So Neverwinter. Cryptic is probably one of my favorite developers right now, having made 2 really good games that I’ve played. I like Star Trek Online and Champions Online, though I haven’t played much of Champions recently (because the group I hang out with plays STO more). Neverwinter is Cryptic’s next MMO project, and the first that’s being released as pure Free To Play (CO and STO were sub conversions). It’s good, it’s very good. And I think it owes a great deal to the other two games. In essence, Neverwinter is what happens when Cryptic learns all the lessons CO and STO taught them about game mechanics, design and how to build a game. There are some bad elements to Neverwinter, but we’ll get to those.
Many of these elements, before I begin, came out only the last year, so the question is was CO and STO used as a kind of test bed for Neverwinter? Probably, and that’s good, to a point. Using an active player base to “beta test” a new system is a bit iffy, but at the same time, those systems did improve those games. With this in mind, I’ll have to divide this up to talk about each element separately or else even I will get confused.
The combat system is reticle based, as in all your attacks are tied to a targeting device in the center of the screen and aimed via the mouse movements. It’s very reminiscent of STO’s “shooter mode,” which was an attempt to make ground combat not suck. Didn’t help, but in Neverwinter it works quite well. All attack commands are tied either to the mouse buttons or in the immediate area around the WASD keys (which handle movement). It’s actually really efficient, to the point I have considered modifying STO to use the same system (the interface controls would allow for it).
What it has that STO doesn’t though is a dodge/block mechanic that actually works. Hold down the shift key and an evade/block ability goes off based on how much stamina you have. This comes mostly from CO, but a little from Guild Wars 2 as well, and it makes combat MUCH more dynamic than STO, and actually lets you CANCEL out of actions, some actions. Really need that in STO. The dynamic combat means you don’t stand around waiting for cooldowns, you’re always fighting, dodging, repositioning and triggering off the small handful of cooldown attacks.
Powers are much closer to how Champions is set up, with a selection of abilities built into each class (get to character creation in a bit). Given the limited number of attack slots verses the high number of available powers, players will have to carefully choose the abilities they want to slot and use, but can power them up appropriately. The other element from Champions is feats, which are basically the specialization system out of Champions, which gives passive boosts to the character.
The combat system is really good. Maybe not groundbreaking (Guild Wars 2 did something similar, probably a bit better), but certainly worth the effort.
There are only 5 classes in Neverwinter, but they function more like Champions Archtypes than anything else. They have a set batch of powers and abilities and the progression is mostly restricted to a few key roles within the overall role of the character.
From STO comes the races, each one with its own traits and story elements. The traits aren’t nearly as complex as STO is now (or as it will be in the near future), but they’re there and might make the difference for the Min/Max crowd. Each race, like the careers in STO, have special story elements restricted to them that other races won’t see or do. I like that element as it makes each character a little unique.
And if you need a little extra help, there are Companions, NPC helpers that can be called upon to even the odds a bit for a single player. Playing a DPS melee Great Weapon Fighter and need some healing? Hire a Cleric companion. Playing a Cleric and need a tank? Hire a Guardian. They can be trained up to level 15 currently, but there will EVENTUALLY be a way to convert them to a new, higher level. Why it’s not out yet is beyond me. Still, every little big helps and my Cleric companion has saved my bacon on more than one occasion.
What I’m disappointed with is the actual costume design. I don’t expect it to be at Champions level of customization, but it barely matches Star Trek’s level. And it’s all gear based. Yeah, that’s right, if you want to look a certain way, it’s based on the gear you’re using. You can dye it, but unlike Guild Wars, where the dyes are bound to you and usable whenever you want, you MUST have the dyes to color the various items. Lame. Oh, and if you want to change ANYTHING on your character, you will pay for it with real money.
The game has 3 major currencies. The more traditional Gold/Silver/Copper system is pretty standard across most fantasy games, even Champions uses it (though with different names). This is the in game currency that’s used for most vendor transactions. But, it doesn’t buy as much as you would think. It’s great for consumables (which I’ve not really needed as I find more than enough) and some of the crafting products, but that’s about it.
