Based on The Forgotten Realms setting of the Dungeons and Dragon universe, the hugely anticipated Neverwinter action MMORPG by Cryptic Studios gave gamers their first inside peek at the exciting project last week, before the game is released to the masses sometime in early 2013. We here at Den of Geek were lucky enough to take part in the special closed beta event over the past weekend, explore the breathtaking city of Neverwinter and stumble upon all of its secrets for ourselves. Unlike traditional MMORPGs, Neverwinter features a much more story-driven experience that’s likened to narrative adventures in the vein of Dragon Age or The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, but with the ease of linking up with players online to make for a truly unique and captivating gaming affair.
The Neverwinter beta features three of the five character classes that will appear in the game’s final build, including the stealthy Trickster Rogue, the Devoted Cleric and my character, the courageous and melee-focused Guardian Fighter. In addition to facial features and preset body types, you’ll also get some really unique customization options; like choosing a warrior’s homeland origins, and their specific Deity Affiliation. Once a player reaches level 7, they’ll be able to invoke the Gods and prey to their chosen Deity to receive special rewards like buffs and other riches. But to me, the coolest part of the character creation process is how everyone has the option to write their own character biography, to be displayed right on their character sheet!
What’s great about Neverwinter is that even though the game is brimming with fast paced, fluid action, Cryptic Studios made sure to stay faithful to the historic role playing world that classic Dungeons and Dragons fans know and love. You’ll see hints of the old order seep through at every turn, such as signature D&D races like Human, Half-Elf, Elf and Dwarf. Ability Scores function much like the classic pen and paper game, where players will roll and reroll their abilities to determine their character’s weaknesses and strength attributes. When your team happens upon a rare piece of loot in a dungeon, each party member who wants in on the goods has the option to “roll” for it or pass, with the highest roll being awarded the coveted treasure. The game’s menu can be a little confusing at first and it took me a little while of just stumbling through the world and pressing random buttons on my keyboard to figure out where everything was; but once you get a strong feeling for the menu interface, moving around the world becomes a breeze and everything fits right in its place.
The introductory mission of the beta has players traverse a rickety bridge into town, where they’re met by a very large and very intimidating harbinger. Here you’ll learn the basics of combat, from attacking, to blocking and performing your special attacks like a fierce lightning blast or a powerful forward shield thrust. If you make it through alive, you’ll wind up in the Protector’s Enclave; which is like the hub world of Neverwinter, where you can meet up with your friends before quests at the Hall of Justice or shop for items and other perks to make your dungeon crawling go a little bit smoother. And believe me when I tell you: the Protector’s Enclave is MASSIVE. This is the first place in the game where the immense graphical prowess and breadth of Neverwinter’s world are fully felt, right down to the tiny details like chips in the cobblestone walkways. One of the coolest visual features I found of the Protector’s Enclave was a floating castle in the sky, detached from the rest of the enclave and I’m crossing my fingers so hard that I’ll be able to travel there at some point in the game.
As part of the special VIP package, fellow Den of Geek gamer Bobby Bernstein and I had the incredible opportunity to battle through a mind level dungeon alongside a Neverwinter developer. The dungeon in question was The Cloak Tower and we were all bumped up to character level 16 in order to access it; and given an AI-controlled companion called a Man at Arms, who looks like this headstrong little golem dude. And let me tell you, the of diversity in the visual environments throughout this single Cloak Tower dungeon was absolutely astounding. From the cramped and crowed quarters of the Cloak and Apprentice Rooms, our party descended a long, spiral staircase to a glowing Alchemy Lab and then deeper still into the craggy Caves, full of wildlife and bright crystals, before reaching the central Ritual Chamber.
This quest had all been building up to a final confrontation with Vansi Bloodscar, the Spellscarred Orc Commander boss, who sat in wait for us in her dim lair at the bottom of The Cloak Tower. The boss fight with Vansi was some of the most intense and exciting moments I had with the game, as it took all the manpower of our five-member team to bring her down. To make matters worse, Vansi threw wave after wave of Orc minions to distract us during the fight, but the evil commander was no match for us, as we vanquished the Orc leader from her gloomy tower and reaped some pretty nice rewards. We had a few issues trying to get the voice chat system to work and the game client randomly crashed for me on more than one occasion in the middle of the quest, but the text based party chatting was flawless and the other minor kinks will no doubt be worked out by the time of Neverwinter’s commercial release. Even when I did fall out of my party, joining back up with the group was a cinch and it was only a short walk from the nearest respawn checkpoint to meet up with everyone again.
Other entry and mid-level areas of interest in the beta weekend included the Blacklake District, the Tower District and the bandit ridden Blackdagger Ruins. The full beta experience ended with a temporary level cap of 30, which let players experience the first half of the Neverdeath graveyard, with frightening hoards of the undead to fight. The game is definitely built for travelling the Dungeons and Dragons-inspired world with your friends and some of those tougher dungeons could almost require it, but I had just as much fun exploring the earlier missions on my own and searching every nook and cranny for those hidden treasure chests.
I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest MMORPG player in the world, but Neverwinter has won me over with its stunning dungeon visuals, addicting action gameplay, and breathtaking world that would make any Dungeons and Dragons fan feel right at home. I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface of what this monster of a game has to offer and I already fear for how much this one is going to take over my life in the year to come. After all, this preview doesn’t even account for all the user-generated quests that will become available as part of Neverwinter’s Foundry content creation system. As if the game isn’t big enough already, the prospect of the Foundry will make for a truly unlimited Neverwinter experience. I’m not sure if beta players will be able to retain their characters and EXP levels in the final game’s build; but if not, I’d be perfectly okay with starting over from scratch and experiencing every wonder that Neverwinter has to offer all over again. I wholeheartedly believe in this game. But does Neverwinter have the potential and lasting appeal to be a World of Warcraft killer? Well that may come down to a lucky roll of the dice, but I’d bet all my gold that the odds are looking pretty high.