Saturday, March 23, 2013

Neverwinter, A Nose-Poking.

So inevitably I cracked and grabbed a key for the (final?) Neverwinter beta weekend. I spent three hours with it this morning and these are my very loose, unsorted first impressions:

Character creation seems a bit lacking. I was expecting more from Cryptic. Then again, I made a dwarf and dwarves in every MMO tend to look somewhat undifferentiated. Reserving judgement until I see the sliders in action on someone that doesn't look like Brian Blessed squashed into a dustbin.

I don't like the control system but I knew that would be the case. I find all these forced mouselook, keyboard shortcut, no auto-attack, click-click-clicky UIs clumsy and awkward in the extreme. Just give me a hotbar and full access to my mouse pointer and let me get on with it, can't you? That said, the controls are entirely playable and nothing like annoying enough enough to put me off playing, any more than they were in DCUO.

Ye gods but it's orange! I was hoping it would just be the first area but other than in the city of Neverwinter itself it's a festival of rust and tangerine as far as the eye can see.

The tutorial is excellent. That's something I don't often get to say. Apart from a very, very short "press this key to go forward" part right at the start, the whole thing is seamlessly integrated into the same world where you're going to be playing your character. So much so that it was only when I tried to access a Forge mission in Neverwinter and got the message that I had to finish the tutorial first that I knew I was even still in the tutorial!

The city of Neverwinter is spectacular. It looks, sounds and feels just like a large high-fantasy city should. It's sprawling, detailed and confusing. And gorgeous. It bodes well for the prospect of exploring whatever might lie beyond its gates.

The fighting areas I've seen so far aren't bad. Typical low-level tombs, sewers, taverns and slums but what else would they be? It's D&D after all. Detailing is reasonably varied although you really couldn't say anything rose much above the generic. Still, not bad at all.

Way too much fiddly clicking to get basic things done. Lots of actions seem to have a secondary confirmation after it should already be clear to the system that your choice has been made. I felt the game was constantly asking me "are you sure about this? Are you really sure?". And sometimes even "Are you sure you're sure?"

Too much voice acting and not good voice acting either. The combination of cookie-cutter questing, run-of-the-mill dialog and baseline adequate line readings is quite wearing. I can filter two out of three but all together it's just too much. The voice-over can be set to stop as soon as you close the dialog (if you don't do this a disembodied voice follows you remorselessly, making you feel as though you're having an excruciatingly dull psychotic interlude) but there doesn't seem to be any way to switch it off completely, which is what I wanted to do after about ten minutes.

At ultra-low level combat seems very easy. I had a couple of tight fights on the final quest bosses but I logged out at level six not having died once. Well, not in combat...

You can fall off high places, something the city abounds in. I wondered if you could, so I tried and I did and I died. I liked that.

Campfires are annoying. This MMO fudge for D&D's rest system just does not work. I didn't think it worked in DDO and here it's even sillier. Having fixed points in dungeons at which you can recover to full health in seconds just means that after every fight you trudge back to the last campsite, heal up, turn round and trudge back to where you were. All it does is add a pointless, aggravating delay timer to auto-healing. With this mechanism I don't see what is supposed to be gained in realism, authenticity or immersion over standard MMO out-of-combat health regeneration or old school sit&rest. It certainly adds nothing to the gameplay.

Foundry missions look very intriguing. The one I did had livelier dialog than any of the official quests (although a good editor would have taken out the odd incongruous  "cool" and "man" that gave it an odd Bill&Ted tonal quality). I was surprised and very impressed that the opening part all took place in Neverwinter itself, using NPCs standing there in what seemed to be plain sight. Very convincing. The dungeon part was basic but functional. It certainly encouraged me to think I'd like to have a go at writing some of these when it goes live, which is just as well since that's what interested me about the game in the first place.

Overall I liked it well enough. As others have said, it really is quite reminiscent of DDO although I think I would say even at this early stage that I prefer Neverwinter. It also reminded me of City of Steam, what with the whole sprawling central city with dungeons spinning off the edges thing going on. Not to mention the bulletin boards.

Whether I will get to spend much time in Neverwinter depends more on what I have on my plate elsewhere, I suspect. It certainly didn't strike me as unmissable, as Guild Wars 2 did right from the first beta weekend. Neither is it sufficiently unusual or original to make me feel I ought to make time for it, which is what I thought about The Secret World right from the first time I played it.

