Dungeons and Dragons is one of the oldest role-playing universes, and now with Cryptic’s Free to Play MMO: Neverwinter; the Dungeons and Dragons IP finally has a real contender in the MMO market. While Turbine tried to grab a slice of the MMO pie back in 2006 with the marginally successful Dungeon and Dragons Online, it failed to make even the smallest of ripples in the industry. Combining aspects from different MMOs and different RPGs, Neverwinter is a unique experience. But will it remain a contender in an industry ruled by Blizzard; or will it fall flat just like it’s predecessor?
In the MMO world, the graphics of a game are generally the first section to take a hit for performance. Due to the nature of the environments, developers have to cut down on the graphics so that computers can render zones without load times. Neverwinter however, doesn’t skimp as much as most games do. The game feels as though it was built around low end PCs and then developed with high end PCs in mind. This means that most PCs are able to run Neverwinter on some level, but the game still looks gorgeous on higher settings. While the game may look good, some of the assets feel somewhat overused and re-skinned. A lot of the enemies just have slight changes in their armor, or a palette swap. The same can be said about a lot of the armor. For most of the leveling process, every single character of the same class looks the same. Most of the armor models have very slight changes or differences.
The audio in an MMO generally consists of epic scores that set the tone for battle, and basic combat sounds that the player gets to hear every step of the way, with a little bit of voice work sprinkled in. Neverwinter is no different. The backing scores set the mood for every zone, from the Graveyard to a Volcano. The combat sounds however, are very average and generic. They range from squwaks, screams and slices; but they don’t sound different than any other game. Finally, the voice work is definitely above average. They bring the player into the world of Neverwinter and keep them immersed.
In a genre filled with clones of World of Warcraft, individuality is not something that a new MMO generally has. Neverwinter, however, breaks the mold when it comes to gameplay. Instead of copying a previously successful MMO, Neverwinter amalgamates concepts from several different MMOs and brings them together in one unique package. With combat that feels like Guild Wars met Diablo 3, dungeons that feel like World of Warcraft dungeons, and professions very reminiscent of Star Wars: The Old Republic, Neverwinter brings the best aspects from each game. As with most MMOs, Neverwinter is comprised of several different classes: The Guardian Fighter (Tank), The Great Weapons Fighter (Melee Fighter), The Trickster Rogue (Assassin), The Control Wizard (Mage) and The Devout Cleric (Support Healer). However thanks to the combat architecture in Neverwinter, these classes don’t play like they do in most other MMOs. This means that people who don’t traditionally like Healers may enjoy The Devout Cleric, or people who generally enjoy Assassins may not enjoy the Trickster Rogue. This can be seen as both a good and bad thing. On one hand, people who are looking to try something new will love to experiment with how each class plays out. On the other, people who have always loved their class may be disappointed in how that class plays out.
One of Neverwinter’s big selling points is it’s player created content, The Foundry. Any player who has a character level 15 or higher can load up an easy to learn map editor and create their own adventure. This allows true Dungeons and Dragons fans become a real dungeon master. In most MMOs, player created content could easily be abused with easy to farm enemies or insane loot for very little work. Cryptic has thought of this, with loot auto-generated, and has implemented a system preventing players from making a map of easy to farm enemies by limiting the amount of experience one type of enemy can give per dungeon. While this may hurt people looking to play Foundry quests in order to receive gear or experience, players looking for a fun and interesting adventure are not affected.
Unfortunately, Neverwinter is not without fault. Due to it’s free to play nature, it can be considered Pay to Win. With Zen (the currency obtained via cash transactions) able to buy a plethora of things from the in-game store, as well as be traded for Astral Diamonds (the main currency), it’s entirely possible for somebody to have better gear solely from real life money. That being said, the conversion of Astral Diamonds to Zen goes both ways, allowing players who don’t want to spend any money the ability to buy from the Zen store. Additionally, the PvP system feels as though it was added as an afterthought. The balance is horrid and there are only two maps with the same game mode (point control) to choose from. This normally wouldn’t be a problem, but there are rewards that can only be gotten through PvP, and PvP gets frustrating and tiresome after only a short while. But the main strike Neverwinter has against it, is the lack of a real end game. Currently, the end game dungeons are all five player. This means that guilds who have moved to Neverwinter from another game currently lack content for them to experience as a group. This means that guilds are less likely to move to Neverwinter, which results in an overall lower player base. In a genre that is controlled solely on it’s player base, this is a bad thing. Hopefully Cryptic is developing a true raiding end game that can keep the hardcore players interested.
Neverwinter is not a perfect game, but it is definitely above average. With graphics that work on most machines and look great on high end machines, and decent gameplay, Neverwinter is surprisingly a breath of fresh air in an fairly stale genre. It’s future depends solely on how Cryptic intends to support the game and community. So far they’ve done a good job by releasing a massive balance patch rather quickly and they plan to release a bit of end game PvP/PvE in the form of a new even known as The Caverns of Gauntlgrym. If they’re able to keep it up, Neverwinter may just be an incredibly successful MMO. Only time will tell.