Announced originally as a co-op RPG back in 2010, Cryptic Studios delayed Neverwinter (after the title moved publishers from Atari to Perfect World) from its planned 2011 release date to 2013 to develop it into a free-to-play fantasy MMORPG. Neverwinter is a standalone game, unrelated to BioWare and Obsidian Entertainment’s Neverwinter Nights 1 & 2, respectively, but it does embrace the same setting of the Forgotten Realms city of Neverwinter, and is based on the Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition rules set.
We previewed Neverwinter at E3 2012 (and dug it), learning about its five basic classes and gameplay mechanics, and this weekend we jumped in for the very first closed beta, only accessible by press and Founders.
First, a little background. While narrowly escaping the Spellplague which decimated FaerÃ»n a century ago (the setting for Dungeons & Dragons), the city of Neverwinter later succumbed to the fury of a volcanic eruption. 25 years later, Neverwinter is almost rebuilt and its leader, Lord Neverember, calls upon heroes and adventurers (the players!) to help in the process.
Neverwinter doesn’t have a specific release date but is expected to release in “early” 2013. Its first closed beta occurred over the weekend, with two more planned for the weekends of March 8th and March 22nd. If all goes well, the game could very well hit open beta or release in full in the months following.
We jumped in with some friends to test out the first five hours of the game over the weekend. At the moment, only three of the five playable classes are playable and we made sure to have one of each in our party (see in video above):
- Trickster Rogue – Master of stealth and misdirection, and maneuvers across the battlefield and strikes from the shadows with paired daggers.
- Devoted Cleric – Devout healer, committed to preventing injury, restoring health, and a faith in the divine.
- Guardian Fighter – Courageous and stalwart, superior at defensive maneuvers, and no stranger to hand-to-hand combat.
The D&D ruleset caps characters at level 20 but for gaming purposes, this (and the systems) were altered to support a max level of level 60, although for the first closed beta weekend, content up to level 30 was available. At level 16, players can acquire their first companion, and at level 20, their first mount.
Experience a variety of zones, dungeon delves, and large-scale group events as you adventure through the city of Neverwinter and its surrounding areas in the realm of Faerun, including theProtector’s Enclave, Blacklake District, Tower District, Blackdagger Ruins, and the Neverdeathgraveyard.
One of the coolest parts of the original Neverwinter Nights is that it featured a modding tool called the Aurora toolset which let builders do anything from creating new game areas and quests to even creating new character classes. For the Neverwinter MMO, Cryptic offers something similar with The Foundry, literally lets players craft their own zones, quests and stories within the world. Other players can find them, play them, rate them, etc., and it’s therefore policed by the community and not Cryptic. The one we tried was very basic but it did illustrate The Foundry’s potential and has the potential to be groundbreaking.
Orc Assault Event:
Cloak Tower Event:
Despite being a work-in-progress, our first experience with the current build of Neverwinter proved promising, highly polished and very accessible.
- Detailed character customization.
- Not forced into repetitive fetch and retrieve quests or long story exposition from NPCs.
- Very intuitive (and fully customizable) user interface
- Clean and eye-pleasing visuals, to go along with the solid presentation and ambient sounds.
- The “Quest Path” helps keep players on track, diehard fans can turn off.
- Conversations with NPCs & quest-givers don’t waste player time – objectives clearly presented first, followed by contest/dialogue and detailed list of rewards.
- User-generated content seamlessly built into game (see: The Foundry).
- Each class is built to be highly effective in very unique ways.
- Queueing up for dungeons is handled smoothly and auto-groups players, notifying them when they can join – still gives them the option to opt out. They can be replayed after a cooldown period.
- Super easy, lots of handholding in early levels.
- Quest rewards make the $20 Starter Pack obsolete.
- Noticed a little bit of texture pop-in.
- There’s often lag with power moves for the Fighter class.
- Unnecessarily difficult to party with friends at times.
- Needs option to play dungeons with smaller parties (instead of waiting for required number of players)
- “Quests” to receive companions and mounts aren’t quests at all. These need to be fleshed out and earned.
- Occasional glitching with instances.
We were very happy with our experience of Neverwinter and have several hours of footage to release throughout the week, and look forward to the upcoming beta weekends in March.
Players may visit playneverwinter.com to register for a chance to be selected for access to the upcoming Neverwinter Beta Weekends for free. For guaranteed access to all three Neverwinter Beta Weekends along with a wide array of perks and exclusive in-game items, players may purchase the Hero of the North or the Guardian of Neverwinter Founder’s Pack. For more details on the program, head here. Screenshots of the Hero of the North Founder’s Pack:
Neverwinter releases later this year for the PC.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.