Neverwinter: Closed Beta Weekend #2

This weekend was the second Closed Beta event for Cryptic’s upcoming Neverwinter. The first event was only for those who purchased a Founder’s pack. I was tempted but wisdom got the better of me and I adopted a “try before you buy” stance. This second beta event was open for anyone with a Lifetime membership to either Champions Online or Star Trek Online or if you’d purchased Torchlight 2 from Perfect World rather than from Steam or other vendors.

This weekend, the Control Wizard was the newest playable class, and a maximum level cap of 40. The Foundry toolset, crafting and PvP were not yet available for beta testing. The Foundry editor has been available for the alpha testers, however, so plenty of Foundry quests were in place for us.

The next Beta Weekend begins March 22, and will add another race, the Great Weapon Fighter class, and there was a contest to complete 100,000 quests this weekend to unlock level 50 for the third beta. Given how many players I saw this weekend, I’d say that contest is in the bag.

So far Open Beta is planned for some time in April.

A Brief History of Neverwinter

Cryptic had original planned Neverwinter as a graphical lobby-based online cooperative Action RPG, not an MMO. Think Guild Wars or maybe Dungeons & Dragon Online, where you have multiplayer hubs to interact with players then your adventures are instanced. However when Perfect World Entertainment acquired Cryptic Studios in May, 2011 they wanted an MMO, and delayed the Neverwinter project to accomplish that change in scope.

My Beta Agenda

What I did was try each class to level 7 just to get a basic feel of the class and take a peek at its skill trees, etc. which made up the tutorial then the first several quests once you’re in Neverwinter proper. Only two character slots were available, that’s why I only played them for a short time then deleted it to make room for the next class. I started with the Control Wizard, then the Guardian Fighter, Devoted Cleric then Trickster Rogue. Since the first two classes had been deleted to make room for the latter, I played the Rogue up a few more levels and chose the Cleric as my primary test class and got her to level 16 to obtain the first Companion. So I will talk a little about the classes, but use the Cleric in particular for specific examples. I will state unequivocally that in hindsight I wish I’d had time to level each class to 10 since that’s when they get their first Class Abilities, which gives the player your first “Eureka!” moment when suddenly you begin to see more clearly how each class can play out.

Because comparisons are always necessary for this type of game, here are the ones I will use most often because I feel they are most appropriate: obviously Cryptic’s other MMOs, Champions Online and Star Trek Online — STO in particular since I’m most familiar with it, TERA, Guild Wars 2, League of Legends, and Path of Exile.

Disclaimer: I have not played tabletop D&D since 2nd Edition AD&D and my last session was summer of 1994. I have zero experience with 3.5 or Pathfinder other than playing DDO a little bit, and zero experience with 4e which is what Neverwinter is (loosely?) based upon. Therefore I am unable to make any direct D&D ruleset::Neverwinter comparisons other than stating I believe it is impossible to have a 1:1 parity translation of a turn-based tabletop game into a real-time multiplayer videogame. Concessions will always have to be made from both sides of the table. Having said that, the classes in Neverwinter are built to fit into specific Roles like those in 4e from what people are telling me. For example, the Role of Defender in 4e is a tank, but also a damage dealer in his own right, so not quite the “tank” we’re accustomed to in MMOs, and that also applies to Neverwinter’s Guardian Fighter.

What Is Neverwinter?

For the TL;DR, at a glance summary, Neverwinter is: a fast-paced Action RPG in the vein of Path of Exile (kill monsters for fun and loot) but in a third-person MMO format which uses a League of Legends-ish control scheme (you always need the mouse active during play so all your skill, etc. keys are easily reachable from your WASD movement position) with TERA-influenced combat mechanics and a light sprinkling of Guild Wars 2-influenced features.

Neverwinter Tech

Neverwinter is running on the latest iteration of Cryptic’s Core Engine, obviously. A lot of the zone sizes seem roughly comparable to, if not bigger than, what you’d see in Champions Online. I have a fairly decent gaming rig, not top of line and Neverwinter was out-performing Star Trek Online (which is my main MMO) for me. In instances and even some of the Adventure Zones I was getting near 90fps with my graphics maxed (though I left anti-aliasing at the default 4x) while in the main social area in the city of Neverwinter I was in the 30s to 40s due to the intricate city design and crazy number of players. Zone load times were noticeably faster than Star Trek as well. The game runs in DX9 by default though there is a DX11 (beta) setting which dropped my framerate to half the DX9 numbers. Graphically, Neverwinter is pretty decent, a slight step up from Star Trek’s latest zones, though character faces and especially animations need some work still. The Core Engine has a lower asset budget than some of the popular licensed engines so you’re not going to see visuals along the lines of TERA (Unreal Engine 3) for example. However, this allows the game to run on more machines than a TERA or Age of Conan will.

