Neverwinter Online Hands-on Preview - PAX East 2012

Written by  Friday, 06 April 2012 10:45
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User-Generated Content is the driving force behind survivability and longevity in modern gaming; thousands of games inundate the market with each passing year and the shelf-life of games has been truncated to an easily-counted period of anywhere from days, to weeks, to months. Very rarely do we see a game’s playability extend into the span of years – that’s where custom content and mods come in, like the complete Skyrim Overhaul, the Baldur’s Gate 2 Dragon Age remake, and Neverwinter Online’s user generation tool, the “Foundry.”

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That’s just the start of Neverwinter Online’s large promises, though. Their targeted feature set is expansive and, if executed properly, will be an impressive array of both creation and roleplaying properties. Alongside fundamental MMORPG elements, Neverwinter hopes to offer what the team behind it sees as a void in Western markets: a free-to-play MMO action RPG. After getting to sit down with Craig Zinkievich, COO at Cryptic, and Executive Producer Andy Velasquez, we were able to ascertain some of the most ambitious features of this new D&D 4E-inspired title, taking place on the Sword Coast after the Spell Plague. Let’s take a look at some of the greatest features:

 

  • Action-focused combat; this means you have to actually aim at your targets to hit them. The tab-through, auto-target combat is no more!
  • UI indicators to signify enemy attack patterns, ensuring fluidity of combat and reducing the “stand and hit it until it dies” mentality. This helps tell players when to move, which encourages point-to-point combat and keeps action high.
  • 4E-inspired play – though the game is not using the turn-based mechanics of D&D, we do see powers with similar names to smooth the learning curve.
  • The as-killed action point system that builds up the equivalent to a Daily power (from 4E) provides players with a high-powered, specialized attack that fully implements the player’s class and its implicated abilities. In our demo, we saw that the control sorcerer’s power attack ripped the weapons from the hands of her foes; we were told that rogue power attacks might include sneakily bouncing between subjects and backstabbing them.
  • Heavy focus on rewarding players for acting in ways that their class might. A control sorcerer, for example, could gain more action points for performing crowd-control abilities and freezes, while a rogue would gain more points for being, you know, a rogue. Sneaky bastards!
  • Dynamic challenges (who can kill the most orcs in the next hour?) and player-centric world events that bring players together to form groups, delve into dungeons, and otherwise explore the world.
  • A 50/50 mixture of open-world content and instanced areas, both of which are playable in groups or alone, but being D&D, groups are encouraged for maximum fun output.
  • Adventure zones act as an overarching container for centralized exploration, featuring both instanced and open world activities, and ending with a “final boss” type of dungeon that is spec’d for a 5-man team.
  • Super-defined classes that drill-down to be as specific as, similar to what was earlier mentioned, control wizards. The common archetypes that we’ve seen in other MMOs are all present, but the extremely elaborate NWN class system isn’t quite as powerful as what we’re used to. That said, Neverwinter Online isn’t meant to be an immediate successor to NWN.

 

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The toolset, of course, has the potential to make-or-break Neverwinter Online. The team isn’t currently sharing the full details on the functionality of the toolset, but we expect to have more updates shortly. We did get some basic information, though – here’s what we know:

 

  • The toolset will integrate seamlessly into the game. No patching, no separate EXE, no hassle. Just go to the main screen and hit ‘go.’
  • Custom level content plugs directly in to Neverwinter Online; sharing your quest with the world could pop-up a quest indicator over incumbent NPCs, items, or even objects. Jumping into a pool, for example, might trigger a custom dungeon that teleports you elsewhere.
  • There is no need to install numerous modules to play with the toolkit-created instances, so anyone can jump in and play a friend’s encounter.
  • We were told that there aren’t any plans to allow custom texture or model packs, but we’ll have more details on those shortly.
  • Templates and restrictions will be implemented to help control/prevent item farming, treasure rooms, and XP farms.

 

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Things are shaping up nicely for the incoming F2P MMO action-RPG (which really just means ‘skill-based MMO’), but there’s still a long way to go. Neverwinter Online’s movement away from the mechanical auto-attack foundation of Neverwinter Nights is a frightening-yet-exciting trend and has the potential to scoop up new fans, or, as always, alienate the hardcore base. The game is truly a full MMO and Cryptic is setting out to prove that "free" doesn't have to be synonymous with "garbage" -- the foundation and art of a "triple-A" title are all present. Gamers of the series will recognize its story elements and Forgotten Realms inclusion, but shouldn’t be expecting a sequel to NWN2 (although, that may be a good thing).

As a whole, the game’s skill-based combat flows exceptionally well; on-screen indicators truly do force movement, risking engagements with other nearby mobs, and the action-point system keeps play addictive and mellifluous. In our spellcaster demo, spells felt powerful and visceral – there’s no word for it other than “satisfying.” The spells popped perfectly.

Everything’s falling into place rapidly. With ten years of MMO development under its belt, Cryptic has the experience needed to pull a project with a name like “Dungeons & Dragons” off, it just comes down to those few core components: Timing, mechanics, and style.

You can get more information on Neverwinter here: http://www.playneverwinter.com/

-Steve

Last modified on Monday, 09 April 2012 12:32