but if an Elf were raised by Dwarves I guess she would praise Dwarven gods. A lot of effort went into the racial relationships and the story that plays out. All of the quest giving NPCs have full voice work for their quest descriptions and the sound file even continues to play after you have accepted the quest. Other than the lore, the only way I can give this praise is if I separate the license from the game. The combat feels great. Even taking cues from all of the real time combat MMOs of late, such as Tera, Dungeons and Dragons Online, and Dragon’s Nest; Neverwinter still feels fresh against all of the WoW clones.

Left click is usually a basic attack while right click, Q, E, and R are used for skills. 1 and 2 are slots for daily skills and are basically super moves that require you to fill a bar to use. An important aspect of the combat is dodging, which is activated by the Shift key. Each class has a different form of dodging which can alter distance and speed but are all integral in staying alive as combat is fast and fluid. Warriors have a quick hop, Rogues tumble, and Mages teleport. Many aoe or ranged attacks create red cones or circles on the ground indicating where the attack will strike. With good reflexes arrows, boulders, and spells can be avoided entirely. This helps a lot with the bosses, who are extremely large, leading to encounters that feel epic. An interesting design choice lies in the health and mana department. Health does not recover over time but regenerates when the player is at a campsite. These are specified areas in a dungeon and as long as the player is inside of the aura they will heal. There is absolutely zero mana in this game! Skills all operate on cooldowns alone. While taking our a lot of strategy this increases the speed of the combat and allows for a less tactical, more engaging experience. Combat wouldn’t be any good if there wasn’t any incentive to get better at it. There are plenty of progression trees, several of which made no sense to me with my limited experience with the beta, but the fact they are there make me feel like there will be lots of diversity among classes. All of this was to be expected, though, as Cryptic Studios is in charge of the game. With a resume consisting of City of Heroes/Villains and Champions Online Cryptic has a bevy of experience with balancing classes and diverse skill trees.

Here comes the bad news, or the good news depending on how much you were looking for a true D&D title. The UI feels a lot like WoW(or Rift, or Lord of the Rings Online, or any WoW clone). The quest confirmation boxes look almost identical. The actual game does have its own visual identity though. Going with the realistic feel and coloring, as well as darker overtones, it stands out from the colorful MMOs while having a feel that is reminiscent of Neverwinter Nights. Unfortunately, the graphics do look dated, most likely to be able to run on all sorts of system configurations. After playing Dungeons and Dragons Online, and running it in DirectX 11(back in 2010), its difficult to keep up the argument that MMOs need simple graphics due to server loads and a diverse user configuration. Also, this game lacks any semblance of being Dungeons and Dragons. The combat has been sped up to make it fast and fun for a wider audience. The game also ditched the “hardcore-ness” of the franchise by using an automated leveling up mechanic. To ensure that it is difficult to me a bad character, feats, skills, and even some stats are all pre-configured to unlock at certain levels. It does not seem like you have an infinite amount of options with level ups. They also removed the need to balance a party out by allowing everyone to do every non-combat action. If you aren’t a rogue, just bring along a thieves kit to lockpick. Haven’t read up on your favorite herbs but don’t want to spend top dollar from other players, just grab a nature kit and pick the stuff yourself. I understand the focus of the game is on combat but building a character who has essential non-combat skills should be just as important for finding a party as combat skills.

Overall I can’t argue how fun the game is. The combat is slick and, although I have little to say in leveling up, the skill trees do look plentiful. With 6 races and 5 classes out right now, and more to come, the game is shaping up real nicely. While this game does a lot of things right, it fails to utilize anything other than lore and spell names from the D&D systems. If you are looking for a D&D MMO that is pretty close to the pen and paper game though, I suggest straying from this and checking out DDO. In the meantime, here is a video of the character creation game play and the tutorial level.

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