Neverwinter's launch into open beta began last week, and through the grace of my press account, my Great Weapon Fighter was lucky enough to begin her digital life alongside players who forked over $199.99 for the Hero of the North Founder's Pack. I lack any of the Founders Pack bonuses, so off my plucky human character went, surrounded on her first day almost exclusively by panther-having Drow.
Justin's been serving up a delicious helping of launch diary goodness, but he's relaxing on a cruise ship this week, so you're stuck with me! Join me as we sally forth into my launch-but-not-really-launch-it's-open-beta-okay-guys-but-we-aren't-deleting-characters-anymore-no-really-it's-still-open-beta-look-it-says-so-in-this-blog-post impressions! The first section is about thighs.
After picking your server you get a choice of seven races (Half-Orc, Human, Dwarf, Elf, Half-Elf, Halfling, Tiefling), unless you've purchased the most expensive Founder's Pack, in which case you can pick the eighth option and Drow all over the place. There are race specific bonuses that are more helpful to certain classes, but if you pick a race/class combination that isn't super ultra optimal, it's not going to ruin your game experience. After race selection, you have five classes to pick from (Trickster Rogue, Devoted Cleric, Control Wizard, Great Weapon Fighter, Guardian Fighter), and then things get a bit more interesting.
Once you've picked your race and class, you're presented with Ability Scores. Your character has six abilities (stats), one being your primary ability, two being your secondary abilities, and three not really mattering much at all. My Great Weapon Figher's primary ability is strength, and her secondary abilities are constitution and dexterity. There's a button to reroll scores, like rerolling dice in a tabletop game, but contrary to most tabletop campaigns I've been a part of, you're able to reroll a seemingly unlimited number of times in Neverwinter.
Probably the most accurate word I could use to describe the rest of character creation is "adequate." This sounds negative, but it's really not. The character creation process isn't going to leave you jumping for joy, but you're also unlikely to come away from it disappointed. If you delve deeply into the customization sliders, you can craft a reasonably bizarre-looking character, but a lack of extreme size modifications (or wacky hair choices) kept every player I saw throughout headstart looking as if he or she belonged in the world. At least until you get to character names. I'm looking at you, Princess Yoloswag.
I found it harder to form an opinion about Neverwinter's graphics than I expected. The character models are solid; I gawked at sparkles and campfires. But you spend a hell of a lot of time in dark dungeons. Maybe at level 21 I just haven't gotten to the dungeons with sparkling, gem-encrusted walls, but so far most of my experience has been sludge-covered tunnels. At my level, a lot of the game has been gritty, dark, and not particularly beautiful. The most vibrant area I've seen is the main city, which I really enjoy. It feels like coming home after a hard day of killing dungeon spiders. Similarly, the bright, shining campfires that bring you back to full health in dungeons really do feel like finding a tiny oasis. I think the graphics are good. The graphics just happen to frequently be well-rendered sludge.
It's my dungeon and I'll pull everything if I want to
Neverwinter is a heavily instanced game. There are open areas where you quest alongside other players, but a great deal of the game's content unsurprisingly takes place within dungeons. I'm used to an open-world feeling in MMOs, so I'll admit I actually felt claustrophobic for the first several hours. However, once PvP opened up, I found myself moving smoothly between running storyline quests, Foundry quests, PvP matches, and whatever skirmish or dungeon queues were available.
Questing takes place in a mix of open areas and dungeon delving. Nothing revolutionary, but nothing terrible. Kill X, collect Y, talk to Z. When I wanted more flavor to my quests, I picked up Foundry missions. The Foundry is Neverwinter's player-generated content system. You can tell when a great deal of effort was put into a quest chain, and most of the player-made quests I tried out both during the beta weekends and in open beta did feel like an extension of the world. I particularly enjoyed seeing the different writing styles in player-created content. Mind you, there is a content review process, so you won't be running across Darkness Shadow's Quest for Nipples anytime soon.
Hitting spiders with swords
Overall, I'm enjoying combat. I like dodging attacks, and aiming spells and abilities using the reticle. Channeled AoE spells produce an outline of where the attack will be going, giving you a little bit of time to dodge out of the way. That makes it sound as if you'll just be mindlessly double tapping your way to zero incoming damage, but when multiple attack outlines overlap, you might find yourself taking a sword to the face no matter what.
The one issue I have with combat is that my character needs to finish her combat animation before dodging. If I start a heavy swing, I can't just say, "Oh screw it; he's casting something," and dodge. My character needs to finish her swing and spend a fraction of a second thinking about the pros and cons of dodging before reluctantly dashing off to the side. This means that more often than I would like, I end up taking clearly marked incoming attacks face-first while I'm madly jamming my A key to dodge left.
Everything's better with glitter
I want to talk about the quest waypoint system real quick. One of the most frequent Neverwinter concerns I've seen people express involves the sparkly quest path. During my first beta experience with the sparklepath, I was skeptical to say the least. "Wow, they really are dumbing down MMOs," I thought as I trotted along my dungeon's glittery road. However, after a couple of open betas, I started to really warm up to the mechanic.
I realized the game isn't running my character automatically or making it ultra-easy to find my quest objectives. All it's doing is saving me from opening up my map a couple of extra times. I have an impressively poor sense of direction in MMOs, so I pull up my map frequently when I'm traveling from point A to point B. What the sparklepath ended up doing for me personally was letting me appreciate the game world more, instead of making me constantly check my map to make sure I'm not a mile past my quest-giver. Ultimately, I didn't find that the glittery guideline making my gameplay experience any easier than clearly marked quest objectives on my map.
Monies for ponies
Neverwinter is the first F2P MMORPG I've enjoyed this much. The cash shop hasn't gotten in my way so far, although the system alerts can get irritating. When someone opens an epic lock box (which costs real money to unlock) and receives an epic item, everyone gets an on-screen alert. I dropped $10 on ZEN to try out the cash shop, picked up a lock box key, and found myself hoping for only rare items so I wouldn't bother other players with epic spam.
Aside from the sometimes spammy epic loot alerts, I haven't felt pressured to buy items with real money. I spent $5 on the 50% speed increase horse and like $1.50 to open that lock box, and I still have some ZEN left over for a rainy day.
No pants, no problem
Finally, I feel it's my civic duty to spread pantslessness in Neverwinter. It's not a coincidence that you've hit level 45 and you're still wearing level 1 trousers. Of all the item slots to say, "Eh, who needs that," about, leg armor is the one Neverwinter chose to do away with. I'm just glad an MMO finally had the courage to end the pants oppression.
In all seriousness, pants aren't gone entirely; the item slot just functions as if it's an undershirt. On your character model, you'll see "shirt" and "pants," but neither of them gives any significant stats boosts. I believe my level 1 pants have +1 defense. There are potentially different shirt and pant designs (similar idea to the rare and epic item quality shirts in World of Warcraft), but I was able to locate confirmation from a Neverwinter community moderator that, indeed, pants are just clothing, not armor. Yep: 100% unarmored butts.
+5 MMO of fun
Today headstart ends and truly open beta begins. If you're feeling the need for some good old-fashioned dungeon crawling, come on in and roll the dice. Pants are optional.
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