Then there’s Zen, the pay currency, which is for buying the more cosmetic stuff as in STO and Champions (though the selection is very narrow right now). Zen is used for a lot of stuff, including buying more bank slots, inventory slots, character changes and other stuff.
And then, there Astral Diamonds. In Star Trek Online, they introduced Dilithium as a major currency in the game. It can be collected by doing various missions, has to be refined to be used, and is generally used for most of the high end equipment. There’s even a special exchange set up to trade Dilithium for Zen, the pay currency. In Neverwinter, Astral Diamonds does all that, and more. It’s a Super Currency, used for nearly everything. Want to dye that piece of armor? Costs Diamonds. Want to remove those runestones from your armor? Costs Diamonds. Want to sell anything on the auction house? Not only will it cost Diamonds to sell, but the entire exchange is done in Diamonds.
That’s a major change between the games, the auction house uses Astral Diamonds and ONLY Astral Diamonds. In STO and CO, it’s reliant on the common currency (EC and Globals), but not here. Also, the auction house is an actual auction house, something akin to Ebay rather than just a market where the prices are set by the players and you either pay their price or you don’t get it. I’m not sure how that will fly as the game continues to grow, but it’s intriguing at least.
Astral Diamonds are used so much in the game, one of my guild mates believes THIS is the major currency of the game, and everything else is essentially unnecessary. I buy that, especially given the refining rates. In STO and CO you can only refine 8000 and 6000 per day. In Neverwinter, you can refine 24,000 a day. They really, REALLY want you to earn Diamonds and spend Diamonds. I worry that this will be the primary mover for most actions in this game. I don’t mind playing for Diamonds or Dilithium or Questionite (CO’s version), but I want to play to have FUN too. If it becomes all about farming these Diamonds, I doubt it’ll hold my attention especially as we reach end game.
The crafting system in this game is a wild mix between systems in Champions and STO. Out of STO comes the professions, which is actually the Duty Officer system though simplified. This is the main way to craft, assigning a worker to a particular task which eventually results in equipment. This function can actually be done through the remote Gateway system for Neverwinter, so you don’t have to log into the game to do the crafting, which is nifty. STO was SUPPOSED to have something similar for its Gateway and the Duty Officer system, but that has yet to be implemented, I suspect because the Duty Officer system is very complex.
But that’s not all! From Champions comes the Mod/Fusion system for upgrading gear. Most of the equipment will eventually start coming with a slot that can be filled with a runestone. Those runestones are found in drops, boxes, from skill items throughout, and can be fused together to make more powerful versions of themselves. This is both a nice way to adjust the powers of equipment to enhance what you’re looking for in a weapon or armor piece, and a horrible lesson in how much inventory/bank space you actually have.
Those runestones take up a LOT of room. You need at least 4 to perform any fusion, so if you want a high level runestone, you need a LOT of little ones fused together. Thankfully the resources for the profession system are stored in a separate bag in your inventory so you don’t have to try to store it in the bank and your common inventory will be BULDGING with these runestones if you’re not careful. Even the wiki suggests selling the little buggers off. There are only 9 different stones (4 for you, 5 for your companion) but considering all the grades they come in, you’ll be stuff to the gills with them. Add on all the extra gear, consumables, and special emblems you get throughout the game, you’ll run out of space VERY fast, not just in your inventory but your 20 slot bank too. Prepare to spend real money to expand out these in the near future.
Questing and the Foundry
The quests seem mostly to come from the Champions line of missions rather than STOs, though honestly Champions is more like a standard MMO than STO, so that’s not saying much. Each region in and around Neverwinter has its own batch of missions, typically telling a story of each region and capping it off with either a fight with the boss of the area or a big multiperson dungeon. The missions are pretty standard ranging from go kill X number of bad guys to doing mini-dungeon crawls and finding loot at the end. That’s actually an odd bit, you get your gear reward WITHIN the mission, not from the quest giver. The quest giver only gives out experience and cash. That makes sense for the Foundry.
