It's been a long road from Ultima Online (and it's dial up connection) to Neverwinter and many MMOs have fallen along the way; but here I am playing the new 'Free to Play' MMO from Perfect World.
It's technically not been released yet, and whilst to many that might sound like I was onto something special, that I was one of the Glitterati of the gaming world... in fact I am a punter like everyone else because the game's open beta is available to anyone who wants it. So that's a Soft Launch then, right? NO - what the hell is a SOFT launch? It's a launch, that's what it is, a launch with an apology so we shouldn't be annoyed if it doesn't work! Never apologise before you begin, it's a fundamental rule of presenting...
Anyway that rant over and aside I am, as you may have gathered, playing Neverwinter from Perfect World. It's an MMO based (loosely) on the Neverwinter Nights / Baldurs Gate games and uses (also loosely) the D&D 4E rules. Not that you need to know any of that to play the game, but if you do there are some nice nods to those titles.
I've been playing for about a week now and it's a nice, engaging game, it's an action MMORPG, so imagine Diablo as an MMO and you're on the right lines. The game makes some very interesting choices in this regard, firstly you have to target things, not by pressing '1' or a hot-keyed 'target-of-target' button but by holding your reticule over what you want to hit / smash / burn / make have a bad day. That changes your game play quite a lot; and if you don't believe me think about it from a healer's point of view - I can't target the tank by pressing F1 and then my healing button, instead, in amongst the fray I have to hover over him and heal him, hoping that he doesn't move! All that being said it works remarkably well - it's challenging and that's not a bad thing!
Mobs ambush you, some of them are hidden behind columns and they don't always fall for old tricks like Line of Sight pulling... It's all rather refreshing! The Holy Trinity of Tank / DPS / Heal is still there but (at low-ish levels) it feels a bit muted - there's often a lot of mobs to deal with and the AI will teleport mobs out of AoEs / attack people standing at the back and things, so this is an action MMO with an emphasis on the action, I've found myself to need to be mobile and alert while playing.
You get a trail of lights that lead you to objectives and lots of people have commented that it's 'dumbing down' MMOs (sigh - I bet they have installed Quest Trackers in WoW or looked up guides in TSW!) - it's true that it stops you faffing around if you don't want to, but deviate from the glowing trail and you'll often find extra rewards, hidden chests or sometimes a mimic waiting to ambush you (My first mimic and gelatinous cube were happy moments!) It's easy to miss stuff if you don't explore, and there's a lot of loot waiting to be had off the beaten path.
Quests remain simple, there are times when I need to go to the field of blah and kill a dozen wargh, only to then have to go back to the field of blah and kill 6 targh, but I am happy to trade that for there being more things to do and an all round prettier game. There are escort quests, carry quests and find the whatever too. The questing, I would say, isn't anything shiny and new, instead it is like a comfy jumper of quest hubby goodness, I feel 'safe' in my journeying around the world. The quests have some nice text associated with them, and some cool storyline moments (there's a very good one early on with unexpected endings) and that's nice fluff ~ some thought has gone into creating atmosphere in amongst the questing. The zones have (so far) had individual feels to them, it has felt like I am going to different places. The instances have echoed that. All in all the graphics are a little lower than you might expect but that probably helps it run more smoothly. They do look very D&D though, which again helps invoke the right 'feel' to the game. There are some really impressive graphical features too, with some very nicely drawn elements.
Abilities have a nice range of options once you get to the point where you get to choose (which isn't for the first dew levels), there are limited options at the moment but that's going to get broader with the introduction of more paragon paths according to their site.
The game ramps up in difficulty, although the first 25 or so levels are fairly easy going. We managed dungeon instances with 4 people without too much trouble. The third instance final boss then kicked us round the block and trampled on our corpses! Which is a good thing!
The Free-To-Play element of Neverwinter is very interesting. I'll write separately about it because there's a lot to think about but it's well designed from ground up and doesn't thrust a need to spend in your face, rather it encourages you to spend to enhance the experience.
The Foundry deserves a separate write up too. The Foundry is Neverwinter's user generated content feature. Players can, using a sophisticated tool set, create adventures for players to engage with. I've had a look and it's pretty impressive, it also means that the keen dungeon masters out there can create a wealth of content which might help the 'lack of end-game content' phenomenon at least for a while. More on The Foundry when I've explored more.
I think Neverwinter needs some more classes; there's 5 at game launch and it could use one or two more (but there's lots to draw on from D&D and hopefully they're releasing Ranger / Monk / Druid soon. Races look a little generic to me, and again I'd like more choice, but perhaps there's enough for now. I also hate the naming policy which seems to be 'anything you like' - I've wandered past the entire Game of Thrones cast, Chuck Norris and Princess Leia. I hate peoples names!
Is Neverwinter a keeper? Very hard to know. MAYBE - it's certainly fun for now. It will need to keep it's content coming fast and furious, and will need to battle that 'end-game' phase with gusto.