Like the other Cryptic MMOs, Neverwinter is single-shard with population-controlled instances. It seemed like Neverwinter was able to hold more players per instance than Champions or Star Trek but I have no hard numbers to back that up with. Traveling, at least within the city itself, is accomplished by getting to any gate, then a map appears and you can click any destination on that map.

Playing the Game

Here is an example of how the game UI is laid out by default:

Fairly standard MMO interface for the most part. NPC icons are pretty self-explanatory for the most part, and Quest NPCs use the standard punctuation mark icons, as shown. Not shown in this image is a Foundry Quest NPC such as the Well-informed Harper, which uses its own unique icon. Many of the Cryptic Quests have voice overs that continue playing even after I rapidly clicked through the dialogue so just above the chat box you can see a voice over UI element that shows which NPC is talking and a button to mute the voice.

In the center of the screen is the targeting reticule which is used to aim at whatever you want to interact with. The game is played in “mouselook” mode, meaning if you move the mouse, your aim moves with it. You can press the left Alt can to enter “cursor mode” so you can click things with the mouse cursor but once you start moving or press Alt again, you’re back to mouselook.

Just like TERA or DDO, for example. Neverwinter uses a “soft targeting” (I’m borrowing Turbine’s term when they implemented that into DDO a few years ago) system that works well enough but could stand a little fine-tuning as it was especially problematic trying to interact with NPCs with a lot of players around or targeting a player in a group combat. If you click your mouse button for each attack, you can easily switch from target to target. Once an attack is active (or if you hold the button) you’ll lock onto that target for the duration of the attack, then the soft targeting releases again. Or if you want to hard lock onto a target, hold the left Ctrl key and release when you want to switch targets.

To the left of that is the Divine Power gauge for the Devoted Cleric class which I will talk about later. Each class gets its own specific gauge to fit with its Class Power. Guardian Fighters start the game with their Defense gauge displayed though I’m uncertain if it functions until level 10 when you unlock the Class Power. The other classes’ gauge doesn’t appear until they get their Class Power.

Moving down to the hotbar, you’ll notice you only have hit points, no mana! Cooldowns are used in place of mana to prevent rapid spamming of devastating attacks. The left and right mouse buttons use your At-Will powers while QER use your Encounter Powers. 1 and 2 use your Daily Powers and Tab uses your Class power. Similar to Guild Wars 2, powers can be switched out at any time (I didn’t try in combat but I will assume that’s a no-no). 3-5 are your potions. The big D20 icon in the center is your Action Points. Fill your Action Points from using your At-Will and Encounter powers, and you can use a Daily Power which depletes your AP. The green chevron on top of the Action Points icon is your Stamina gauge, which is used for your sprint or dodge moves. Each class has its own unique dodge maneuver. Controller support was removed for this weekend’s build, unfortunately. Everyone said it played incredibly well with a controller during the last beta event so hopefully that feature will reappear for launch.

The Quest Tracker UI is fairly standard as well. Quests can be toggled on or off the Tracker from your Quest Log. The little scroll icon enables a glowing trail (similar to the Fable games) that leads you to your objective or destination. The trail can be toggled on or off in the Quest Log or with the ‘Z’ key. To the left of the minimap are the next three upcoming public events, which you can queue for. This weekend it seemed like all those were labeled level 60 events (level cap was 40) so I did not get to try any of those.

Finally, the icon that looks like a sun with the Ctrl+I label is for Invocation. Once per hour, you can invoke your god (chosen during character creation) for random rewards. I received a couple thousand Astal Diamonds (more on that later), runes and other useful items, for example.

