Neverwinter Beta Weekend impressions
So earlier this week I got a mail saying that I was invited to play in the Neverwinter Beta Weekend, because I was a lifetime subscriber to Star Trek Online (don’t judge me). As someone who’s never been much into D&D or Forgotten Realms (I did play Neverwinter Nights 1 & 2), it took me a little while to decide to jump into it.
It was actually not a huge download, just about 3 gigs, so I set it to start while I tried to figure out what my Cryptic and Perfect World login stuff was, because Neverwinter wants you to link the two accounts and then use Perfect World as your general login. When did Perfect World get so big, anyway?
And my problems started there. Like… it’s been a while since I’ve used my Cryptic account, and years since I accessed Perfect World. First off my account name was not what I thought it was, nor what they addressed me as in the mail. There was a number added to it, and I can’t remember why I did that. So to be safe I ended up recovering both account name and password for both Cryptic and Perfect World and it was a chore. At least it’s done now. And on the upside it transferred friend lists from Champions Online and Star Trek Online directly into this beta, because Cryptic always did the “You friend the whole account” system, so you can chat across games like with Blizzard’s Battle.net, which is pretty neat. It also means you can pick whatever name you want, because unique names are saved as email@example.com. The downside is that this means you can have a million players with the same character name, so you’ll always find a Drizzt.
Now after all the login woes had left me suitably irritated, I was faced with the character creation, which said I was allowed to make a total of two whole characters! Wow, the freedom. I had already heard that there are seven races, and four classes.
The seven races you can pick from are: Human, Elf, Half-elf, Halfling, Half-Orc, Dwarf and Tiefling. There’s also an eight race that says “Coming Soon”, which is some sort of hooded horror, if the silhouette is to be believed. Already in this screen I noticed that the character animations were a little wonky. That could just be a beta issue, but it seems more like a Cryptic issue. Also, they have some weird poses that are actually their default ‘standing still’ pose while you play. So I keep wondering why my Tiefling has her hand up like that all the time. And why her tail swings so weirdly.
Of course the races all have their own flavour text, and a few racial abilities. Like what stat boosts they get an so forth, which I guess makes them better suited for certain classes. For example my Tiefling could pick between +2 Int and +2 Cha, or +2 Con and +2 Cha, while the Dwarf I made later could pick between +2 Str and +2 Con, or +2 Con and +2 Wis. In addition with other fixed racials, I’m sure it all makes sense to D&D players.
The four classes you can pick from are Trickster Rogue, Devoted Cleric, Control Wizard and Guardian Fighter. From what I’ve heard these are genuine D&D4e class names, but they really seem daft. It’s Rogue, Priest, Mage and Warrior with unnecessarily fancy names.
Well, I picked a Control Wizard for my Tiefling because Magic Missile, and found that the class has a lot of frost spells. Frost and some arcane. And then Guardian Fighter for my dorf, because it seemed appropriate. This is basically a Protection-specced Warrior from WoW. You have your charge, your sword-swinging and your shield-bashing.
The appearance customisation is quite alright. I went through the options with both a male and a female character to see the contrast, and was kinda amazed at how equal things were. Even the body types work exactly the same for both genders, and I’m almost a little impressed, if it wasn’t for how similar they all look anyway. “Heavy” makes you a little wider, and “Slim” makes you little narrower. That’s it.
Then you’re allowed to pick your origin place and story, and your chosen deity. The game says that these choices are entirely cosmetic, but at around level 10 you learn how to invoke your chosen deity, and I’m not sure if what you get for that depends on which deity you pick. Possibly not. It’s a neat bit of lore and character building though, that I’m sure a lot of people will appreciate. Each origin place has 2-4 origin stories, and none of them are identical. It’s not a lot of text, but it seems they put some work into this.
And the final screen before you can click “Begin Adventure” is a summary of what you’ve picked, and you choose what to name your character. You are allowed to have spaces in there, so you can make first-name + last-name if you really want.
Then after a short loading screen (and the game really has very short loading screens, even when it’s patching in extra files for the area you’re entering) you get to see flashes of a skeletal dragon attacking a ship, and you wake up on the beach, where you hear voice acting! And see a hideous face from beyond time and space! No, it’s just that the game has horrible face models for NPCs. I tried to check the video settings if I could improve it, but no. You’re stuck with Private Some Kid throughout the tutorial. I tried to read the quest text to begin with, but ended up skipping it pretty quickly because the awful faces were too distracting. Which might have contributed to how I didn’t feel especially invested or immersed in the world.
