Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Game Review: Neverwinter

I don't like MMOs. They're not games. They are mindless grind orgies. So, when an MMO comes around that isn't, I get excited. It restores my faith in humanity to a degree. It lets me know that, out there somewhere, are people who still know how to make games. An MMO really shouldn't be much different from a single-player game, except that there are more people online at the same time playing it. Indeed, you should be able to enjoy the game playing alone just as well, or close to it, as you could with others. I think I have found such an MMO. And, what's more, it's free to play! Because of this, I am interrupting my posts about Toldara to bring you a review of Neverwinter.

I haven't yet played it in-depth, so this review will be more of a "first impressions". I had been hesitant about trying the game at all as it was based on D&D 4E. I hate 4E. But that really hasn't affected the quality of the game too much, I was pleased to discover. The download and patch sizes are actually pretty small, compared to other MMOs, which is really nice. Somehow, they managed to maintain good graphics quality with the small size, as well. Kudos for that. When you get the game running, and click on the Create Character button, you are treated to a CGI intro movie that pretty much tells you what's going on. An evil Elf Necromancer has come to the city of Neverwinter with her army of undead and is trying to break through the walls. Due to the valiant efforts of several heroes, the city is safe, for the time being. Yay. Then you actually get to make your character.

You start by picking a race, and your selection consists of the D&D 4E standard core races. Meaning that half of them are Elves for some ungodly reason. Now, don't get me wrong. I love Elves. Always have. Both of the characters I have made in this game are Elves. But, seriously? Three full-blooded breeds of Elves, and the Half-Elf. AND NO GNOMES! THE F***?!? Why no Gnomes? :'(

Anyway, I digress. Human, Half-Orc, Half-Elf, Halfling, Tiefling (another WTF?!?), Dwarf, [Wood] Elf, High Elf, and Drow (<headdesk>). Yes, Wood is in brackets because 4E doesn't actually call them that. 4E just calls them Elves. That only works when you don't have other subraces as part of your Core Race lineup, Wizards of the Coast!

Alright, so far my major complaints are about the integrity of D&D and how much it has been compromised. Totally not this game's fault. I pick [Wood] Elf and move on. The next option is Class. Now, here is where the game seems to fall short. The Class options are fairly pitiful. The only arcane spellcaster is a Control Wizard, which is severely gimps the potential of spellcasters in D&D. There are two types of Fighters, Great Weapon and Guardian, even though the role of the Guardian Fighter could have been filled by a type of Paladin. You also can choose from a Trickster Rogue, a Devoted Cleric, or a Hunter Ranger. Good archetypes for those classes if you're only going to have one each. Just don't understand why they didn't have a Warlock, at least. 4E has some pretty effed up Core Class options, but they're a lot better than the ones presented in this game.

Once again, my choice is simple, and honestly probably not worth the ruckus I just made in the last paragraph. I love Rangers, especially the kind who hunt, so Hunter Ranger it was for me. I know, right? I'm so creative over here with my Elven Ranger. I should be given some kind of reward for how original my character is. But, you know what? I love Elven Rangers. I just do. So, as cliche as it is, that's what I play, when I can. Next, I get to tweak my character's appearance. The options aren't great, but they're not all that bad, either. Especially considering how gawd-aweful some of the customization options can be in F2P MMOs. The tattoos and scars are all the same, no matter which Race, Class, or gender you choose. Other options can be gender or Race specific, though. For example, you can't give your female character a beard, and Tieflings can choose what their horns look like. Sorry, no bearded, female Dwarves for you. Mostly, though, it's pretty standard.

After picking just the right base features, and moving the sliders into just the right spot, I then got to choose my background. This consists of choosing where your character is from, and one of the two or three options per location of what you spent your time doing there. Mostly getting into trouble. You also get to choose which of the non-Faerun dieties you want to worship. Not only is there not an atheist option, but where the hells is Helm? You're given the option to play as a Drow, but not given the option to worship Lolth? I suspect this is more 4E nonsense as apposed to being Neverwinter's fault, but I could be wrong.