The only part of the onscreen UI I do not like at all is the toolbar at the top center. It’s small enough that it’s unobtrusive but it’s just ugly and somewhat difficult to read. Not that you’ll need to read it once you learn the keybinds…

The zoom level you see in this picture is also the default and not changeable! This is definitely something I (and every beta tester) would like to have addressed. There is an Inspect Mode you can toggle with the ‘B’ key then zoom in and out with the mouse wheel. You can even run around and use powers, but your UI is gone the whole time so it’s very much less than ideal. The current zoom level is certainly playable but there are times I’d rather be able to change the zoom during encounters or even just to look closer at my character without having to fool with Inspect Mode.

When picking up a quest, rather than simply popping up a little Quest Dialogue UI, Neverwinter switches to a sort of cut-scene view, which also hosts the Dialogue UI. Merchants and other NPC types also use this same view mode.

In addition to the Quest NPCs there are Job Boards in various spots where you can pick up user-created Foundry Quests. I also saw a few Bounty Master NPCs who offer a bounty for collecting various object you might find in the zone you’re questing. For example, the Tower District is infested with the Many-Arrows orc tribe, so you can trade ten Many-Arrows Insignias for a Gruumsh’s Bane consumable buff which gives a +25% damage versus orcs for 30 minutes.

Another feature you’ll see (and actively seek out in dungeons) are camp fires. Again, very similar to TERA, standing next to a camp fire for a few seconds will fully heal you and apply a 15-minute buff which gives +1 to all attributes. See the picture for the Trickster Rogue to see a camp fire in action.

While the crafting system itself was not in this weekend’s build, crafting materials were. Or at least that’s what I’m assuming they were. So I think this is how gathering works: while running around the Adventure Zones or Dungeon Instances you might come across objects like chests or whatever. Treasure chests can be opened by anyone, while some object require a specific Skill such as Thieving, and other objects can only be opened with the appropriate Kit such as Arcane or Nature. Kits are consumable and also have a chance to break. All the kits I was using at early levels had a 65% chance to open the object, and several broke. I didn’t go around checking vendors but I’ll assume normal kits are available for in-game currency. I did see Profession packs in the Zen Store (more on the store later) which I presume had a quantity of high-quality Kits.

Aside from the normal style (including Foundry) quests, players can also routinely queue for Skirmishes. The ‘K’ key brings up the Skirmish UI. As you level up, more Skirmishes become available. The two I was able to play this weekend were Blacklake Terror which is the first low-level Skirmish, then Orc Assault. Both of those two are essentially a survival mode. You enter each of them in a camp-type area and the party has to jump down into the arena where the action takes place. Once you jump down, there’s no way out until it’s over. A few waves of basic enemies come out (zombies for Blacklake Terror, and Orc Assault should be obvious) then you switch to a few mini-boss type enemies mixed in with the normals, then finally the Skirmish Boss makes his entrance with a brief cut scene. Advanced players might be able to use environmental effects if they can position enemies just right, for example in Blacklake Terror there are a few barrels of explosives that will cause area damage if the group can move the fight there. Of the two in their current state, I enjoyed Orc Assault the most. Plus Blacklake Terror had a glitch at the end where you couldn’t leave the instance unless you either logged out or used the /killme command, both of which place you back at the doorway so you can exit.

Finally, let me talk about the Dungeons. I could almost say that, like Path of Exile (or Diablo, whatever) the whole point of Neverwinter is running Adventure Zones, Skirmishes and Dungeons. I ran a few of the Quest instances in a small group, including one with Hudson and his girlfriend, then I leveled to 16 so I could run the first true Dungeon, Cloak Tower which has been talked about on Massively and other MMO sites from the first Beta Weekend. Dungeons are also queue-able just like Skirmishes. All the “dungeons” during Quests and certainly the Cloak Tower Dungeon were very well laid-out with plenty of twists and turns, hidden areas to explore for loot, traps — everything D&D dungeon running is famous for.

Combat

Combat in Neverwinter is a fast-paced affair. The MMO Trinity of tank, healer, and damage (plus crowd control) does exist, but is not explicitly required. I only did maybe two group activities that actually had a tank (one of which was running with Hudson who was playing the Guardian Fighter class), other times we had a Control Wizard who was doing so much dps he was the “tank” and it went fine. Everyone has potions, so just like Path of Exile, everyone is responsible for themselves and having a Devoted Cleric just makes things go easier.

