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Why I Play: Neverwinter


I have to say that for all of my yapping about needing to play MMOs that allow me to freely roam and to explore a virtual world and live a virtual life, I sure am a fan of linear themeparks. Who isn't? In fact, show me someone who now claims to be the enemy of all things themed, and I'll show you someone who at some point enjoyed the benefits of a good themepark, most likely World of Warcraft. I'm not sure why there's any shame in admitting that one enjoys a good romp through a virtual storybook, but I sure do. In fact, I often depend on it in order to get me over lazy sandbox slumps.

Neverwinter is one of my favorite themeparks out there. There are quite a few reasons it works so well, many of them obvious. I'd like also to point out some of the reasons Neverwinter might work so well for certain types of players.

Neverwinter screenshot
On the obvious front, the game's graphics are often mesmerizing. I recently visited the in-game holiday questing zone for the first time and had to capture it on video. It encapsulated almost everything that makes the game look and feel wonderful: glowing lights, blazing fires, interactive NPCs, activity, and movement. Neverwinter is one of those special titles that many players might say has more realistic graphics when it's actually very stylized. Sure, the stylized graphics are a bit more subtle, but when combined with the neat lighting effects and other bells and whistles, the game can come across as a living world that just happens to be inhabited by cartoon characters.

Those characters are smoothly animated, but combat effects can sometimes be over the top. I am often tempted to turn the special effects down a notch or two when I am in a group session. In the middle of a battle, the bells and whistles can become screams and horns. I have no real issues running the game with full effects on but would love a toggle that instantly turns everyone's spell effects down so I can at least see my enemy. Even with this minor quibble, I have to say that Neverwinter is one of the best-looking games I have played in recent memory. Find me a mount that features graphics and animations as good as Neverwinter's Owlbear and I'll be very, very surprised.

If you like action, Neverwinter is one of the best games to play. Really, combat is the best part of Neverwinter and the key ingredient to its success. I know a lot of players who have an issue with the game's linearity and soloability (although it does present more challenges in the higher levels) but let's be honest: Combat is what it is all about. It's not as loose as a shooter, instead relying on soft-locking and automatic actions. When a player comes across a group of enemies, she will throw knives, shoot spells, or swing a sword at whichever enemy is in her cross hairs. The game's designers seemed to have scripted everything to make combat feel like something from a Bruce Lee movie; enemies react to being hit, giving time to the player so she can turn on her heels and hit someone else.

It's not always important to play the game in strategic ways. Usually a player can pummel through crowds of enemies, but it's a blast to experiment with different combinations of abilities. Personally, I love to start off by throwing knives at my enemies (one of the coolest abilities in the game) and then smash into them. My little Halfling Trickster Rogue makes sounds like Purnsley from Boardwalk Empire and jabs with a pair of daggers. When at rest, he bounces like an exciteable martial artist.

The game offers interesting sets of skills to learn as well. I tend to concentrate on defensive, stealthy builds whenever I can in an MMO. My character is quick on his feet, can sneak around an enemy in order to get the best point of attack, and can burst into massive chains of attacks that leave enemies dead or stunned. Combat is so easy and fast but endlessly fun to watch. I would like for some more variety in the skills in some of the classes, but overall there is enough to keep almost any type of player happy.

Combat becomes more soloable with the use of companions. I like the fact that Neverwinter's companions can be animal or humanoid and can pull out some pretty nifty tricks to help you through content. They're not that effective, however, even though you can send them off to training or can equip them with buffs and weapons. They often take a long time to attack your enemies as well, proving that the best partner in any MMO will always be a human player.

There are tons of quests to do in the game, but expect a completely linear run through the main questline that can be burned through in no time at all. As soon as I played the game, I could tell that the levels would come fast and furious, so I was happy for my usual casual style. I spend several hours a week in the game and explore when I can so I am not forced to roll an alt just to keep myself entertained. If I played as most players do, I'd burn through the main quests in a week or two.

There's plenty of lore, and the NPCs are all voice-acted, but even those two immersive items do not help slow down the action. You can practice Invocation once every hour and earn experience and other goodies, sometimes resulting in earning a level even when you didn't expect it. The game wants to burn through content.

Luckily there is The Foundry, one of the coolest systems in MMOs. It lets players design and share their own stories and levels. Some of the best adventures can be found in The Foundry, but it can take some time to locate them. There are a lot of junk quests and half-hearted attempts at design in The Foundry, but a handy rating system appears to keep the cream separated from the crop. Fortunately I am pretty forgiving when it comes to minor mistakes and design flaws in Foundry missions. After all, the players are generally not professional designers. Some missions take too long or can leave a player scratching his head because there is no obvious exit or solution. Still, The Foundry is a blast to explore. There's no penalty for trying something new, and it's fun to give a good rating to the people who worked hard on a quest line.

Neverwinter screenshot
I enjoy Neverwinter because it is so soloable and easy to play. Even a permanent noob like yours truly can feel powerful thanks to the simple combat system. But most players do not enjoy a casual playstyle like I am often forced to thanks to a tight schedule of playing games for work. In fact, most of your time in Neverwinter will be spent in the same fashion. You'll get a quest, go to the location, and conquer batches of monsters so you can turn the quest in. You'll occasionally have to throw a switch or push a button, but most of your time is spent killing in the same way. It's fantastically fun grinding, but it's grinding all the same.

While many people would take issue with Foundry missions often providing the variety that the game quests sometimes desperately need, I see The Foundry as a wonderfully interesting and clever addition to the game. Perhaps Neverwinter is not an MMO with optional, player-crafted content but is instead a content-creation tool with a cool MMO on the side?

Whatever you decide what the game is best at, I still have to say that my favorite memories in the game have been made while playing with other players. Just don't be surprised if it's hard to find a group of players who are willing to stay still long enough to join your group, much less have a chat with you.

Luckily I play Neverwinter because there are only a handful of MMOs that give the player the choice to invest as much or as little time in it as they want. I also play it because it looks and sounds amazing, offers some really interesting lore, and features action-based combat. But all that's just icing on the cake, isn't it?

There's an MMO born every day, and every game is someone's favorite. Why I Play is a column in which the Massively staff members kick back and reminisce about all their favorite MMOs. Whether it's the new hotness or an old fan favorite loaded with nostalgia, each title we cover here tugs at our heartstrings and keeps us coming back for more.

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