Neverwinter looks like the sort of thing I might dip into when I haven't really got much else planned. If a subscription was involved, there'd be no question of paying it and I am not sure I'd even stump up a one-time fee for a box. But since it's free...


  1. Yea, i don't think you are far wrong with your impressions of Neverwinter. The Forge is ultimately going to make or break this game.

    I do however think that Cryptic is going for a casual + Byte sized game here. You know, the type where you jump in and do an adventure for 30-60 minutes and feel satisfied. So looking at it from that perspective, it has to be somewhat actiony and easy going.

    I mean, this is exactly why i don't jump into Rift for 30 minutes, it takes me more than that just to figure out how to play my character again, and what i was trying to do with it.

    Neverwinter, being as instanced and "mission centric" implies you probably won't need to do major "respeccing" and "re-skilling" to go off with a few friends and do an adventure.

    So this is what i'm looking forward to. The ability to actually do an adventure in meaninful segments without having to dig in for 3-4 hour sessions.

    Now if you were looking for a hardcore Everquest like experience with detailed DnD rules (all them dice rolling and statistics) i am pretty sure you will not be happy.

    1. That's how I imagine playing it. I often finish the evening, having played one MMO for several hours, by swapping to another for 30-60 minutes before bed. This looks like a prime candidate for that slot.

      I might try and have a look at the Forge creation tools today if I get a moment.

    2. Not sure if the Forge creation tools is available in Beta (last time it was only the Alpha testers that could create content).

      It does however seem like being a creator will be a game in itself. Looks like you can also "level up" or gain "upgrades" the better content you produce. I suspect there will be "assets" that you unlock (or even purchase outright?) . If i was cryptic i'd probably try and pull a "Second Life" here, where users can build assets / content that can be re-used in other campaigns either at a price or free. Kinda like building a "zone" and allowing someone else to tell a story in it.

      I mean even in Pen & Paper DnD , where did all the money go? Those books (rules and creatures etc) and tools for the DM to build their campaigns....

    3. I was also struck with how similar the control scheme was to DCUO, where I also disliked it. Other MMO's - DDO in particular (and I think Age of Conan?) managed to do click to attack without taking away your mouse. Maybe it'll grow on me eventually, no reason to spend too much time on this project during a beta weekend that will be wiped.

    4. @Silvertemplar Heh! I keep calling it The Forge but it's actually The Foundry, of course. I just checked and you are right - you can only play Foundry missions in this beta, not create them. Also you have to be Level 15 before you can access the toolset so I wouldn't have had time anyway.

      @Green Armadillo Exactly my feelings. I'll wait 'til I have a persistent character before committing any more time to this one.

  2. Heya, quick question - how is the chat system? When you talk do you have a speech bubble above your head or is it just an uninspired text roll on the bottom left side like DDO? That really killed DDO for me, and is now (for me) a mandatory requirement if I'm going to stick with any MMO. I don't mind having both - but having just the text roll is crap. Seriously, even UO could manage speech the head of the speaker - can't see why any newer games can't.

    1. "speech over the head of the speaker" I meant to say. Typing fail. :P

    2. Good question! I didn't actually speak to anyone directly in the short time I was there, although I spent an inordinate amount of time reading general chat, which scrolls in the chat box as you would expect.

      I just logged in to test it and the answer is...odd. The good news is that yes, what you say (in /say at least) does appear above your head. The bad news is that it isn't in an attractive comic-book bubble but in a strange rectangular strip. Looks very ugly.

      I used to detest overhead speech bubbles and wouldn't play games in which they were mandatory. I've now gone 180 on that and I really like them. I only really like them for taking screenshots, though. In play I still read everything in the chat box, which seems much clearer and easier to follow to me.

    3. Hehe thanks! The strange rectangle thing - is it similar to GW2? I think only in Mabinogi is where have I seen a full speech bubble appeared, and some of the enemy NPCs like to spam it a lot to hide what action they are trying to do.

      Wierd rectangle thing should be good enough for me though. :P

    4. There are both. The usual chat box and if people in your visual view are talking in those channels you will see the text above their heads. This is even the case if they are talking in Global channels, not just /say .


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