Combat itself is extremely similar to TERA. Very fast-paced Action Combat, but also just like TERA once you use one of your powers you stop in place while performing that action. For some people, this can be a make or break deal. I don’t mind it, but you have to learn the ups and downs of this mechanic. Also like Path of Exile (and Diablo, etc.) you can simply hold down the mouse button to spam attack, at least for casters; I don’t remember if the melee classes would spam with the mouse button held in. Now, this can be good for constant damage but it also locks you in place longer. The biggest damage seems to come from what I’ll call targeted attacks by the enemies. A mage-type enemy might target the ground surrounding himself or a party member and a red circle appears for a few seconds prior to the attack, or a melee-type character who is about to use his area damage attack you’ll see his attack arc highlighted in red for a few seconds. This is similar to TERA where all the enemies and bosses had specific “tell” animations, which once learned, would indicate which special attack was coming so the party could hopefully react in time. With a simple “don’t stand in the fire” mindset, this is where your Dodge move comes in. Either double-tapping one of the directional WASD keys or pressing one with the Shift key held will execute your dodge move, which uses a certain amount of Stamina which slowly regenerates. Through level 16, I was only able to do two Dodges before my Stamina was empty, so that’s something else to pay attention to be effective, and if I held the left button down to spam that At-Will power on my casters, I was quite often locked in place for so long I was unable to Dodge the enemy’s special attack. So left-mouse spamming can be fine but you’ll need to be more situationally aware so you can stop spamming before a special attack and be able to use your Dodge. One other thing I noticed was that it seemed once an enemy started a melee attack animation when I was standing face to face with him, even if I walked (not Dodged) out of his attack range I would still take the hit. Dodging, however, did avoid the hit. I guess that’s the trade-off for being an Action (MMO)RPG versus a straight-up action game or perhaps that’s a Working as Intended mechanic?

Moving on to the Classes:

Guardian Fighter

The Guardian Fighter fits the 4e Role of Defender, and is your one-handed weapon plus shield tank class, but he also deals quite a bit of damage unlike the typical Trinity MMO where the tank’s dps is gimped. The Guardian Fighter’s weapons that I’m aware of so far are sword and mace, and I think an axe.

Let’s talk TERA for a bit! My main character in TERA is a Lancer, which is the tank class in that game. When TERA first launched, a Lancer could walk into a group of mobs, use Challenging Shout which is a 360-degree Taunt, then hold the right-mouse button to bring up the shield in defensive stance and just sit there turtling while the group killed the mobs, occasionally popping out to do Challenging Shout again. Sure, you could mix some attacks in there and were wise to do so but the mechanics allowed lazy turtle tanking. I was guilty of doing this myself. In a later patch, the Resolve mechanic was added, and displayed as a bar below the health and mana. It was normally filled but when the Lancer goes into defensive stance to block, the resolve bar starts diminishing so the player has to make some attacks to regenerate a little resolve. Run out of resolve and no more blocking, which is… bad. The Guardian Fighter uses an extremely similar mechanic where he has a Defense (I think that’s what it’s called) gauge displayed and blocking will slowly diminish his defense so he has to make some attacks in order to keep his defense up to continue blocking. I forget if the taunt ability is 360-degree like TERA or a wide cone in front of him — I think it’s the latter. It sounds simple, and to a degree it is though there is definitely a large degree of tactical readiness required to be effective, but it’s incredibly fun! I love tanking on my Lancer in TERA and I love tanking with the Guardian Fighter in Neverwinter. A lot of the Guardian Fighter’s Encounter Powers seemed to focus on area damage as well, to help keep aggro and to do a little damage all the enemies facing him. His crowd control-style attack is a shield bash (I think) which knocks the enemy back. I don’t mean knocks him back a couple feet, either, he gets knocked all the way across the room! It’s just fun to do, fun to watch, and hey, it’s effective.

Control Wizard

As the name implies, this class fits the 4e Controller Role and specializes in crowd control combined with damage. His weapon is an Orb, not sure if there were other weapon types for this class yet. He starts off with the Magic Missile power on the left mouse button, which is spam-able. Magic Missile does good damage then on every third strike, launches a barrage which does extra damage. Next he gets Frost Ray (I think that was the name?) on the right mouse button, which is held down for a constant slowing effect while doing damage. The slowing effect lasts a few seconds after releasing the button so you can maneuver, Dodge or attack with a different power. One of his next powers lifted the enemy off the ground while doing some damage. The enemy is immobilized and cannot attack so in a group this is a useful power to do some burst damage without fear of counterattack. Unfortunately this was the first class I played, so the first to be deleted to try more so today I’m a bit fuzzy on the other powers I got to play with on those early few levels. I did group with some higher level Control Wizards and they looked fun, though.

