This may be a record — I’m actually posting on consecutive days! I took my first look at the just release to open beta of the new Neverwinter MMO made by Cryptic Studios and released by Perfect World. My character to test with you ask? A halfling control wizard named Merri Thrushmage was my choice. I always have loved halflings (maybe because I’m a little short myself?), and my first love in the AD&D world was the mage. Character creation was pretty simple. For a control wizard your primary attribute is Intelligence, and your secondary attributes are Wisdom and Charisma. This is a little different from DDO where a mage that specialized in crowd control would max Intelligence and give Constitution a healthy boost. No explanation was really given as to why WIS and CHA were secondary attributes although is sort of makes sense. Rolling of attributes was a little misleading — I attempted to get an 18 in INT and at least a 16 in WIS and CHA and was unable to do so after many rolls. Every time an 18 showed up in the INT slot I had a 13 in WIS and a 15 in INT (at least I think those were the numbers — I’ll have to test again). It seems that their random number generator is not so random. Other than class choice and attribute rolling the only choices I had to make were related to what I looked like physically. A wide range of faces and facial features was available, but only 3 basic body types (think skinny, medium, and stocky). No height adjustments were available.
Finally into the game I go. The tutorial portion starts with you being shipwrecked after a dracolich attacked your ship (no cutscene movie for this — sorry guys). I guess this has become the standard starter plot now, at least it is in DDO, Age of Conan, Allods, and now Neverwinter. That aside, my first impression of the graphics was that it was a beautiful environment! It looks great! Even the NPC’s look pretty good based on the guard from Neverwinter that I met immediately and the town folk I met soon after. The character models, while not perfect, were definitely workable and had more or less realistic looking builds. No weird World of Warcraft misproportioned elves here! Like most tutorials, this one was highly scripted and forces you down a certain path with no opportunity to really go off exploring on your own (I still want to take out those guys summoning something up on the hill I should be able to climb, but can’t). Basic game functions are mostly covered, but a few things like using your journal and achievements were glaringly omitted.
Once you get past the tutorial, the game opens up quite a bit, with the possibility of having multiple quests you are running and basically going wherever you want. For some reason I still felt like I was somewhat hemmed in as far as my actions — I’m not quite sure why. Character development is … interesting. One skill tree with the promise of branching out when you are higher level (not implemented for the control wizard yet as far as I could tell). Combat with a control wizard was better than I expected. I was powerful enough not to die instantly, but I still had to plan and kite a bit. Equipment and fashion equipment are both present — my one beef with the inventory system is that I had to identify a normal pair of shoes to figure out what they were. That seems wrong to me when I have an 18 INT.
One aspect that was done very well was the storytelling. I found even the tutorial story was told well. This is somewhat surprising to me since it was definitely a rehash of so many other games starting stories. Later quests are well done also, and one unique feature is the Foundry. This allows players to create quests after they reach a certain level and have them playable by other players. This had to be the best feature of the original Neverwinter Nights, and I am very pleased to see it continue in Neverwinter!
So, how does all this hold up compared to DDO? I found that the complexity of character development and choice of path was just not there. I don’t know whether this is a 4th edition rules problem (I’ve played pen and paper from D&D up through AD&D 3.5) or if this is simply a “dumbed down for the masses” version of AD&D. I sincerely hope it gets better and does not copycat other MMO features just because they are “what everyone wants”. AD&D has never been a game for the masses no matter how often the company that owns it has tried to revamp it so that it is more understandable. Part of its appeal is the complexity of character development and the ability to tell a story and make it real. DDO has this. Whether Neverwinter will remains to be seen… See you in Stormreach!