Before we get to that, however, the dungeons have me a bit annoyed. Not in their structure or difficulty, those are fine. No, the issue is the queuing system. Like STO, there is a way to queue up for a particular dungeon or skirmish, which are the STFs and Fleet Actions of STO respectfully. However, they are level locked. This means that the first dungeon, the Cloak Tower, will only be available for queuing until you hit level 20, then you cannot queue for it any more. You can still do it, by going through the front door, but considering these things need at least a couple player to even attempt, let alone complete, you’ll need a team. You can use the zone chat to find one, but if you’re too high, you can’t be queued with the team and have to drag them all through the front door. And again, the dungeon is locked to its level, so all of the baddies are going to be below your level even if the entire team is 10 levels higher.
Two reasons this is annoying, beyond the obvious having to go through the door instead of the queue. First is that there aren’t level appropriate versions of the dungeons, which is something even STO could do with it’s actually missions. This is sad because it means doing older dungeons is pointless since the drops won’t be any better thanks to the baddies not being at your level. On top of that, there’s no way to “sidekick” down or up to the levels to make the mission appropriate for everyone. In fact, if the leader of at team is, say, level 24 and the rest of the team is in the mid teens and you start a Foundry mission, all the baddies will be level 24, and the rest of the team will have to hide and hope the bad guys don’t see them. That was an annoying lesson to learn.
The other major reason? It looks like there will be very few dungeons available as you level up. Maybe I’m wrong on this, after all I’m only level 26 at this point and the cap is at 60, but if the pattern holds, most of these dungeons will completely drop off the map and never be seen again. I WANT to do the Cloak Tower and have it be a challenge, but with the current system, it won’t be. Wonderful content is going to be lost to high level players, and it could cause the problem that continues to plague STO and Champions: Lack of end game content. But then, they might be relying on the Foundry to make up for it.
Ah, the mighty Foundry. If you’ve heard anything about Neverwinter, you’ve probably heard about the Foundry, a system that allows players to create their own quests and stories within the game. This comes from STO, which has had the Foundry pretty much since the beginning. I haven’t played many Foundry missions in either game, but the few I have are pretty good. They tell interesting stories and rarely have game breaking bugs or whatnot. That said, it is also easily abused for gold/item farming and separating quality from crap has always been an issue. I suspect this is why the auction house in Neverwinter has been switched to Astral Diamonds, to try to keep these quests from being used to farm beyond a certain point, but the potential is still there. It’s really hard to tell what the Foundry will be like in Neverwinter at this point, but it’s already easier to explore and search than in STO, where it’s kind of miserable at the moment (an interface revamp is planned for the next major release, so we’ll see how that goes). There’s a daily that rewards players for doing a Foundry quest, so that will keep people playing, but if it’s anything like STO, people will find ways to create simple “push the button” quests that will complete the daily easily.
I haven’t attempted to build my own Foundry mission yet, so I can’t give you any information on how easy or hard it is. However, given the history of the Neverwinter franchise, I expect a lot of great quests to come out of it in the near future. I’ll try to keep an open mind for it.
I like it so far. I like it quite a bit. Will it eat into STO like STO ate into Champions? Possibly. STO is kind of stagnant at the moment, though they do have a major released planned for later this month. I am worried about the level progression in Neverwinter, as it feels quite fast, just like STO. Maybe they want you to get to the endgame content quickly, like STO does, or maybe I’ve just played too damn much. Hard to say on that end. The game looks nice, sounds nice, has a great deal of decent voice acting, has challenge, is creative in the universe and seems to have learned the lessons CO and STO learned the hard way. I’d like a bit more customizability for looks (not skills, I’m fine with that) that doesn’t break my bank (either in game or my actual wallet) and a little better accessibility to below level content. Officially, Neverwinter is still in Beta, so maybe they will fix all that, but I’m not so sure they plan to.
It’s worth playing though, so go out there and play it already. Hey, it’s free, can’t go wrong there. Unless the servers crash, again. . .