I will say this: out of all the animations that need to be addressed, I thought the Control Wizard’s should be top of the list. He’s very cinematic with crazy moves that would make me have a chiropractor on speed dial if I tried them for real, but a lot of them just look a little awkward and need to be polished up a lot. And his stance. Oh gawd. The Control Wizard runs around all the time with two fingers pointing up, not quite a “Peace” sign (his fingers are together) but almost like he’s going to ask everyone “excuse me, do you have any Grey Poupon?” That single-handedly was the most annoying thing about the class and the reason I finished the tutorial them switched to another class. Otherwise my original intent was for this to be my main class at launch. So, Cryptic artists and modelers, please fix this!

Trickster Rogue

The Trickster Rogue fits into the 4e Role of Striker, specializing in burst damage, stealth, distraction and dodging. The only available weapon types I saw through level 9 were daggers. This class is pure fun, no two ways about it! His first left mouse button At Will power is a swift dagger swipe which damages all enemies in the rogue’s foward arc. His right mouse button throws daggers. He has 12 daggers he can throw, which slowly regenerate (no pesky ammo carrying here) but if he uses all 12 he has to wait for the full power cooldown before he can throw more. His first Encounter Power is Dazing Strike, which as it sounds, will daze the enemy you’re targeting. It does have a brief activation period, and using it from Stealth will cut the activation in half. Cool animation for it, you *Bamf!* teleport like Nightcrawler from X-Men to the enemy’s head then whap him a good one and fall back to the ground. I was playing a gnome so perhaps the taller races don’t appear up in the air like that. Then he gets Bait and Switch which drops a decoy of himself then scoots backward. The decoy will attract the aggro so you can position yourself for plenty of backstabbing goodness as long as your decoy has hit points. The third Encounter Power I got to use was Deft Strike which again lets you *Bamf!* teleport behind the enemy then give him a quick backstab for damage and a slowing effect. His first Daily Power is Bloodbath which… oh my gawd is just too fun, especially if you’re fighting groups of enemies. You *Bamf!* to each enemy, delivering a nasty strike each time, or for a single target like a boss you *Bamf!* all up and down the boss. It’s hilarious and effective! After playing my own Trickster Rogues then playing with some in groups at higher levels, I regret not getting one more level so I could have played around with Stealth, his first Class Power.

Tactical positioning is a Trickster Rogue’s best friend. Striking from behind or the side is most effective and should be utilized as such in groups to be most effective. Face to face melee is what the Guardian Fighter is for. Trickster Rogues are for sneaking and backstabbing.

The other trick (ha!) up the Trickster Rogue’s sleeve is disarming traps. Some of the early dungeon quests had traps like saw blades in the floor, or arrows shooting out of the walls. Only the Trickster Rogue can disarm them so that alone can make him an invaluable party member. I read some of the higher level players saying some of the traps later in the game can be quite lethal if you’re not careful.

