On the weekend of March 22nd, rather than celebrating the first weekend of spring, going outside, or spending quality time with my loving family, I was playing Cryptic's brand new game, Neverwinter. Neverwinter is an MMORPG based on the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons and its Forgotten Realms campaign setting, taking heavily after D&D stylistically. The first two Neverwinter Nights games were highly successful, released by Bioware in 2002 and Obsidian Entertainment in 2006. The latest installment distantly honors the past games while taking a distinct direction under its new developer. The game is currently in closed beta, but I was fortunate enough to secure a beta key and logged in Friday afternoon with high hopes. Based on my play experience, Neverwinter seems like a great adaptation of the Forgotten Realms, and offers story-based adventures in a huge variety of environments wrapped beautifully around clean and enjoyable mechanics.
From the login screen and through character creation it's clear that Cryptic has carefully replicated the D&D style and atmosphere. Beginning with character customization, Neverwinter makes you feel like you're drafting up a tabletop character. With a large handful of races and classes, and character customization to die for, Neverwinter's got the RPG junkie in me excited to sit down for several hours and tweak my avatar to perfection. Neverwinter also gives you the option to choose your character's deity and backstory, drawing from dozens of options from all across Faerūn. I was also pleased to see that Cryptic has chosen to implement a space for character biographies, and you can expect that role-players will take full advantage of crafting their story, especially considering it is publicly viewable in the inspection screen. From a quick look, it definitely seems that Cryptic got the message that MMORPG players want their RPG back.
It's been over century since the Spellplague forever changed The Forgotten Realms. Now, explore the city that's been at the center of a thousand adventures: Neverwinter. Adapted from the real Dungeons and Dragon's ruleset, Neverwinter will feature action-oriented combat and storytelling unlike any other MMO. Take the world in your hands with the Foundry toolset and make your own tales. Make your mark in this legendary world.
The game quickly drops you into the action, recovering from a draconic attack on your ship that has conveniently crashed on the beaches of Neverwinter. Though you aren't given too much information initially, you quickly find yourself rushing to the aid of those nearby, and fall into the adventuring lifestyle quite naturally. By the time I had hit 10th level (of out a current possibly 60), I had already explored several sewers, local ruins, and other mysterious locales. You're immediately thrust into the action, and the feeling of heroism is definitely tangible all the way through.
The gameplay is sharp, satisfying, and (dare I say this about MMO combat?) very fun. Cryptic avoids the tab and auto-attack route of combat popularized by the WoW generation of MMOs, instead using a "focus" style of combat. The center of the camera acts as your aim, targeting whatever is at center stage in your viewing box, a mechanic that is more familiar in an FPS than an RPG. You can access an alternate menu where the cursor is accessible, and allows for you to bring up the game menus such as the inventory or quest log. Though this was initially frustrating (especially because moving closes all windows), I adapted quickly to the new system and found myself quite enjoying the immersive feeling that the camera focus perspective grants.