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With what little clothes I had with me torn to rags, I washed to shore near the city of Neverwinter. My boat had sunk, and I was a newly minted adventurer without a cause. As I groggily awoke from my slumber, I was greeted by a friendly soul. Lucky for me, he just happened to have a task for me which would help me rebuilt both my wardrobe and my dignity. I wondered if this coincidence was a one time thing, or if I would be forever more followed by random strangers offering me stuff to do things. I didn’t really care though, as the world crackled with magic energy and the high fantasy feel was tangible in the air. Without hesitation, I grabbed my first quest and headed into the world of Neverwinter. Would I be welcomed with high adventure through a rich Dungeons and Dragons world, or would I fall flat into a boring mire of tropes and unfulfilled promise? Off to adventure and discovery! Huzzah!

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Pros and Cons

I have to get this out of the way first: Neverwinter is the best virtual interpretation of the Dungeons and Dragons world that I’ve ever seen. From the aesthetic theme giving each zone it’s own distinct personality to the combat that makes me feel like I’m rolling dice on crack, I buy in right from the start.

It’s hard to be objective after that, but here’s trying!

First, let’s talk about the character creation. A standard and workable character creator lets you make your hero to be one of eight races: Half-Orc, Human, Dwarf, Elf, Half-Elf, Halfling, Tiefling and the purchasable Drow. Five classes are available: Trickster Rogue, Devoted Cleric, Control Wizard, Great Weapon Fighter and Guardian Fighter. I spent most of my time with the Cleric, but I’ve dabbled enough in each of the other classes, so I know that they each have their own distinct play style which is fun, flows nicely, and feels unique.

From the character creator, you’re dumped into a small intro tutorial area, where you learn all the basics of how to equip your loot and fight the baddies. This is where the UI starts to bug me a little. While it’s very serviceable, and mechanically sound, the interface windows such as the character screen and inventory seem very cramped to me, with small icons that all look fairly similar. Am I just getting old and blind, or is a stronger visual distinction between the different item types too much to ask for?

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One redeeming quality of the UI is the “Welcome to Neverwinter” window that pops up when you first log in, or if you hit L while in-game. A multi-purpose display showing dungeon and skirmish queues as well as popular Foundry content, this cornucopia of information also includes the calendar of game events so you can see what’s coming up in the game world.

Quests are fun, if amazingly linear. I liked that in a lot of ways, as I didn’t have to think too much, but instead ran from adventure to adventure, slaying my hapless foes as I went. The story, written by D&D veteran R.A. Salvatore is fantastic, and really kept me entertained as I waded through zombies, orcs, and trolls (oh my!).

Dungeons and groups content is quite zergy. The dungeons feel fantastic, with a very Forgotten Realms-ish vibe to them. The bosses are interesting and varied, and there are traps liberally scattered throughout to keep you on your toes. While there is threat mechanic, and healing, there isn’t much need for strategy. The lack of easy targeting means that it’s much easier to use the less effective AOE heals than to try to use the reticle to hunt your tank down through the crowd of mobs and players. This was a pet peeve of mine all the way through beta, and I’m sad that it made its way to live. TERA was another game that did not have tab targeting, but they built their heals around AOE and ground targeting, and it worked out much better than Neverwinter’s healing has.

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The dungeons design and aesthetic was amazing though. There was a consistent feel throughout the castles, sewers and dungeons that I ventured through. It brought me back to the late night, Montain Dew fueled,  D&D sessions in high school.

With so much right with the world, the monetization scheme is something that I’m not very happy with. As I mentioned before, the game launches with 5 classes and 7 races. One of those races, the Drow, requires the UBER pre-purchase pack to unlock it, so it’s not really an option for most players. The typical boosts, mounts, cosmetics, etc are available in the ZEN store, which is fine. The problem that I have is that Perfect World has stated on many occasions that they plan on releasing other races and classes through the store as the game progresses. While this might be fine for some of you, I do not look forward to running through ALL of the content again each time a new class or race that I find interesting come up on the store. We’ll have to wait and see what the cost and timeframe is for these release, and I’m fully willing to admit that this is a personal issue, and that many of you may not find this to be a problem.

The Foundry is one of the most interesting aspects of Neverwinter. First premiered in Star Trek Online, The Foundry allows players to create their own content for other players to adventure through. This comprehensive suite of tools puts the power in the hand of the content creator, allowing for quests to be as complicated as the creator can imagine.

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I played through a random mix of Foundry content during my time with Neverwinter, and I found it to be an overall pleasant occurrence. I manage to help Bob with his kobold problem, and I rescued my fair share of pretty maidens. The player review and ranking system is well rounded and, for the most part, accurate. I really did enjoy those 5 star quests more the 1 star slogs through boring and poorly laid out content. You can even “subscribe” to a player’s content, and be updated each time that they come out with something new. If you really like what they’re doing, then you can tip in-game currency, paying for their time and skill.

I also dove into a few PvP matches and really enjoyed myself. While there aren’t any breathtaking new mechanics, the two domination style maps are varied enough to keep me interested. Funneling players into combat hot spots and kill zones, the map design also kept things very frenetic and engaging.

Once you hit the level cap of 60, you’ll be able to experience the end-game content for Neverwinter: Gauntlgrym, Castle Never, and 9 other Epic versions of dungeons that were available at lower levels. While I haven’t experienced this part of the game yet, the community itself seems mixed on it’s engagement. This is, however, something that I’ve seen with every other MMO launch of the past 5 years. Players who are at the end game content quickly blow through the content and find it a grind, while players who are approaching the game with less intensity seem to be enjoying the content, if not the grind. I’ll be giving you an update on this once I’ve experienced it for myself.

Its the little things…

  • the small, cramped UI makes me squint.

  • The combat is fun, reactive and energetic.

  • The PvP is a blast

  • best virtual D&D world yet seen in an MMO.

Rating:

3 out of 4. Neverwinter is a fun blast through virtual Neverwinter, bogged down in linear content and chaotic combat. The World of Neverwinter is its saving grace, however, with the story and aesthetic of the game making it the truest digital version of Dungeons and Dragons yet.

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