Devoted Cleric

The Devoted Cleric class fits the 4e Role of Leader and is the only “healer” class in Neverwinter. As I’d mentioned before, everyone carries potions and is largely responsible for themselves (plus you never know if your party will have a cleric when using the public queue) so to a certain degree, a dedicated healing class is unnecessary. I played the cleric to level 16 and had a blast with it, though. It’s a combination healer (mostly light heals) and ranged damage. The Devoted Cleric’s weapon type is a symbol, and aside from heals focuses on area crowd control and single-target holy damage. The first At-Will attack is Lance of Faith which shoots magical spears of light at the enemy. Like the Control Wizard’s Magic Missile, this is a spam-able power by simply holding the left mouse button but again, you’re locked in place longer doing this and may get hit by an enemy’s special attack. The next At-Will attack is Astral Seal on the right mouse button. This does some damage but more importantly puts a light healing buff onto the target, so for the duration of that power any party member who attacks that enemy will receive a small heal. Needless to say, you keep that active on bosses! There’s practically no cooldown, so if there’s a group of mobs I was usually able to put Astral Seal on most, if not all the mobs so there was party healing going on no matter what was being attacked. The first Encounter Power is Bastion of Health which is a player-based area heal. It’s great for topping off the party after a fight or running in and giving a group heal in a pinch but it’s still a comparatively light heal when it’s all said and done. Handy, but if the party is in real trouble, it won’t save them for long. Next is Healing Word which is a handy-dandy heal over time (HoT) that comes in a “stack” of three. It works similar to the Trickster Rogue’s dagger throw — I can toss a Healing Word on any friendly player, and there’s a brief cooldown before I can toss the next one. It will slowly regenerate back to three on its own but if I toss all three, now I have to wait for the full power cooldown (I think it was 15 seconds) before I can use it again. Healing Word also stacks so if I keep targeting the same player the first one might heal (just to be clear: I’m making these numbers up; I did not record the actual heal values) 50 hit points per tick, the second one increases to 150 and the third to 300 hit points per tick. I kept switching the third Encounter Power but I think I mostly stuck with Daunting Light which is an area effect. The first Daily Power is Avenging Angel which is just awesome. You summon an glowy angel which does devastating damage to your target on its descent, then heals the party on its ascent. It all happens very quickly but it’s an excellent effect. I also unlocked the Hallowed Ground Daily Power which creates a large circular area effect that damages all enemies, and heals all players, within its area. Good stuff! At level 10 the first Class Power, Channel Divinity, is unlocked. This is where the Divine Power gauge shown way up at the beginning of the post comes in. The Devoted Cleric builds Divine Power from both dealing damage and healing. It has three tiers (the ‘+’ symbols on the gauge) to fully fill it. Pressing tab will bring a blue glow on your symbol and switch your At-Will powers to Punishing Light on the left mouse button, which is a hard-hitting beam of blue energy for single target damage, and Soothing Light on the right mouse button for a stronger single target heal. You’ll need to hold the buttons in for the optimal effect. The Divine Power gauge diminishes fairly rapidly even with all three tiers full, so I’m hoping there’s a way to slow that down or have the gauge hold more power at higher levels.

The “soft targeting” can be an issue with the heals, specifically Healing Word and Soothing Light so far and is similar to healing with TERA’s Priest class in that respect. For example, when I ran the Orc Assault skirmish with Hudson, he’s down there tanking the boss with his Guardian Fighter but there were a few Trickster Rogues down there as well, plus some Neverwinter Guard NPCs assisting. Finding Hudson in all that mess became troublesome, so once I did manage to target him that’s where holding Ctrl to hard lock onto him came in handy so I could ensure my Healing Word would go to him instead of someone else who didn’t need it.

All in all, I really enjoyed the Devoted Cleric far more than I thought I would. It was almost the best of both worlds, being able to do damage (roughly on par with the Guardian Fighter) and toss light heals as well. Soloing was easy as a result, too. I even soloed a dungeon quest instance that was two levels higher than my cleric by kiting, dodging and keeping my HoT active. In groups, since healing (so far anyway) isn’t as critical as in other MMOs, I was able to toss a few Astral Seals on the mobs and that kept anyone attacking it with constant light heals. I didn’t have to pay critical attention to health bars that way so I could feel free to just play the game, cast my damage spells and every so often check health bars to see if anyone needed some extra help.

Companions

One of the appealing factors to me about Star Trek Online is having a full crew of AI Bridge Officers. If I’m soloing I can choose four of them to bring along on any away mission, or even if I’m in a group or two or three players that still leaves a few slots open that BOffs can fill. Neverwinter has a similar mechanic called Companions. You get your first Companion at level 16. They come in either animal or people flavors. For my Devoted Cleric, I went the traditional route and chose a Man  at Arms (tank) Companion but I could have chosen any other archetype, including a dog which fits the dps role. Unlike STO where a full group of five players means no slots left for Companions, Neverwinter lets everyone bring his Companion along too. So in the Cloak Tower Dungeon, we had five players and five Companions. Granted, they’re AI so carry with them all the negative baggage that AI “pets” in MMOs have earned over the years, but still they’re a nice touch. Your companions also level up. Mine leveled while inside Clock Tower so I waited until we finished the dungeon before I sent him for training. This reminded me of Star Wars: The Old Repubic where you send your Companion to do tasks. It took five minutes for my Companion to go train to level 2 and come back, or I could spend Astral Diamonds (more on this in the next section) to speed up the process. The runes you find as loot or as a random reward for Invoking your god can be used to buff certain Companion stats. One difference to STO is I cannot control my Companion directly. In STO I can position each individual BOff, I can manually click their abilities, or tell them to attack a specific target before I run into battle myself. In Neverwinter, my Companion stays at my side until I enter combat. In the case of the Man at Arms, as soon as I shot the first Lance of Faith at an enemy, he did a charging attack and took the aggro long before the mob ever made it to me, so it wasn’t a huge deal running around the Adventure Zone I was in.