I forgot the name of the location I selected, but it was a town just South of a forest, and my character did a lot of hunting there in his youth. Surprise! He also worships the Nature Goddess who helps bridge the gap between nature and people. I forget her name, but whatever. Her symbol is the rose. Finally, on to the last screen. I name my Elf and give him a strange backstory involving being raised by a Human, an Elf, and a Dwarf. The backstory, while a nice touch, does nothing, really. Just gives other players something they will never read when they examine your character. Oh, and my Elf is named Uthrac. Uthrac Townshend. Why such an un-Elvish name? Because, that's why. (Actually it has to do with how effed up he was raised, but whatevs)

So far, this review has had something of a negative tone to it. That's because the character creation process really does leave a lot to be desired. It isn't really all that horrible, but it's not good, either. For a game bearing the name Dungeons & Dragons, character creation is woefully disappointing. Now for the good stuff.

You start the game naked on the beach. A good start. Good enough you wonder why you left this paradise and went adventuring in the first place. Then you realize it isn't a paradise, but instead you were part of the defending force from the CGI movie earlier, and you had your ass handed to you in a big way. Tutorial time! The game guides you through the first couple of quests, telling you how to control your character, equip items, attack and such. It's actually pretty cool. You have to fight off the remaining undead while helping injured soldiers and reestablishing control of the bridge into Neverwinter. At the end, you get to fight a giant baddy that teaches you how to dodge, and how to use all the abilities you gained at that point: both your primary attacks, or At-Will Powers if you prefer, your Encounter Power and your Daily Power. All three terms taken straight from the 4E rule book, and, thankfully, not used in quite the same way as the 4E rule book. The Encounter Powers are on a standard MMO cooldown, while the Daily Powers draw from an action pool that replenishes as you damage enemies and perform other actions that I believe are supposed to be class specific. The At-Will Powers you can use, as the name suggests, at will. No cooldowns to speak of, just point and click.

When I say point and click, I mean that literally. The control scheme is set up more like a 3rd person action game than an MMO. You have a reticle locked in the center of your screen, and your mouse lets you look around. WASD key move you forward and back, and let you strafe left and right. You attack by moving the mouse until the reticle is on the target, and clicking. Your At-Will Powers are bound to one mouse button each. The left-click power is your standard attack, while the right-click power generally has special abilities depending on how long you charge it by holding down the right mouse button. Your Encounter Powers are used by pressing Q,E, or R. At the time of this writing, I have only acquired the Q power. It's a fairly useful, standard MMO-ish ability, and has a short cooldown before you can use it again. Your Daily Power is used by pressing the 1 on the top of your keyboard. It's usually something pretty epic, and takes a percentage of points from your action pool. The Ranger's Daily Power takes up 100% of this pool, so woot! However, it seemed to do quite a bit of damage to the big baddy at the end of the tutorial. Enough more so than my other abilities that I really wished I could refill those action points faster.

The Class balance needs some work, as well. After the tutorial, I played the game with my wife, who was playing a Dwarven Great Weapon Fighter. As a Ranger, I was doing more damage than her. Something about that just isn't right. Yes, yes, Tank versus DPS, but this is D&D. Rangers aren't DPS. Arcane spellcasters, Fighters, and Barbarians are DPS. Certain builds of Fighters, Paladins, and even Barbarians *can* be Tanks, but anything with "Great Weapon" in the name shouldn't be designed for tanking damage. It should be dishing it out. And at much greater quantities than my dinky little arrows would be able to. Yet, somehow, with a single use of my right-click power, I could clear a room before anyone came anywhere near me, while she would have died had I done nothing. It was weird. But, as a fan of Rangers, I can't complain too much.

The quests, at least so far, make you feel like you're in a story instead of just being led to the next, infinitely re-spawning mob so you can collect a predetermined amount of useless crap to give to the quest giver, or kill a certain number of them to "control the population." You actually have a goal, and you have to fight your way to it, rather than the fighting and killing being the goal. This is how quests are supposed to be. They have their own story, as well as furthering a bigger one. They have a personality. Or they should. Most MMOs can't seem to fathom that. They want the boring, mindless crap heap quests that pollute WoW and its ilk. Within quests, there are certain loot containers that can only be accessed by certain classes, unless you have the right kit to bypass it. It's a good way to reward having a varied party, while still letting a small party, or even a single player, have access to all the loot if they have the resources. It also gives you a sense that a little more thought went into making the quest than most MMOs can seem to spare. It's also worth mentioning that there is a quest creator that allows you to make your own quests and publish them. I haven't played around with it, yet, but it's there.

After all is said and done, I really did enjoy this game. The character creation could use an overhaul, but wasn't absolutely horrid. Certainly not a deal breaker. The gameplay itself was amazing, especially for an MMO, and the quests are well made. Not quite as well made as the quests in DDO, but really good, nonetheless. I really wish more MMOs were like this one.

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