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Massively's Neverwinter early access launch diary: Day one

Massively's Neverwinter launch diary Day one
Neverwinter's launch isn't so much a launch as a gradual roll-out that's happening in several phases and operating under the code-name of "open beta." While the doors won't be open for the general public until April 30th, purchasers of the founder's packs are able to get in a few days early. Cryptic's invited the media to join the day one festivities alongside of those who've plunked down $200 for a Hero of the North package, which is how I'm able to bring to you a day-by-day account of the first week of Neverwinter live.

While I've participated in two of the beta weekend events and have been following Neverwinter for a few months now as part of my column coverage, much of the game is virgin territory to me. I like going into a launch relatively unspoiled (or as unspoiled as a writer who covers MMOs can be), so this launch diary isn't going to be the voice of great experience. It's going to be the voice of experiences. See what I did there?

Noon on April 25th finally arrived... and we were off to the D&D races!

Massively's Neverwinter launch diary Day one
Meet Syp, Devoted Cleric

After reserving a few of my favorite choice names, I got down to building my first character. I had already decided that I would be a Halfling Devoted Cleric, having become partial to the combination in beta. It wasn't a tough choice; melee fighters aren't as interesting to me, and the Control Wizard isn't as durable.

The appeal of the Devoted Cleric to me is its hybrid nature. She's a spellcaster that can pump out decent DPS from afar, but she's also a healer. Considering how it's the only healing class in the game right now, I predict that DCs will be in high demand for dungeon runs. I won't lie about being nervous when it comes to figuring out how to heal with Cryptic's mouselook system, though; it was messy in beta and will probably be messy live.

Unlike some players that you see on launch day, I'm not out to get a huge head start or race toward a major goal. I just want to take my time, figure out the game as a whole, and enjoy the journey. For me, that usually starts with a 15-minute session of standing stock-still and exploring all of the UI elements and settings until everything is just so.

Once you get used to the mouselook controls, the change-up from normal MMO control schemes isn't that noticeable. Hitting alt to regain control of my cursor becomes second nature.

Massively's Neverwinter launch diary Day one
Washed up on a beach

Neverwinter's tutorial went through a final pass during the last couple of beta weekends, and it's definitely much improved over its earlier incarnations. In my opinion, it's perfect: It allows me to fiddle with controls without pressuring me to do things, it explains the basics quickly and succinctly, the enemies aren't that aggressive, and it isn't agonizingly long.

The tutorial features the aftermath of the awesome CGI opening video (seriously, it's one of the better MMO movies I've seen -- don't skip it!) as your character helps to mop up the undead attack on Neverwinter.

Another thing to get used to in Neverwinter vs. other MMOs is a much more mobile combat system. Learning how to dodge, sidestep, and use terrain to your advantage is absolutely crucial here unless you like being a punching bag. The dodge animations are particularly neat; my Cleric does a sort of power-slide to quickly get away. I like to imagine that "Old Time Rock 'n' Roll" is playing when I do that.

The tutorial is XP-fixed, so you and everyone else will be level 4 when you finish. It dumped me out near the marketplace and encouraged me to explore for a little bit. This square has a lot of useful features, including specific vendors, the task board, and the town crier. I ran past it all to turn in the quest to Sgt. Knox, who then set me up with my first cosmetic outfit set: grubby peasant garb. Awesome. Thanks, Knox.

Because everyone who logged in on the 25th is a Heroes of the North purchaser, the sheer amount of Drows and panthers roaming the city was just absurd. Those who know me well know that I cannot stand uppity Elves and cats, so I think Cryptic is out to get me.

Massively's Neverwinter launch diary Day one
Questing 4 life

It's possible that I could have gotten "off the rails" at this point and tried my hand at a few different activities, but I had a hunch that I probably needed a few more levels before I'd be effective on my own. Therefore, the baby dungeoneer stays safe within the protective arms of the starting quest line, dutifully following the sparkly path and performing exciting activities such as pick up object A and deliver it to place B.

OK, so questing isn't the most thrilling activity at first. However, there are a few positive mentions to make in this regard. The first is that many of the quests feature voice-overs that continue even if you tab out of the text box (you have the option to turn the voice off). I actually like that because I can listen to the quest flavor as I'm running to the location instead of just standing still.

I also appreciated the little mini-instances that seemlessly integrate into the game world. You'll see these when you pass through a sparkly cone. What's outside is for everyone, but what's inside is just for you.

Finally, I like that Neverwinter gets you into little dungeons within a few minutes of leaving the tutorial. The city is all well and good, but this game is about its dungeons, and I don't want to have to be an errand boy for a week before getting to the good stuff.

Massively's Neverwinter launch diary Day one
Ooh, sparklies!

Even when I'm playing on rails, there's a satisfying element to playing Neverwinter for me. It's kind of like driving with a GPS on; the game tells you where to go, and you can just enjoy the ride, admire the scenery, and concentrate on the controls. The little (optional) sparkly trail that leads you through quests and dungeons is welcome, although I can see why it will most certainly be used as Exhibit A for the "MMOs are being dumbed down" crowd.

Besides, the sparkly trail is deceptive. It often leads you right through traps and away from treasure, so there's a lot to be said for downgrading it to a general suggestion. I love searching the nooks and crannies of these dungeons, loading up my bags with all of the good loot I find.

A busy night indeed

By the time I wrapped up my first night in Neverwinter, I'd reached level 10, engaged in a group skirmish (definitely recommended!), fought my way through a burning building, and spent a lot of time just boggling at the scenery. It may not be the deepest MMO I've ever played, but so far it ranks high on visceral entertainment!

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.