Neverwinter Days: Beta blitz

Neverwinter Days Beta blitz
Welcome to Neverwinter Days, a fresh new column that will be pulling on our +1 boots of game exploring while we go tramping through dungeons and fantastic locales. I'm fairly excited about this game and wanted to explore it from top to bottom while bringing you along for company.

Neverwinter is a Cryptic title, and with that comes a laundry list of expectations: Players will be pretty divided on it, it'll skew toward "fun" and "buggy," there'll be a lot of visual customization, and "F" always, always interacts with the world. And it's a Dungeons & Dragons title, so there are even more genre expectations. For example, we're going to be laying the smackdown on Kobolds early and often. Poor buggers.

Usually we begin a column by showcasing the community resources out there, but we're going to put that off until next time in favor of discussing this past weekend's beta event. Yours truly and several other Massively staffers were on the scene to chow through Neverwinter and see how it's shaping up in these final months prior to release. So what did I get out of it? It's going to cost you one click to find out!

Neverwinter Days Beta blitz
What is Neverwinter?

If you're new to the Neverwinter scene, let me give you the quick overview. Neverwinter is Cryptic Studio's newest game, one that's in the middle of beta testing and should be here by late spring. It was previously a lobby-based cooperative RPG, but when Perfect World Entertainment bought out Cryptic, the new heads demanded that it be reworked into more of a proper MMO.

Still, the core of the game is dungeon-diving, either solo or with friends, using either the game's premade dungeons or those created by players using the Foundry toolset. Neverwinter also leans more toward the "action" side of MMO combat, preferring quick fights, a smaller hotbar, and reactive play.

First steps into the beta

Prior to my engaging in the beta this weekend, my knowledge of Neverwinter's specifics was extremely limited. Personally, I like going into a game without the burden of too much information and expectations so that I can just explore it. I think it worked out well in this regard.

I appreciate that Cryptic's gone to lengths to create commonalities between all of its games and how they operate. It makes going from, say, Star Trek Online to Neverwinter a much easier experience because you already know how much of the game operates. The friends list between the games is shared, and several of the mechanics (such as the mid-level premium currency that can be converted and refined) are quite familiar.

What took me a half-hour or so to get used to was the mouselook-only setup. This may be a deal-breaker for some traditional MMO players, I can see. Early on, I felt stifled that I couldn't let my mouse roam around the UI without hitting Alt first, but eventually I got used to it. And it does work well when it comes to combat, except when you want to target moving teammates for heals. I do hope that Cryptic implements the option for a traditional MMO setup, however.

The beta client wasn't obscenely large, and it worked dependably the entire time I was in it. I didn't see any obvious glitches or experience any crashes, so that's big plus. And it was a blast to watch the first beta weekend crowd run around like kids in a candy store, just sampling all the wares and commenting animatedly about it.

Neverwinter Days Beta blitz
Getting a handle on the combat

Apart from some footwork between questgivers, tiptoeing around traps, and figuring out the occasional puzzle, I found a majority of my experience during the beta weekend was fighting, and a lot of it. Neverwinter may be D&D-themed, but it's a lot more like Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance than Baldur's Gate proper. For MMO players, it's easier to compare it to games like Vindictus and Dragon's Nest, titles that put an emphasis on fast and flashy combat without a bazillion options getting in the way. There is more need of reflexes, true, but I found that the pace of combat is slow enough to work strategy in with little difficulty.

The core of the combat experience is to dish out the pain on the bad guys while keeping an eye open for either special tells or red glowies on the floor that signal a particularly bad attack incoming. At that point, you can use your class' defensive ability (such as dodge, teleport, or block) to negate much or even all of the damage. If you don't do that, you could find yourself eating dirt. Apart from that, it's all about using your basic attacks, timed skills, and daily powers wisely.

I played the Guardian Fighter for most of the weekend and appreciated his no-nonsense method of fighting. He quickly leaped into combat, hit multiple mobs with each swing, and remained upright due to his shield and a few handy abilities. One thing I really, really didn't like is that the game locks you in place during a skill animation. For an "action MMO," it felt quite limiting, especially coming from the far more mobile combat of The Secret World and Guild Wars 2. It's my number one request to the studio to change before launch because there's nothing worse than seeing a huge incoming attack and not being able to move because you're in the middle of a one-second animation.

That's not to say that combat was miserable at all. I liked how visceral and different from the norm it felt, and all of the visuals and sound effects were popping just right. What's even more interesting -- and cool -- is that the game doesn't give you automatic health regen when you're in dungeons or dangerous areas. Instead, you have to guard your health and use potions, sporadic campfires, or healing abilities to get it back up.

While the first 10 levels or so will give every class the same powers, eventually you accumulate more powers than your UI can hold. At that point you begin to pick and choose skill setups according to your playstyle and what challenge you're attempting.

Neverwinter Days Beta blitz
The little things

I'm brimming over with all of the things I'd love to talk about but don't have the space for here. Let's just say that I really dig the bright and vibrant color palette that is pleasing to the eye, the cool designs of even some of the beginning solo dungeons (such as a dash through a burning house), seeing items and critters fly around with a physics engine, and finding all sorts of secrets while exploring.

There's a lot to like about the interface. Guilds look as though they'll have a lot of support (such as in-game calendars), and I love that there are reminders for upcoming activities that grant bonus rewards. There's even a "celestial coin" icon that gives you currency every five hours if you click on it in a rest area, but it will wipe the bank clean if you don't log in every day. It's a clever way to encourage players to return often if just to pop in and see what's what.

The dungeon run I did was engaging, the right length, and cool in its own right. I'm far more interested in seeing what players will be able to do with the Foundry when it becomes available for tinkering.

But that's really all I have time for this week. It was a good beta weekend, but far too short to come up with a lasting opinion. I'm excited to play it again, however, and really hope that Cryptic uses the feedback from this blitz to make Neverwinter even better for the next round.

Chances are that at any hour, Justin Olivetti is prowling the streets of Neverwinter to bring lawful goodness to where it's needed. He chronicles his adventures in his bi-weekly column, Neverwinter Days, and will appreciate any alms or feedback you have to give.

This article was originally published on Massively.