The good private informs you that that thing was a Dracolich, and informs you that the Necromancer Valindra is using it in her attack of the city of Neverwinter. I know what Neverwinter is, but it seems like the game is expecting me to know what the other things are as well. Then you get to play, and you see a little sparkly trail on the ground. This is your quest helper. It will always show you where to go next, which enforces the linear feel of the game. You can just hit Z to turn it off if you want to, but I left it on to make things easier on myself.
I quickly discovered that there were some differences in how combat works between the Wizard and the Fighter. You have to aim with the Wizard, and you can’t cast your spells unless you are pointing at a target in range (with the exception of Daily spells). Melee weapons can be swung at any point, and sweeping strikes do hit all enemies in range. Honestly the magical combat felt a lot more fun than the melee. Magic Missile does a lot of damage, and the Ice Beam will slowly encase enemies in ice until they become frozen statues.
Now, each class has their own set of “Daily” spells/skills, that are horribly misnamed. I thought it was a literal “one cast a day” thing at first, and wondered why that would be in an MMO, but no. You have an action point crystal that charges while you fight, and when it reaches 100% you can cast your daily. Charging the metre takes a few minutes of continuous combat, I estimate, though I wasn’t quite able to figure out if certain types of spells make it charge faster or not.
I had certain issues with the magical combat though, as it seemed to have a certain amount of lag that I hope is just a beta issue. Damage would occur a short moment after you see the spell actually hit, especially on Magic Missile, so I’d end up casting more missiles than I actually needed to kill the enemy, and then they’d suddenly die just before the final batch of missiles hit.
You know, I almost thought leveling in this game would be slow, when the first quest said it would only give 5 exp, and I needed 100 to reach level 2. But then it gave me 101 exp when I reached the guy I had to hand the quest in to, so I was immediately boosted to level 2. As you level you unlock more spell slots and spells, and it’s alright. Each time you level up you can hit Ctrl+P to check out the new stuff. Which is actually pretty helpful.
When you reach level 10, you get access to Feat points, that are basically talent points. You can invest them into three different trees, and eventually get to what looks like Paragon classes. While the free beta goes to level 40, I only reached level 12.
The UI is very clean and lucid, and it all seems to be made to be user-friendly. The one exception is possibly that health does not regen unless you’re in a rest zone, like around a campfire. Health potions have next to no cooldown though, and you get a lot of them pretty fast.
There is also a curious system in place where any uncommon item or higher you find needs to be identified with a scroll. I know that’s how the old games worked as well, but it feels weird in a modern game. As far as I played the game was pretty generous with dropping identify scrolls though, and even before it’s identified the item will say what class it’s for, so you don’t have to identify things unnecessarily.
And that Dracolich, that looked like it might be a boss fight later? Already shot down. Some elf is trying to figure out how to stop its soul from going back to its phylactery. So that was anti-climactic. The actual boss fight is against a big hulking dude called the Harbinger who’s a pushover. And then Private Some Kid died in quite a melodramatic manner.
Then you’re let into the game proper, and Neverwinter doesn’t look especially war-ravaged, at least in the first area. The scenery is actually pretty nice, and then you get a highly linear series of quests to follow until you’re let into the Blacklake district and things open up a bit.
See, here you’re introduced to Foundry quests. See, players with Foundry access can write and create quests and quest chains for other players to take. I’m not sure what you have to pay to gain Foundry access, but I’m sure it’s some sort of subscription. There’s even a rating system where those who took the quest can say how much they enjoyed it. I shied away from this thing and stuck to the dev-written quests.
It was at this point I was noticing that while combat was still fun, the world was not engaging me. There is a lot of lore in there, and some decent writing, and alright voice acting, and good environments that don’t repeat from what I have seen. For an upcoming free-to-download-and-play title it looks more polished than I expected.
None of that helps though, because it’s utterly boring to play. I might not have been in the best frame of mind, because of login issues, distractingly bad faces and a burning desire to just play Blood Bowl instead. I was not enjoying myself though, and gave up trying.
Since it will be entirely free, it will only cost you some time and bandwidth to check it out, and it might be that you really like it. But apart from some initial enjoyment of the combat system, I was not having fun. If I have nothing better to do, I might check it out again at launch.
I mean, I have largely avoided talking about beta bugs, because those are to be expected, like enemies getting stuck on scenery, and items not being programmed properly, so it would be interesting to try the game again after those things have been smoothed out, even if they didn’t really impact why I was bored.
So yeah, that was my impression of Neverwinter. They have tried to do something a little different from WoW, and I’m sure that for some people that will be enough. And others might be attracted and satisfied by the Forgotten Realms setting. It feels pretty safe, though they have put some work into the setting. Implementing that Foundry quest system to make sure people never run out of content is admittedly smart, but could also be construed as a bit lazy.
If you are at all interested, you can find out more here. I’ll leave you with some scenery porn.