Difficulty-wise, Cryptic has stated they intend the general content in Neverwinter to be duo-able with a player and a Companion. Star Trek has difficulty settings which are popular for the more hardcore-ish players, so I’m unsure how Cryptic will handle appeasing the segment of the playerbase who wants more challenging content aside from the Dungeons and Skirmishes.

The Companion tab in your character sheet lists both Active and Idle slots for companions, and since I only got the one companion before the beta ended, I am unsure how exactly the mechanic of having multiple Active companions will work since (I think) you can only summon one of them to adventure with you. But the Zen Store sells extra Active and Idle slots.

There is a vendor where you can buy the other basic Companion types for 2 gold apiece, but the rest of the really good Companions are in the Zen Store.

Free 2 Play: Monetization

Cryptic’s previous MMOs, Champions and Star Trek both launched under their previous owner, Atari. They both began life as a subscription MMO, with optional Lifetime memberships, before transitioning to a hybrid F2P model as they exist today. Players still have the option to subscribe to Star Trek, and yes, some still do. Neverwinter, on the other hand, is releasing fully under the watchful eye of Perfect World Entertainment and there are no optional subscriptions to be found. Neverwinter is fully F2P from the start, so aside from the pre-launch purchases of the Founders Packs, expect Neverwinter to be somewhat on the pricey side, either in terms of money or time. Or both.

Neverwinter is taking an identical approach to currencies as Champions and Star Trek: there is at least one “normal” in-game currency, such as Gold in NW, Energy Credits in STO or Resources in CO. As you get higher level and interested in more “elite” gear, that currency becomes — to a degree — less useful in place of the exchangeable currency, in this case Astral Diamonds.

Astral Diamonds are the Neverwinter equivalent to Dilithium in Star Trek or Questionite in Champions. You gain some grinding certain mission types and you can also exchange them for Perfect World’s real-money currency, Zen, which is used to buy from the Zen Store (item shop). The Zen Store includes mounts, companions, extra bag slots, character slots, companion slots, and so forth. In Star Trek, we spend Zen to buy the best starships then spend Dilithium (and/or reputation points) to get the best gear for them. As I mentioned, Dilithium is exchangeable among the players for Zen, and vice-versa. No Zen appears magically from Cryptic, it’s all purchased by players who have the money to buy Zen but not the time to grind out the Dilithium on their own so they trade their Zen for Dilithium. The other players trade their Dilithium for Zen, now they can buy stuff in the Zen Store. It’s an incredibly popular mechanic that truly lets people experience everything in the game without spending a dime, if they’re willing to put in the time to do so. In Neverwinter so far, I noticed I could spend a few Astral Diamonds to speed up my Companion’s training or to respec his runes. I’d imagine there will be a gear treadmill using AD for the best stuff just like Star Trek does. The Astral Diamond Exchange was already up and running this weekend, as was an Astral Diamond vendor which I forgot to look at. I do know that the very in-demand Identification Scrolls are located at the Astral Diamond vendor, though they also drop as loot.

Zen to US Dollar ratio is easy math: one penny per Zen. So if something like the Greater Bag of Holding (24 inventory slots) is 1000 Zen, that equates to $10 USD. I’m already accustomed to Cryptic / PWE’s prices from Star Trek and they seem similar in Neverwinter. Sales aside, the normal price of the Odyssey 3-Pack or the new Andorian Kumari 3-Pack is 5000 Zen, or $50 USD for three ships. So far in the Neverwinter beta Zen Store I see three mounts priced at 4000 Zen, or $40 USD. The most basic mounts are 500 Zen, there’s a few for 800, some at 2000 and a few for 2500 Zen. (You get your first mount at level 20 for 2.5 gold, and I think there’s a normal vendor for the basic mounts purchased with gold just like the basic companions, by the way.) Companions in the Zen Store start at 1500, then 2000, a few for 2500 and the most expensive Companion is the Honey Badger for 3500 Zen! I’m assuming this will also be like Star Trek where there’s a mixture of a sense of wanting to collect everything you can with optimizing certain ships (or companions in this case) to certain situations. For example, the description of the Acolyte of Kelemvor companion (2000 Zen) makes it seem he would be more effective than other cleric-type companions when fighting undead.

