April 30 marked the start of the “open beta” for Cryptic Studios’ Neverwinter, an MMORPG based loosely upon D&D 4th edition and set in a corner of the Forgotten Realms. This is, of course, a de facto launch — they’re taking your money and not wiping your characters, so it’s a launch, despite being labeled a beta for marketing reasons and so that can be used as an excuse for any major issues.
And there was a major issue early in the day — lag. Which shouldn’t be and wasn’t surprising, but in a game that plays like Neverwinter, which is a bit twitchy and where timing and positioning are very important to one’s effectiveness, it was exceptionally harmful, to the point where anything remotely challenging may have been impossible. A mid-day backend patch solved the lag issue at the cost of introducing (rather lengthy) login queues. But if you ask me, dealing with a queue is preferable to a shitty experience in the game.
Neverwinter, though it cries out for more, has five launch classes. My selection was the Great Weapon Fighter, but due to the lag and that the character felt a bit clumsy and underpowered to me, after about seven levels (beyond which, for all I know, those issues would go away) I switched back to Control Wizard, which was the class I played the most back in the closed beta.
Neverwinter is a contemporary themepark MMO, which is to say that it’s got linear content along with scaling, instanced and one-off content that’s available to you at whatever level, so you have the ability to mix it up. This can give a game a bit of sandbox feel if you squint hard enough at it, but I’m not sure that’s really the case here. This content structure feels more or less like that of Star Trek Online and Champions Online, Cryptic’s other offerings. I find that generally agreeable.
And the game, too. Neverwinter is fun to play, with fast, fluid combat that manages not to be too twitchy for arthritic graybeards like myself. It’s set in a world (D&D’s Forgotten Realms) virtually unmatched in depth of lore and the game seems to have enough stuff to keep one busy for a little while. How well it will hold up over the long term… well, we’ll see, but if the login queues are any indication there’s lots of folks wanting to play right now.
A compare and contrast could and should be done with the other D&D MMO, Turbine’s D&D Online, but that’s beyond the scope of this opening day post. Offhand, DDO is far deeper but Neverwinter is slicker and more modern in just about every respect. I’m not sure there is a real need for there to be two D&D MMOs, but then, neither really captures the open-ended nature of a tabletop game. No video game does, of course, but titles like Skyrim or EVE Online can come tantalizingly close.
But anyway. Neverwinter is worth checking out. Nice graphics and good gameplay and if it’s a touch rough around the edges you can tell yourself that it’s technically still in beta. I have new episodes of Ardwulf Presents dealing with it and more on the way, so check those out as well.