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By Mokman02-05-2013
StuntmanLT (editor)

The Defence

Cryptic Studios
Perfect World Entertainment
Release Date:

The Prosecution

Intel Core 2 Duo 2.8 GHz
AMD equivalent
Nvidia GeForce 8800
AMD Radeon HD 2900GT
2 GB
3.6 GB

Neverwinter Nights. Massively Multiplayer Online. Six, seven years back, these two phrases would have been a match made in heaven, everything I could have hoped for while my deformed, pixelated heroes traipsed through the streets of the Blacklake District, murdering zombies in the name of gold and XP. Now, though the idea still excites me to the core, it is tempered by a sense of trepidation, a wariness that stems from the multitudes of failed MMOs, and the general stagnation of the whole genre.

The decision to turn the much-beloved Neverwinter Nights series into an MMO was a controversial one to say the least - I daresay most people of my generation grew up playing Neverwinter Nights as their first RPG, perhaps even progressing from that to the genuine tabletop RPG that it is based on. Fond memories abound of diabolic wizards, beautiful cities, annoying kobolds, and most of all, the incredible system that shaped the RPG genre for years to come. The turning of this into the much-feared MMO genre was seen by many as a contradictory act, essentially jumping onto a leaky ship. Would Neverwinter sink along with it, or would it, somehow, save the vessel?

Going bald was really the only option for Dave.

Going bald was really the only option for Dave.

Truth be told, Neverwinter Nights had always been somewhat of an MMO, except maybe without the first M. The old multiplayer aspects of Neverwinter Nights had always been one of its strong points, resulting in an incredibly tight-knit community that lasted much longer than the game itself had, spanning over a thousand mods, each lavishly endowed with care and attention. One of the greatest joys was simply playing through the entire campaign in one sitting with a few good friends. Perhaps this feeling was what drove Cryptic Studios to turn the series towards the MMO genre - there was already a precedent.

The first thing that you'll notice upon entering character creation in Neverwinter is the distinct races available, Tieflings and Half-elves immediately brought a nostalgic smile to my face. Choosing a Tiefling Control-wizard, (because who doesn't want to be a crimson half-devil running about casting magic) I promptly used the quite flexible appearance editor to morph myself into a Machiavellian-type character. Then, since I was one of the first few into the entire MMO, I named myself David. A note about the classes though, I was at first sorely disappointed at there only being five classes, none of them really inspired by classic Dungeons and Dragons lore - where were the Sorcerers, the Monks, the crazed Berserkers and Alchemists? However, taking into account that this was Beta, and that there were more classes in the works according to the developers, five classes was still an acceptable number. After all, the original Neverwinter Nights, after the addition of expansion packs, had nearly twenty distinct classes. Let's just hope that Neverwinter would also eventually reach such an awe-inspiring number.

And then I dove into combat and all my worries about stagnation and staleness immediately vanished. One thing about this game, the combat is incredibly fluid - somehow the creators have managed to merge third-person shooter/action mechanics with the MMO system, resulting in me strafing about enemies trying to steady my reticule on them, while dodging explosions all around. It takes the best aspects from Guild Wars 2, such as the dodging system and the limited stamina pool that it utilizes, and adds on a few more aspects, such as the presence of a reticule to add more tension to the gameplay, as well as an unprecedented control system that proved incredibly easy-to-use. Thus, this results in fast-paced combat using a variety of spells and skills, all of them intuitive to cast and with differing results. For example, I would run about freezing people first with my ray of frost, keeping my beam on them as I do so. Then, once frozen, I would proceed to whittle them down with a barrage of magic missiles, occasionally dodging blows within the confines of my stamina. Dodging is essential, and almost any attack can be dodged if timed correctly; both attacks that create red circles on the ground to conveniently alert players where not to be when the fireball drops, or normal attacks that are about to fall upon your character. I daresay that Neverwinter's combat system is the one where I've had the most fun with in an MMORPG.

Ahhhh, the trusty old freeze-ray...spell.

Ahhhh, the trusty old freeze-ray...spell.

Graphics-wise, Neverwinter is reminiscent of Guild Wars 2, perhaps with a slight bit more of polish and graphical goodies, although its art design is sadly not as inspired - taking instead from more established fantasy tropes as is befitting the heritage of the game. However, the detailed environments and characters do make the world a very pleasant one to simply explore and wander about in, with new visual treats rewarded to those who poke around corners and keep their eyes open to the surroundings. The music score and environmental sounds add greatly to this, creating an ambience that further immerses players into the world that Cryptic has refined and crafted, straight from the old Neverwinter games.

As for the world that the game is set in, this has become quite a contentious issue. Some decry it for not being innovative in terms of setting, instead sticking mainly to old fantasy tropes yet again - however, I belong to the camp that applauds this action. For me, one of the main sticking points of this game is its nostalgia value, I essentially view it as the next instalment in the Neverwinter series. Thus, seeing Blacklake district from a street level with current-generation graphics, traipsing about the Sword Coast fighting bandits and kobolds, all these are classical locations that any fan of the Neverwinter series would immediately recognize and love. I'd rather have this nostalgia value than any floating cities or underwater caverns, though I'm sure Neverwinter still has the capacity to surprise as I further explore the world.

There is, one feature, that blows this game out of the water to stand beside the MMORPG big-hitters, an aspect that is all-so-obvious, yet had never been considered before this – player created missions. Yes, with a full toolset known as the Foundry, people are able to create entire missions and place them into the game in custom instances. In-game, players can go to job boards or talk to Harper agents (again, a familiar and pleasant touch), and from there take on quests that have been created by other player characters. Choosing one is a simple task, a ranking system quickly picks out the gems from the trash, and there is a wide variety of search filters to find the one that suits your needs. Following which, simply travel to any gate and fast travel to the custom instance where the quest takes place in. This system adds something that no other MMORPG can boast - infinite replayability. As long as the community stands strong and continues churning out missions, which is a likely outcome noting the robustness of the Foundry, one does not have to worry about a lack of new missions in the game.

David patiently waiting for my return.

David patiently waiting for my return.

Ultimately, Neverwinter is still in Beta, yet the potential shines brightly for all to see. In this game perhaps lies the key to restarting and energizing a stagnated genre, what with its fluid combat system and awesome community features - yet it still appeals to conservative gamers with the all-so-familiar world of Faerun. Is it brilliant? Not yet, but perhaps, with just the right amount of care, it will be amazing.

Comments (4)
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Posts: 44

The worst part of this game is its lack of character customization. My level 19 Control Wizard looks and plays pretty much exactly like every other level 19 Control Wizard, and after four days of play... it's mind-numbingly dull. I'm sorry Neverwinter. I had such hopes for you, and I'd like to think I gave you sufficient opportunity to impress me... but you didn't. And that makes me sad.

Posts: 228

I played the beta for one hour. Why? Because I couldn't stand it it was so boring and creative-less and just plain showing where DnD is heading (hint: it's nowhere good).

Posts: 351

I have been playing the beta and honestly I have not been really impressed. It is an MMO, there are some differences but it still has some boring old MMO elements. Go here, kill that, collect something, rinse and repeat. The combat is interesting and that all I have found that I like about the game.

Posts: 596

It looks like it will be very appealing to Neverwinter fans. Might even catch virgin Neverwinter players as well.