A photo essay through Neverwinter's Cloak Tower
We've seen a lot of clock towers in MMOs, but I have to say that Neverwinter's Cloak Tower was a first for me. We got an up-close and personal look at this low-level instance at a recent press tour, and the first question on my mind was, why cloaks?

The backstory of the tower explains it: Apparently, it used to be home to a guild of mages who were famous for their fabulous cloaks. They disappeared, the tower moved location, and Orcs decided to move in and redecorate. Now it was up to us to head inside and clean house.

Having only logged into the game for the first time yesterday literally minutes before being artificially raised to level 10 and given a handful of skills and abilities that were foreign to me, I did my best as our group charged into the place and started button-mashing like mad. What follows is a photo essay I've put together of my enchanting time among the magical cloaks and evil Orcs.

A photo essay through Neverwinter's Cloak Tower
Before we queued up for the dungeon (one of Cryptic's watchwords for this game is "accessibility," so you can get into a party and then into a dungeon without having to run much of anywhere), our developer handed us new gear and a spiffy companion pet to run by our sides. From the character panel, it looks as though we'll be able to accumulate several of these companions, each with its own special abilities. Nifty!

A photo essay through Neverwinter's Cloak Tower
The first thing that everyone noticed when we got into Neverwinter is that the game's control scheme is mouselook-only. It's strangely a bit like DDO (not the only element of this game that reminded me of the other D&D MMO out there) and quite jarring if you're not ready for it. It took me several frustrating minutes to get used to working with the scheme, but once I realized that Alt froze the game for me so that I could click around and that mouselook helped with the action combat quite a bit, I rolled with it.

Here our group is heading into the Cloak Tower from the entrance. The Orcs have redecorated somewhat. There is a consumables vendor right inside the doorway, which is a nice touch.

A photo essay through Neverwinter's Cloak Tower
Don't forget to look up in the stair room. Fortunately for us, we needed to go down, not up.

A photo essay through Neverwinter's Cloak Tower
This is the famous cloak room where the portraits of the former mages look down on you in faint disapproval at your crude looting practices.

A photo essay through Neverwinter's Cloak Tower
A sample of the combat. You have access to only a handful of skills for any given dungeon crawl, so you'll need to choose the best abilities for the situation. Combat was quite frantic and hectic -- and fast as well. As a healer, I got a little irked that I couldn't click on portraits for my heal spells and instead had to target the wounded with my reticule. That didn't work well unless everyone was really spread out, so I just button-mashed a lot.

A photo essay through Neverwinter's Cloak Tower
One level down from the start were the apprentice rooms. They'd be really cool to check out if our group hadn't been tearing through them at 50 mph. Do you see the glowy sparks in the middle? Cryptic has a visual trail through the dungeon enabled by default to "make entry into them as easy as possible," according to the dev. The trail can be disabled by hitting Z.

A photo essay through Neverwinter's Cloak Tower
The library. It was about here that I started to get the hang of some of my skills, such as one that hits enemies for damage while giving them a debuff that causes a heal to go out to anyone who hurts them.

A photo essay through Neverwinter's Cloak Tower
Prior to each boss fight, you get a little cutscene where the camera swoops in to reveal the bad guy up close while giving you his, her, or its name. A little cheesy, perhaps, but it gives you a second to scope them out without worrying about fighting.

A photo essay through Neverwinter's Cloak Tower
After that it was down, down into the crystal caves. Mages have to have crystals, don'tcha know. It was here that our group nearly wiped on a boss fight. My excuse was that I was taking pictures. Oh, you need a heal? Say "cheese" before you die, please!

A photo essay through Neverwinter's Cloak Tower
The halo around the boss means that I've given him that "hit me and get healed" debuff. No need to thank me, party; it's all part of the job.

The dev informed us that we'd gotten to the point in the game where each class had a special side bar during combat that did different things. Clerics could tab-toggle between certain modes with their bar, Rogues could stealth, Guardians block, and so on.

A photo essay through Neverwinter's Cloak Tower
The caves got a bit more interesting after that. Follow the yellow sparkly road, munchkins!

A photo essay through Neverwinter's Cloak Tower
At certain milestones, you unlock respawn points that make running back to your party a less painful experience.

A photo essay through Neverwinter's Cloak Tower
I want to make a brief observation about the art style of the game. From what I've seen, Neverwinter skews toward bold colors and pleasant designs. It's not cartoony, but definitely has a touch of bright happy fantasy, even in the darkest of places. And the details can occasionally be fantastic.

A photo essay through Neverwinter's Cloak Tower
Just when I was about to ask, "How long is this dungeon, anyway?" we arrived at the gates leading up to the final boss. By now I was a seasoned (well, less-embarrassing) pro at manipulating the UI and sussing out fights. I had a cool ability that did a large amount of damage inside a circle on the floor, but only after about four seconds. If I timed it right, I could hit multiple mobs at once.

A photo essay through Neverwinter's Cloak Tower
The final boss. I came away from the session with two major complaints about the combat. The first is that there's often so much going on that dodging is a far secondary consideration, even though the dev obviously wanted us to master getting out of the way of powerful attacks. It was much easier to use on the bosses than packs of mobs, at any rate.

The other complaint was that I, as a Cleric at least, couldn't move when using my two basic mouse attacks. Maybe the other classes could, but I hated stopping still to fire off instant abilities. It sometimes felt like the opposite of action combat to me.

A photo essay through Neverwinter's Cloak Tower
After the final boss drops, a cool report card screen pops up that gives you stats on kills, deaths, damage done, and so on. I was pleased to see that I'd gotten the #2 spot in a couple of areas (after the developer) without trying too hard.

A photo essay through Neverwinter's Cloak Tower
Eh, probably just vendor trash in there anyway. Should I look? I should? Ooh... sparklies!

And that concluded our dungeon run: fast, frantic, fun, confusing, and laid-back. I'm looking forward to running more of them.

Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?

This article was originally published on Massively.