Neverwinter is Cryptic’s new free-to-play MMO based on the Neverwinter D&D franchise. Open beta began about a week ago, so anyone can download the game and give it a go (it’s about a 3.5 Gigs).
The game is loosely modeled on 4th Edition D&D, but heavily MMO-ized. It’s an action-oriented game, having more in common with, say, Diablo, than World of Warcraft. The beta launched with 7 standard D&D races and 5 basic classes, though they promise to gradually release more races and classes over time.
For classes, you’ve got your basic fighters, clerics, rogues and wizards. However, Neverwinter classes are structured more like 4E class builds, rather than as customizable templates. For example, the magic-user class is called a ‘control wizard’ and specializes in crowd control. This implies that in the future they’ll release different wizard ‘build’ classes, perhaps one that specializes in nuking. This idea is further reflected in the two fighter classes, one using two-handed weapons and the other using sword-n-board. Over time there will probably be many variations of ‘build’ classes, several for each core class. Rumor is, one of the next classes to be released will be a Ranger Archer class. Max level is 60.
Every class gets its own set of ‘powers,’ broken down into the 4E model of At-Will, Encounter and Daily. You can equip up to two At-Will powers (activated using left/right mouse buttons), 3 Encounter powers (activated using Q, E and R buttons) and 2 Daily powers (activated by hitting 1 or 2). Each class has several of each power to choose from, so you can swap them to suit your needs and/or play-style. At-Wills can be used anytime, just by clicking your mouse buttons; Encounter powers operated on a standard MMO cool-down timer (usually 10-20 seconds); and the Daily power can be activated once you’ve built up enough Action Points. Different classes build up Action Points in different ways, but it usually involves violence of some sort.
Another thing about the classes, they are extremely gear restricted. For example, Great Weapon Fighters can only use two-handed swords. There are no two-handed axes or two-handed polearms. And you can’t equip a GWF with a longsword or a dagger. I know that in other games this kind of limitation would have bothered the hell out of me, but with NWO I was so engrossed in the action I hardly even noticed it. And for what it’s worth, the game is very generous with the loot drops, so it’s generally not difficult to equip your character.
As you progress in levels you earn points to buy new powers, or to enhance existing powers. You also earn ‘feat’ points, which work more or less like standard MMO talent trees. Every 10 levels you can boost your ability scores.
Along the way you can pick up companions, which work very similar to companions from Star Wars: The Old Republic. However, as the companions are sort of generic and interchangeable, they don’t have any personality and no back-story of their own (unlike SWTOR companions). You can get companions to heal you, or tank for you. You can get pet companions (even a honey badger!) or even use IOUN stones as companions. Companions level as you play and they have a few equipping options, though not nearly to the same extent as your PC.
NWO also has a crafting system they call ‘Professions,’ which is basically getting hirelings to do menial work for you while you go out and have fun killing stuff (and taking their loot). Professions are leveled by having your hirelings work a profession and, as you progress, you gain the ability to perform more (and better) tasks. Eventually you can have up to 9 profession tasks going at once. In my experience, professions seem to take a great deal of time to advance. Even at level 3 some of my profession tasks take 4+ hours to complete. There are ways to reduce the time required (including a ‘buy out’ option) but so far I haven’t acquired any means of doing so.
In terms of content, there are plenty of single player quests to keep you going. The game is divided into level-appropriate zones (fairly standard fair in MMO design now). Each zone has enough quests that you can solo to progress to the next area. But in addition, most zones have 5-player skirmishes and dungeons you can qeue up for. There’s also PvP and many areas have periodic contests that are open to everyone in the zone.
And that brings me to what is probably the most revolutionary aspect of NWO: The Foundry. Paying homage to the origins of Neverwinter Nights, the game provides an option for players to create their own adventures and release them to the rest of the community. Unfortunately, I don’t have much experience with the Foundry yet, as I’ve been having so much fun with the rest of the game, but it’s high on my list of things to do next in the game. Also, Foundry adventures can be rated by players, so you can weed out the lame ones.
Fair warning, NWO makes its money from micro-transactions, and they hit that aspect of the game up pretty hard. Zen is Cryptic’s special currency for buying special items, like mounts, companions (the aforementioned honey badger, for instance), apparel, respec tokens, additional character slots and more. However, from what I’ve seen so far, it is entirely possibly to play the game just fine without ever spending a dime, if that’s what you want (though I’m seriously thinking about picking up that honey badger Honey badgers are bad-assed!). There’s even a mechanism for selling astral diamonds (the game’s primary currency) for Zen, though I gather it’d take a LOT of astral diamonds to get a decent amount of Zen.
I’ve encountered a few bugs so far, but nothing game breaking. And the game could do with more variety in gear itemization (like, why can’t the Great Weapon Fighter use two-handed axes/polearms in addition to two-handed swords?) However, this ‘beta’ game seems far more complete to me than many ‘finished’ MMOs I’ve played recently (looking at you, Defiance). There’s plenty to do with a solid ‘actiony’ combat system.
If you’re a fan of MMO’s, you should check it out. However, if you’re looking for a more authentic D&D experience, this probably isn’t the game for you (D&D Online may be what you’re looking for, though).