Other Zen Store examples are: character slot for 500, active companion slot for 350, idle companion slot for 100, extra bank slots for 300, change your name for 400. There’s a Bag of Holding for 600 which is either 12 or 18 inventory slots, then the aforementioned Greater Bag of Holding at 1000 Zen for 24 inventory slots. There are also dye packs in the Zen Store but no cosmetic outfits yet.

Finally, like Champions and Star Trek, Neverwinter will have lockboxes. They weren’t in the game yet, but the Lockbox Keys were in the Zen Store already at their normal price of 125 each or 1125 for a pack of ten.

Conclusion

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Neverwinter and can definitely say this will be a game I play at launch. Due to my job’s schedule and as a result my day off schedule, I tend to do my gaming in the mornings. I live on the East Coast, which means the typical server-based MMO will have a low population during those hours. At a bare minimum, I like to see other players chatting and adventuring and hopefully the opportunity to get into some group content. Low player population during my playtime has been one of the primary reasons I’ve left every MMO in recent memory, and one of the primary reasons I’ve stuck with Star Trek — because Cryptic’s games are all single-shard. They might be population-controlled instances but that still means you see plenty of other players adventuring, the chats are active and groups are readily available 24/7 and for me, that is an extremely important factor in an MMO. There might be other MMOs that I just adore (The Secret World comes to mind) but due to low player population, I can’t find a group to do the content I want to play, so I end up leaving. I don’t have that problem with Cryptic’s setup.

Whether or not you will enjoy Neverwinter will depend on what you’re looking for. I’ve spent a great deal of time hopefully describing how the game feels and plays. There are plenty of videos on YouTube by now to see it for yourself. Like I said earlier, if you think of it as sort of a third-person Path of Exile meets TERA combat with a League of Legends-esque control scheme, with the expected bits of MMO bullet points, that’s about what you’re getting. It’s a fairly linear early leveling process, though I’m hoping that opens up once I’m in the mid and high levels. General quest content-wise, players writing Foundry quests and entire Foundry campaign storylines are the bread-and-butter questing attraction. Endgame will likely comprise running Dungeons, Skirmishes and PvP — hopefully Cryptic is able to keep adding more of that type of content quicker than they’ve been able to in Star Trek until recently.

If you demand every game with the MMO tag be a sandbox, Neverwinter is not for you. If you prefer slower combat, Neverwinter is not for you. If you like having twenty hotbars full of skills and consumables, Neverwinter is not for you. If you want to slow down and deliver pies in the Shire or find some idyllic location to roleplay a picnic, Neverwinter is not for you. (Not to say roleplaying cannot or will not be done in Neverwinter, it’ll just be a little different from the player handling the character perspective.)

If you want to just jump in, have a good romp with friends and strangers killing monsters in adventure zones, dungeons and skirmishes, look no further, you’ve arrived in Neverwinter. So I guess it might be fair to say Neverwinter isn’t as “deep” as some players think their MMOs are. I tend to think they’re all varying degrees of shallowness, it’s just a matter of where your personal interests and investments (time or money) lie. Sometimes it’s ok to simply want to have a little fun and leave it at that.

6 thoughts on “Neverwinter: Closed Beta Weekend #2

  1. oakstout

    Look forward to trying the beta. I did a search to find out info on classes and races for NWN and to be honest this was the only thing I actually found and I for one am glad. Very informative. I can’t wait to try out a Cleric or fighter this weekend during the beta and look forward to you showing me around.. hopefully.

    Great article.

  2. Isey

    Great write up – THANK you. Felt like I was there participating

    I am in the fortunate position that I have so many OLDER MMO’s to play. I’ve yet to STO (and very interested), no TERA yet No The Secret World. I love Free To Play (and support games that I try) but need Free Time To Play (FTTP).

    I also play odd times and hate soloing MMO’s. There are so many new ones coming up, I don’t even know where to begin.

    Isey recently posted..Sweet, Sweet Naivety.

  3. Pingback: Neverwinter: Closed Beta Weekend #3Pumping Irony | Pumping Irony

Comments are closed.